Monday, February 12, 2018

The Light Within (a sermon from Mark 9:2-9)


Jesus was affirmed as Son of God at his baptism by John, and now he is affirmed once again on the mount that we call the mount of Transfiguration. Actually, it’s not hard to understand why Jesus might need this second affirmation by God. In the passage just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to undergo suffering and death. He warns them that they he will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and then he will rise, that is, he will be vindicated by God. Jesus didn’t need any special revelation to see this coming. He spoke truth to power. He challenged the domination system by preaching the kingdom of God. He continuously violated the holiness code of the gatekeepers and opposed their systems of worthiness. He knew what that would mean, and he tried to prepare his disciples for the same fate. He tells them that they must be willing to lose their lives to gain their lives, and he challenges them to take up their cross and follow him, even if it means rejection, suffering, and death. That is the political and religious climate of Jesus’ world.  

But his disciples are not ready to do that. They seem to constantly misunderstand his intentions. Peter functions as the spokesperson for the group, and when Jesus warns them about his rejection and death, Peter takes Jesus aside and the text says, “began to rebuke him.” Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter calling him Satan, which is a hard word. So Jesus has to contend, not only with the animosity of the religious leaders who want him dead; he has to endure the continued blindness and dullness of his disciples who just don’t get it. So, in this context, with the religious powers plotting against him and his own disciples clueless, Jesus hears the divine voice affirming his identity and his calling.

Jesus was a sage (a teacher of wisdom). He was a prophet and a reformer. And he was also a mystic. What is a mystic? A mystic is someone who is known for her/his  intuitive sense and direct experience of God. Jesus seemed to suggest that we can all be mystics, but few of us are. So we have to help each other develop this intuitive sense of the divine and claim who we are.

Like Jesus, we are all sons and daughters of God. And like Jesus, we all have a calling to serve and live in such a way that we become who we are. And if we have not learned how to experience this sense of who we are intuitively or in our direct experience of God, then we need to help each other. Parents can help their children. Grandparents can help their grandchildren. Friends can help one another. We need to affirm over and over again that we are all God’s beloved children. 

We don’t have to earn this. We don’t have to recite some secret initiation rite like the sinner’s prayer. We don’t have to believe any “fundamentals” of the faith. We don’t have to obey four spiritual laws. We don’t have to walk down the church isle and take the preacher by the hand. I am not suggesting that these things do not have a place, but none of these things are the things that make us children of God. And it doesn’t matter what other people say or do or believe, we are all children of God by virtue of being alive.

That’s grace sisters and brothers. You can’t do anything to earn it. If you had to believe certain things or do certain things in order to become a child of God, then you could claim some special privilege and advantage that sets you above others who don’t believe what you believe or practice their faith the way you practice yours. God doesn’t play favorites. God may indeed have some special tasks for us to do, but we are God’s children by pure grace.

Now, if we are going to live in and experience this grace then we need to trust in and be faithful to this relationship with God rooted in grace. But our trust in and faithfulness to this relationship does not earn us the right to be a child of God. We are already the children of God. By faith we claim who we already are. And by our faithfulness to the ways of God we become who we already are.

In the creation story that appears first in our sacred text God creates the human couple in God’s likeness. We bear God’s image. That’s who we are. Now, we mar that image through our sins – our egoism, greed, prejudice, arrogance, hate, violence, our lust for power and prestige and possessions mar that image. But that image is stamped eternally on our souls.

In the second creation story God forms the human creature from the dust of the earth, which is the dust of the universe. Then God breathes into the human creature the breath or spirit of life (breath and Spirit is the same word in the Hebrew), and the human creature becomes a living being infused with the life of God. We are alive right now because God, the Holy Spirit, the Christ, the Abba of Jesus, the Ultimate Reality and divine energy of the Universe flows through our body and soul. 

Paul said to the Corinthians, “Your body is the temple of God.” And that is true of everyone. In God we live, and move, and have our being. God is infinitely more than who we are, but God is also intimately a part of who we are. God is the transcendent Other, but God is also at one with the human family. And all other creatures, all lesser life forms are sustained by the same Divine life force.

What we need to do is trust this and live this, so we can consciously and intentionally participate in the flow of Divine love and goodness in the world. You are a child of God. You have a unique calling as one of God’s dear children. You have gifts to share. You belong – to God and everyone else. We don’t create our union with God or with the creation. Our oneness with God and everything else is a given. We just have to realize it and go out and live it. And Jesus shows us how.

