I have always wondered about people who have conversations with God. By that I mean people who profess to actually hear God speaking. I have a very dear friend named Channing who happens to be an Episcopal priest and he has shared with me the 2 times in his life when he says that God has actually spoken to him. Once was when he was called to become a priest. The second was when God was inviting him to become a parent to a beautiful daughter, whose name is Olivia. And what’s interesting is that on both occasions, God spoke to Channing in a moment of silence. Not a moment of profound, explosive revelation, but in a moment of silence. Which makes perfect sense, if you think about it, because there are numerous places in the scriptures where we are told that God often speaks in a whisper. Which means that when we want to hear God, we probably have to be quiet. And that’s not something we’re terribly good at. Many of us (myself included) are so busy going about our daily lives, we often miss the voice of God because we’re simply too noisy or we’re too impatient to listen. We need to learn to hear God’s whispering voice in the small but powerful events of our lives.
The season of quiet listening in the Church is the season of Lent, which begins this week on Ash Wednesday. Then, for the next six weeks there will be no flowers in the church. Images of Christ, or that are representative of Christ, will be draped with a shroud as a symbol of his coming passion. We will enter into a 40-day period of simplified worship and reflection. We will begin our worship with the Confession, and we will deny ourselves the use of the celebratory word alleluia. So today, the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, we stand at a crossroads. We stand between the light and revelation of Epiphany and the quiet stillness and reflection of Lent.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses goes up the mountaintop, meets God, and Moses’ face begins to shine. He becomes a reflection of God’s light. Then, in the Gospel there is the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration where he also shines with the light of God’s revelation. Both stories talk about light—God’s light—becoming part of us and shining through us for others to see. That is Epiphany. But, there’s good news and there’s not so good news about that. The good news is, God’s light helps us see the next step in life. The not so good news is that it also reveals all the parts of our lives we sometimes would rather not face. And sometimes that’s not easy. But it is what we are called to do, just as Jesus was called to live out the purpose for his life. And that is the journey of Lent—to discover what that purpose is. Because the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is about more than just self-illumination. Jesus’ experience on the mountaintop is also about turning points in our lives.
After coming down from the mountaintop, Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem. It was the moment in his life around which everything else revolved. It was at that moment that Jesus had to face the reality of where he was meant to go. He could have walked away from that moment. But he didn’t. Instead, he made the decision to head for Jerusalem and his impending death. And it was his experience on the mountaintop that somehow enabled Jesus to do so. Encountering the Father gave the Son the strength to fulfill his calling. So, what I think this gospel passage teaches us is that we have to remember our Epiphany experiences as we journey to Jerusalem with Jesus—both metaphorically and in some cases literally. Because that is what mystical experiences like hearing God speak to us in a still, quiet voice are meant to do for us. They’re meant to enable us to face whatever we need to face on life’s journey. For me, the power of Epiphany experiences is that they enable us to move forward. They don’t propel us away from the tragedies and hardships of life. They move us forward with those tragedies and hardships as part of our story and, importantly, with the knowledge that God has sustained us through them and will continue to be with us to not just to support us through other tragedies and hardship, but to also celebrate all the beauty and wonder of life that lies ahead of us – both in this life and the next.
The scriptures say that after his Transfiguration, Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He did so knowing that it would be a difficult journey, but a journey he would not travel alone. God invites us to face our futures too. Sometimes we face moments when that is more difficult to do than at others. But God invites us to do so anyway because in that process we come to realize and know in a very real way that the One who created us is also still with us on every step of our journey. And that whatever we may encounter on our journey, with God’s help, we can face it.
Life is full of challenges and heartaches. But it is also full of an abundance of blessings. And I believe that our ability to be aware of the blessings is directly proportional to how much we are willing to face the challenges and how much of ourselves we are willing to give in our relationship with God in the process. Because it is only then that we can recognize how much God has given to us.
So, the challenge we are faced with this morning is to decide what questions we want to take up that mountain to God before we head down the other side into Lent. Are you troubled by a relationship? Take that to God this morning. Are you burdened by your own behavior in some way? Take that to God this morning. Are you feeling lost and in need of direction? Take that to God. Are you scared of something in your life? Are you unsure of what a loss is supposed to mean in the context of your life? Or, are you absolutely and totally satisfied with where you are and who you are at this moment? Take that to God too if you like. Whatever is in your heart, offer that to God and let those questions become part of what you take into your journey through Lent.
And even if you think all this stuff just isn’t for you, go ahead and take that too, because being part of a church can hold surprises for all kinds of people—even those who doubt its purpose.
I knew a man a few years ago who didn’t want to join a church because he felt that he didn’t belong. He was agnostic, in part because he found it impossible to believe in the judgmental, vindictive God who had been presented to him by the Church all his life. And yet, he came back. He came back because in the Episcopal Church, he found a place where many of the people sitting around him were more like him than he first thought. He came to church and recognized that this was the place to bring whatever faith he had or didn’t have. He told me that he believed in the God revealed by Jesus, but that he was horrified by much of what Jesus’ followers had done in his name. He was also mystified by most of what the Bible says and how it’s supposed to help guide our life. I told him something I have said to numerous people before. “You know what? You’re in good company. Because I believe there is more faith in honest doubt than in all the creeds of the Church.” That’s why we at Christ Church say on that sign in front of our church and mean in the way we try to live that “all are welcome here.”
Although I don’t know the specific questions that each of us will be taking to God this Lent, I do know that each of those questions will in some way be informed by the struggles we have each faced. And whatever is in your heart this Lent, I pray that you will offer that to God and let those questions become part of what you take into your journey through the next 6 weeks. And throughout these 6 weeks, try to remember the light of the Epiphany experiences in your life. Because they are what will get you through the trials
There is a Jewish parable about two men who were lost in a forest when lightning suddenly struck. When that lightning came, the fool was the one who looked to the sky and sought out the lightning. The wise man was the one who looked at the path that was illuminated by the flash of the lighting bolt. God comes to us in little, flashing, epiphany moments. Those little moments don’t stay around a long time but they’re enough to keep us going if we stay aware enough to see what they are meant to illuminate for us. Because God reaches out to us all the time. More often than not, we’re too noisy or too busy to notice. But God continues to reach out. And every once in a while, when we dare to be silent, the hand of God touches us in a mysterious way.
May God bless us in our lives with each other as we journey through Lent together and share that love that leads us to the mystery of the light that was shining on the face of Jesus Christ on the mountaintop. Amen.