Readings: Exodus 32:1-6, Matthew 17:1-9. Listen to the sermon here
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, I found myself studying the transfiguration of Jesus. So much has been written and said about this strange little story given to us by the early followers of Jesus. I was planning to do what I’ve done here on many Transfiguration Sundays and preach to you about the power of myth to open us to new ways of understanding who and what Jesus embodies. Then two things happened on Thursday that transfigured my own images of the transfiguration of Jesus.
Where once my images were shaped by the mythological language used by the crafters of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, the experiences I had on Thursday have transfigured Jesus in ways that reveal the glory of God beyond the pages of scripture and into the realms of the cosmos and beyond. The first thing that happened on Thursday, happened not just to me but to the whole world.
You see on Thursday, NASA, announced, and I quote: “the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure. All seven are early ambassadors of a new generation of planet-hunting targets.”
NASA’s announcement was accompanied by an artist’s rendition of what has taken place. Watch for yourselves…
As I struggled to wrap my brain around the reality of what has been discovered, our little grand-daughters came for a sleepover.Audrey is three and Evelyn is two and together they are a force to be reckoned with. I’d almost forgotten all about Trappist 1 when I found myself leaning over little Evelyn’s travel cot as she began to sing. It took a moment or two before I recognized her tentative little voice attempt to capture the tune. It didn’t take too long for me to join her: “Twinkle, Twinkle, little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the sky so high, Like a diamond in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. In a darkened room, I stroked my granddaughter’s cheek and I was transported to a long-ago darkness that still overwhelms me. The memory of a long-ago night, far, far, far, away, in an alpine meadow at the foot of the Black Tusk mountain, near Whistler. After a long day’s hike up the Black Tusk trail, we’d camped out in Taylor Meadows, a spectacular spot located more than 7,000 feet above sea-level. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, evoked an intense memory of staring into the night sky, mesmerized by the sight of more than my mind could comprehend.
Darkness, darkness, like you never experience near the city. Darkness so deep and so vast. Darkness full of twinkling lights. Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are. Vast, immensities, stretching, beyond, the beyond, and beyond that also. 40 light years from here.
40 light years. That’s how long it would take you to travel to the newly discovered Trappist 1 system. According to Google, travelling at a speed of 15 miles per second, it would take us just about 12,770 years to travel one light year. 12,770 years, that’s close to the entire history of humans since the dawn of civilization to travel one light year and to travel 40 light years, well it would take us about half a million years. That’s about twice as long as humans have existed on earth. Talk about beyond.
Vastness beyond my mind’s ability to comprehend. And yet, staring into the night sky, or peering through the darkness to the outline of my beloved granddaughter’s little face, I can almost touch the face of God. Like all the generations who have gone before us, the energy that permeates all that is, this LOVE that Creates over and over again, this LOVE that brings forth life in all its glorious dimensions, this radiance that pervades all that is, this ISNESS that bursts forth in, with, through, and beyond the cosmos, this IS, that we call God, reveals ITSELF in the splendor that IS all around us.
When I think back to our ancient forbearers wandering around in the wilderness, desperate for a sign that they were not alone and forsaken, I can almost hear the confusion of those who demanded to know the presence of the one who lies at the very heart of reality.
“Come and make a god for us,” they demanded of Aaron, their pale imitation of a leader, Aaron. “Come and make a god for us, someone who will lead us. We don’t know what has happened to that Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt.” Aaron replied, “Remove the gold earrings you are wearing—wives and husbands, sons and daughters alike—and bring them all to me.” All the people brought their gold earrings to Aaron. Aaron took the gold, melted it down and cast it in a mold, and made it into a calf, a young bull. Then the people said, “Israel, here is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
These ancient wanderers longed to put their faith in someone, something, anyone, anything, that would sooth their fears. Unable to fathom the Mysteries of Moses encounters with YAHWEH, they were only too willing to worship something more approachable than the great I AM, WHO AM. YAHWEH was, is, and ever more shall be beyond comprehension. So let us build our own god, and worship in our own way.
The urge to contain the MYSTERY, was alive and well and beat in the hearts of the followers of Jesus, who could not comprehend the invisible God that Jesus made visible. The radiance that they saw in Jesus, surpassed that of Moses the law-giver, and Elijah the prophet, in Jesus they sensed the glory of YAHWEH far surpassed anything that had gone before. And so, up there on that mountaintop, as the story goes the followers of Jesus couldn’t help but see something in Jesus that they wanted to contain, and worship in something a little more manageable than images Jesus evoked in them. Let’s build some tents to contain the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. Let’s worship what we can contain of the MYSTERY. The MYSTERY itself is too much for us to bear. So, let us do what we always do. Let us manage the MYSTERY, in small, acceptable, ways, lest the vastness of all that lies Beyond our comprehension overwhelms us. So, we settle for less. We worship that which we can contain within the limits of our mind. Until somewhere, deep within us, we hear the MYSTERY speak to us, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid. If the ONE you worship so well contained that it/she/he cannot stretch Beyond your ability to comprehend, then the idol you have created, is too meager an excuse for a god, and will never reveal to you the radiance that will transfigure you.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the sky so high, 40 billion light years beyond this place, and yet as close to us as our own breath. In, with, through, and beyond. The ONE in whom we live and move and have our being.
Over and over again, the idols and the temples we build fail to convey the radiance and the glory of the ONE who IS, WAS, and EVER MORE SHALL BE. So, over and over again we must smash the idols and tear down the temples so that we can dwell in the MYSTERY, the glorious, radiant, MYSTERY in which all the mysteries of life, death, birth, pain, lost, joy, music, desire, laughter, go on and on and on, for at least 40 billion light years, and then beyond that also. As incomprehensible as that sounds, it can all be heard in the voice of a little girl, singing to her Gran…Twinkle, Twinkle, little star…
Do not be afraid. For even in the darkness, when all you can see is the outline of a little face, there in the darkness you have seen the face of God. Twinkle, twinkle, little one…
Do not be afraid. Jesus the revelation of the divine energy surging through the entire cosmos, speaks to us: “Do not be afraid.” Listen to Jesus, God’s Beloved, “Do not be afraid.” For there is nothing in the vast cosmos that can separate us from the LOVE that is God.