Wait, Watch, and Listen
Transfiguration Sunday A-17
February 26, 2017
Wait, watch, and listen. The last thing we hear Jesus say is be quiet (Matthew 17:9). We will not know the truth about today’s lesson right away –not until after Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Imagine that you have a dream in which you join Jesus and his disciples in their early morning climb up high mount Horeb. Like the disciples, the valley below is where you grew up, where you experienced pain and made many mistakes. You are trying to transcend and leave this place by reaching the summit of Jesus’ transfiguration, on which you hope to be sublimely holy and one with God.
As the summit comes into view, the wind rising from the valley brings with it the sound of a child crying in distress. You realize you have no choice. You go down the mountain to find and help the hurting child. Turning back, you descend into the valley. Following the child’s cries, you arrive at the very home you tried to leave behind.
You gently open the door and look inside. Sitting in the corner on the floor is your own wounded child-self, that part of you that holds feelings of powerlessness and shame. You sit down next to the child on the floor. For a long time you say nothing. Then a most amazing thing happens. As you put your arms around this child, you suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God!
The mountaintop and the valley are not different places in God. They are one. There is no longer either or but both and. And now, the healing compassion you have discovered for your wounded self begins to grow and extend outward to include others. The mountaintop and the valley are one place. Slowly we learn that we are all part of One life. (James Finley, Daily Meditation, Center for Action and Contemplation, 2/24/17)
St. Paul writes God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 timothy 6:16). This light illuminates the darkness of human minds. We wait, watch and listen for illumination. We must not be in a rush to build monuments to misunderstanding like Peter.
On the mountaintop, God revealed Jesus is more than meets the eye. It’s as if the energy of the universe became localized in his mortal frame. The way of the cross and the empty tomb will reveal still more. Jesus radiates with the divine energy of incarnation and resurrection. The dazzling light of God reveals God’s vision for the universe. God seeks justice and wholeness in all things. Among mortals power corrupts. It becomes capricious, coercive, and threatening.
But the absolute power of God is different. The life of God draws all places together. The love of God draws all people into one. The grace of God works toward the healing of the nations, establishes just relationships, and spiritual illumination. (Bruce Epperly) Little by little and all at once we discover God is with us where ever we go.
Episcopal Archbishop and Noble Prize Winner Desmond Tutu once described something like the process of ascending the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration in terms of the daily practice of Morning Prayer. In an interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Tutu said, “I have come to realize more and more that prayer is just being in the presence deeply of one who loves you with a love that will not let you go. And so, when I get up in the morning I try to spend as much time as I can in the sense of being quiet in the presence of this love. And its often like saying I want to be sitting—it’s a cold day and I’m sitting in front of a warm fire. I don’t have to do anything. The fire warms me. All I have to do is to lay in front of the fire. And after a while, I may have the qualities of the fire change me. So I have the warmth of the fire. I may have the glow of the fire. And it is so also with me and God. That I just have to be there. Quiet.”
Wait, watch, and listen. 19th Century British pastor Alexander Maclaren called it sitting silent before God. Warmed by the light of God’s grace pray that our fisted minds and hands may be opened to one another and therefore also to compassion and understanding that truly solves difficult problems.
Late last year teenagers got into a fight was over a pair of gym shoes. It happened at night on the south side. And this is what came of it: one teenager faces years in prison. Another, a boy of just 15, is dead. The incident may not have even made the news except that the victim was the grandson of Congressmen Danny Davis. At a press conference Congressmen Davis did something unusual. He grieved, not just for his own grandson but also for his grandson’s killer.
Congressman Davis said, “I grieve for my family. I grieve for the young man who pulled the trigger. I grieve for his family. His parents. His friends. Some of whom will never see him again. It is so unfortunate when these tragedies continue to occur and re-occur and some how or another our society has not been able to find and exact the answers and solutions.”
2016 Chicago had the highest number of killings in two decades. 762 were murdered. What can be done? Well, One community group called BAM (short for Becoming A Man) has an unusual idea. It believes violence can be stopped with a breath, a few moments, and a tiny tweak to the way we think. A randomized controlled study showed BAM reduce arrest rates by 44%, make kids more likely to come to class, get better grades, and less likely to drop out of school.
Jens Ludwig a University of Chicago Economist who has closely studied patterns of youth violence said about the perpetrators, “Very, very often, if they could only take back five minutes of their life, a lot of these kids, a lot of the people locked up, would have a very different life.”
While we tend to think these killings occur because of thuggish drug buys, gang hits, cold blooded murder, the records reveal a laundry list of slights—someone stepped on some else’s shoe, or stole a coat, or lobbed an insult. From that tiny spark things escalated into violence and murder. It’s the very definition of senseless.
BAM counselors check in with participants, talk about feelings, and encourage new habits. According to Ludwig, “The problem of violence in Chicago is not driven by bad people but by bad decisions in the moment… Changing the way we behave can change the way we think, and changing the way we think can change our lives.” (Shankar Vedantum, Hidden Brain, The Knife’s Edge, 2/20/17)
Wait, watch, listen, pray so that Jesus’ transfiguration may become our own transfiguration. The gift of God’s grace is freely given to transform our hearts for the renewal the world. We who have been transformed and “enlightened” are blessed to carry a little bit of the light from God’s mountain within us to be the human presence of Jesus to help fearful people stand tall and to help find answers that only become visible when we have love in our hearts.