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February 26, 2017
First Sunday in Lent
Pr. Ben Adams
Initial Descent

If the liturgical year were like an airplane flight, then we are currently in the initial descent phase. Like last year Easter was our take off, where we ascended into the sky, high with the hope of the resurrection. Since then, we’ve just been moving along at cruising altitude through Pentecost, ordinary time, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Don’t get me wrong, this year we’ve experienced some storms and turbulence, but now liturgically we are officially touching back down the ground as we approach Ash Wednesday and begin our wandering through the wilderness of Lent towards the cross of Good Friday.

So as we enter this initial descent phase, it would be at this point that the pilot would come over the loudspeaker and say,

“Hello folks, we have just begun our initial descent into the season of lent. I have have gone ahead and turned on that fasten seatbelt sign again, so if you wouldn’t mind making your way back to your seat, putting your tray tables up, your chairs in their full and upright position, and if you have your alleluias, you’re going to want to pack up and stow those now. You won’t be needing those for a while. We’ll have you entering the season of lent in just a few days with Ash Wednesday on the horizon, and the temperature during lent is looking unseasonably warm for this time of year, so please enjoy your stay, and as always thank you for choosing Transfiguration airlines, the only airline that gives you a mountain-top experience and one free checked bag.”

But even as we prepare for our landing into lent, we can take this time to sit back and savor these last moments at peak altitude, we can dwell in this glorious mountain-top experience for just a while longer.

And in our Gospel today, we have that one last mountain top experience. We have Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew. A scene where Jesus, Peter, James, and John, trek up a mountain and when they reach the top, Jesus’ appearance is changed and the divine image shines forth from Jesus as he stands before them as bright as the sun in dazzling white, with Moses and Elijah there with him.

Then, at this point in the story I think we can all relate to Peter. He is so precious and honest when he desperately pleads with Jesus to stay up on the mountain saying, “Lord it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

If we’re being honest, I think we too would want to hold on to that glorious moment as long as we could. Who hasn’t been there, clinging every last minute of a transcendent mountain top moment, dreading the thought of having to leave it, or it ending. I know I’ve felt like this at the end of almost every vacation I’ve ever been on longing for even just one more day before having to return back to the “real world.”

But Jesus’ response to Peter is not to let them stay up on the mountain, isolated from the rest of the world, keeping that transcendent moment all to themselves, but instead Jesus touches the disciples and says to them get up and do not be afraid, and then he leads them back down the mountain.

Like Peter, James, and John, we might not want to leave the mountaintop, to face the inevitable real world that awaits, but the good news is that we have been changed by what we have seen, and no one returns from the mountaintop to the valley floor the same as when they left it.

In Jesus’ transfiguration, we see fully who Jesus is, as God’s own child, in whom God is well pleased, and that prepares us and leaves us more likely to see the ordinary, everyday stuff of life transfigured and bearing the image of the divine.

Theologian Fredrick Buechner, relates the transfiguration to our everyday experience this way, “Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking with his child in the park, of a woman baking bread, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it's almost beyond bearing.”

Here, Buechner gives us simple, concrete examples of what transfiguration can look like in our everyday lives. Through our Gospel today, we too are invited to see all of creation, our neighbors, and even I dare say our enemies transfigured and bearing the image of the divine.

Our challenge then is to recognize and trust these transfiguration moments when they happen to us, and our call as messengers of the good news is to share with others what we have seen experienced.

Keeping our divine moments to ourselves is like trying to build our dwelling place on the mountaintop and remain there, isolated and removed from the rest of society.

But Jesus leads us and remains with us as we descend down the mountain into lent. The important thing is that even as we leave the mountaintop, we do not allow the mountain top to leave us. There is more than enough darkness in the valley to convince us that our transcendent mountain-top moments were figments of our imagination and couldn’t possibly be true. But hold on to the truth that you witnessed on that summit, even and especially as you descend to the depths and darkness of the valley.

And no matter what, whether we find ourselves on mountaintops or in valleys or someplace in between Jesus’ promise remains the same “I am with you always, to the end of the age"

Carry with you that divine presence of God that you have witnessed in the transfigured world around you, carry with you the presence of God that has been imprinted upon you and affirmed within you in your baptism, and carry with you the presence of God that we all receive here in bread and wine. For there is no valley too deep, too dark, or too deadly that Christ does not go with us into.

And in fact, unexpected possibilities await us in the valley if we are willing to get up, not be afraid, and listen to the words of Christ who calls us to share the good news, and promises to be with us to the end of the age. Amen.