Sermon Audio for Lent 2 C, Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13:31-35

click on this link to download the audio file: 20100227 181829

This is an experiment.  This is the first time I’ve attempted to record and upload an audio version of the sermon to this blog site.

Caveat: this is not the sermon preached live on Sunday, but read.  I may well come out different on Sunday – apologies I guess.  Though this is the version I was hoping would “come out” on Sunday in Gulf Shores.

Feb 28, 2010, 2nd Lent C Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Luke 13:31-35


Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Luke 13:31-35

Chicks and Stones

A beautiful stanza from the Song of Solomon praises the power of love, saying:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion fierce as the grave.  (8:6)

Lovers know this.  Parents know this.  There is nothing you would not do to rescue your child from danger; no risk would cause a moment’s hesitation.  You would jump out in front of the oncoming car to save her, you would stand in front of a man with a gun to protect him.  “Love is as strong as death” – and in fact is even stronger.”  You sometimes hear the expression, “I love you to death.”

We have two love stories in front of us today, and death is contemplated in both of them.  In both of them we could hear the words, “I love you to death.”  Both of them end with the camera turning from the one who confesses such love to the one who hears.  The question in each one is the same: will you believe you are loved?  Will you respond to the love?

Abraham’s terrifying vision

We begin with Abraham in one of the strangest, but most powerful texts in the whole bible.  God comes to Abraham whom he has called and promised to bless, but who as  yet is childless.  God comes in a vision; it is dark, the sun had gone down, and Abraham fell into a deep sleep and a “terrifying darkness descended upon him.” (Gen 15:12)

In this dark, mysterious, almost creepy, terrifying moment, God tells Abraham to prepare a covenant ceremony.  Animals are gathered – they are slaughtered and cut in half – this is a familiar scene to Abraham in the year 2,000 BC.  A covenant-making (or, as it was called, a covenant-cutting) ceremony was concluded when one walked down the aisle between the victims, thus enacting a symbolic self-curse: “if I ever break this covenant, may I be slaughtered as these have been.  Cross my heart, hope to die.”

Abraham, we have been told, believed God’s promise, in spite of his old age.  Perhaps he was thinking to himself that he had already staked his whole future on God, so why not make it clear in a covent ceremony?  Abraham was prepared to walk between the pieces of animals and say, “If I break this covenant, may I die.”

But that is not what happened.  In this deep, mysterious, terrifying vision, in the moment of deepest darkness, God appears in the form of fire and smoke – as he so often does.  The flaming torch and smoke-billowing pot “passed between these pieces”. This was God saying to Abraham, “I love you to death.”  May I die if I were to break this covenant.  You will have descendants, and I will give you this land.

The whole rest of the Old Testament is about the camera swinging around to Abraham and his descendants to find out if they are willing to be loved.

After 2,000 years, the question still hangs in the air.  God has been faithful to the covenant with Abraham – he has given him descendants and land and blessed them – but more often than not the people have not been willing to be loved, creating complications.

So now, 2,000 years later, after many fits and starts, Abraham’s descendants are living unhappily in their land under Roman rule, the covenant partly fulfilled, partly unfulfilled; the land is not their own.  What will happen?

The Christian love story

This is where the Christian story begins.  The Christian story is a story of God coming to his people again.  This time, it is not in a dark, terrifying dream like before.  This time God has come to his people as one of them, in human form, as Jesus.  As we walk though the text before us today, we will hear Jesus expressing the same “I love you to death” commitment to us.  And we will face the same question Abraham’s descendants faced: will you be loved?

In our text we hear Pharisees coming to Jesus with a warning about a murder-plot from King Herod.  It’s a lie.  If we were reading Luke’s gospel like we read anything else, starting at the beginning and continuing straight through, we would see through this pretense.  Herod is not trying to kill Jesus; indeed the Pharisees are well on their way to developing their plot to do just that.

Jesus is not at all taken in by their phony warning.  In fact, he turns it against them; if they are so familiar with Herod’s plans, perhaps they are Herod’s boys (they would hate that suggestion!).  So, in effect Jesus tells them, “Go back to your boss, that fox, and tell him he is not in charge here.”

