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The Thin Places

transfiguration17Matthew 17: 1-8
Introduction to the reading
Today is Transfiguration Sunday on the church calendar, the Sunday before the beginning of Lent.  The story is always the same but, each year from a different one of the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark or Luke.  Today we read from the Gospel of Matthew. Along with the disciples Peter, James and John, we share a vision of Jesus as utterly divine… and then solidly human.  

The transfiguration of Jesus right before their eyes echoes the appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai, as you heard in the reading from the book of Exodus.  This was one of the singular events in ancient Israel’s history, God’s giving Moses the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone.  It too was utterly divine… and solidly human.

Meditation
Transformative experiences happen to individuals throughout the Bible when they come in close proximity to God, but none is as dramatic as what we have just heard from the Gospel of Matthew.
    
Jesus had called Peter, James and John and nine others to be his disciples, his close followers and students.  I don’t think they really knew what they were getting into.  On this particular day, Jesus takes these three up to the top of a high mountain to pray with him.  Jesus knew what was about to happen: a mountain place of prayer is almost code for ‘divine revelation.’  And before their very eyes, it happens.  Jesus becomes somebody else; the Bible says he was ‘transfigured.’  His full divinity becomes clear as he converses with Moses and Elijah, two of the old patriarchs of Israel, two who knew God face to face.
    
The cloud of God’s presence overshadows them all.  God speaks:  “This is my Son, listen to him.”  Have they gone back in time?  Exodus 24:15 and 17: Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.  Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.
    
Then, just as suddenly, the presence is gone, Moses and Elijah are gone, the divine Jesus is gone and only Jesus the man remains. God knows that a mountaintop experience cannot be sustained.  Peter, James and John had to come down.  They had to go about their business again, following Jesus as he went about healing, teaching, praying, preaching, forgiving, being the example of living life as God meant us to live, obedient to the commandments.    
    
But they will never see Jesus in the same way and they will never see themselves in the same way either.  Their ordinary lives will be filled with a remembrance of the holy.  The mountaintop has been a thin place, a place in time where God and human beings come very close to one another, where a person senses the very real presence of God, places between this human world and that world of grace that surrounds us, creates us and holds us, when you know that you are in touch with God.
    
Being in Sunday worship helps us remember.  Notice the mixture of paraments (the fabrics on pulpit, lectern and table) today: the green of ordinary time and the white cloth of the communion table.  Ordinary and divine meet here.  Recall the words of our Communion liturgy:  “We come in hope, believing that this bread and this cup are a pledge and foretaste of the feast of love of which we shall partake when his kingdom has fully come.  Then, with unveiled face” – with no barrier, however thin, between us – “we shall behold him, made to be like him in his glory.”  
    
This is the call of the Christian today as well: to live and love and bear witness to ordinary lives infused with the sense of the holy.  As I have said before, I believe that we are spiritual beings in human bodies.  As time goes by, our lives move more and more away from the physical and toward the spiritual.  The place between human and divine becomes thinner and thinner.
    
One of my favorite scripture passages is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 4, Verse 7:  But we have this treasure [of God’s grace] in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are all like clay jars – made of the physical elements of the earth, which is the meaning of the Hebrew adam and the name of the first human, Adam.  We are porous, fragile, breakable, often cracked.  Yet God is within us, transfiguring us into vessels for God’s compassion, forgiveness, justice, peace, joy and love.  

Just the idea can transform your whole way of being.

And now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
February 26, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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