Gospel: Mark 9:2-9
1st Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-12
Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I remember visiting my pastor in his office when I was about 18 years old. I had been considering entering the ministry since I was 12 or 13. But it seemed like the magic was gone. I didn't feel as passionate about it as I had before. How could I recapture the spark? Did it mean that I should reconsider my path?
My pastor told me that faith was like a marriage—not something I could particularly relate to. He said when you first fall in love, you feel almost sick, can't quit thinking about the person, have all kinds of positive strong feelings about the person. And the newness wears off. But being head over heels in love wasn't better than the feelings that come with being someone long-term. Those later feelings were deeper and more realistic. While it might not be so exciting and would be boring at times, that kind of relationship could sustain a couple through many trying times.
My pastor was telling me that faith can be similar to a marriage. There are some moments of intense feelings and experience, and a lot of times of the day to day long-haul types of experience that can end up deepening our relationship with God and sustaining us in all kinds of trouble.
In life we have brief moments of glory and passion, but like Peter's experience on the mountain top, the cloud quickly overshadows us. Maybe, like Peter, we want to make it last, to stay there and live in that moment of bliss forever, but that isn't what life is for. I don't know if we see more clearly in those moments of bright clarity, or if it is such a bright flash, momentary and disorienting so that maybe it is the overshadowing cloud that is more real, when we learn more, when we grow more, when we are more likely to hear the voice of God speaking to us, when we are more likely to listen to Jesus and less distracted by the glory that we hope to gain for ourselves.
Listening is the key, whether we are talking about marriage or faith. And I tell you, listening will take us out of that glory and into the cloud. When we listen to Jesus, we listen to the poor and neglected. We're going to hear things that challenge us. This isn't someone telling us what we want to hear. This is stuff that is hard to hear, things about ourselves, about the reality of the world around us, and about our neighbor's experience, which is never quite going to match ours.
That doesn't mean the moments of glory are worthless. They can be very life-giving. They can energize us. They can give us a vision of what could be. For the Disciples on the mountain top, they were seeing Jesus as he truly is, full of light and warmth, glowing with love, glorious and beautiful. Yet the world was not ready for that. Powerful men didn't want to be outshone by some poor, homeless carpenter. They were tired of Jesus putting them in their place. They wanted to do whatever it took to put him in his place. The cloud was looming for the diciples. If they really listen to him, they will know that he will suffer and die. He's been trying to tell them. But this vision of his glory may sustain them for the journey. They see on the mountaintop, the end of the story. Knowing that, it may help them endure the coming trials they will face.
On Interfaith Advocacy Day, several of us went to Salem to talk with our legislators. Before we ever did that, we had a whole morning of education on the issues. I went to the forum on economic issues and there I got a picture of how things could be if we made our society more fair. As it stands now, it is standard practice for the lowest wage workers to experience wage theft—their tips being stolen, being expected to come in a half hour early without pay, being considered a contract employee when that clearly isn't the case. Some “Independent contrators” who were cleaning office buildings were making less than $3 an hour. This is already against the law, but there is very little enforcement. In the sessions, we got a glimpse of our state without wage theft—a more fair and glorious place to live, and one that we can all feel better about. Getting there is not going to be quick or easy, but now that we see clearly what has been going on and what needs to change, even though we enter the cloud of challenge and difficulty, we have this vision of how things ought to be that will sustain us.
In my Master Gardener Class, I am starting to get a vision of what could be if I can use scientifically proven information to make my garden better. We looked at a slide the other day at seeds that were started in regular potting mix next to those started in seedling mix. The difference was amazing. I got a picture of what could be if I changed even one thing about how I garden. That momentary glimpse at glory will sustain me as I either cough up the extra money for seedling mix or put in the manual labor to make it myself. I got that momentary flash of light, but I will soon be entering the cloud of listening, and hard work, and the challenge that lies before me. Having a picture in my mind of what could be will sustain me in the coming months and longer.
But I also think that maybe those moments of glory might not be that infrequent. Maybe Jesus was always like that, glowing and glorious, but it was only in that moment that the Disciples were able to see it. Maybe we can train our eye to look for those flashes of glory in every day life. There are people I know who have trained their eye to see those moments and appreciate them. One was Judith. Another is Betsy Belles. It might have been something in their upbringing, someone they met who taught them, but most people I know like this, have a discipline, they practice this way of looking at the world. They show us how to see the world in the same way. We are actually born to see the world in awe and wonder. But somewhere along the line some of us lose that ability—maybe it is like marriage. It isn't new or fun anymore or exciting in the same way, and we start worrying about what other people think. We can't go around everywhere “oooooohing and ahhhing” about every little rock or squirrel or fan or whatever it happens to be or people look at us funny. But isn't it great to have these little people around us, so that we can see through their eyes the wonders of this world and share in more of those moments of profound glory in a slug, in the grain of wood, in a flavor or color, or in a person we never would have noticed except these little people notice and remind us of the glory all around us that we take for granted.
If you have recently seen the glory of the Lord, if you have a vision of what can be and indeed what will be, let that vision sustain you, and take the time to listen. Listen to the pain of people and this land and let God transfigure this world through you to be the kind of world we want to live in and want for our children.
If you are in the cloud of confusion and doubt and boredom, know that God is still with you. And even though you may not be able to see them, many of your friends and neighbors are walking this path with you, trudging along from day to day, trying to hear God's voice and direction, trying to see through the fog, trying to make their way. This is a fine place to hone your listening skills, to learn to deal with disappointment, to find humility, and to build up your strength.
The really exciting thing here is, that even though Jesus tells the Disciples not to tell anyone, we know from this story that Jesus will be seen as he is. He will show up even after we put him to death, deny him, hurt him. He will show up in the poor and challenging people in our lives. He will show up teaching us how to serve. He will show up when we are confused or arrogant. Jesus is present and glorious and is our brother in glory. Although we will also go through many times of fear and pain, we also shine with the love of God and are part of his family. Now we get to go look for that glow in others, that glory, that beauty, that challenge, that hope. And we get to train our eye to see that glory—to hear it in a song, to taste it in communion, to know it in a handshake or a moment of eye contact, and to let ourselves hope for the future that Jesus had in mind when we would all know our connections with every other living thing, past, present, and future, and rather than struggle to hang on to one particular experience, that we would simply notice and give thanks, and listen for the next encounter with the holy in this moment and this moment and this moment.