In fact, Jesus is not concerned by the threat from Herod the fox; he is on his way out of Herod’s jurisdiction; he “must” he says, as if God is determining events here,  “be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”

Jesus’ lament

Jesus then looks towards the city and laments; it has been, often in the past, a place full of people who would not be loved.  People who were so resistant to being loved that they killed and stoned the messengers of God’s love, the prophets of old.    Jesus puts himself in their company, and so can see a similar fate awaiting himself.

He pictures Jerusalem and its people as a barnyard full of little chicks.  This is amazing – that he can look at people like those plotting, lying Pharisees, not as snakes in the grass to be feared or caught and killed, but rather as chicks, vulnerable, and ignorant.

If they are the chicks, then he is the mother hen.  Not at all unsettled by using a feminine image for himself, or for that matter, for God, Jesus pictures himself as the hen.  She looks at those chicks, and smells the smoke of an approaching fire.

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

New Testament scholar, professor N. T. Write tells of an incident in which a farmer was cleaning up after a trash fire had gotten away from him.  He came over to the charred carcass of one of his hens.  As he was removing it, out from under those burned wings came living chicks who had been saved from the fire by her sacrifice.

Jesus smells the smoke of the approaching fire.  How often he has desired to gather the chicks under his wings, but they would not be loved.  You cannot save a chick that refuses the wing.  “I love you to death” Jesus is saying; will you be loved?

Reasons to refuse love?

Why would anyone refuse love?  Why would anyone walk away from the God who was willing to walk between the pieces and bind himself to them with a covenantal oath of self-cursing?  Why would anyone walk away from a wing of protection offered by one willing to sacrifice life?  If God is saying “I love you to death” why would anyone refuse?

The ancient Israelites had their reasons.  The Pharisees had their reasons.  Do we?

What if accepting that wing means that we have to get really close to the hen, to become part of the brood, to follow and stay close to her, to learn from her, and to call all the other chicks brother and sister?  What if there are family obligations under that wing?  What if my vision of the perfect world is one of freedom from just those kinds of obligations and ethical claims on me?

This is an unsettling text.   Clearly the Pharisees wanted no part of the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught: the kingdom that was open to tax collectors and sinners, the kingdom that put the needs of sick people ahead of Sabbath laws, the Kingdom that did not come by violently forcing out the Romans.  That was not the way they wanted the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled.  So when the fires came, their house went up in smoke, and they were not under any wing.

Are we ready to come under that wing?  What if it means that our vision of the perfect world is challenged?  What if the world we would prefer in which all of us chicks look alike, talk alike, come from the same neighborhood, shop in the same stores, and keep all of what we have for ourselves, is not the world offered under the wing?  Would that be a reason to walk away from love?

Or is that version of the “perfect world” of me with my own kind keeping all I have to myself” really a horrible, dark, loveless world, destined for the flames?

Listen, love is on offer today.  As one person* put it so well, “wings spread, breast exposed” like Jesus on the cross: arms spread, heart exposed, saying, “I love you to death.”  Come; be loved.  Come be a part of the brood.  This is how the covenant is being fulfilled.  Come to love.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, in a sermon entitled  “As a Hen Gathers her Brood


Lectionary Sermon for 1st Lent, C, Luke 4:1-13, Feb. 21, 2010

Luke 4:1-13


Baked Fresh?  Who Could Resist?”

What is the safest place you can imagine?  Is it inside your home? Perhaps one particular room in your home where you feel the safest, most secure, least vulnerable.

Now mentally, leave that safe place.  Go to where there is some risk – perhaps in the company of strangers; or even riskier, strangers surrounding you in a strange place that you do not recognize and do not know which direction leads back.

Mentally, go to a place where nothing feels safe – where everything about it feels threatening, and there you are, alone, with no one to cry out to.  Darkness comes, the wind howls, and it feels evil.

Being in wilderness

That is wilderness.  To be in the wilderness is to be at risk from all sides, to be vulnerable, unprotected, and lost.  To be in wilderness is literally, to be bewildered.

