The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- March 2, 2014- Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
I kind of just want to hunker down and stay here today – not in the pulpit – don’t worry. I’ll come down from here, I promise. What I mean is that this is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany and instead of moving on, I’d like to stay right here. Personally, I’d like to enjoy these themes for a while longer. What’s the rush, afterall? This season has been sort of wonderful – all about revelation and understanding and insight. We’ve talked about seeing Christ, recognizing God in Him and helping to share that good news with the world. Couldn’t we keep doing that for a while more?
It all started about eight weeks ago when the wise men arrived, then Simeon sang and Anna prophesied when they saw the Christ child; we moved on to Jesus’ baptism when the dove came down from heaven and the voice spoke of his belovedness; then the disciples were called to come “fish for people,” and we’ve been hearing about things like loving our enemies and being salt for the earth and light for the world. Sure there’s been some challenging stuff running through all of this, but it’s also been so very obviously good this season, as strangers, new disciples, people of the synagogues and towns one after the other have had their eyes opened to the love of God come into this world.
And today, just to keep this revelatory mood flowing through the final days of the season, we’ve got the story of the transfiguration AND we’re celebrating baptism with Hazel and Sam.
In the gospel, Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured right before their eyes. His clothes turned dazzling white and suddenly Moses and Elijah were standing there with him. You could say that this was one of those big moments when the disciples GOT IT. Their eyes were opened in ways they hadn’t been before; so many recently jumbled pieces were finally fitting together for them. Jesus was making connections for them right in front of their faces! If they’d had any doubts before the trip up the mountain, those doubts went away completely at least for a few moments. They could see that Jesus WAS the one for whom they had been waiting. They saw that he stood in company with the giver of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah.) Which would have given them absolute clarity that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had longed.
And Peter responded to that experience of that revelation rather reasonably, I would say. “OK, everyone, let’s just stay right here,” he said to Jesus. “This is really, really good . . .Let’s build some houses. For all three of you guys (Jesus, Moses and Elijah.)” Peter wanted the mountain top to become home. Which is an honest and common instinct to have in moments of clarity and goodness.
Baptisms do that for me. Maybe that’s a priest thing, but I hope you feel it too. I love these moments of welcome and recognition where children and adults claim a new beginning of sorts and a foundation for themselves and their family. And while they do that they also call us all to reclaim our beliefs and to name the ways in which those beliefs are intimately tied to a faithful way of life.
During baptisms connections are made not only with Hazel and Sam but on this mountaintop we too have the opportunity to see that we’re in the company of a long line of prophets, and sinners, and saints – we’re reminded that we stand with the whole lot of the people of God as we gather by the river and come to the table today. And the Baptismal covenant then tells us about the way of life to which we’ve been called – a way of life that invites us into fellowship with one another, that calls us to work for justice and peace among all people, that challenges us to love our neighbors, and to respect the dignity of every human being. That’s it, right?! This is what we’re all about! And it’s all so very wonderful. I love the entirety of the blessing and that moment at the end when we proclaim to the newly baptized, “We welcome you into the household of God.” And then we feast. Good stuff.
So we could just stay right here. Hunkering down with the household – like was Peter’s inclination. We could stay right here on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John, Sam and Hazel and all of us. Up here, it’s all pretty clear and there is something truly comforting and attractive about that.
But here’s the thing, if we stay here then Hazel and Sam won’t know that the church is present in other kinds of places too. If we stay on the mountain top, then the newly baptized won’t know that we’ll be with them in the valleys when they come. We have more to show Hazel and Sam. We have to show them that we not only climb, we walk down. And sometimes we fall. And sometimes we fall hard. But even better then climbing is rising, even better than the mountaintop is the resurrection that finds us, that finds us all.
Which is where the next season takes us and it’s important that we go there, together, all of us. Things will get fuzzier and more difficult as we walk the wilderness that is the season of Lent. The clarity of revelation that came to us in Epiphany will fade a bit and we’ll ask different sorts of questions; you could say that the stories will shift from one kind of revelation to another. We’ll go from having our eyes opened to at times wanting to close our eyes to some of the realities in the gospel. There will be a cross before there is light this season. And so it will be hard.
But that happens in life too, doesn’t it? It’s happened to all of us on some level and as much as we’d like to protect them from it, even Hazel and Sam will know some darkness. Can anyone here claim to have understood the workings of God, the presence of God, the meaning of Christ day in and day out without fail? Who here hasn’t known darkness, hasn’t known struggle, hasn’t had doubts or times of temptation or searching in the wilderness?
We come down the mountain today because God is in down-the-mountaintop-places too. And we’ve been called to gather there. Not because suffering is what God’s wants but because God is there offering healing, sharing love, bringing about the redemption that is revelation, part two.
The beauty and mystery of the gospel is that for the most part it doesn’t take place on mountain tops. We get to visit those places and we need those seasons of revelation and clarity. But for the most part, the gospel is lived around ordinary tables, in valleys, on crosses, out on the margins, in the darknesses we know, in our own suffering and the struggles of those who are “other” to us. We leave the mountain in order to find God in those places, in order to allow God to find us in those places, in order to teach Hazel and Sam and remind all of us that the household of God is everywhere, reaching high and low with the embrace that is light, the love that is forgiveness, and the peace that is amazing grace.
So celebrate today. Sing alleluias! with all your heart. Welcome Hazel and Sam and renew your own vows to this holy, mysterious, blessed life. And then later this week, we’ll move on together, down from the mountain in order to get found again.