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Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Lamp Shining in a Dark Place

The glimpses of the light of God we see in the beauty of worship and other revelations give us eyes to see that light inside us and inside all things, even in the darkest of places.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Transfiguration of Our Lord, year A
   Texts: Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it’s not there.

That’s what Peter, James, and John needed to see on that mountain. They loved Jesus, trusted him with their lives. He’d taught them, amazed them. They left their livelihoods to follow him.

But two things weren’t as clear to them as they could be: that Jesus actually was the Son of God, and that his path was about to head into frightening, terrible places.

Jesus had warned them of his coming death. His miracles and wisdom clued them in that he was powerfully connected to God. But they would only begin to understand both of these mysteries after seeing the horror of his death and experiencing the joy of his return to life.

The Transfiguration strengthened and encouraged Jesus for the painful road ahead, but it was also a gift to these disciples. For a moment their eyes were opened and they saw the true reality of the Living Word of God, God’s uncreated Light that made the universe, in their beloved Teacher.

They had a vision of the real truth of Christ they could carry with them. Because once they left this mountain, the other truth, the truth of the cross, was rising up in front of them all.

“You will do well to be attentive to this,” we are told, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”

The disciples weren’t going to understand the cross or this heavenly light until after Easter. So Jesus told them not to proclaim it until then. It wouldn’t make sense to others.

But for them, and I hope these three were able to share this vision with the other women and men who also followed Jesus but weren’t there, for these disciples it was a gift to remember as they started the path of the cross with Jesus.

They had this holy light to hold within, to pay attention to, when things kept getting worse. When Jesus was arrested, when they fled in fear, when their beloved Master hung humiliated like a criminal on a cross, they could call to their minds and hearts this light, remember there was something hidden in Jesus they had seen and experienced. Whatever was happening, what was hidden was still truth.

And these witnesses give us the same wisdom in today’s second reading: we would also do well to be attentive to this light, this vision, as to a lamp shining in a dark place.

Here in this place we glimpse the same light, the same beauty.

Not the actual transformation they saw. But God’s light shines here as we worship and draws us back again and again. In our song, in our prayer, in our silence, in the Word, in the taste of bread and wine, in the rich smell of incense, the Holy and Triune God is revealed to us in light and beauty.

Such a glimpse of beauty is a grace we’ve learned to expect here. Here God’s hope for the world in Christ is spoken to us, here the Living Word of God comes to us, here the Spirit of God speaks to us, as to Christ on the mountain, “you are my beloved.”

We glimpse this transfiguring, divine light elsewhere, too. In the smile of a sister or brother, in a loving embrace when we are in pain, in the beauty of God’s creation, the light of the Trinity breaks into our everyday existence and we find hope.

But those moments can’t be predicted, and we often miss them. That’s why being attentive to the light of God we find here is so important. We carry it into the dark places of this world, like the disciples. It not only gives us hope that God is still with us, but, like with them, this light opens our eyes to see where else it is shining.

What we carry from here each week reveals all the world is holy, and God is hidden everywhere.

We are brought here to the beauty of worship partly so we learn to see God’s beauty everywhere, even where we see ugliness. Seeing God’s light shining in a dark place changes the dark place. We begin to see, and look for, the presence of God’s light and beauty everywhere we go, and in every face we see.

The disciples may not have been able to see that far on Good Friday. What they witnessed at the cross was so horrifying they might only have had the light as that inner, desperate hope that somehow God was still working in this.

But they grew into this deeper vision after the resurrection. They saw God’s grace for the whole world, not just their people. They looked at enemies without fear and offered loving response to threatening authorities. They walked in faith and courage, facing persecution and death, always seeing the light of God in Christ guiding them. Even Paul, the latecomer, found contentment and peace in all circumstances, knowing all things were in God, so all things were holy.

When we see with eyes shaped by what we see here, when we take our expectation of meeting God in this place and carry it out into the darkness of this world, everything is different. Everything is a potential meeting with God’s grace. Everyone is ours to love because everyone is embedded in God’s love. We see God’s light and beauty everywhere.

In these dark times, though, remember another thing about God’s light.

Jesus told us a few weeks ago that we, too, are the light of the world. That’s not only good news for others as we are sent to shine God’s light in the dark of the world.

Yes, we are so sent to shine. But today the encouragement from 2 Peter nudges us to look inward, too. If we are the light of the world, like Christ, God’s transcendent light is hidden inside us, too. Inside us, even when our hearts are in a dark place of fear and doubt about the future of our country and world. Inside us, even when we struggle with our own brokenness and failures.

You will do well to be attentive to this light, Peter says, as to a lamp in a dark place. Remember you are God’s light, too. Christ has said so. Remember it burns inside you even when you can’t see it. That’s God’s gift we carry into the dark.

So we focus on this light we find here, we carry it with us.

And we walk Christ’s path before us, which, as we know, will involve sacrifice and risk, pass through many dark places. The challenges of growing into Christ that Jesus and the prophets laid before us these last weeks at worship are great. The challenges our world faces will ask much of us. Our path is the path of the cross, where we die to what keeps us from becoming Christ, where we offer our lives for others.

So in this darkness we keep looking at God’s light. Until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts, Peter says. That’s the promise. That the day is coming, and morning is on its way, and Christ is risen, so even physical death isn’t able to hurt us, much less anything else. The Spirit is giving birth to life in us, even if the birth process hurts, and we are never, ever, alone on this path.

Paul says in Colossians that our true life is hidden with Christ in God. But just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it’s not there. So we set our minds on our life that is in God and on God’s light that is in us, and even in this dark place we see. We love. We find peace. We find our life, and the world’s life.

We would do well to be attentive to this, wouldn’t we?

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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