Israel spent time in wilderness.  As  horrible as it was for them to have lived as slaves;  making bricks without straw for the glory of Pharaoh, it was, nevertheless, not a light nor easy thing to leave the security of a settlement and to go out into the wilderness which, in their view, even God seemed to have abandoned to the demons.

It turns out they had real cause to be afraid.  Wilderness was an insecure, uncertain place.  They wondered, “Where is the path to the Promised Land – there are no road signs.  Where will we get water?  How will we eat?  By day the sun burns off every blade of grass.  In the cold night air, the menacing demons howl and snicker.”

And what about God?  Wilderness seems to be all “valleys of the shadows of death,” but no shepherd.  Wilderness is a time of testing and trials, of temptations to abandon hope, to succumb to despair, to make a deal with the devil for the sake of survival.

Wilderness, and us

What is your wilderness?  What is it that pushes you out into that territory of uncertainty, lostness, fear, and bewilderment?  For some of us it is simply anxiety;  for others it is the process of aging and the nearness of death.  For others it is loneliness or grief.  For some it is simply doubt.  There are as many kinds of wilderness as there are people – we all have our own place of bewilderment.

How do we deal with wilderness?  Jesus told us that the truth sets us free.  We begin the season of Lent with a full-faced, unblinking acknowledgement of the truth of our mortality.  We will not live forever in this world; we know that.  That is truth number one.

Truth number two is that nobody gets through life without passing through wilderness.  That’s why this text before us is so powerful.  We watch even our Lord  himself experiences a time of wilderness.  We need this text to make it though ours.  Let us walk through this scene together.

We begin, noting that Jesus has just been baptized by John in the Jordan River.  The Spirit of God has descended on Jesus.  Now that he is filled with the Spirit, should he expect a bright, successful ministry?  Not so fast.  Immediately the Spirit sends him into wilderness.

Suddenly, wilderness

His experience is ours.  Wilderness times come abruptly, without the courtesy of announcement or warning. No memo; no calendar alarm. Suddenly we are there, alone, bewildered.  Maybe the Spirit is there – but if so – only in an unseeable manner.

And, there is no proper food.  For forty days Jesus is there, surviving on who knows what, and at the end of it, he is hungry.  Is there any single word better suited to sum up the human condition than “hunger”?  Is there anyone who feels that they get all of what they need?  Isn’t there, rather, an ache in every human heart that never gets fully satisfied, even in the best of times.

And if we are hungry people when life is normal, how much more acute is that hunger pang when we step out of “normal” and into wilderness?  The daily craving of normal time is forty-fold hunger in wilderness, and we are faint.

Bread for the hungry

And then it starts; the search for the way out of that hunger-condition; the way out of wilderness.    The temptations begin.  We hear the voice telling us:

command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

The temptations all come as suggestions – as a voice from somewhere unseen.  The voice  tells us that our hunger has a solution, and it names the solution.  “Go for it, take it, consume it; the solution is right there in that stone – in the bottle, in the prescription, in the distraction, in the escape, in the purchase, in the rash action – do it; take it now, and be done with the pain.  Stop the hunger.”

But, if what we are all so hungry for really was bread, or houses, or trips, or cars, computers or cable, then why aren’t they working?  If we were really hungry for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and products, then why aren’t they working?

Perhaps our hunger is far deeper than “bread” of any kind.  Perhaps, as Pascal suggested long ago, the vacuum in our hearts is not bread-shaped, but God-shaped.

Control – at any cost

The voice of temptation tries again.

“Look,” it says, “at all the kingdoms of the world…. “To you I will give their glory and all this authority;

The voice knows that wilderness is all about insecurity – not being able to say with certainty that we will be taken care of when we need it the most.  The tempting voice tells us that unless we are on top of the pile, we are at risk.  Unless we are in total control, we may loose out.  Unless we are in a position to make the kingdoms of the world bow to our agenda, we are at their mercy.

So, the voice says,

7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

“Abandon your conscience,” the voice tells us, “do whatever it takes to get what you need.  Don’t read the prospectus; if the bottom line is good, invest without questions or scruples.”
But choices sometimes have to be made.  “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  What if it comes down to abandoning the only thing in the universe worthy of worship?  Is that a bargain?  To whom do we owe our ultimate fiduciary responsibility?