The symbolism of the transfiguration shows us what is possible for all of us. Don’t elevate Jesus so high that his life is unreachable. In living out his calling as son of God, Jesus was transfigured by the love of God. But this was not a glory that came down upon him, it was a glory that radiated from within him. That same light and glory resides in us. It is the light and glory of divine love.

Listen to what Paul says in a beautiful passage in Second Corinthians, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Look in a mirror. What do you see? Do you see the glory of God? You should. The Spirit resides in you. The glory of the divine, the Lord, the Christ abides in you. It is the glory of love. It is the light of grace and truth. It is the illumination of mercy and justice. The more you allow this divine light and glory to shine through your life, the more you grow, the more you become, the more you are transfigured, the more you are transformed form one degree of glory to another.

In the context where Jesus tells the disciples about his death, where he anticipates his own loss of life, he says that we have to lose our lives in order to gain our lives. That paradox is not only true when it comes to that final letting go, it is true right now. There are things we have to lose in order to live – that is, live more fully and and honestly and authentically. There are things we have to lose in order to live more lovingly and generously and graciously. The more fully human (the more gracious and loving and good) we become the more divine we become, the more like God we become. The more lovingly human we become, the more the divine life shines through our humanity.

Richard Rohr says: “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We often gave them a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of ‘Christian’ countries that tend to be consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else – and often more so, I am afraid.”

Those are things we have to lose, we have to let go of, for it’s only by letting go, it’s only by losing, relinquishing, surrendering these things that we allow the space for the divine love and grace and mercy to well up from within. The spark is already there, but it needs to be fanned into a flame. It needs some air to breathe and some space to grow so that we, too, like Jesus might radiate the light of God’s love and mercy.

Robert Fulghum tells about an institute dedicated to peace and is particularly committed to rapprochement between Germans and Cretans. It sits on a rocky bay on the island of Crete next to a Greek Orthodox Monastery. It overlooks an airstrip where Nazi paratroopers invaded Crete and were attacked by peasants wielding kitchen knives. The retribution from the Germans was terrible. Populations of whole villages were lined up and shot. High above the institute is a cemetery with a single cross marking the mass grave of Cretans killed by the Germans. But then across the bay on yet another hill is the regimented burial ground of the Nazi paratroopers. The memorials were intentionally placed there so that all might see and never forget. At the war’s end, hate was the only weapon the Cretans had, and it was a weapon many vowed never to give up.

This institute for peace located there is directed by Dr. Alexander Papaderos. At war’s end he came to believe that the Germans and the Cretans had much to give one another—much to learn from one another. He believed that if they could forgive each other and construct a creative relationship, then any people could. Fulghum attended a seminar there with Dr. Papaderos. At the conclusion, Papaderos explained how he discovered his life’s meaning and calling.

During the war as a child, very poor, his family lived in a remote village. One day he found some broken pieces from a mirror that had come from a German motorcycle. He kept the largest piece he found. By scratching it on a stone he made it round and kept it in his pocket. He had a little game he played where he used the mirror to reflect light into places the sun never reached – deep holes and crevices.

As Papederos told this story he pulled the little piece of mirror out of his billfold. As he grew he began to realize that the mirror was a metaphor for his life. He says, “I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the black places in the hearts of people—and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise.”

He says, “I am not the light or the source of light. But light . . . is there, and it will shine only in many dark places if I reflect it.” Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” John’s Gospel claims that Jesus is the light of the world. Both are true. Jesus did it better than any of us will ever do, but we, too, are light just like Jesus. We are children of God and children of humanity, just like Jesus. The source of all light is God, the Holy Spirit, the Christ, the Abba of Jesus. I am not the source. You are not the source. God, the Spirit, the Christ is the source of all the good and the love and compassion and concern for justice that is built into our humanity. Our part is to let that light shine through our attitudes and actions, our words and deeds.

So, the question is: How can we best do that? What do we need to do? What do you and I need to change? What do we need to lose, to let go of, to relinquish? What practices do we need to engage in? What attitudes do we need to adopt? What habits do we need to develop? In order for our lives to better radiate the light of God’s love, truth, and grace.

Our gracious God, may we all come to realize that while we are not better than anyone else, we are not less either – we are your beloved daughters and sons. May the light that shone so brightly in Jesus, the light that indwells every person, be free to shine through our lives that we might reflect your love and goodness and passion for justice into all the dark places where the light needs to shine. Amen.

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