The Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor begins a reflection on the Transfiguration story of Jesus that we heard this morning in the reading from Luke. She writes:
The story that we have just heard defies interpretation, although that has not stopped legions of interpreters from trying. It is the luminous story of a mystical encounter, not only between God and God’s Beloved but also between those at the center of the story and those who watch. Those at the center are Jesus, Moses and Elijah. She says, Those who watch are Peter, James and John. And then, of course, there are all of us watching all of them, most of us laboring under the illusion that our job is to figure out what the story means.
I really like Peter in this story. In my interpretation of the text, he is so overwhelmed by the glorious experience of the Transfiguration and wanting it to continue that he says something completely inappropriate for the moment. He is so transfixed by what he is witnessing – Moses and Elijah come back from the dead, talking with Jesus and all of them all lit up and appearing in glory – he is so transfixed that he wants to preserve the moment forever so he blurts out that they should each be built a place where they might dwell forever.
When my five year old granddaughter, Iris, wants me to remember something that she thinks is VERY important, she asks me to “keep it in my heart.”
So, like Peter, we learn in this life that the most significant moments of our lives, often the ones that change us forever, cannot be preserved they can only be “kept in our hearts.”
Barbara Brown, again, says in her reflection, Most of us are allowed at least one direct experience of God (within bounds)–something that knocks us for a loop, blows our circuits, calls all our old certainties into question. What Barbara Brown-Taylor doesn’t tell us in her text is how seemingly random that direct experience might be.
Reading her reflection, I was reminded of one such circuit blowing, knock me for a loop, significant experience in my own life: I was living in Washington, DC, and my granddaughter, Mariam, came for a summer visit in 2006. We took a trip to Baltimore to the National Aquarium to see an exhibit of sea horses. Little did I know that that trip would change my life, open my eyes and my heart and deepen the mystery, wonders and glory of God in ways that have stayed with me since.
Mariam and I saw an amazing exhibit of sea horses and tropical fish swimming in large, beautiful tanks with fantastic colors and crazy shapes at every turn. Suddenly I found myself standing in front of something completely unknown to me: the Leafy Sea Dragon tanks. And there they were. Floating in slow motion as beautiful and strange a thing as ever I might of dreamed of seeing. I was holding Mariam’s hand, but I wasn’t aware of anything else in the world except these beautiful creatures until Mariam brought me round. “Bama, Bama, why are you crying?”
I was surprised to find myself in tears. I told Mariam that sometimes the beauty and the miracle of things makes us cry tears of joy. That was part of it. The other part of it is that for one terrible and simultaneously glorious moment in time, in the space of those Leafy Sea Dragons at the National Aquarium in Baltimore I realized this: that if these creatures exist on this planet at the same time and in the same space as me, then I don’t know anything at all, and, therefore, anything at all is possible.
In much the same way as the transfiguration story in Luke, at certain times in our lives, God may give us a special experience of God’s grace that strengthens our faith.
Now I’m not saying witnessing a real, live Leafy Sea Dragon is in anyway close to what Peter, James, and John witnessed on that mountain, but I am saying that it was a special an experience of God’s grace that greatly deepened my faith.
Today is one of those light-filled, special days in the life of this church as we bear witness to the baptism of Lillian and, as her church family, we all promise to support her in her life in Christ. And, again, this afternoon at 2:00pm when we will celebrate Baptism and the Renewal of Baptismal Vows for women in our Eucharistic congregation at the Northwest Arkansas Community Corrections Center.
After each baptism, a candle will be given symbolizing that the newly baptized now share in carrying the Light of Christ into the world– I like to think that it’s that same radiant, dazzling light that shone through Christ and was witnessed by his disciples on that day of transfiguration up there on the mountain.
We may not always see it, but it is there. It is there in the hope and promise of Lillian and in all the children in our lives and in the life of the church as we guide them into the future.
It is there when one of the incarcerated women we have served in our prison ministry is released from the Correction Center and continues to recover her life.
The Light of Christ shines through this church and into the world in so many ways:
That light will be hitching a ride in the school supply sacks that will be picked up today and delivered to school children in need.
That light shines through the folks in the kitchen from the St. Spatula Guild, Community Meals, and the Sunday morning crews, as they prepare and serve food that nourishes us, body and soul.
The light of Christ comforted those of who of us sat in the Chancel holding silent vigil for the four men who were executed by the State of Arkansas this past April.
The Light of Christ shone through the volunteers and counselors at the Dick Johnston Camp for kids whose parents are incarcerated, as we learned last Sunday from Samantha.
I could go on…there are close to fifty ministries full of light, love, and God’s grace here at St. Paul’s.
The Light of Christ is there when one of us sees a need, reaches out in faith and we respond as we are called.
What we pass on through our faith is light. It is a light that transfigures us and transforms our world in ways that are too many to imagine and at all times possible.