God to the rescue

The voice of temptation tries again.  It asks us: “How did you get here, into this wilderness?  How did you get to this slippery top of the steeple with no good foothold and  no rope?”
“Well, never mind how got you here; you are here now, so:

throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’”


Wilderness is about regret. It’s about reviewing all the decisions we made along the way, all the little steps, all the habits of thought, habits of choice, habits of lifestyle, habits of indulgence that may have landed us suddenly in this bewildering state.  And so the final voice says, go for the dramatic God-bail-out.  Jump off and be caught.

The voice says, “It’s not about confession, repentance, a change of routine, new daily disciplines; it’s just about demanding a miraculous intervention to undo it all in one fell swoop.  You have been speeding down this road 90 miles an hour for a long time; you look in the mirror and see the flashing lights: time to start to pray.  Put God on the line;  ask for a miracle: the final shot at the buzzer.”

In that hungry, lonely, vulnerable wilderness, the tempter’s voice sounds attractive.   Why are the temptations so compelling?  Everyone loves the sound of their own voice.

The Way Out of Wilderness

Our Lord has gone though wilderness for two reasons: to let us know that he understands full well, with the knowledge of personal experience, what our wilderness means to us, and to show us the way out.

The way out is to decide to listen to the other voice speaking to us out there, for there are two, not one.  The other voice is different.  It is not the opportunistic voice of the moment, spontaneously spoken by a tempting would-be advisor.  The Other voice is one the comes from the distant past.  It has been spoken, not off-the-cuff, but rather in a time of profound instruction.  It is not hearsay, but rather, it is the collection of words which the community heard God speaking to it, written down, treasured, preserved, handed on, generation to generation, attended to by successive communities, gathered to hear again the ancient Voice.

The escape from the seductions of the tempter’s voice in the wilderness is the Voice  contained in the texts where “it is written… ” and “...it is said

“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” (Dt 8:3)

“It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”(Dt 6:13)

“It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deut 6:16)

Gathered to hear the Voice again

We all go through wilderness; we all go through times of total bewilderment.  We are not alone.  The ancient voice that spoke those words to the community in their wilderness speaks to us today.  This is why we gather together; to be the community that receives those words, that treasures those words, that learns their significance, and that hands them on again.

We may be in wilderness, but we are not alone.  God has given us each other, the community of faith.  Our Lord Jesus has bound us together into an alternative community, in fact, a family, that supports each other.  We are not a group of people who are above crises of hope or of faith; rather we are a community which admits the truth: that just like our Lord, we all experience wilderness temptation; this is who we are.

And so we gather to hear those ancient words and to support each other.  We actually need each other to keep re-affirming our faith that bread does not save us, no matter how tempting it smells coming out of the Madison Ave oven.  As we gather in community, we reassert together the alternative perspective that economics are important, but never in any ultimate sense.   Wall Street never saved one person from wilderness, and never will.  We will ‘Worship the Lord our God, and serve only him.’”

We gather together to support each other in confession and repentance of destructive behaviors, and for support in re-learning the habits of a disciplined life of faith that does not expect God to bail us out, but expects to learn to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ “one day at a time.”  We will not “put the Lord your God to the test” no matter how strong the temptation, but to worship and serve him only; even in wilderness.

Ash Wednesday Sermon, Isaiah 58:1-12 Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21

Isaiah 58:1-12
Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21

The Well-lived Life

How many Mardi Gras strings of beads is enough?  You stand there as each float goes by hoping to catch another.  Eventually you have a small collection.  Then you take them home.  Then what?  What’s the point?  In one moment it seemed important to try to get as many as you could; later, you have no idea why.
I do not want my life to be like that.  I don’t want to spend my days concerned about things that don’t matter.  I don’t want to look back and ask myself, “now, what was all that fuss an energy about?”
I do not want to waste life; nobody wants to waste their lives, but many people do.  I can think of few things more tragic than a wasted life.

