Light for the Journey, Sermon by Pastor Kinsey
It’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. It’s true for us, as well as for the disciples, who walk with Jesus up the mountain of transfiguration, and back down again.
As a young teen, my cousins and I, along with my dad and my uncle, did some mountain climbing, and spelunking, in New Mexico one summer. I was secretly terrified, but I didn’t let on – or, at least I thought I hadn’t – when the eight of us were exploring a cave one day. Entering the darkness, in the side of the mountain, was not, fun to me! We had flashlights, but that did little to take away my anxiety. Finally we came to what I thought was the end, and I got ready for us to turn around. But, in the front of the pack, my brother found that there was a waist high opening, that looked deeper than our flashlights could reach, and that everyone else thought was just a thrilling discovery. But here’s where I drew the line! Nothing my siblings and cousins could say would convince me otherwise, and so they went on without me. My dad and my uncle stayed back with me – they were too big to fit, anyway! I sat there, more petrified than all the rocks surrounding us, and wouldn’t be budged to continue the journey. And now, I was afraid for them, as well as for me, as I watched them crawl in one by one, on hands and knees! We had to give them our flashlights, while the three of us, left behind, sat in darkness – which seemed like an eternity. When they finally returned, and we made our way back out, it was still daylight, and now I was leading the pack, into the dazzling bright light which I was afraid I wouldn’t ever see again!
Each person's spiritual journey is unique. We have inner, and outer journeys; personal fears to conquer, and also shared paths, we travel.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is actually the second revelation, or apocalypse, in Mark’s gospel. The first was the baptism of Jesus, when the heavens were torn open to send the Holy Spirit like a dove on Jesus, accompanied by the heavenly voice, which defines the inner journey of Jesus, who alone hears the voice: you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased! But this gift of the divine launches him out on his public journey.
Here on the mountaintop, where Jesus was transfigured, dazzling white, Peter and James and John are nearly speechless, for they were terrified, it says. Who wouldn’t be! But when Peter speaks up anyway (that’s Peter for you!), offering to build three dwellings, to codify this holy and wonderful moment in time, by making it a permanent high, a heavenly state, forever – the voice from above interrupts Peter, redirecting him, and speaks with very similar words to the baptismal apocalypse, this time for all to hear: This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him! And for once, Peter shuts up!
What does your inner journey look like? Do you have a destination in mind, a goal? Do you ever get the two confused – the journey and the destination? As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” A good reminder, I think, that the journey matters, as much as the destination – especially if we aim with purpose, if we know who, is the target of our wandering!
Jesus was actually aiming for another mountain, Mt Zion, and Golgotha, towards the end of his journey, even as he invited his three closest disciples up the un-named mountain of Transfiguration, at this mid-way point of his journey. So here, along the way Jesus is traveling, is this spectacular apocalyptic, pulling back of the curtain! Moses and Elijah, the two greatest prophets of Israel appear with Jesus, and were talking with him.
Like Moses, Elijah is so close to God that he does not die before God calls Elijah back to God’s Self, on that fire-y chariot, pulled by the fire-y horses! But the apocalyptic story of Elijah that I think is even more important for us today, is the time Elijah was so depressed, thinking his life’s work is all for naught, and that he alone among the faithful, is left, that he finds a deep, dark cave to hide in. But the Lord God comes to Elijah: and first there was a great wind, breaking rocks into pieces, followed by an earthquake, and then a fire, but God was not in any of those fearfully spectacular signs. But the LORD calls Elijah to the edge of the cave’s opening, and speaks in a still small voice, and reassures Elijah that God will leave a remnant, a faithful 7,000, which for Elijah, is a word of salvation and healing for him. This voice of God, pulling back the veil, defines the journey, and the destination, for Elijah – his inner and outer journeys line-up – and he is ready to pass his mantle on to Elisha, and go where God calls him now, onto that heavenly, fire-y, chariot ride.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward;” as Ernest Hemingway said, “but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
For the Apostle Paul, it’s all about the veil, on his journey. When the Holy Spirit struck him with lightening, throwing him off his horse, blinding him, on his way to arrest still more Christians, Jesus turned Paul’s life around, saying, “why are you persecuting me Saul, and un-veiling a new path for the traveling Evangelist. Later, after the scales had fallen from his eyes, and the veil is lifted, Paul wrote the Church in Corinth: “…if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel…” Paul is talking about his discovery that, the Law – which once had given him life, and which was his great passion and love – has for him, been "hijacked by sin."
Or in the words of Professor Carla Works: “It is as though the law turned on a flashlight in the darkness, but Christ has shone, daylight. And after seeing the world with the light of the sun, the limitations of the flashlight, though a wonderful tool, are obvious.”
Have you reached the light at the entrance to the cave? Have you felt that moment of rejoicing? Have you heard the still small voice of God? Has the veil been lifted? Each person's spiritual path is unique. But the birthing of Christians, is a work of the Holy Spirit, to which the church community is like a midwife.
These are dark times for this global community we live in. People are afraid, of course, to find themselves in this cave of darkness, but also afraid to lift the veil, unsure of where, or who, is daylight, much less how to find a way out, with such a dimly lit flashlight. Our inner spiritual journeys are not well connected to the call of God into the outer public world, which is necessary in forming a safe and healthy community. People have become like the disciples, who scurry back down the mountain, excited about the revelation they’ve seen, but easily bored, or discouraged, to take responsibility for what the next step holds, content enough with the comforts of home, in a life that has become so busy, there’s no time to remember, and reflect, on where we’ve been.
But, in the bread broken and the wine poured, Jesus lives big, for us. He is dazzling white, unafraid, unveiling and unmasking the powers we don’t see, that mess with our minds, and try to scatter us away from building up the trust needed, in community, wherein lies the power of the Holy Spirit, just waiting to be ignited.
Jesus invites us to live big too. Not to take on a savior complex, or to be Jesus ourselves, but to journey with courage, and to know the goal. The goal is the dazzling white, that is God, all in all. And the goal is the cross. And it is there, in Mark’s gospel, on that dark and rocky Golgatha hill, where the third and final revelation, or apocalypse, happens. But this time it is not God who breaks through to speak to us. But it an outsider, like Paul; and like the blind man who receives his sight; and like the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak to be healed. This time it is a Centurion, perhaps the one, who gave orders to his soldiers, to lift Jesus on to that cross, an enemy, who has the scales fall from his eyes, who sees the veil lifted, who drops his flashlight, because now he sees, the light of the world – and he says, there at the foot of the cross: “Truly, this was God’s Son.”
Each person's spiritual path is unique. But together we are all on the same journey to the same cross and resurrection. The church community, like a midwife, gives birth to a life in Christ.