The Transfiguration of Our Lord  /  February 6, 2005

Pastor Carol Kniseley  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church


Do Not Be Afraid…Listen to Him


Do not be afraid.    I am always amazed at how many times in the Bible people find themselves suddenly confronted with something so incredible…so unbelievable…so foreign to anything they have experienced before in their entire lives…that their initial reaction is to…be afraid.    To be scared out of their minds…if the truth be known.    And yet someone always comes…and says those magic words:   do not be afraid, as if the very words themselves were enough to calm the situation.    


What I would like to suggest for our consideration here today…is that it is not the “words” per se that bring a sense of calm.    But rather, it is the “person” speaking the words that matters here.    And there is good reason for us to “listen”…to him.


The Transfiguration of Our Lord…has been described in many colorful ways…but none more picturesque in my mind than the description coined by Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, who says:


        ‘Thin places are those places on this earth

where the veil between this world and the next

is so sheer that it is easy to step through.’


It is an idea that comes from Ireland and the Celtic sense of sacred places… “thin places” where  we find the door cracked open between this world and the next, even if just for a split second.   


You see, that is exactly what I believe happened on this particular day…when Jesus chose three of his twelve disciples…and led them up on a “high mountain”.   The three he chose he had chosen before whenever something really important was about to take place:   Peter…James…and his younger brother, John.    The “high mountain” is thought to be Mount Hermon which rises some 9000 feet up in the air…but no one knows for sure.   What we do know is that an intensely private moment took place between Jesus…and God…so private in fact, that much of it took place in a cloud.


Jesus was transfigured…meaning, his appearance “changed”.     His face “shone like the sun” it was so white…and his clothing appeared whiter than anything the disciples had ever seen before.     What they did see…they misunderstood.   The sudden appearance of both Moses and Elijah…talking with Jesus…flustered Peter so much that all he could think about was:  don’t just sit there…do something!”


How many of us, when we get nervous…or worried…or don’t know what to do…suddenly find ourselves doing “busy work”?  Cleaning the house…vacuuming, dusting, organizing the closets, painting the garage…busying ourselves with “busy work”.    All because we can’t just sit there…and do nothing.


It’s very telling to me…that just as Peter is getting all worked up about what he’s going to do…a voice thunders down from heaven sending Peter, James and John falling to their knees with mouths shut and ears wide open.     And then it is God who speaks…and says:


‘This is my Son, the Beloved;   with him I am well pleased;

        (and then the most important part of all…) 

listen to him!”


In other words, the voice from heaven seemed to be saying for all of us to hear:


‘Don’t just do something…sit there…and listen…

and allow the power of God to break in upon you.’


I love the imagery of those words:  ‘the power of God…breaking in…crashing in…shattering into our space…like sunbeans breaking through a stained glass window.     Which raises for me a very interesting question.    Why is it…that we seem to have trouble imagining God being right here with us…wanting to talk to us?     Just appearing out of no where…and carrying on a conversation…like two old friends bumping into one another on the street.     


In the hit TV show, Joan of Arcadia, God does just that.    Joan is a typical High School teenager going through life with all kinds of questions.   And in the midst of it all…God appears.    Sometimes as another teenager…sometimes as one of the teachers, or secretaries, or even the janitor.     God appears in any shape, sex, size, color, or makeup.    Sometimes with accessories like tattoos and nose-rings…sometimes in army boots and a buzz haircut.    But the point is…God does show…and usually when Joan is in the midst of having to make a decision.    And like most teenagers…every decision Joan makes is the most important one in her life.   


What I like about the show is the fact that God doesn’t always supply Joan with all the right answers…but instead, allows her to “wrestle” with her choices.   Often times what Joan expects to be the outcome …because God is on her side…isn’t what happens at all.     And the one being most surprised…is Joan.


If we think that the only way one can experience God is by going up on a mountain somewhere…freeing ourselves from the daily grind and the messiness of daily life…then we’ve missed the message of the Transfiguration.     The Transfiguration affirmed for Jesus that his calling was not to stay on the mountain…surrounded in glory.   His calling was to return to the valley…to experience real people in the midst of real life situations and to bring to them a sense of the holiness of God.    In other words…to become a ‘thin place’…for the light to shine.


I want to share with you one of my own ‘Joan of Arcadia’ experiences.    I had been a member of the Lutheran church for all of six months…when I was invited to go on a spiritual retreat up in the mountains of North Carolina.     The pastor had just gone the weekend before…and now he was sending his wife and myself to test the waters before sending other members.   


The retreat was a Via de Cristo retreat…billed as a weekend for spiritual renewal…but the truth is, we didn’t have a clue as to what to expect.     Well, as the weekend progressed…I began to notice that a number of folks, whom I had never seen before in my life, would approach me and simply ask if I had ever considered the ministry as a profession?      And of course, I thought they were nuts.    That is…until one particular person caught my attention.   


It was during the time of Holy Communion and we were all gathered in a rather larger circle.    As I was waiting for my turn to come…I noticed out of the corner of my eye…that someone was making their way across the entire circle and headed straight toward me.    It was the pastor’s wife…and she didn’t stop until she was right in front of me.    And then speaking in a voice just loud enough for me to hear…she said quite clearly:  ‘You’re going to seminary.


And then she turned and walked all the way across the circle…and back to her place.     I was absolutely stunned.   I didn’t know what to think…and yet I knew deep down inside that what she had said was the absolute truth.    Here was a woman whom I hardly knew, who rarely spoke up in public meetings, who didn’t really know me that well at all…and yet, I knew that what she had spoken did not come from her.    She was simply the messenger…and all of a sudden, I knew that my life would never be the same. 


If there is one verse in today’s lesson that I would want us to take with us…it is verse number 7.     Waiting until the disciples were most afraid…Jesus came and touched them saying:   ‘Get up…and do not be afraid.’


Three days from now…you and I will begin our Lenten journey by being marked with the ashen cross of Christ.   We will hear the words:  ‘You are dust…and to dust you shall return.’    A vision that for many of us is still too hard to fathom…words that are still too hard to hear.    And yet, we do manage to see and to hear despite our own fear and immortality.    Why?   Because at some point in our lives…Jesus came…and touched each one of usand raised us up for just one purpose.    To bear witness to the ‘thin places’ in our own lives where we know God has entered in and made a difference.    So much so…that even we, when we are most afraid…can stand…and point…and say to those who are dying to hear:


        ‘Do not be afraid.    Listen…to him.’