SERMON Feb. 7, 2016 Last Sunday After Epiphany
By Rev. Dec. Patricia Marks
Exodus 34:29-35 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 Luke 9:28-36 Psalm 99
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +
As many of you know, I love adventure travelling, especially to cold, icy places. That’s why my closet is stuffed with double-lined puff coats and I have a drawer full of thermal underlinings. And those knee-high rubber boots that I wore in Antarctica! That was the trip of a lifetime! We wore those boots hopping off what’s called a zodiac—really an inflated rubber raft—and wading to shore through a melted glacier. Then we walked through an old whaling station in a volcanic caldera and climbed what to me was a mountain—and what to the guide was a small hill. We huffed and puffed up and up through the packed snow, and then, near the top, I looked out. It was transcendent! The land, the ocean, everything was transfigured. Sunlight gleamed on the water, icebergs sparkled with joy, and way down below were little tiny dots—penguins or people, hard to tell.
The same thing happened in Alaska. The last time we went, we stayed at North Face lodge. Early in the morning, I opened the door and looked out—there was Denali, the tallest mountain in the northern hemisphere. In native Athabaskan, its name means “The High One.” And high it is, over 20,000 feet: its peak is clothed with clouds. And when they parted! It was as if the heavens had opened.
So it’s probably no surprise that when we were in Baltimore during the blizzard, I perched near a window where I could see the swirling snowflakes and reached for a book written by Hudson Stuck, who in 1913 was one of the first to climb Denali. Now, Stuck appeals to me for many reasons. He was an adventurer, but he also was the Archdeacon of Alaska. He remembered all the holy days; and every morning, before his crew broke camp, they said morning prayer. When they reached the summit of Denai, they stand in awe at the incredible vista and, as he writes, they say
a brief prayer of thanksgiving to Almighty God . . . that He had granted us our hearts’ desire and brought us safely to the top of His great mountain.
Given all that, I can’t believe that Hudson Stuck didn’t think of Peter, James, and John climbing the mountain with Jesus. Stuck and his companions faced constant danger as they traversed the great Muldrow glacier, where crevasses, those deep, treacherous cracks, were hidden by fresh snow. Their food supply dwindled and their clothing wasn’t warm enough, but the two things they never ran short of were drinking water and courage. Compared with Stuck’s careful details about height and temperature, Luke’s account is very simple, really. It doesn’t say how high they climbed, how long it took them, what they ate on the way, or how many rocks they stumbled over. There’s no mention of snow or storms (unless, of course, you count the shadow of the cloud that overtook the disciples).
In Luke, Jesus goes up the mountain not to measure its height or temperature, but to do something infinitely more courageous. He goes up the mountain to pray. And given what he is about to face at Calvary, falling rocks would be negligible. With him are Peter, James, and John, who will face a test of their own understanding of His role, a test of their own understanding of what they too will face if they continue to follow Jesus.
I think, you know, that we are stumbling along behind them, trying to put our footsteps in the path that Jesus has created. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always succeed. There’s a shorter way, I decide, and head off on my own, only to stumble into the hopelessness of a crevasse. This boulder is too big to climb over, I think, and fall flat on my face, ignoring the hand of grace stretched out to help me.
And there, at the top, at the same time, the Master is praying, and I am awed at the burden he is carrying. I know that somehow, somewhere, I am part of that prayer, and I feel undeserving.
But that’s not the end of Luke’s story, because what follows is the prelude to the wonderful celebration of Easter. Two prophets of the Church—Moses and Elijah—appear in glory. And in a twinkling of an eye, Jesus is changed, changed utterly. The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. But there’s more. In that moment, we two have a glimpse of what Moses saw when he climbed Mt. Sinai to get the commandments and came face to face with God Himself. In that moment, we see what Elijah saw as he was swept to heaven in a whirlwind from his chariot.
And what, what do we do with that vision of who Jesus really is? Well, Peter is beside himself. As usual—like us!—he stumbles. He says, let’s build three houses, three sukkah, one for each of you. It is, I think, all he can do, all he can think to offer. It is the end of the harvest season; it is the way his people celebrate, the way they give thanks for the care God gave them during their forty day trek through the desert. But it misses the point.
And God lets Peter, lets us know it. “This is my Son!” He exclaims. Not just a prophet, not just a friend, but God’s own Son. And then, like the parent he is, God says, “Listen to Him!”
What are we to do after hearing that admonishment? Well, we have forty days of Lent ahead of us, forty days to climb the mountain. We’ll have the time to think and to meditate on the path we are walking, time to climb over all the stumbling blocks our own blindness and foolishness have created; time to learn where we have fallen, where the crevasses are, those deep dark places of grief or pain or hopelessness. We’ll have the space of time to look around us, to learn to live not with the old laws, but with the new laws of loving God and loving our neighbors, no matter who they are. We’ll have the time to so clothe ourselves in God’s word that no matter how hard the wind blows, we will be comforted. And then, when we reach the top of the mountain, and behold by faith the light of his countenance–well, what then?
We too will be changed, changed utterly, changed into his likeness from glory to glory. We too will be made whole, made new by the Easter promise of the resurrection.
In His Holy Name. +