Rev. Heather King,
Sermon delivered Sunday, February 11, 2018
Friends, I’d like to share a story with you. It was March 2001, a time in my life which was quite trying and dark. Perhaps some of you can relate to a period of life in which much hope is lost, in which you wonder what the purpose of life is. When I first moved to Northampton, a few years previous to this, I had taken to driving quite a bit. I was young, single so I could do crazy things like drive for hours. I made a bit of a routine of going out on nice evenings and finding different places to watch the sun set. So at this particularly trying time, a few year later, I wanted to again drive and see if finding a sunset would help me connect with some sense of meaning or purpose with life, although I wouldn’t have been able to tell you back then that that’s what I was doing.
So on a few occasions, I drove; north to Conway and Brattleboro and Petersham and west to the Berkshires. Being from Philadelphia, I was always enamored of the beauty of this place. It still touches me after 20 some years in the valley. There was one night, in late March of 2001, in which I drove for a long time, out to the Berkshires, up the westernmost part of the state and then back east again.
Driving back, I looked out to my right and gazed out over what seemed like the most beautiful landscape I had ever taken in. It was expansive, it was shimmering in the setting sun, luminescent. It was tremendous in its size and scope and it was beyond my comprehension as to how this could have been made and placed here for me to behold.
And then I was overcome with an emotion so powerful I had to pull over and stop to fully experience it. To this day, words fail to adequately explain what I experienced, but the closest I can come to it is the feeling that God was fully present with me, that only God, the God of love, compassion and wisdom could create a world with this much beauty. There was a sense of deep knowing and unquestioning certainty about God that gripped me – It seemed that everything that was anything was right there, with me, in God.
I stayed there a few moments as the feeling began to fade. It took a few moments until the luminescent light faded a bit and things began to appear more normal. And I drove on, shaken but calm and certain that I had seen the truth in a way I never could have imagined. You see, right up to that moment, not only was I not a particularly religious or spiritual person; I was down right self righteously anti -God.
I was changed by that experience. I can’t un-know something I’ve come to know. No one will ever be able to say to me, “That wasn’t God, that was just …fill in the blank. Because I came to KNOW and now I BELIEVE that the presence of God is an unfailing and undeniable aspect of my being. So I can’t un-know it……. but I can forget it. I can question it. And I can, at times, misunderstand it. You see, it’s one thing to be driving along in your car and see illuminated beauty that overwhelms the senses and proclaims the glory of God…..and it’s another thing altogether to be alone in your home 15 years later with a preschooler and an infant who DOES NOT STOP CRYING and WILL NOT BE PUT DOWN and be on 2 hours of sleep and have nothing left to give and the closest you get to an illuminated, spectacular landscape spiritual awakening is the sleep deprived hallucination you are having as you wake/sleep while nursing.
It is another thing entirely to be moving throughout your day, work, school, partners, social lives, commitments where there often seems so little room for God, or awe or reverence or spiritual connection. Yes, I have had mountain top experiences. I have, in my own, more humble way, seen the glory of Jesus’ white dazzling robes. AND I am also not much different than the disciples.
I’d like to tell you what happens with the disciples after this passage. Jesus, John, James and Peter make their way down from the mountain and Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone about this until I am risen from the dead.” The disciples agree but are confused because they only just learned about a week before that Jesus believes he will suffer greatly and be executed. And even though Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus was NOT just a prophet or a reincarnation of Elijah but the ACTUAL Messiah, THE anointed one, they still don’t understand or can’t make sense of what Jesus is telling them; that he will die, that his ministry is one of faith in God even through tremendous suffering.
After the transfiguration experience, Jesus sends the disciples out to perform acts of healing and they are able to complete some, but eventually find they are unable to heal a more difficult case. Jesus tells them that this kind of healing requires the healer to pray; to fully demonstrate their faith and dedication through spiritual practice. Simply witnessing the glory of God, believing that Jesus is the son of God, is not enough for the disciples to be fully effective in ministry.
I imagine these disciples, called by Jesus, unwittingly, into a ministry of faith and healing and how they felt being told by Jesus that their faith, their spiritual dedication was not strong enough; that they needed to pray and work in order to fully live God’s call. After all, these 3 men in particular were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, minding their own business when they were called by Jesus. They weren’t fasting and praying in the wilderness or on mountain tops calling for God. And now they were performing miracles but also being told to work harder and deepen their faith. They were constantly being taught and instructed as to how to realign their thinking to faith in God through Jesus.
I look around at this congregation and I see people called unwittingly into a ministry of faith and healing as well. I see people called to realign their thinking over and over again from the daily busy-ness to a profound faith in God and in each other.
Whether you have had “mountaintop” spiritual experiences which have solidified your faith or you wonder and have questions about God, Jesus and the church, you have been called to be here, at a particular time when faith in the love and healing power of God is much needed. We have been through a trial of transition in the past year and as a congregation, we need to come together to heal the ruptures. We have watched as divisions have arisen, feelings have been hurt and painful words have been spoken.
But Jesus demonstrated for us the elements needed for healing. He taught us them as he went about his ministry:
First, compassion: the scripture often notes that Jesus is moved by compassion to heal others. And it is from his full connection with suffering that he is urged to heal. All great spiritual traditions call for compassion; it is the ground of our being which allows us to maintain our humanity and supports human relationships. Without that kind of connection, we, as humans, wither.
Second, faith: faith in the love of God, the power of God, faith that God is here among us and for us, faith that God is the ultimate truth. Jesus is clear throughout his healing ministry, there is no healing without faith. For when Jesus returns to Nazareth, his fellow townspeople understand him simply as the boy and man they had always known and fail to see him as the son of God. Jesus finds himself unable to heal others because they do not believe. For us, faith can mean a deep trust that God, as we understand God, is holding us, as a community and holds our highest good. It means believing that when we gather together, something greater than our individual selves is present and that if we do our deep spiritual work individually AND as a community and turn toward God, that the divine presence will guide us and carry us through.
And third, willingness to act: Jesus demonstrates that taking compassionate and faithful action despite the consequences is necessary. He teaches us by healing others on the Sabbath when to do so was forbidden. And He and shows us His willingness to act when he perseveres to his ultimate destiny. We must walk forward when we know we are led by God and be unafraid to heal what we know what must be healed, to transform what must be transformed. We must take action in the context of compassion and faith.
The transfiguration passage demonstrates the tremendous glory of God and God’s capacity to inspire awe, AND Jesus also taught us that our spiritual life cannot be made of these moments alone, for there is work to do, suffering to relieve, trouble to overcome. To have a profound awareness of the presence of God is a gift – one that must be put to right use.
As a congregation, our spiritual life together cannot be one in which we have peak experiences during Sunday services and then go off and live our own separate lives. For there is healing which must occur and it must occur in the context of faith – the faith that God has called us together for a purpose, as a community, to do God’s work. It must occur in the context of compassion – the willingness to deeply understand one another, our hurts and our pains; to see deeply through another’s eyes. And in the context of just and righteous action – we speak and act upon our deeply discerned truth.
We must have the courage to exercise our spiritual disciplines, we must, as Jesus teaches us, pray or fortify ourselves spiritually, if we hope to heal our community. We must take this call seriously and seek to prepare ourselves if we hope to be recipients of healing. And we must come together honestly, with vulnerability and openness so that we may experience the glory and beauty of Christ in and through one another.
As a community, we face a challenging time ahead as we come to terms with who we are and what we need to do to heal and grow. Jesus, through His teachings, shows us the way of compassion, faith and just action. It is up to us to fortify ourselves spiritually, to demonstrate our faith and join together in this ministry of faith and healing.