EYES TO SEE
2 Peter 1:16-21
Jane Shelton, CRE; February 23, 2020
First Presbyterian Valdosta
When I read this Matthew scripture, I couldn’t help but chuckle at Peter. I could identify with Peter. The one who would be eager to show hospitality for this person I’m with, this person that I love. Wanting to give Jesus something that I thought would be important to the moment, or in this case, a monument to remember the moment, the location of this special event. Yes, I can just see the wheels turning in Peter’s mind, and the excitement he was experiencing!
Peter, in his hospitality and excitement, offers to make three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, but God had other plans.
Like Peter, I’m one of those who gets so caught up in wanting to do something special, that I sometimes miss what God is telling me to do.
I like to think that as I’ve gotten older, that I am better able to recognize when I am doing something that I think is a good idea from something that God thinks is a good idea, or perhaps I’ve learned to take just a moment to ponder or pray or meditate to see which direction God may be pointing me to go, even when it is a direction in which I am not comfortable.
As Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the high mountain, just the three of them alone, it has been only six days since Jesus has begun to reveal that he is destined to go into Jerusalem, be killed and raised on the third day.
It has only been six days since Peter’s response was to rebuke him for saying so, as he responds to Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
It is heart wrenching to hear this transaction between Jesus and his beloved disciple Peter.
Would any of us have acted differently if our best friend had told us such a thing?
Perhaps it is this very incident that leads Jesus to take Peter with him to the mountain.
And the humor in this moment is when Peter offers to build three dwellings at the moment that Jesus has become transfigured before him. The moment that Elijah and Moses appears. I mean these were not just your everyday events that Peter must have been used to.
I just have this picture in my head of these four men, Jesus, James, John and Peter standing at the top of this mountain, and Peter just talking away when he looks up and sees Jesus face shining like the sun. Jesus clothes have become dazzling white. And then, if that’s not enough to get your attention, here appears Moses and Elijah who begin a conversation with Jesus!
What a jaw-dropping, remarkable and unforgettable moment. Perhaps you might even want to hear what they are having a conversation about.
And yet Peter’s response to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
“It is good for us to be here?” You think?! Does he think that Jesus doesn’t know that? Does he think Jesus didn’t know that when he brought him to the top of the mountain in the first place?
I mean, I can just see James and John rolling their eyes as they stand stunned before what is unfolding before them with Peter’s remarks.
And while Peter is still rambling on about how it might be a good idea to build these three dwellings, God decides to get Peter’s attention.
God, comes in a bright cloud and overshadows them.
And to really get Peter’s attention, God speaks from the cloud, and says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Basically, God tells Peter to shut up and listen! We’ve all met those people in our lives that just go on and on, and we get the point in the first sentence but they just go on and on and on.
There it is, those three very important words, LISTEN TO HIM! Peter, stop your rambling, stop your “I think this is a good idea to build dwellings,” and listen to what Jesus is telling you. Just stop, and listen.
As God speaks from the cloud, Peter, James and John fall to the ground as they are overcome by fear, and then what happens…..Jesus comes to them, ….and this is my favorite part of the story, ….out of compassion, ….Jesus comes and touches them. He touches them.
I’m sure they thought they were about to be swallowed up by the great cloud, but Jesus tells them, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
It is not until God comes on the scene that he is able to get the attention of Peter. Peter so consumed with things of the world that he has not been able to see the divine in Jesus.
Jesus transfiguration affirms his divinity, yet it also begins to give the disciples eyes to see God’s light in the chaos that is to come.
We hear growing up, “Jesus died for our sins so we can be saved, so our sins can be forgiven,” but Jesus’ death on the cross shows us so much more.
It’s not just about us, in fact it is in the chaos…Jesus death, the disciples’ loss of a friend, a mentor, a leader…and through the resurrection….they are able to see the light of God.
God’s light shows the way through the chaos, those dark moments in our lives when we don’t know how we will possibly survive. It allows us to see beyond ourselves, beyond our pain and loss and fear, so that we can be present with God. So that we see the light within us to help others through their chaos.
If we become so focused on ourselves, how can we show others the light when we are looking inward instead of shining outward into the world?
We don’t need a monument. God’s Holy Ground is where he meets us, wherever we are, all we have to do is stop and listen. See the light of God.
God gave us his Son, Jesus, the Light of God in human form. A light to build the early church. Jesus shined the light outward to the disciples so we would know how we are to live, how we are to have compassion and help one another, love one another. Jesus showed them how to meet with people, gather with people, share with people, heal people.
