In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere on this here Series of Tubes, I will be moving to Ithaca, New York in a few weeks to become the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
I am really excited and happy about this–St. John’s is amazing and I’m so thrilled to be able to work with them. But this also means leaving KCMO, and St.Paul’s–and that is hard. I love this place and this parish so much, and I am so proud of the ministry we have done together. God is doing such amazing things here, and I have been lucky to participate.
But that departure is not today, and never fear–this blog will continue as it has before. And this blog knows I owe you at least 2 sermons. So here’s one of them–from the Last Sunday after Epiphany, in which we discuss Peter’s super power.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
February 11, 2018
Transfiguration, Last Sunday of Epiphany
–I have a tradition of watching the Opening Ceremony of each Olympics. And livetweeting them. A group of us have formed over the years–I think the first time I did this was 2012 or so.
–It’s the only rational response, I feel, to watching such a momentous occasion under the circumstances NBC gives us, which are less than ideal, At least for me–it’s frustrating to have parts of the show edited out, random trivia spouted by talking heads, and so much attention placed on the American athletes, when maybe this is a great time to pay attention to people who exist outside this country? And often, as it was this year, the whole thing is time-delayed with plenty of commercials.
-So, loving mockery it is. Because how else can one digest the dichotomy that occurs onscreen? The designers of the Opening Ceremony were tasked with a near-impossible task: tell the story of Korean life and culture over thousands of years through a show–use everything at your disposal. So, they have 5 children ‘wandering’ through the history of Korea, meeting with mythical creatures, giant puppets, dancers, war torn refugees, drumming choirs, mountains made of calligraphy, and a technological future. It’s all pretty great, actually. And it’s all hard to explain in mere words.
–So, perhaps that’s why the commentators ended up offering tidbits like “Asians are not afraid of tigers!” and “Korea has more tech rehab centers than any place except China!” ….Ok.
–the need to explain is not always helpful. And often counterproductive. In fact, NBC had to offer an apology to South Korea just this morning for some of their commentary, when one of the on-air folks said that Korea had always looked to post-war Japan as their economic ideal. If you know your history, you know that NO. Koreans definitely did NOT have those warm feelings for post-war Japan.
So, when looking at the gospel for today, maybe sub in Katie Couric for Peter? Because really, it’s the same problem.
Jesus, after a year or so of teaching, preaching, miracle-working, takes a few of the disciples up a mountain by themselves. These are his inner circle, his most trusted friends. And the disciples, Peter, James, and John, have a mystical experience. There’s no other name for it. Before their eyes, the truth of Jesus is revealed.
Now, the text gives an image of what this is, but it’s important to keep in mind that the specifics are less important than the thing to which they point. So Jesus suddenly becomes transfigured, his clothing whiter than the sun, shining with light. For Mark’s readers, this would have sounded to them like the divine Son of Man figure in Ezekiel, who seems to be made of shining light, all shimmering and brilliant. So they would have gotten the notion that Jesus is being revealed to be like that figure–divine! Otherworldly! Mystical!
And then Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus. Mark doesn’t tell us what they talked about because that’s not what he wants the audience to get here. The audience would have grasped that Elijah was the sum of the prophets, and Moses was the carrier of the Law. Their friendliness with Jesus indicate that he is literally conversant with the Law and the Prophets, he’s on their side, they approve–and Jesus, as established by the shining, is clearly divine. And then, if that weren’t enough, God speaks, and reminds the disciples to LISTEN TO HIM.
There’s also thunder, and mist, and sleepiness
There’s a lot happening here. Whatever exactly happened, it must have been overwhelming.
Because the first thing Peter does is open his mouth and panic. “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE. LET’S BUILD BOOTHS. OR SOMETHING.” I have decided that Peter’s chief spiritual gift is being the first person to open his mouth, and utter what everyone else is thinking. He’s basically biblical cannon fodder, who takes the rebuke when Jesus explains why that, too, is wrong. But someone has to do it, and Peter cheerfully takes the set down time after time.
Here is no exception. Peter says this truly dumb thing about booths, made all the more inane by the beatific vision unfolding before them, and I’m sure Jesus just sort of looks at him. And everything disappears, and Jesus tells them not to talk about it.
One of the commentaries I read this week pointed out that literally everything Peter does is undone by God in this story. He talks, Jesus tells him not to. He wants to build booths, Jesus has them leave. He wants to tell people, God reminds him to listen.
It would seem that there’s an impulse for Peter, perhaps for all of us, in the face of what we cannot understand to shrink it into digestible parts as fast as we can. Especially when it comes to God. We take these experiences of transcendence in our lives, and rather than letting them exist in their complexity, to slowly unfold and reveal themselves, we sometimes try to jump to explain them–or worse, we try to explain them away.
But the reality is, that while words can do a lot to convey what we know of God, they cannot do everything. Much of the divine remains beyond us. Part of what makes God divine is that inability to be fully comprehended.
Our instinct to shrink those experiences that challenge us comes from fear, that most primal of failings. Our fear that God is, in fact, beyond us. Our fear that God might want us to change. Our fear that the great unknowable Divine is uncontrollable, and therefore will wreck us.
Yet, in the face of that primal fear, is it not striking that the one thing God says on that mountain, in the middle of all that shining light, all that mist, and fog, and appearing prophets, in the middle of all that theophany—is “Here is my Son. My Beloved.”? The one thing God says is an assurance of love. In fact, if you look through the gospels, everytime there’s a terrifying voice from heaven, the ONE THING God always says is that affirmation of Love. That’s it.
Not “I’m coming for you!” or “Pray hard and beat the flu” or “Here are the lotto numbers”. Each and every time, God says My Beloved. Each and every time, God speaks of love for us. And love, as scripture tells us, casts out fear.
If we hold on to one thing, let us hold on to that perfect love of God, and not be too anxious to shrink all of God down to easy words. The main thing God reveals of Godself is this love–this love for us throughout history, and in the person of Jesus.