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Monday, February 23, 2009

Last Sunday of Epiphany, 2/22/09

2 Kings 2:1-12 & Mark 9:2-9

     “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
    Well, not exactly. But if you let your imagination run with it, there is something about both the story of Jesus’s transfiguration and the one about Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind that seems like it comes from another reality, from a galaxy where the familiar and ordinary are interwoven with the strange and extraordinary, with life as we don’t know it.
     Jesus, Peter, James, John…ordinary. Mountaintop, time away…ordinary enough. Jesus glowing?...extraordinary! Elijah and Elisha and assorted people of God…ordinary. Parting the water to cross on dry ground…well, it’s happened a couple of times earlier in the story, so we’ll say borderline. But a chariot and horses of fire carrying Elijah away in a whirlwind?...definitely extraordinary! And because this is scripture and not George Lucas’s magical movie world, we’re left to conclude that these are descriptions of “thin places,” those locations and times when the borders between our ordinary world and God’s extraordinary kingdom melt and merge.
     In the Celtic tradition, there’s a saying that the space between heaven and earth is only about 3 feet, and in a thin place it’s even less. In a thin place, we draw close to the glory and magnificence of God, a wondrous experience of God’s presence. And though it’s not explicitly a part of the usual description, I believe thin places also may draw us deeply into God’s unfathomable mystery and depth, an experience that may be more disturbing but just as profound.
     We may not have specifically identified them as thin places, but we all encounter places and events in our life that affect us in a deep way, that change who we are and how we see the world, when we know we’ve been near the Holy. I’ve been at the bedsides of people as they died and wondered, when I walked out the door, why the whole world hadn’t ceased in breath-stopping grief for a soul—a living, loving, beloved being—no longer in our midst. I remember being surprised, when leaving the hospital with each of our newborn sons, that the buildings were the same and the cars on the freeway didn’t give us any extra berth; shouldn’t the arrival of a brand new child of God somehow shift all of reality? In both cases, can’t everyone tell that the world has become entirely different, that God has drawn near?
     “Thin moments” like these have changed me, as I imagine they changed Elisha and Peter, James, and John, and have changed you, however you’ve experienced them. For Jesus’s disciples, more than seeing Jesus transformed, they saw who he truly was; God’s glory, blindingly brilliant, was fully revealed in him in that instant. Elisha saw Elijah enveloped by God’s ferocious power and strength. And then, the moment is over, the chariot gone, the brighter-than-white back to normal, and life re-sets to ordinary.
     Except…except that it doesn’t, not quite. The world is the same, but we are different. And then what happens? How do we re-enter the world when we’ve seen God’s glory or been overwhelmed by God’s mystery? Jesus suggests, as he’s prone to do in Mark’s gospel, that it should all be kept a secret; maybe he and the gospel writer figured some experiences need to be lived with for a while before telling anyone about them, so that those who’ve been changed can try to make sense of it for themselves before they have to explain it to anyone else. Elisha collapses in grief over the loss of his friend and teacher, which likewise seems a reasonable response, and then—if we read the story a bit further than we did today—picks up Elijah’s mantle and tries the water-parting trick himself…successfully. He confirms not only his new role in Elijah’s stead, but the nearness of God’s power.
     And what about us? At first, perhaps we journey through our hours or days with that inner smile of delight that sees everything at its most glorious, or we rest peacefully in a newfound inner calm. Maybe we discover that everything and everyone seems to be in sharper focus and more intense, or—just the opposite—we move as if in a fog, overcome by the weight of our emotions. Whatever our response, the world seems to take little notice, going on like ordinary, unaware of our new sense of the extraordinary.
     I think there’s another possibility, one that’s compatible with all the others and perfectly congruent with our faith. We ourselves can become “thin people”…not the pants’ size you’ve long since left behind, but disciples of Jesus through whom others see traces of God’s grace and glory, power and mystery. Only occasionally is this a more-or-less permanent state; those are the people we call saints. But what if we all were aware of the possibility and opened ourselves to the Holy, being as permeable as possible so that God’s love could flow through us and infuse our surroundings with the wonder of God? What if our own experience of God transforms us, even briefly, into a thin place or person through whom others experience God? That’s what happened with Elisha and with the disciples; why shouldn’t it happen with us? Not as a manner of being that we create by our own will, but as an invited gift, a natural outcome of an encounter with God.
     As we journey into Lent, I challenge you to recognize around you the thin places—in scripture and in life—which reveal a vision of the Divine, those moments when ordinary life lies open to God’s extraordinary holiness. Respond as you will, react as you must, with joy or struggle or awe. Walk with those whose lives have likewise been touched. Share your experience, be a thin place yourself. Shine forth with the glorious, mysterious, transforming light that leads us from the mountaintop of the transfiguration to the solitary desert of Lent, from the shadow of the cross to the celebration of the empty tomb. Discover once more a world in which everything old is being made new, and rejoice that the God of all creation is not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but closer than we ever imagine!

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This is my new mission. Promote St. Mark's web site. As a teaser, read Betsy's sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday we read about the Transfiguration. This isn't as good as Mo Betsy's delivery but use your imagination & be part of the story. Better yet, let's take up her challenge to live as "thin people" ("not the pant size"). Tell your fellow church members, tell your friends who do not YET attend St. Mark's. Get really risky & tell that person you've engaged in conversation in the grocery line. Remember that word "evangelize" from the annual meeting? Mo Betsy: "Well done,my good & faithful servant" Go ahead, its not yet Lent yet--indulge yourself in this great read.
Lynn M

By Blogger Unknown, at February 24, 2009 at 7:25 AM  

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