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Transfigurations and Shadows
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on February 10, 2013 (right after the Blizzard of 2013)

Epiphany Last 2013

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a


(using phone, take pictures as I begin)

I have gotten into the habit of taking pictures of snow these past 24 hours.  Have you?  We have drifts of 4 to 6 feet on our back deck, over 10 where the snow has been plowed!  And I have loved seeing the pictures posted by my friends, colleagues and even some of you on Facebook.

The shining white of the snow of the past two days, and especially this morning, reminded me of the dazzling white that I knew would be the heart and center of today's gospel lesson, and what we hear of Moses with tablets in his hands, shining skin--dazzling itself, in the lesson from Exodus.  And of course it reminded me of Peter.  Peter is the one in the story I can relate to the most.  Peter who wants to capture the moment, as I am doing, (we are doing), with these pictures.

How true of being human that is, capturing the moment when life is good or unusual.  (This is, after all, one of the 10 largest storms in recorded history -- number 6 if the reporters are correct!)  We want to remember what is happening, to “capture it” is an apt phrase to describe what we would do with these moments we consider picture worthy.  We want to contain them, hold onto them, sometimes with the notion that if we do, nothing will ever change.  Sometimes so we won't forget, so we can show our children and grandchildren. 

So no matter if we capture it in pictures with cameras, or as Peter wanted to, by preserving the moment and keeping it forever in manageable tabernacles.  We humans want to keep everything picture perfect, pretty and almost surreal, whiter than white, brighter than bright, shining.  We geld our pictures by touching them up, as we touch up our memories of such moments, adding luster to them, preserving a perfection that may or may not have ever been.  The pictures I have taken do not capture the cold or the wind or the fallen trees -- I was lucky and never lost power -- but I am keenly aware of those who have.  The pictures don’t tell that part of the story. 

There is no harm in that “touching up” of course.  Peter was not trying to lessen the importance of what he and the others had witnessed.  But we know we often emotionally fight against the fact that, of course, we can never really make time stand still or prevent change from happening.  Or -- rock bottom truth -- we all have to come down from the mountain top.  Our pictures of snow storms or vacations or Christmas or babies or weddings or family reunions or even of ourselves when we were younger and 20 pounds lighter! or any of the other incredible moments we have captured are just one-dimensional snapshots that capture a small part of the reality of that particular moment and cannot possibly capture the depth and breadth of the life or creation that surrounded the photograph.  Not any more than we can photograph the cold or feel the breath of the chilling wind on our cheeks by looking at the pictures of the storm. 

Yes, we have to come down from the mountain.  We have to leave the hunkered-down comfort of being storm bound, and the elation of a “free day” to watch years one and two of Downton Abbey because we can't drive anywhere.  We have to come home from vacation.  We have to shovel the snow, children grow up, families change, Christmas is followed by Epiphany and all too soon Lent.  And alas, we all grow wrinkles and gray hairs.  But it is in the living that surrounds those moments we think we have captured we find life and we find God.  The changes we embrace and the challenges to our lives capture the real truth.  It is in the “un-capturable” changes that life brings that we truly live and truly know the presence of God. 

If life remained stagnant and captured and picture perfect, it would mean that there was no life at all.  For when we stop changing, when our institutions and churches and businesses, when an organism stops changing, it is dying and finally with no change at all dies completely.  So as wonderful as capturing moments can be, as precious as photographs of those we love are to us, the real truth of Christ's calling was that he needed to guide the men down the mountain to continue their journey toward Jerusalem ... guide them toward life.  They couldn't be captured in the mountaintop moment.

Which is why I think this second part of the lesson, this optional part at the end, is tacked on this last day of Epiphany before we strip down liturgically and spiritually for the season of Lent..

”Teacher, I beg you, my son, my only son, is possessed by an evil spirit,” the man says to Jesus.  His disciples could not help, only Jesus could help.  It is that reminder tacked on to this wonderful “mountain top” story that has niggled at me this week.  That reminder that it is only God -- only God -- who can redeem my deepest fears, and only God I need to accompany me, not only for the picture-worthy, dazzling white moments, but for the most desperate and lonely and shadowed.

The disciples can't do it, other people can't do it.  Winning the lottery can't do it.  Only God can make those moments, dazzling and/or shadowed -- life giving.  And it is good to be reminded of that as we approach Lent, isn't it? 

This is a reminder to us to carry our faith more openly and deliberately with us for this season when we prepare for the passion, a season to examine ourselves, our consciences and motives, our desires and dreams.  These two stories in this juxtaposition also remind us that life is never all mountain tops and picture perfect or all desperate and horrifying.  Life is not all snowy white terrain without also wind and chill.  Life lived to its fullest in every moment is a life lived aware of God’s presence with us.

So today, this last Sunday of the Epiphany season, we are liturgically aware that this season of internal preparation is close by.  The storm has graciously put us here, one service only.  Many who planned to be here cannot be -- notably Barbara Bruns -- and we have the sense already that something is coming, something truly is changing.  The Vergers and Altar Guild are planning a new look for our flexible liturgical space around the altar that will help us visually achieve what our hearts will be inwardly yearning for --movement toward a fuller awareness of God’s presence with us.

We will sing many Alleluias today, especially with our closing hymn, because we do not use Alleluias during Lent, as another reminder that for a season we will bury the alleluias, lest we are tempted to capture  only the moment without the life around it.  So, in Lent we will forego the alleluias, even on Sundays, to keep us focused on the fact that we cannot have any moment, any life, apart from God.  Such thoughtful restraint helps us focus, helps us remember, that God is present with us in all things.

This Lent we will be especially mindful that change is coming.  We can't capture it in a picture, but we will begin to feel the movement toward it -- the life around that change is moving.  The Search Committee is gearing up, as the Vestry will be tackling some of the organizational tidying up, as each of us prepares ourselves and our hearts to look forward, just as Jesus was looking forward when he led his friends down the mountain.

We are changing -- imperceptibly for some, too radically for others -- but we are, as a community, moving forward toward a new way of being together.  Along the way, we will have moments we want to capture and preserve, and many we hope to never see the light of day again!  But in this time of finding our way, let us not forget who is guiding us, that each new moment is proof positive that we are alive and changing because We are God’s own.  I trust we will find many reasons to say Alleluia along the way, (even if we have to whisper them during Lent), just as we will take many pictures to remind us of the journey, hoping they fill us with the memory of what it was really like to do it together, just as the pictures of the storm remind us of what the cold feels like through our boots.

We are on a wonderful journey together.  May we know when to leave the mountain top and travel down the hill, as well as know when we need to capture the irreplaceable moments as a milestone along the way.

All the while saying ”Alleluia, Alleluia!”  Amen.

Last Published: February 20, 2013 2:51 PM