- March 3, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 3 March 2019 (Last Epiphany Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Exodos 34.29-35; Psalm 99; Luke 9.28-36
Title: They Appeared in Glory
“Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure.” Luke 9.30
In the 1950’s, an African Pygmy named Kenge took his first trip out of the dense tropical rainforest that was his home. He was taken out onto the broad savannah plains of Tanzania. Far in the distance across the savannah was a herd of Cape buffalo. They appeared as small black specks against the bright sky. The pygmy man stared at the buffalo in the distance, then turned to the anthropologist who was accompanying him, and asked, “What kind of insects are those?”
When the anthropologist replied that those were not insects, but rather were buffalo, the little man Kenge roared in laughter and told the anthropologist that he should not tell such stupid lies.
(Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, 2006.)
This western anthropologist was not stupid – and he was not lying. You see, before this moment, this pygmy man Kenge had spent his entire life on the floor of the thick central African rainforest, where he had never been able to see more than a few feet in front of him, let alone all the way to the horizon.
His brain had never processed an image of something that was miles away, and so he had no way of perceiving the reality that something as large as a buffalo – an animal 10 feet long and averaging 1600 lbs of muscle – could appear so small due to the diminishing effect of distance.
My dear friends: you and I are African pygmies!
No, no, not in the make-up of our bodies, of course. But we are like those African pygmies when it comes to our spiritual vision! But if it makes you feel any better, so were all of the apostles. So were Peter, James and John!
You see, like those peasant fishermen, we live our entire lives within the thick jungle of experiences which constitute a normal human life. Dishes and bills and house repairs and dirty diapers and work and school and illnesses and sore feet and headaches.
Our brains have never processed an image of reality from God’s point of view.
We don’t even know HOW to see divine things. It’s like Peter up there on the mountain: “OK, Lord, I guess you and Moses and Elijah will need someplace to stay.”
As if he was saying, “and what kind of insects are those?”
Peter simply did not have neural pathways by which to process what he was seeing. It was beyond anything that he had ever seen or imagined.
And THAT, I believe, is the entire point. You see, until this moment in the Gospel story, their time with Jesus had been very, very busy. Sailing across the lake in a raging storm, catching loads of fish, feeding thousands of people, healing the sick, being surrounded by huge crowds who all wanted something from Jesus.
It must have felt a lot like their ordinarily very busy lives. It WAS different, of course, living with the Messiah, but they were still walking with him through the thick rainforest jungle.
But here, on the mountain, now they are taken out onto the savannah for the first time in their lives. Above and beyond and around the crowded busyness of their lives, there was a luminous divine reality that Peter and James and John had never before glimpsed.
Sure, they believed in the IDEA of God’s glory, and they even liked the idea.
But they had no way to imagine what the reality of God’s glory actually looked like. Until this trip up to the mountain top.
What they were allowed to see there upon the mountain is not some isolated, dramatic experience, but it is rather a vision of what the life of Jesus is truly like and of what their lives could be like when lived in connection with him.
What if the glory of God is all around us all of the time, and yet we so rarely are able to see it?
And isn’t this what we say (sing) each time we gather at the Lord’s Table?
“Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
Full of God’s glory?! Have you stopped to consider what that means, if that is true?
It means that all of our lives are wrapped in the glory of God – in the light and the energy of God.
Even when we are changing baby diapers. Glory.
Even when we are teaching our teenagers how to drive a car. Glory.
Even when we are explaining to our older parents that they cannot drive any more. Glory.
Sometimes we see it. More often we do not.
Do you remember when Joshua Bell, the famous violinist, played for 45 minutes in a DC Metro station? Do you remember how he was playing a 300 year old violin worth more than $3 million, and he had just sold out a Boston theater two nights earlier, but here in the subway only a handful of people stopped to listen?
Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory! And yet, so often, we miss it. We walk right by it.
You know, I think that we are all looking for glory, looking for that dazzling light of divine energy. Even if we do not quite know what it is or where to find it.
This project of following Jesus has to do with sanctifying our imagination. The gospel allows us to see a different future – one that is different from our current reality. When we can see the outlines of this new possibility, we can live with hope.
Numerous studies have shown that we human beings are most likely to imagine the future based upon what we are experiencing in the present.
We really do struggle to imagine a different reality than what we have already experienced.
For instance, Alexander Graham Bell, the man who invented the first practical working telephone in 1876, once spoke these words to a reporter in an interview: “It may sound cocky of me, sir, but I foresee the day when there will be a telephone in every town in America!”
Did you catch that? In every TOWN in America! Do you think he could have even imagined a time when there was a phone on every person in America – and nearly every person in the world?!
It is a fact that our imaginations are mostly bound by our past memories and by our present experiences. But you see, God desires for us to see, and to imagine, much, much more.
We struggle to see, because we trust our eyes far too much. Because, even in the physical realm, what these eyes see is but one small piece of the incredible spectrum of energy waves that surround us all of time.
Do you know that right now your body is giving off waves of energy and radiation , and yet our eyes are not equipped to see them? Isn’t that incredible?
By nature, the scope of our vision is narrow and limited. But what it means to be on this journey with Jesus, to be baptized into this family, is to be constantly growing in our ability to see this dazzling glory of God.
It means that we are amazed, astounded, like those sleepy apostles, when we are finally able to grab a glimpse of the glory of God – when we are able to see things not only as they appear to our eyes, but with our faith-inspired imaginations.
Look at what we are doing today in the sacrament of baptism.
Now, you can look on the surface level and you can see just a child and some water and oil and a candle, and you can see a pleasant little opportunity for a family to get together and take some nice pictures and have a good memory (and something to fill up pages in a baby book).
OR you can look with the eyes of faith and see something powerful and majestic and eternal – the glory of God embracing and surrounding a child. You can hear promises that are made before the very throne of God. And you can imagine all of the saints and the angels of God – all of that great cloud of witnesses who surround us at every moment – you can see them rejoicing that once again people are embarking on this journey of new and abundant life in Christ.
So my friends, how is your sanctified imagination? Have you been able to glimpse the glory of God beyond and above and around all of the activities of your daily life?
Is your sanctified vision growing over time, and allowing you to see ever more of the dazzling light and glory of God that fills heaven and earth?
May it always be so among us. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: New Testament