What Does God-Among-Us Look Like?

February 26, 2017
Reverend Brennan Blue

Genesis 1:24-31; Matthew 17:1-9

Today is Transfiguration Sunday: the final Sunday before the season of Lent begins. On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we’ll plunge into the valleys of our own vulnerability as we practice patience, penance and prayer, but today… today we  journey to a mountaintop and remember that God is with us. That is the hope, I believe, of Transfiguration Sunday: to offer us strong glimpse of God among us, an image we can carry with us for the road ahead.

For our 9th grade confirmation students, this road ahead also entails the beginning of a new, creative spiritual practice: our Lenten Photo Journey. In short, our students, teachers and mentors will be given a list of 40 spiritual words and challenged to capture a photograph (or similar) that reflects these words as seen through their own eyes. Words like “darkness, light, hope, doubt, wonder, and peace.” 40 days, 40 words.

We first launched this practice two years ago, and I could not have been more excited. A liturgical season of seeing “holy ground” that’s already around us? Of sharing the holy in our everyday lives? Sign me up! And sign up our digitally savvy youth, too. We’re going to love this, I thought. In fact, we might have to be careful, lest we have too much fun during the season of Lent.

But oh, I was so wrong. This little Lenten Photo Journey was – and is – so hard to do! 40 days is a long time! Busy as we all are, do we really see the holiness or presence of God among us on a day-to-day basis? And even when we do, how do we capture and share what might feel like a dazzling, but fleeting moment?
What if my images aren’t good enough or creative enough?
What if how I experience God doesn’t seem impressive enough to share?

If we look to this morning’s gospel reading, we might find the bar set pretty high for what the image of God among us looks like.

A traditional interpretation of the passage would state that that is precisely the point. Christ is on his way to suffering and sacrifice. We are on our way to the trials of Lent. So we, along with the disciples, will need an image of God among us that is strong enough, vibrant enough, to be our light in the darkness. And so it is that Peter, James and John, here on an undisclosed mountaintop, encounter something astounding.

Peter’s reaction should probably come as no surprise. Seeing Jesus dazzling in glory, set high and apart from everyone and everything else in this world, he cries, “Wait, Jesus, let’s stay here! We are rubbing elbows with giants of the faith. This is amazing. If only everyone who ever doubted you, or who ever doubted me for leaving everything behind to follow you, if they knew… if they could only see… We… we could…

Have you ever met someone really famous? You know, there’s that dilemma where you either try to play it cool or you sort of lose your head and go out of your way make some kind of connection.

Peter, rarely one to hold back, basically proclaims, hey, let’s all move in together! I’ll make a dwelling for you, for Moses, for Elijah. We can capture and live and this moment forever.

And who wouldn’t want to dwell there? There in the mountaintop moments of our lives, when things seem to dazzle with the weight of importance, and the everyday cares of the world seem somehow so far away?

Who wouldn’t want to be in that rarified air? Sure, we might miss some of the day-to-day happenings back down in the wide world below, but who needs the daily when we have the dazzling? Who needs all of the pain and the fear and the politics of it all, when we could dwell here in the shining light of God’s glory?

But if this is to be the sustaining image of God among God’s people, then why is Jesus telling the disciples to keep this quiet?

There is a bit of a problem with this pattern of thinking. Something that Peter, and frankly something that I, too often fail to recognize. Do we see what’s missing here? All of the great multitude that Jesus came to save. All of the complicated realities of the world that Jesus came to be a part of.

If we hold that glimpses of God among us are rare and reserved for the privileged few, perhaps only truly visible for the great men of the faith, then we would be selling God short.

We would be missing the God who so loved this world; the God who has promised to be with and among whenever we gather. We would be missing the image of God that is already greeting us in the image of each of our neighbors, male and female, he and she and them, all created in the good image of God. That’s the heartbeat of the Genesis 1 creation story, the liturgical promise that all of God’s people – indeed, all of God’s creation – is meant to be together.

If Jesus came to be Immanuel or “God with us,” to be the way and the truth and the life, then why crave and cling to the image of God above us or beyond us?

Of course, there is a second image of Jesus presented here. One that comes after the bright lights and dazzling clothing. One that meets the small band of disciples in the midst of their fear and confusion.

It is the more subtle, but striking image of Jesus that greets us as soon as the voice of God proclaims, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am pleased. Listen to him.” All is suddenly calm. And there is Jesus, reaching out a hand to his fearful disciples. “Listen to him,” says God. And Jesus says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Could it be that we are witnessing here in the transfiguration a juxtaposition (a comparison) of the glory we crave as human beings (remember Peter’s reaction) and the glory that God came to show and to share? A glory which dwells not in fear or privileged mountaintop reaches, but with the very humanity that God came to love and save? Perhaps in telling his disciples to keep this dazzling image quiet until after his suffering and sacrifice we are seeing that Jesus understands our love of power and glory; that Jesus doesn’t want to be known as the best of these but in how he cares for the least of these.

The dazzling or the daily? Certainly, Jesus can embody both. But what would it mean for our faith, if we were more likely to recognize God among us in the dazzling, confusing transfigured Jesus than in the steady presence and outstretched hand of our Savior beckoning “do not be afraid.”

This second image, this is the image of Jesus that I’ve come to hold dear:
Jesus who comes as God among us
Jesus, born humbly in a manger

Jesus, a child refugee

Jesus, who proclaims liberation to the oppressed
who honors women and children, the poor and the meek

Jesus, who reaches out in the midst of our fear
Jesus who cannot stay on the mountaintop, who must come back down to the everyday and the everybody because that is what love demands. That is what incarnation, what God among us, looks like. And that’s what’s truly astounding about Jesus.

Back to our story. On Wednesday, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and step into the season of Lent. So when the road gets hard, as it already may well be, what image of God with us, God among us, will we hold dear?

The voice of God calls out, “This is my Son, with who I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And in the midst of the fear and chaos, there stands Jesus. Personally, I know that I could use a savior who is reaching out the divine hand of love and inclusion right about now, saying get up and do not be afraid. I will not only go with you – I will go before you, however hard this road may be.

Is there an image that more clearly portrays God among?
Is there a better image to greet us and guide us through the season of Lent?

Friends, God is among us. We need not be afraid. Amen.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

Pastoral Prayer ~8:30 am Worship

Good and gracious God, you ask us to pray for all people.  Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love.  This morning we will offer our silent and then spoken prayers for our world in need, trusting in your great love.

Let us pray for the world – (first in silence)…..

God our creator, you made all things in your wisdom, and in your love you save us.  We pray for the whole creation.  Working through your people, act to overthrow evil powers and to right what is wrong, and encourage those who work for justice.

Let us pray for the church (first in silence)…..

Hear our prayers for this congregation that we may be strengthened to serve you faithfully.  We pray as well for your church world-wide, and we remember our partner communities in Cameroon, Cuba and Palestine.

Let us pray for government leaders (first in silence)…..

God, who is the ruler of all that is, give your grace and wisdom to all who are in authority over others that they might be guided by your providence to remember that they are called to serve the people in their care as lovers of truth and justice.

Let us pray for peace (first in silence)…..

In a world wracked by violence and strife, we pray for the gentle breeze that blows as your Spirit of peace.  Help us take on the ministry of reconciliation based on just arrangements that provide for the dignity of each of your children.  We hold up our Jewish brothers and sisters and organizations who are experiencing rising violence and threat.

Holy comforter, healing Spirit, grant your peace to those who are sick, and to those who grieve this morning.

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