Regrets

I have heard people say, looking back on a long life, that they have no regrets.  I suppose it must be possible to think that way, but I don’t.  I have lots of regrets.  I regret words I have said that hurt people.  I regret wasting time on things that were not even interesting or entertaining, let alone helpful.  I regret some of the ways I’ve spent money on things that seemed so important at the time, but later were such disappointments.  I regret broken relationships and misunderstandings.  There are lots of things I would do differently if I got a “do-over.”   But of course, we do not get “do-overs.”
We are mortal.  We have one life to live on this earthly plane, and when it’s over, it’s over down here.  It is possible to waste life; and many people do.
To live a well-lived life that is not wasted, we simply need to know what is important and what is not, and to choose to live for what is important, and not to spend our whole lives catching beads.
So, how do we know what is important?  Let us start at the top of the list.  Let us start with God.  What does God want from us?  What is important to the Almighty?

History of Religions

Throughout human history, since we left the caves, learned to speak language, and put some clothes on, humans have tried to answer this question.  The procedure that most humans take is to start with something they know and understand, and then to extrapolate from that to an answer to the unknown – that is, God.  So most people have started with people and have reasoned; God must want what we want, only more so.
God is really big, and powerful, and important; what do big, powerful people want?  To be honored by everyone else.  How do you honor someone?  By showing deference and by offering gifts – the more valuable, the more honoring they are.  So what must God want?  Deep deference and costly gifts.  Bowing, groveling, self-abasement, and sacrifice.
This is what many religions are all about – rituals of deference, acts of humility, and denial that show honor to God, and sacrifices of unblemished animals to offer as gifts.
Ancient Israel had formal rituals to show honor to God like holy days and fasting, and sacrifices as well.  It is correct to think of God as a the great King who is worthy of all of the honor you can give.

God: King and Creator

But God is more than just a King.  In fact, the Hebrew Bible’s amazing break-through is to assert that God is in fact Creator – the source of all life, of all of nature, and of every man, woman and child.  It is correct to think of him as King, but as Creator, it also correct to think of God as Father.
As Father, he still deserves honor and respect, but that is not the end of the line, nor even the main point.  As Father, he is also deeply interested in how the family is living as a family.  It matters to him how his sons and daughters get along.   He is especially concerned that the older or stronger members of the family use their advantages to help the weaker, younger ones.  They are all his children: he could never wish for the success of one at another’s expense.  He could never be happy if one of his children suffered at the hands of another.
This is the great insight that the prophet Isaiah had.  What is important to God?  Honoring God with fasting is appropriate: God is God, and is worthy of all the honor we can give.  But what is the use of a fast if at the same time, one side of the family is hurting another?  What good is it to humble yourself before God, and then oppress his children, or hurt them, or enslave them?

3 Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?  ( Isa. 58)


A life lived doing religious rituals like fasting could be a waste – like catching Mardi Gras beads.  What does God, our Maker want from us?  Isaiah asks us:


6   Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

On Ash Wednesday, we pause in the middle of the day in the midst of our lives and ask ourselves: what is important?  There are no do-overs.  This life is the only one we have down here to do the right thing.  It is the fact of our mortality itself, the fact that we do not get any do-overs, that makes what we do with every day so important.

Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father”

God does deserve our devotion.  Jesus assumed that we would pray, he assumed that we would fast, he assumed that we would give alms as part of our devotion, and he taught us to look at God as our Father in heaven.  Not just our king who needs to be honored, but in addition to “hollowed be thy name” Jesus taught us to pray that his Kingdom would come on earth – where there are no do-overs.  The well-lived life is the one not wasted on trivia, but focused on the concerns closest to God’s heart.
As Father, God cares about his Creation – about each man, woman and child that he has made in his image.  It matters deeply to him how they treat each other.  God requires that the stronger take care of the weaker, that the older help protect and care for the younger.

Our Lenten Fast

Today begins the season of Lent.  It is right an proper that we each consider a fast in this time, to remind ourselves of how prone we are to self-indulgence, to satisfying our hunger, to meeting our own needs.
Let us use the fast that we choose to remember what is important to our Creator; our Father in Heaven.According the the State Department:
“More than one billion people — one sixth of the world’s population — suffer from chronic hunger.” (source)
I encourage you, as you leave, to pick up one of the Lenten table top prayer guides produced by Bread for the World, and to use this holy season as a time to ask yourself: will I live a well-lived life, or will I get to the end with regrets I could have avoided?  Use each meal time as a time to pray for God’s children who suffer, and to ask our Father in Heaven how we can best participate in his “chosen fast.”

