- Exodus 24:12-18
- Psalm 2
- 2 Peter 1:16-21
- Matthew 17:1-9
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.
I love today’s gospel story. There is so much going on all at once and it’s a rather chaotic scene when you think about it. In an instant, the world that Peter, James, and John know changes before their very eyes.
I feel a bit like there is a tension so thick that these three guys are momentarily paralyzed by the overwhelming reality of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah standing before them. What happens when all that was and all that is to come is on display right in front on you? “You get a glimpse of what could be, when actually, it was all along.” These disciples come face to face with the very disconcerting reality of what life with Jesus is all about. They come face to face with the very real change that they knew was coming, that they were preparing for, and that they were working toward.
And suddenly, I bet, something happened very much in a way that we are all rather familiar with. When faced with change, we have one of those moments that is in reality a split second, but seems like suspended time as we are faced with a splitting path of decision: wanting things to stay the same or moving in the direction of change anticipating the things to come. I like to call this the ‘What do I do?!’ moment.
Everyone handles that moment differently, and in accordance with what kinds of change they are facing.
And our gospel lesson gives us a glimpse of one person’s very human reaction.
I wonder if Peter wouldn’t like, in this moment, to hit that kind of pause button that makes the whole world come to a stand still except for the main characters. Give himself the time to think about what is happening and really ruminate on what it means for him, for the apostles, for all the disciples, and for his relationship to Jesus and God.
But, it’s interesting that Peter doesn’t really pause himself. I feel a bit like Peter deals with change and processing much like I do. If I’m really thinking hard about something in my life, I look for things to do around the house. I tidy, I organize, I move furniture around (much to the consternation of certain housemates…), I wash floors, I scrub pots and pans, I bake, I sort clothing, or I file paperwork. I adopt the mentality of ‘Don’t just stand there; do something!’ – an all too familiar and urgent command designed to spur us on out of complacency into action!
Peter essentially barks out this imperative in response to witnessing what seems like an induction of Jesus into the mythic Faith-heroes Hall of Fame. Jesus; the guy that called them into the wild adventure that has been Jesus’ ministry; the guy that ate and drank right alongside them; the guy who shared love with all the people they encountered day after day regardless of how tired and hungry each of them was; is suddenly brightly glowing, transfigured, and standing with Moses and Elijah. It’s a lot to absorb.
So, perhaps either out of a sense of needing a moment to really process it, or wanting to seize the opportunity to capture this epic moment, Peter suggests the building of structures. Places where all may dwell up on this mountaintop – to stay and live, but also to think and speak and write about.
I like this juxtaposition of doing, doing, doing, and just being present to the thing that is happening. It’s a very human struggle.
I once led a bible study group with a number of people whom I was familiar with, but who weren’t familiar with each other. So, we began with introductions. I asked each person at the table: “Who are you?” Do you know each person answered this question by telling the group what they did? I found that curious. It’s very much built into the fabric of our culture – we build our identities out of what we do in the world.
Our doing has become our being.
And, as a result, I think we’ve worn ourselves out, “having bought into the myth of identity based on accomplishment; and if we don’t accomplish anything, then we don’t know who we are.”
So too, Peter is faced with this juxtaposition of doing and being – I think his choice to do is completely natural.
But, this moment isn’t like every other average human experience. This moment is one of those great revealing moments of the reality of God literally in the world. Not in the supposed future – the ‘as yet to come’. It’s right now. And, apparently always has been.
In that paralyzing moment of ‘What do we do?!’ – God speaks.
“This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” [Matthew 17:5b, CEB]
So, what does Jesus say?
“Get up.” and “Don’t be afraid.”
Doing and being.
In this moment, I think the disciples learn a different interpretation regarding the very real human tendencies of doing and being.
And I think it’s a lesson that is good for all of us.
I think Christ’s call to these guys up on a mountaintop is, indeed, a call to discipleship for them in this moment, but it’s also for all of us throughout time. Christ’s calling out is God’s call to all people. And, sure, answering God’s call results in all kinds of doing – but that doing is a response to what we are being even as God calls us into doing.
Our doing comes out of our being.
And this is why I think Christ’s words to Peter, James, and John are so important to us.
I often wonder what it would mean for us to stop our frantic doing, just for a few moments, and absorb that incredible gift of being. I think about what it might mean to settle into the grounding and centering identity that God gives us: to see God’s presence in our lives and simply stand in awe before the mystery of God. I think taking that moment to really become familiar with our being means that our doing becomes more natural and certainly becomes more meaningful, purposeful, sustainable, and life-giving.
Now, simply standing and taking that in could be really intimidating for a lot of people. I think it could be downright scary to stand in the midst of God’s presence and hear the words: ‘I love you; you’re forgiven,’ over and over and over and over. I know that there are people out there like me who, when faced with good words and love and praise and compliments, have a natural tendency to make excuses, point out flaws and mistakes rather than simply being present in the love that is offered. It can be terrifying to let people love on you, let alone let God share infinitely more love with you. And then you throw in the reality that to answer God’s call means that you actually have a call.
Maybe, that is the real transfiguration moment for each of us.
We’re all standing in the moment of pure, free, love without condition, without expectation, without payment owed – and suddenly see and know that we have to let go of what was and move into the change that is right before us, that we are being called into doing.
And Jesus says:
“Get up.” and “Don’t be afraid.”
We will soon step onto the path of Lent, which begins this coming Ash Wednesday. I want to invite you into this Lenten journey by asking you to really pause and stop what you are doing, if only for a moment, and truly see what God has enabled you to be. Lent gives us the opportunity to think about ourselves as more than earth and ash and dust apart from whose we are: God’s precious children, forgiven, loved, held.
Being so that we can do.
Please pray with me: Most gracious God, we give you thanks for all of the doings in our lives, the opportunities for meaningful work and vocation and relationships. Yet, Lord, we know that in all that we do, we must be grounded in our identity that comes only from you. Remind us of our baptismal calling as your precious children, loved, forgiven, and held; and from that identity, send us out to do your work. Help us this Lent to recommit ourselves to the identity that you give us, so that all that we do will ever point to the One Lord, our Saviour, in whose name we pray. Amen.
- Karoline Lewis. “Change Matters.” Dear Working Preacher: February 19, 2017. Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
- David Lose. “Do Not Be Afraid.” Dear Working Preacher: February 26, 2014. Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
- Dr. Timothy Smith. “Don’t Just Do Something – Sit There!” Day1 Radio: March 6, 2011.
This week’s image is entitled, “Iesu Transfigurato (Mark 9:4f),” created by Salvador Dalí, in 1964. The image is fair us and shared only for contemplation. You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here. The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.