People in a Presence
to begin and end today's Sermon with some words from Mother Teresa of
Calcutta as recorded in a beautiful little book titled Words to Love
By. To me they sound a lot like prayer, so let us pray:
My maternal Grandfather was something of a character. His name was Perry William Durbin but he was known to everyone (including me) simply as "PW." He was a friendly, outgoing, cigar-smoking Irishman who loved hearing and telling stories, and ,typically, the more earthy and irreverent, the better. One of his favorite stories is very much on my mind this week as the very familiar account of the event we call "Transfiguration" comes up in the lectionary to provide our Gospel for the day. As you just heard, that event has to do with some fairly clueless disciples accompanying Jesus to a mountain top, where, in spite of their inability to recognize Him, Jesus is dramatically revealed to be the chosen one of God, the Messiah. Peter, James, and John practically have to be hit over the head before that "get it" and, even then, they don't understand. Isn't that typical of us all-then and now? See, nothing has really changed very much in the 2000 years since that first Transfiguration. Jesus then and now is all around us-clear as can be-- and we can't even recognize his presence.
Well, anyway, here's P.W.'s story: Pat and Mike are in the local pub having a pint or two-actually probably even more than that. At some point, Pat says to Mike, "I sure do miss old Jimmy." "Yeah", responds Mike, "I know what you mean. Wouldn't it be great if he were here with us right now?" "I've got an idea," says Pat, "Why don't we go see him right now?" "Sure, and would you be forgetting," Mike says, "Jimmy's been dead and buried these last six weeks." "I know, I know," responds Pat, "I mean let's go down to the graveyard and share a pint with Jimmy." So the two of them set out for the cemetery, wobbling and reeling along the road, over the rough stone wall, and among the tombstones to arrive at old Jimmy's final resting place. What they don't know is that, since the funeral, the family has arranged for the erecting of a beautiful statue of Jesus to mark the site. It has Jimmy's name and dates of birth and death carved on the base. Pat and Mike are shocked and amazed. They stand speechless before the stature. Pat slowly walks entirely around it, closely inspecting every detail, until he get back to where Mike is waiting. He ponders a bit more and then says to his old friend, "I don't mean to be critical but I'll say this: I don't care who made it, nor how much they paid him; it don't look anything at all like Jimmy!"
On this Transfiguration Sunday, I want to challenge you to open your eyes, to look around you and discover anew something that you may be overlooking. That "something" makes all the difference in the world and it is precisely that "something" which separates Christians from everybody else on this planet. It is the recognition that Jesus is not just some wonderful person who lived an exemplary life a long time ago. No, for Christians, Jesus is very much alive and well, standing constantly in our midst. In fact, to be a Christian means nothing less than understanding ourselves to be with Him every moment of our lives. We are, to put it very directly, People in a Presence.
might be helpful here: First, Jesus is from start to finish unlike any
other person. He is the unique gathering together of all that is fully
human and all that is fully divine. His birth is unique. His life is unique
and His death is unique. So, we shouldn't be surprised to be reminded
that his resurrection and living presence among us are also unique. There
is no parallel at all in human history. Secondly, since Jesus is fully
divine he has to be eternal--existing before and after both sides of the
32 years of his earthly life.
We Christians claim that we know that every time we say the Creed during our worship but I think that we don't really get the startling assertion that Jesus was "begotten of the Father before all worlds and that it was by Him that all things were made and that this same Jesus will be the one who at the end of time will be here to judge the living and the dead. Do you get the picture? Jesus is ever and always present. You and I are People in a Presence.
I don't know about you, but I find it awesome, humbling, and beautiful to know and believe that Jesus Christ was present at the very creation, is now, and will be when it all comes to its fulfillment. Living my life, making decisions, and looking for opportunities to reach out to others while in His company gives me a sense of the holiness of the ordinary. It strengthens me to know that Jesus sees, shares, and cares. Having a constant sense of His presence just requires a lot of focus on our part. Brother Lawrence created a whole practice of Christian spirituality around "practicing the presence of God." When you think about it, what's the alternative---practicing the absence of God? When we start thinking that way, the problem become apparent.
So often we tend to think of Jesus as someone "way back there" in loose-flowing white robes with a gentle beard and dusty sandals that it's actually difficult to picture him in contemporary terms at all. I think that's actually a subtle temptation. If Jesus doesn't seem to fit into our modern world, so much the better, because then it's easier to distance ourselves from that penetrating gaze that might just make us aware of how many shortcomings we excuse in ourselves every day. Isn't it easier for our minds to keep Jesus captive back there in First Century Palestine than to allow Him come into our life-here and now?
So, on this Transfiguration Sunday I challenge you to transfigure your own mental picture of Jesus that you may be carrying around with you. Instead, try to feel yourself constantly in the living presence of the Lord who is our eternal contemporary. Bring Jesus into focus; seek to live each day in His presence; let Him become real and relevant.
Cosmic, Contemporary, and Concrete---these are the breathtaking dimensions of Jesus that Transfiguration Sunday invites us to see. These are the three dimensions of reality that make us as Christians unique because we are People in a Presence. We do not worship a dead hero nor follow a man who by a quirk of time is a refugee from First Century Palestine. Far from seeking merely to perpetuate a memory, we are people who stand in the living presence of cosmic reality, contemporary reality, concrete reality. That reality is the living Christ whose last words to His disciples and to each of us are these: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world."
Let us pray:
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9