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Lectionary Sermon on Luke 9:28-36 for Feb. 14, 2010, Transfiguration C

Luke 9:28-36


The Jesus We See

There is a beautiful Christmas song, written by Wihla Hutson in 1951 that paints beautiful word pictures of how children see Jesus.  It begins,
Some Children see Him lily white,
the Baby Jesus born this night.
Some Children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
That certainly is true for me.  When I was young I had a bible with pictures of all the great characters of the bible; Moses on the Mountain, holding the 10 commandments, Elijah, going up to heaven in a flaming chariot, and of course Jesus.
The picture I remember is the scene in which parents are bringing their children to Jesus so that he could bless them.  In spite of the protests of the disciples who try to prevent them, out of ignorance of what Jesus was all about, Jesus did bless them.  The picture I remember shows Jesus lifting up one child in his arms as other children and their parents crowd around.
They looked like me – like us.  All the children and their parents were Caucasian.  As a matter of fact, so was Jesus.  “Some children see him lily white.”  I sure did.

Jesus in my skin: nice, but dangerous

But that’s OK.  In fact that song celebrates a truth that is wonderful and deep.   But also dangerous.  It is true and even essentially true to think of Jesus as one who knows me, speaks my language, understands me like a native, at a level that an immigrant will never achieve.  In that sense, Jesus looks like me.  And everyone is invited to know that truth, all over the world.
But it is dangerous.  Picturing Jesus like me, in my skin, and speaking my language  is only a whisker away from a cliff edge of disaster; the tragedy of seeing the Jesus that “suits me” instead of the Jesus that is.
Perhaps it is tempting to scoff at poor Peter as we read this text – he is famous, of course, for being rash, impulsive, and often wrong.  But as we look at this text together, let us enter the story just as he did – as someone who is trying to follow Jesus, seeing  him through the only eyes he has, the eyes of his own history and culture,  and their hopes and dreams.  Let us put ourselves in his shoes – or sandals – and then see if our image of Jesus changes as his did.

Eight days after these sayings…

So, to the story: It begins

28  Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.


No story begins, “eight days after these sayings”- obviously we are jumping into a story-in-progress.  And clearly, those sayings are absolutely important for the story we are in – so we will return to those sayings in a minute.
What is happening eight days after those important sayings?  Picture it: Jesus takes his core leadership team, Peter, John and James, and teaches them by modeling, by example, what they need the most, to make it as disciples: he teaches them the habit of prayer: connecting with God.
They climb up to the top of a nearby mountain – of course they do, because that culture pictured God as “up,” so the higher up you were, the closer to heaven you were.  So up there on the mountain, like Moses and Elijah before them, they went to seek God.
I love the way Luke tells this: first we get to see what Peter, John and James saw, and only later do we find out that they had been so sleepy they nearly missed it.  There is that moment just before sleep finally enfolds you that you drift somewhere in between the real world and a dream state.  It is in that moment of almost asleep-ness that they see it: Jesus changes before their eyes.  They had been used to seeing him one way, now they seem him another way.

the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

He used to look just like one of them – same middle-eastern skin tone, same Galilee style clothing – like one of the fishing boys; no more!  Now they see an entirely different Jesus – and he is not like them at all!   He is somewhat like Moses, shining as he came out of the cloud of the presence of God, down Mount Sinai, but even more so.  More like that mysterious, “Son of Man” from the apocalyptic visions of the book of Daniel – the one that receives a Kingdom from God, the Ancient of Days!
In fact the only word that describes how he looked now is the very word reserved for God himself: “glory”!

32 “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory”

How do you describe this?  Suddenly they see Moses and Elijah there also, and quickly a cloud, just like the one on Mt. Sinai envelopes them, and it utterly terrified Peter, John and James!
What do we do when we experience something extraordinary and new?  We humans always first try to understand it by fitting it into what we have already known and experienced before.  Peter, John and James have just been overwhelmed with a direct experience of the glory that belongs only to God.  What should a good Jewish boy do?