Do we have eyes to see through the chaos?
Just as the disciples had to learn to live without Jesus’ bodily presence, so do we.
Transfiguration invites us to live in the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)
As the light shines in our hearts, God is made real every day. He is made real to those around us.
God prepares us in transcendent encounters of our lives to endure the world around us, the world of the cross, the world that has the ability to break us. Yet this world is never beyond God’s redemption.
God gets our attention so that our eyes are open.
Encounters on mountaintops with blinding lights may happen for some, but for most, they happen in the ordinary moments of our lives. Ordinary moments at home with our family, at work with our employees and co-workers, classrooms, packing and delivering meals for Break Bread, Pub Theology, the Father Daughter Dance, the Bun Run and in other church activities.
Ordinary moments can happen anywhere we make a space for the Holy to be present.
Like Peter, it was when I was consumed by my thoughts for what needed to be done, that my eyes were opened.
On that Saturday morning on my way to the art center with Dick, it was all about me and the chaos in my life. “I can’t do this,” I remember saying to Dick as I laid out all the reasons as to why I needed to drop my CRE class.
After all, Dick had just had bypass surgery in December, and now in April my sister was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. I needed to take care of them, I didn’t have time to finish my CRE class, and I was sure that I certainly could not preach, so what the heck was I doing in this CRE class anyway.
I had just wanted to learn all I could about God and Jesus and the Bible, but I had people to take care, a business to run, children and grandchildren. Surely this CRE path was not the path that I was supposed to be on.
Yet in that art center, God showed me the light and opened my eyes.
It wasn’t about me and the chaos of my life. In that simple photograph of the sandaled foot, that simple 8 x 10 black and white photograph that got my attention was a scripture. I was curious enough to pull out my cellphone and look up Romans 10:14-15, “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
I remember the exact spot where the photograph hung on the wall to this day, because that became Holy Ground for me.
God’s light allowed me to see that it wasn’t about me. It’s about doing the work that Jesus started, the work his disciples continued, and the work we are to carry on.
Peter tells his listeners, “We did not follow a myth, but we ourselves heard the voice come from heaven. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning rises in our hearts. You must understand,” Peter continues, ”no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” she refers to a prayer in The Book of Common Prayer:
‘Look down, O Lord, from your heavenly throne, and illumine this night with your celestial brightness; that by night as by day your people may glorify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
She writes, ‘this prayer recognizes a kind of light that transcends both wave and particle. It can illumine the night without turning on the lights, becoming apparent to those who have learned to rely on senses other than sight to show them what is real.’
She goes on to write about a young French boy, Jacques Lusseyran, who loses his sight in a freak scuffle. Later, when coming to terms with his blindness, he wrote,
‘I had completely lost sight in both my eyes; I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there. Its source was not obliterated. I felt it gushing forth every moment and brimming over; I felt how it wanted to spread out over the world. I had only to receive it. It was unavoidably there. It was all there, and I found again its movements and shades, that is, its colors, which I had loved so passionately a few weeks before. This was something entirely new, you understand, all the more so since it contradicted everything that those who have eyes believe. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves.”
Lusseyran shared one of his greatest discoveries was how the light he saw changed with his inner condition. When he was sad or afraid, the light decreased at once. Sometimes it went out altogether, leaving him deeply and truly blind. Yet, when he was joyful and attentive, it returned as strong as ever. He learned very quickly that the best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love.
When Claude Monet painted his famous water lilies, he used the light to reflect their beauty, moving his easel through the garden to capture the light so he could see more clearly.
In our Contemplative Photography class this past summer, we learned how light reflects into the camera lens to reveal God’s beauty we might miss with our eyes.
In this life we can’t save ourselves from suffering, and we can’t shield ourselves from the light of God that sheds hope in the darkest moments of our lives. Jesus will come to us, he will touch us, and he will say, get up and do not be afraid.
We do not need a monument or a church building to find God. God will find us in our homes, in our work places, sharing a meal with someone, leaning over the bedside of someone we care for, sharing through social media and live stream, and yes, maybe even in a church pew.
God finds us when we are broken and when we have joy in our hearts.
God is present in suffering and sacrifice and in the promise and potential of our lives.
Are our eyes open to see the light? Are our eyes open to experience God’s Holy Ground…wherever we are?
*Cover Art “Icon of Transfiguration” by Aliksandar via Wikimedia Commons, used by permission