Gospel: Luke 9:28-43a
1st Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched “The Kids In the Hall.” They are one of my favorite sketch comedy troupes. About fifteen years ago they made a movie called “Brain Candy” about a pharmaceutical company that is going bankrupt, so prematurely releases a antidepressant that causes people to go back to their happiest memory and relive that feeling.
Perhaps if Peter had taken Gleemonex, as the drug in the movie was called, this Gospel story would have been the memory he went back to. There he was, tired from climbing a mountain, falling asleep while his friend Jesus prayed, and out of nowhere his greatest heroes Moses and Elijah appeared. Jesus started glowing. They heard God’s voice. It must have been amazing!
Those mountaintop experiences are so much fun. Sometimes I like to revel in mine like the patients in brain candy did. I once had a religious experience, like Peter did. I don’t think that was the happiest day of my life, but a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders that day. I like to relive the day of my high school graduation. I was salutatorian and I got to give a speech to the graduating class. I got a really good response. People were laughing at all the right parts. I felt accepted and understood which had not been my high school experience up till then. We all have those moments—that hole in one, that first time you held your child, that time you were able to help someone in need.
Those moments may have been beautiful. By remembering them, we can recall the feelings we had. But you can’t hold your child for the first time more than once. I’m never going to graduate from high school again, and if I did, I’m sure they wouldn’t let me give a speech. To get a hole-in-one is a once in a lifetime experience.
For Peter, too, it was over. Peter stuck his foot in his mouth—interrupted the conversation, opened his big mouth, talked out of turn. Then he and his friends found themselves powerless to heal a boy who had seizures. And Jesus scolded all of them.
Peter wanted to hang on to that moment before it all went sour. “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings.” He wanted to build a tent and make it an experience he could go and visit all the time. He wanted to make a box for it and put it there where he could access it any time. He wanted to take this mountaintop experience and put it in a form that he could easily reach—like a pill he could take whenever he wanted it.
That’s what happens in the movie I was telling you about. People started getting stuck in their happiest memory and fell into a kind of coma. They stopped living their lives, and became obsessed with the past. They were unresponsive in the present, unable to make new memories, unable to experience new highs and lows, unable to listen and pay attention to the new learnings that are available today.
Do we ever get stuck in our memories so that we forget that God is with us this moment? What boxes do we try to put God in so that we can have access on demand, on our terms? We certainly try to put God in churches—limit where we see God, where we look for God, where we listen for God. That doesn’t limit God, who is everywhere and always. Instead it limits us. We’re just not open to God in all the places God can be found.
We often think of God, consciously or unconsciously, being in success. If we do well, we thank God. If we don’t, or if we get sick or something bad happens to us, we wonder why we’ve been abandoned. God tries to break down our ideas of where God can and can’t be found by reminding us to look in those unexpected places, like in the poor, the prisoner, and the child and in ordinary life, in the seasons of the year, in plants and animals and in song.
We also place God in the past or future, rather than now. For Peter, he was thrilled that Moses and Elijah—big wigs from the past—had come to give their stamp of approval on Jesus. It was like the glory days all over again. If things could be just like they were in the 50s or 60s when everyone went to church and no one would dare have soccer games on the Lord’s Day. Or we put God in the future in a far away heaven that we will go to after we die.
Because we are looking behind us and in front of us, we sometimes miss God with us now. God is in this breath we are taking in this moment. God is in the person next to me right now. This may not be a mountaintop moment, but it is a holy moment, a precious gift to be treasured and to thank God for.
We are like the disciples—we are drowsy and weighed down with sleep. We’re the ones with veils on—we’ve put them on ourselves and we don’t see very clearly through them. We’re like it said in the readings last week, seeing in a mirror dimly. Or like Sterling this week, whose big experiment has been to look at the world through squinty eyes, and we’re going to run into door jams and fall on the floor more than once because we’re not seeing clearly.
And yet, here is the good news: God is willing to work with us, as blind as we are, as limited as we are. Some of God’s glory rubs off on us. We shine a little bit, having been in God’s presence. We look at things a little differently. We are changed bit by bit, from one degree of glory to another. We don’t have to be afraid when God’s glory shines in our midst. We don’t have to hide from it.
Jesus came to redeem the lost and to give sight to the blind. That’s us! The Spirit frees us from all our veils. The Holy Spirit changes our lives.
I always think of Peter, whose name means “Rock,” and he’s about as smart as one sometimes. If God was willing to put up with Peter and all his faults and bumblings, then God can work with us and will eventually make something out of us. God will get through to us! There is hope.
For all us bumblers, there is something we can do to open ourselves to the Spirit in our midst, and to notice God more often. I may be biased because I am an introvert and I love quiet. In the scripture for today it says, that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” And, finally it says, “They kept silent.” I am not asking you to take a vow of silence. But I do invite you to set some time aside each die for quiet reflection and listening. I invite you to pray by sitting quietly for 5 minutes each day. Maybe it means turning off the radio in the car on the way to or from work or an errand. Maybe it means locking the bathroom door for 5 minutes. Maybe it means going and sitting in the yard, or even going to the library. I invite you to pray, not by listing all your requests. Pray by setting aside 5 minutes as holy, for you to listen to God during the season of Lent. Feel free to write down what you hear or draw it. In your listening, if you’d like, I encourage you during this season to read the book of Luke in the Bible. That is the one we will be concentrating on at church. You only get bits and pieces here. If you sit down and read it, you will get a much more flowing, coherent picture of what Luke is trying to say. Take notes if you choose. Whatever it takes to pray, listen, and keep silence—to keep a holy moment open for God to speak a holy word.