The Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Here we are in the Gospel of Luke. Some of you may be wondering how did we get here? After all, I said that we would be in the Gospel of John for five Sundays. Well, Jim reminded me that we had the opportunity to celebrate The Transfiguration this week. So, that is what we planned to do and The Gospel reading for The Transfiguration this year comes from Luke. This event, The Transfiguration, ties in well with what we have been learning in John about "who" Jesus is. The commentators pointed out that today's reading is one of three times in all four of the Gospels that there is an acknowledgment of who Jesus is. At his Baptism, here at The Transfiguration, and then at the crucifixion. There are two accounts of Divine acknowledgment. At his Baptism and then again here at The Transfiguration: "This my son, the beloved, in him I am well pleased, this is my son, listen to him."
Then, at the crucifixion, there is the human acknowledgment with the words from the Centurion: "this truly was the son of god."
Over the past few weeks, I have talked about how difficult some of the passages which are included in Scripture are. We have talked about the beheading of John the Baptist from a few weeks ago.
Then, last week, we talked about the utter betrayal, by David, of everything that he was supposed to stand for, as God's anointed and chosen, in his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.
Today's reading is another difficult passage, but for very different reasons. It is not because of some abhorrent human action or failure, it is because it is such a difficult event for us to comprehend or understand.
It is, I think one of those stories or events that many of us kind of hold off trying to accept or understand just because it is so far out of our own experience. The idea that Jesus and the disciples would go through this experience does not fit into our understandings of how the world turns.
One of the reasons I am drawn to Celtic worship patterns is because of the integrated understanding that the Celts had of their world. If you experience Celtic worship it doesn't take you long to realize that there are many references to nature. Then you will also discover the many word pictures that describe the patterns of human experience in terms of natural phenomena.
Here are a couple of examples from our Third Wednesday Healing Service outline:
"For the many gifts you have bestowed on us, each day and night, each sea and land, each weather fair, each calm, each wild."
"We believe, O God and Maker of all creation, that you are the creator of the high heavens, that you are the creator of the deep seas, that you are the creator of the stable earth."
"We believe, O God of all the peoples, that you created our souls and set their warp, that you created our bodies and gave them breath, that you made us in your own image."
There is an acknowledgment in Celtic worship and spirituality that all of our lives are intertwined with the spiritual world, as well as the natural world. That we are integrated into all of creation. When I experience Celtic worship I find it a good reminder of how our more modern western spirituality and worship can sometimes be much more compartmentalized.
Now, this may only be my experience, but it seems to me that we, as western Christians, tend to compartmentalize the things of faith, spirituality, and worship in a separate place from the things of thought and reason.
I would dare to say that some folks even separate their day-to-day living from their spiritual experience. Some might even declare that things of the spirit should be clearly divided from their everyday life experience.
Since the enlightenment, with the development of scientific thought and disciplines, we can sometimes approach our faith and worship from a position of reason. There is a tendency to avoid what we might term emotional expression or emotional response. For many of us, there is very little room for "spiritual mystery" in our lives. It is almost as though we have decided that the things of faith, spirituality, and worship exist in a parallel dimension to the things of intellectual thought and process.
Since I have been a Priest there have been several times when I have had conversations with people who are seeking guidance or seeking comfort as they are struggling with a personal issue, or struggling with a personal loss. When I suggest that we pray, about whatever the situation is, they are surprised that I would think God would be interested in them or what is happening in their lives.
Prayer for some folks can be something they associate with what happens in a worship service or a gathering specifically designated as a time of prayer. They sometimes say they that haven't had time to stop and pray because they have been so busy dealing with the situation they are facing.
Somehow we have difficulty integrating the spiritual with our everyday lives. I believe that is why a celebration day like today is challenging for some of us.
The Transfiguration. That moment in time when Peter and several of the disciples experienced Jesus in a completely new and wondrous way. This truly is a "spiritual mystery."
Can I say at this point that I believe there is a difference between mystery and myth?
So what is a myth? My handy dandy online computer definition says: "A myth is a classic or legendary story that usually focuses on a particular hero or event, and explains mysteries of nature, existence, or the universe with no true basis in fact."
I believe this is an important distinction. Unfortunately, I think we sometimes relegate spiritual mysteries into the same category as myths or fairy tales. In our scientific approach, we sometimes decide that things that we don't understand are implausible. We, therefore, decide that they are not necessarily based in fact.
We are not the first generation to wrestle with this idea. In our reading from 2 Peter we find Peter addressing this very question.
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain." 2 Peter 1: 16 - 18
So, that leads us then to wrestle with the question what is spiritual mystery?
One of the best definitions I found is from a blog post in SpiritualDirection.com, Catholic Spiritual Direction by Msgr. Charles Pope.
"In the secular world, a “mystery” is something that baffles or eludes understanding, something that lies undisclosed. And the usual attitude of the world toward mystery is to solve it, get to the bottom of, or uncover it. Mysteries must be overcome! The riddle, or “who-done-it” must be solved!
He then says: "In the Christian and especially the Catholic world, “mystery” is something a bit different. Here, mystery refers to the fact that there are hidden dimensions in things, people, and situations that extend beyond their visible, physical dimensions."
He goes on to say: " the theologian and philosopher John Le Croix says: mystery is that which opens temporality and gives it depth. It introduces a vertical dimension and makes of it a time of revelation, of unveiling."
Then Msgr. Pope encourages us, as believers, to engage with spiritual mystery: "For the Christian, then, mystery is not something to be solved or overcome so much as to be savored and reverenced."
"Indeed, there is a sacramentality to all creation. Nothing is simply and dumbly itself; it points beyond and above, to Him who made it. The physical is but a manifestation of something and Someone higher.
In the reductionist world in which we live, such thinking is increasingly lost. Thus we poke and prod in order to “solve” the mysteries before us. And when we have largely discovered something’s physical properties we think we have exhausted its meaning. We have not. In a disenchanted age, we need to rediscover the glory of enchantment, of mystery. There is more than meets the eye. Things are deeper, richer, and higher than we can ever fully imagine."
Can I encourage us this week to consider making our exploration of "spiritual mystery" a part of our spiritual practices for this week?
Maybe we could take some time and reflect on John 1: 12-14
"But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."
May we explore the vertical connection that Mgsr. Pope, John Le Croix, and The Transfiguration point us towards.