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Monday, February 15, 2010

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Transfiguration of Our Lord • Epiphany Last • 2-14-10 • Exodus 34:29-35
Ps. 99 (9) • 2 Cor. 3:12–4:2 • Lk. 9:28-36 [37-43a]

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

SERMON: " White-Out" | Advent Lutheran, Middleboro, Massachusetts

It was an unforgettable experience that day in 1966. You might say I was in my glory, because I was skiing Squaw Valley ...and at that point in my life skiing was sheer joy. I was alone, like a surfer splashing through waves in the ocean, except that it was a sea of billowing, deep white powder snow in the High Sierra, far above Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t very cold, but the wind whipped across the deep snow, digging deep, icy cold drifts. There was only one trail up there I hadn’t explored, and so I thought I would give it a try. As I got aboard the chairlift I could barely see the red parka of the skier in a chair twenty yards ahead of me. It was late afternoon, but the sky seemed neither light nor dark, but filled with hug flakes of snow. The wooden chair slowly coiled its way to the top of the mountain and I looked back but could see non one behind me on the lift. Now and then I could hear shouts below me on the trail, but then they disappeared and I was clearly all alone at 10,000 ft.
As I slid down the ramp, I tried to find my way through the falling snow. But suddenly I was blind. I could not see a thing, and now I felt more alone than ever. It was far worse than being in a darkened closet. The natural reaction when you can’t see is to open your eyes wider, but it was of no use. That only made things worse. This was what is known and respected in the mountains as a white-out, and as far as I was concerned it was just as fearful as an avalanche. My eyes were no help to me at all, so I finally closed them and tried to sidestep down the steep summit trail. Like a bat in a cave, I had no idea where I was going except what I could tell from listening to the wind, hoping to hear another skier, praying I would not slam into a tree, fearing that I might lose my way somewhere in the foods far from any sort of help.

Amazingly, I could find the center of the trail by paying attention to my sense of balance and the downward pull of the slope, known as the fall line. It was slow and nerve-wracking because i knew the sun was shining brightly somewhere out there beyond the blizzard. Just then someone in a red parka bumped up against me and we both began to make out the sound of others below us in the same dilemma. Suddenly, like the switch of mighty lightbulb, the snow lifted and real sunlight filtered down through the trees. the sky now seemed as clear and pure as I have ever seen it before or since, and tinted a bright green by my temporary blindness. The ground seemed as firm and receptive as if one had been at sea for weeks, and the feeling of relief and sanctuary and joy was indescribable.

That day I learned that light alone is not enough for seeing. A light that shines on us in the darkness is one thing, but a light that blinds or over-powers us with its brilliance is another. The light that is clear and pure and strong cannot be overpowered or turned into darkness. The light that lifts us up from darkness is the true light, which came down from heaven, and it leads to safety and deliverance, even though we ourselves may at times find ourselves blinded by this same true light.

Life is not so simple that we can break it down into particles that are all positive or all negative, all good or evil. Life is never so black-and-white. Indeed, it seems as if it is more often the gray areas of inconsistency and moral uncertainty that give us trouble. Here is where we most often lose our way or even become unable to see the alternatives before us--perhaps because today there are so many of them. And God’s answer is to send us the true light, which can help us even though we are blinded by its glory, a light that can guide us even when we feel alone or helpless or lost. How does God do all this? By flipping a giant switch in our lives? No. By bringing us an abstract idea of Perfection and Goodness? Never. God does it by bringing Godness down-to-earth, to us and down to our size in a human child. This is how God chooses to penetrate our darkness, our blindness, our white-out. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” -- II Cor. 4:6 (ESV)

It is this amazing grace which has touched all of our lives. But be careful, lest you imagine that God has given us this gift only in order to prove his love. Christ comes as the incarnation of love, not as its Proof. Love is something you give, not something you prove. And it is this very capacity for love in each of us that it most Godly and Divine, when we see it in its true light. Then we recognize what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. Until we see that, well, we might just as well be snowblind in a whiteout. Perhaps we reveal our own blindness when we expect God to prove his love for us. Someone told me she liked the Bible because it was full of proof of God’s love: proof like miracles or curing the sick and lame, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind.

But this is backwards theology. Jesus never cured to prove. The Bible was not written to provide proof for our doubting nature, and Jesus was unmoved by such controversies. He cured where faith was present, or because he simply chose to heal this one or that one in the depth of their need. The miracles are there, but that’s not why the faith is there. The faith was in Him and the good news he preached. Maybe the real miracle is that so many went on trusting in him in spite of the fact that they remained blind or lame or lost or in prison or alone. And many still do.

Christ came unrecognized, except by a few scruffy shepherds and kooky astrologers, and he remained unaccepted for the most part. Few in the ancient world recognized the glory of God in him. Greeks in those days were proud of their philosophy and wisdom--why should they care about a Jewish baby? And Jews awaited a strong deliverer who would come in power to save them--why should they care about a carpenter’s child? Romans sat secure in their world domination, or so they thought. Athens...Rome... Jerusalem, each one looked to its own source of purpose and life and light. But only to those who accepted this Gift, who recognized God’s love in his Son, to these God gave a glimpse of his eternal glory.

I said that I was in my glory that day in the High Sierra 44 years ago, caught in the blinding light of a white-out. But that isn’t quite right. The real glimpse of glory was in discovering that I was not alone, after all...that safety and sanctuary were really not that far away from me. The glory descended in clear, broad daylight, full of comfort and joy. My prayer is that each of you may discover that same glory in the coming year...finding God’s love and care in some down-to-earth time and place in your life...that you may see with an inner vision that the true light is at hand, full of grace and truth.


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