Sermon – February 11, 2018

by The Rev. Posey Krakowsky

Lessons

You can read the scripture for February 11, 2018 here.

      Sermon February 11, 2018

Last Epiphany Year B
Transfiguration Sunday
Church of the Ascension
Feb 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9

Have you ever had a time in your life when you allowed yourself to be vulnerable — truly vulnerable — opened yourself up to another person — and then gotten hammered? I imagine there’s not one person in this room who has not had that happen. It’s a devastating experience, and it changes us when it occurs. We can have this experience in ways that we all might imagine — the betrayal by an intimate partner, the infighting of siblings, the sudden metamorphosis of someone we thought was a good friend. But it can also grab us at times we least expect — and in profoundly distressing ways. It can happen to us even when we are doing something mundane — at times when we have not made the conscious choice to be vulnerable. Times when we might just be standing there, breathing, being alive and human on this earth.

I read an account recently of an African American man who was shopping at an Old Navy store — when he got to the cash register, the cashier accused him of trying to steal the jacket he was wearing. Mind you, this customer had bought the jacket many months before, and had been wearing it as he walked into the store. This story has a “happy” ending in that the man kept calm, stood his ground, and asked the cashier to get the manager to check the security tapes, so that he was able to prove that he was not stealing the coat. But it could have just as easily gone another way. We all know that Trayvon Martin was killed simply because he was wearing a hoody, eating Skittles, and being a young black man in America. In both of these stories, the person involved was just going about a regular day, just BEING, and something happened. Existing as a person of color in America is then – inherently – to be vulnerable every hour of every day. So too for women of all colors all across the world. So too for LGBT folks. People with disabilities. We all know that this list could go on and on.

So given how often we all have been disappointed in what happens when we expose ourselves, when we reveal ourselves, and given how we can also be blindsided and vulnerable just because of who we are, is it any wonder that we shy away from such transparency? That when we can — and very few of us really have this luxury — we hide our true selves in order to create an illusion of protection? I was thinking about that today — as we about to enter Lent — a season when we intentionally embrace vulnerability. It’s no coincidence that we begin the walk into Lent by bidding farewell to the Epiphany season with the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Because both the Epiphany and the Transfiguration stories have something to say about vulnerability.

We began Epiphany with the seeing of the star, the coming of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt. God’s own self was revealed to us in the Christmas season in the form of the most vulnerable among us — a tiny, dark skinned baby, a refugee — nurtured by loving parents who were willing to flee all they knew in order to keep their child safe from the powers and principalities that rule this world.

And now we end this season with Jesus on the mountain — transfigured in all of his glory. Jesus reveals himself to his closest friends as he truly is, the beloved one, and then makes the conscious choice to take that very openness and authenticity and descend from the mountain, turning towards Jerusalem and the sure and painful death that awaited him. We learn from both of these stories that this beloved — this shining transparency — this incarnate God — is stronger than powers of this earth, stronger than all the sorrows — precisely because it is the glory that walks with us into the most troubling places and experiences — the glory that holds us close, weeping beside us and bearing witness. It is this God that hears us in our times of greatest need. It is this God that dwells within us and makes us capable of being fully human.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John ascend the mountain, and there they find Moses and Elijah. Standing together with Jesus, Moses and Elijah embody the TaNaK — the three parts of the Hebrew Bible — Moses the Torah , Elijah the Prophet, and Jesus, in the center, the Sophia, Holy Wisdom, the womb of life, the incarnate WORD. Sophia, the Word, was in the beginning and is now and forever the bright weaving thread that flows through the law and the prophets. She comes to us in dialogue, in the sharing of stories, in the community and the communion of the in between spaces. She is a Trinity, a dance, a chorus of mutuality, the eternal re-telling of God’s loving outreach to humanity and to all of creation. She speaks to us in both chronological and kairos time, breaking in to us in the quiet, longing places of our hearts.

And Peter, James, and John are astounded. The veil has been removed. When we see artistic renditions of the Transfiguration, the three apostles are always crouching, kneeling, or literally falling down. Wouldn’t you do the same? Have we not all wept and felt ourselves transported when we encounter the Holy so nakedly before us — perhaps at the birth of a child, or the death of a friend, or when we exchange vows with a beloved one who chooses to be with us? Maybe we encounter the holy in the sublime sighting of a work of art that moves us, or in the voices of the choir that stir our souls. Perhaps we encounter it, as one friend of mine did, in the face of a homeless man who has taken shelter on our doorstep. Maybe we see it in the persistence and courage of the people of Puerto Rico, who, many months after the hurricane, are still without power or basic human services. Who among us does not kneel in awe and astonishment when we encounter true vulnerability?

The story of the Transfiguration — for all that it is a theophany, is not a story of aggressive, controlling power. Instead, it is a story about the power of authentic vulnerability. Seeing Jesus transfigured this way, knowing that he will soon meet an excruciating and untimely death, we begin to understand the idea of the kenosis — the metamorphosis of Christ. Jesus emptied himself — took on our complete and utter vulnerability in order to help us realize that it is our greatest strength. All of creation is sacred, and all of us are sacred — but it is in our moments of deepest vulnerability that we are able to see that most clearly. When we witness each other’s vulnerability, it is then that we are best able to see the holiness within each other. It is at these times that the veil is removed.

On Wednesday we will enter into Lent — we will hear the call on Ash Wednesday — the bidding to observe a holy Lenten season and to prepare ourselves for the journey of Easter. In the days ahead, let us remember to allow ourselves the space and time to be vulnerable, to open up to the world and to those around us in ways that are safe. Let us remember to look for and find the holiness of others, to honor how they choose to reveal themselves. In the words of writer Henri Nouwen: “After everything has been said and done, what we have to offer is our authentic selves in relationship with others.”

I will finish with a poem by Madeline L’Engle.

Suddenly they saw him
the way he was,
the way he really was
all the time,
although they had never
seen it before,
the glory which blinds
the everyday eye
and so become invisible.
This is how,
he was, radiant, brilliant,
carrying joy
like a flaming sun
in his hands.
This is the way he was—is—
from the beginning,
and we cannot bear it.
So he manned himself,
came manifest to us;
and there on the mountain
they saw him, really saw him,
saw his light.
We all know that if we really
see him we die.
But isn’t that what is
required of us?
Then, perhaps, we will see
each other, too.

Madeline L’Engle

Sermon by
The Rev. Posey Krakowsky