Monday, February 23, 2009

The Light - sermon 2/22

Transfiguration Sunday
Scripture: Mark 9: 2-9

There was a funky tune some of you may recall from the ‘80s. I looked for it on iTunes, but it wasn't there. I guess it wasn't quite as popular as I thought. I'll sing it to you:
I study nuclear science
I love my classes
I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses
Things are going great, and they're only getting better
I'm doing all right, getting good grades
The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades,
I gotta wear shades
Actually – these glass are not for nuclear science class. They are for peeking in my kiln when the glass is molten, glowing hot. But I brought them out today because our scripture lesson is this wonderful and strange story of the Transfiguration, a story in which the light of the future is so bright, it blinds the disciples.
Retell the story.
We read this story every year, right before Lent starts. And because it is a story with such a strong supernatural element, the temptation here is to play that down and play up the more understandable parts of the story. And I’ve done that. But the amazing light is makes the story remarkable. So this year, I invite you to turn toward the light – turn our attention toward the light, anyway, the light of Jesus brightness, shining at the top of that mountain.
The light so bright it is unbearable – blinding- too much to take in. Maybe I get that this year because of looking into the kiln while the glass is glowing hot. It want to look, but there’s too much light to see. Teeny teeny glimpses when the light is so dazzling.
Surely this is part of what is meant when the Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world, and we can’t take Him in. We try. We domesticate Him – our buddy, our conscience, our example. Those things are fine – but there is so much more. The glory of God ! In the old Testament, Moses wanted a look at God and God said, “You couldn’t stand it.” So Moses say, just a tiny glimpse of God’s backside and his face glowed. When he came back to the people they couldn’t bear the glowing of his face and they asked him to veil his face to shield them from the brightness. That’s the glory of God. And even as we have to look away – we’d be crazy to live as though the power and the majesty and the glory weren’t there.
The light so bright it is unbelievable – our minds are such paltry things. The light is a glimpse into Jesus’ future – the resurrection. And it’s a glimpse into our future – the ultimate kingdom of God that Jesus has been preaching will someday be apparent everywhere.
What is beyond our explaining, we describe and move on:
Example A – Did you happen to notice in the news last week that the US space agency’s Fermi telescope has detected a massive explosion in space. The spectacular blast (I’m quoting the news story here) produced energies ranging from 3,000 to more than five billion times that of visible light, astrophysicists said. Blasts such as this shine hundred of times brighter than a typical supernovqa and about a million trillion times as bright as eath’s sun, NASA says on its website.
I don’t know about you, but when I can look up and see the stars, it’s a spiritual experience. And, somehow, reading this article, I was just struck by how, while during a week in which the biggest thing everyone’s attention was focused on economic forecasts and political scandals – something unimaginably bigger was going on. A week in which I thanked God for helping me make an appointment on time by holding up a train, he was blowing some galaxy to kingdom come. Even the really serious stuff on earth – the wars and the poverty – human cruelty and kindness – it’s not all there is. It’s important. But it’s awfully small. And we can’t understand that. It’s a light beyond explaining.
I’ll tell you another light that is beyond explaining. And it is a light – doctors and chaplains and many others who have spoken with people who have had near death experiences report that light is a significant part of the report. A pediatrician has recorded some of his patient’s descriptions: Children describe it as a "light that had a lot of good things in it" (age 5), or "I saw the sun and it had a happy face for me" (a 3 y/o),"you'll see, Dr. Morse, heaven is fun"(age 7), most intriguingly, "I went into a huge noodle when I died, well it must have been a tunnel because I don't think noodles have rainbows in them.(age 5).
At the Art Show last summer, one of the pieces was a painting of that experience, remembered from a near drowning experience. The painting is full of bright, dazzling light.
I’m really intrigued with the results of research on the lives of these children as they grew to be adults. It turns out that this group is different – in significant ways – from the general population. They are less likely to suffer from depression, they are less likely to be divorced, they volunteer their time to community organizations way more often than general. They give more to charity. They report being happier.
And if you think very hard about it, I’ll bet you can guess which member of our congregation painted that picture of the light at the art show. It’s not something we can grasp. But somehow, the light grasps us.
There is another light we don’t understand but we would be crazy to ignore.
The light of Christ, shining in one another. Paul says – And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
. . . For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts . . . the glory of God in the face of Christ . . .
I hope that this Lenten booklet will give you a small sense of the light shining in the hearts of these, your brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope it will illuminate your Lenten season.
But – after all this talk about light –unbearable, unbelievable, unexplainable - the text says that God points in another direction – saying “LISTEN” to Jesus. The light is too bright to bear for long, too mysterious to understand, too elusive to hang on to. But LISTENING to Jesus is accessible, doable, understandable.
Our eyes may not be able to stand the glory of God. But our ears – ah! Our ears – are up the the task of taking God’s love and grace and power in, if we will open them to his Word – his Son – his Christ.
This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.
Listen to Jesus. Listen for Jesus. And expect the light. The future’s so bright. You better wear shades.