Glory is for tabernacles

Well, they all knew that in the days of Moses, the glory of God was present in the holy of holies, the very center of the tabernacle – which was actually a tent-shrine that they made, at God’s direction, that could travel with them through the wilderness.
That experience of 40 years of wilderness in which God’s presence was with them in that tabernacle-tent was the basis of their annual festival called the festival of booths, or tabernacles.  Every year the people were to make for themselves little temporary shelters called tabernacles, or booths out of branches and palm leaves,  and live in them for seven days to commemorate their time of wilderness wanderings.
This word “tabernacle” or “booth” or “dwelling” is exactly the word that Peter used on that mountain, in that moment of overwhelming glory, as he suggested his idea of an appropriate response to this experience.

33 Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (booths, tabernacles), one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

This is exactly what you would expect if you were seeing Jesus the old way, as perhaps, another great prophet of Israel, like Moses or Elijah – one who had been in the very presence of God and lived to talk about it.  Build a tabernacle shrine!  “Of course!  That’s what we do: that suits us to a tee.”
But this way of looking at Jesus, in our skin, as one of us, as chapter 20 in our history is unacceptably near-sighted.
In this mysterious, cloud-filled moment, suddenly a voice, like the voice from the cloud at Sinai, thunders – not even allowing Peter to finish his misguided proposal:

34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.  35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!
This is the point of this experience of the Transfiguration: God himself speaks again, as he had spoken to Moses and Elijah, but now he says something new: God announces that Jesus must never be seen as simply one among many – even as another special one among a few notables of the past.  Instead: now see Jesus in an entirely new way, blazing in glory.  Now see him as God’s Son.
See Him, Hear Him

And do what?  Build a shrine at which to worship him?  No!  Rather, “Listen to him.” “Hear him” – just like Israel’s central creed says, which begins, “Hear Israel, the Lord you God, the Lord is One.”  So now the creed is “Hear him!”  What Jesus says, he says not as one of the boys might say, what he says, he says as God’s chosen Son.  What he says is now our central focus.
So now we see why this story began “eight days after these sayings.”  We go back to those sayings, and we hear things that do not necessarily suit us.  We hear him say, in the verses just before this story,

Luke 9:23-25   Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?


How do we see Jesus?  “Some children see him lily white,” like us.  That is good – he does speak our language; he knows us inside and out.  But he is also not like us.  He is God’s Chosen Son, and when we see him  in glory, we must hear him.
He does not speak words that leave us where we are, as comfortable, middle class caucasians.  He speaks words of sacrifice and denial of self. He speaks words that challenge every culture and every ideology, every value system and every tradition.   (How does sacrifice and self-denial sound to our culture today, on Valentines Day – does that fit the Hollywood notion of love and relationships?  Quite the opposite!)
No, we will not build booths or tabernacles to make another shrine as our culture taught us to do.  We will go back down the mountain with Jesus, now that we see him as he is.  We will listen to what he says.  We will go with him as he confronts evil that holds people in bondage.  We will hear him teaching about the ethics of neighboring – even to Samaritans, even to lepers, even to the outcast and the despised.
“Some children see him lily white.”  But some disciples saw him dazzling white, with the authority of God to command our obedience.   This is the moment to be utterly overwhelmed.  We will be the people who hear him, and submit to him, whether it is what our culture has prepared us to do with Jesus’ words, or not.

Some Children see Him

Wihla Hutson, 1951

Some Children see Him lily white,

the Baby Jesus born this night.

Some Children see Him lily white,

with tresses soft and fair.

Some Children see Him bronzed and brown,

the Lord of heav’n to earth some down;

Some Children see Him bronzed and brown,

with dark and heavy hair.
Some Children see Him almond eyed,

this Saviour whom we kneel beside,

Some Children see him almond eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.

Some Children see him dark as they,

sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray;

Some Children see Him dark as they,

and ah! They love Him too!
The Children in each different place

will see the Baby Jesus’ face

Like theirs, but bright with heav’nly grace,

and filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing,

and with thy heart as offering,

Come worship now the Infant King,

’tis love that’s born tonight!