This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat, St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, preached at the diocesan worship service for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 14, 2021.
The Feast of the Transfiguration
February 14, 2021
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
Good Morning! I am so glad you are here to worship on this very important day. Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration where Jesus became dazzling bright on top of a mountain in order that we might come to a greater understanding of who he is.
This mountaintop experience is a bookend to the mountaintop experience we will visit on Good Friday. On the mountaintop today, Jesus is marked with dazzling radiance and bright glory. On the other mountaintop experience, Jesus is marked with a crown of thorns and nailed to a cross. This shows there is no height nor depth Jesus will not go for us and with us. Jesus is all too familiar with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in our lives. Indeed, he lived them.
It is moments like the Transfiguration – glowing, wonderful, elating moments – where we might react like Peter did – “let’s pitch a tent and live here forever”. Let’s have this experience never end! You have had those moments, whether actually on a mountain or just having an experience in life that is powerful – that you want to capture and have never end. Experiences where you wish you could ‘pitch a tent and live forever.’
I can recall mountaintop experiences, both figuratively and literally, where I wish I could have camped out forever, but I can also recall mountainous experiences that I hoped would end immediately as the pain and discomfort were great.
My son and I enjoy hiking and have had some epic adventures. On one mountaintop, we overlooked a glacial lake with its unreal turquois color, surrounded by trees, lush green growth and a wonderland of wildflowers. We knew we were witnessing something special, a beautiful slice of God’s magnificent creation. The trek to get there was tough, but the arrival on the top was an extraordinary reward. A prized moment we wished could last forever.
We also had a mountaintop experience that could not end soon enough. We were prepared for temperatures in the 50s-70s, but an unexpected storm blew in and the temperature dropped into the low 30’s with sleet and 40 mph winds. It was a miserable experience and we had miles to go before getting out of it. We definitely did not want to ‘pitch a tent and live there.’ However, God was with us through that intensely cold and painful trek.
We enjoy mountaintop experiences, highlights in life that are remarkable and stand out from the mundane – like the joy of holding a grandchild for the first time; the intensity of a new love; or the deep trust of a dear friend. We enjoy those moments where we catch a glimpse of the Holy One, where we know that God is at work and we are attentive enough to recognize it. Those moments are exciting, precious, even transformational. But like Peter, we don’t get to pitch a tent and hang out in those moments forever.
The same disciples that were with Jesus at the transfiguration were also with Jesus at the crucifixion. They had wonderful mountain highs and devastating mountainous lows. And God was with them for both. Our human tendency is to want to reside in the good times and escape the bad times, but Jesus models for us being present in all times.
Elisha modeled for us something of being present as well. We can all relate to what Elisha is going through. He is on a long trek with his mentor, the great prophet Elijah. He loves Elijah and he is aware that Elijah is about to be taken from this earth to heaven. Everyone around seems to know of Elijah’s impending departure and they point it out to Elisha, whose repeated response is, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
Don’t you imagine Elisha is trying to be strong, trying to hold it together, trying to maintain his composure. He tells the people to “be silent” so he can remain focused, remain present with Elijah. You know how that is, when you are on the verge of tears or breaking down, but you want to be strong for someone else, for as long as you can.
Elijah asks what parting gift Elisha wants from him. Elisha asks for a “double share of Elijah’s spirit” – the double share is a reference to what the oldest son in a family would inherit from his father. It is Elijah’s response that can be instructive for us today. Elijah tells Elisha to ‘pay attention’ – keep your eyes open, keep watch. For that kind of attentiveness brings awareness of God’s grace and power in our midst, both in the good times and the bad.
Elisha does keep his eyes open, he pays attention and stays strong even through the grief of his tremendous loss. However, as soon as Elijah is gone, Elisha shows the depth of his vulnerability. He tears his clothes into pieces and cries out in his despair and immense grief. I imagine he cries out not only for his loss, but also in facing by the road ahead of him for Elijah was the mightiest of the prophets and Elisha is now his successor. He faces no small task, but in heeding Elijah’s words and keeping his eyes on God, he has nothing to fear.
Our gospel reading includes another bit of instruction from above if we aren’t too blinded to hear it. It is funny that Jesus is transfigured in front of the disciples, he is lit up brighter than the Las Vegas strip, yet the voice from the cloud does not say “Look at him,” but “Listen to him.” “Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus. When we listen to Jesus, our lives are richer, fuller and marked with purpose. When we listen to Jesus, lives change.
The Reverend Melinda Quivik says, we “have a responsibility to listen to God’s Son. That listening does not result in staying aloof where the air is pure and the view is stunning. (We) must listen to the voice of God’s Word in our midst so that we follow in a way that leads to the cross. We are not called to have power over others but to rise up as dust that has been formed by the breath of God and give life to others, especially those who are neglected by the powerful.”
“to rise up as dust that has been formed by the breath of God….” That is a powerful pointer to this coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, where we remember our mortality; where we take an assessment of our lives and renew our focus on the spiritual journey through the wilderness with Jesus.
“to rise up as dust that has been formed by the breath of God and give life to others, especially those who are neglected by the powerful” – that points us back to our Baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being – also dust formed by the breath of God.
On the Feast of the Transfiguration, I invite you to heed the great prophet’s teaching and keep your sights on God – pay attention, keep your eyes open. And also, heed the voice of God who bids us listen. Listen. Listen to Jesus. Expect to encounter the Holy One – perhaps not in dazzling brightness that stuns the eyes, or in a voice that thunders from a cloud – but expect to meet Christ who is indeed with you in the woeful times as well as the wonderful times.