February 7, 2016
My brother Gary tells this story
far more often than I do!
It was a cold February morning.
I was behind the wheel of our old green Chevy station wagon,
driving the two of us to school.
It was a beautiful winter day – the sun was shining
and the snow at the side of the road was glistening.
We arrived at the intersection with the high school,
and I turned right onto East Street — East Street – facing directly into the sun.
As soon as we turned, the sun’s rays bounced off our frosty windshield,
completely blinding me.
Somewhat in a panic
(my brother remembers slightly more panic!)
I shouted, “I can’t see! I can’t see!”
The car bounced off the curb of the median strip.
By the grace of God, somehow I managed to pull into the parking lot.
By the grace of God, somehow I managed not to hit anyone or damage the car.
And by the grace of God, somehow my father never found out!
Whenever I hear these stories of transfiguration;
of Jesus in his dazzling white apparel,
of Moses’ face shining so brightly in the presence of God
that the people can’t look at him unless he puts on a veil…
I think of the blinding light of the frosted windshield that morning.
That’s what I imagine Peter, James, and John saw.
That’s what I imagine the full glory of God is like.
I can imagine,
but I’ve never really experienced it myself.
In the Bible these miraculous experiences of the real presence of God
seem to happen all the time…
Paul is blinded on the way to Damascus…
Moses hears the voice of God in a burning bush…
Mary is visited by an angel…
Joseph hears God in a dream..
Job meets God in the whirlwind..
Hagar meets God in the desert…
Isaiah is touched by God…
Jeremiah speaks to God…
Jacob wrestles with God…
Sarah laughs at God…
Abraham argues with God…
These experiences don’t seem to happen to me.
I’ve gone in search of the holy;
I’ve made pilgrimages and retreats;
gone on mission trips, fasted, prayed, and hiked up some very holy mountains.
But on getting to the top,
very rarely has there been anything which really stopped me in my tracks;
something that leaves me completely blinded, speechless.
Someone has said that the season of Lent is framed by two mountains…
The mount of transfiguration shows us the Jesus we want:
Jesus lit up like Las Vegas!
Jesus in neon!
Saying, “Here I am! Over here!
You can’t miss me!”
At the other end of Lent we have Calvary –
The mountain on which there are 3 crosses.
This mountain shows us the Jesus we get.
The Jesus which makes us wonder….
This is love?
This is glory?
Perhaps you’ve had more experiences of the neon Jesus
than the crucified Jesus…
If so, you hear these texts and say,
“Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s how it happens!”
But for me, (and I daresay for most of us),
these are difficult texts to relate to.
They’re hard to preach about because
our experiences of the presence of God,
our encounters with the holy
don’t seem to be so dramatic.
There’s a difference between the Jesus we want
and the Jesus we get.
I was on my way to a conference.
I was anticipating it to be a spiritual high –
I was looking for neon Jesus!
We were gathering as individuals from various faith traditions –
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Jews, and even a Zoroastrian man.
We were gathering to listen to each other’s scriptures,
visit each other’s places of worship,
and to learn from each other.
The conference was in Kansas City.
I realized the day before I left that I had booked a plane ticket to St. Louis.
By then it was too expensive to change the ticket,
so I decided to fly to St. Louis and then take a bus across the state to Kansas City.
My conference in Kansas City was truly amazing.
But the most holy time of that week actually happened on the bus.
I had gone to Kansas City expecting to find holiness in the midst of such religious diversity.
It turns out that despite our different faiths,
I met with people very much like myself.
We were men and women who were employed and well-educated,
who could afford to take time away from work,
get childcare for children,
and buy a plane ticket for the luxury of a conference.
On the bus I encountered real diversity.
I rode with men and women who could not afford a plane ticket…
There were no business suits or briefcases or laptops on this trip…
Unlike at the airport terminal, which was air conditioned and had a number of coffee shops,
the bus stops we went through were out in the open,
and had no place to sit, let alone a place to charge a phone!
As we got closer to Kansas City,
there was some commotion in the back of the bus.
Apparently a woman had been texting on her phone,
and learned that her ex-husband was waiting for her in Kansas City.
She was frightened.
He had a history of violence.
A couple of passengers came to the front of the bus on her behalf
and asked the bus driver if he could pull off at the next exit,
and let her off.
He did…we stopped at a gas station – a place not on our route –
and as she tearfully walked to the front of the bus with her belongings,
passengers all along the way put their arms out,
wishing her well.
Maybe that all doesn’t sound very holy to you.
It certainly wasn’t the neon Jesus saying “look at me! I’m here!”
Maybe Jesus wasn’t transfigured that day…
but I was a bit.
Sometimes we experience the holiness of God
in something like the dazzling brilliance of a frosted windshield..
it makes us cover our eyes; it blinds us.
But more often, I think we experience the holiness of God
in something that opens our eyes….
in something that allows us to see.
It may not be the Jesus we want;
but it is the Jesus we get.
Thanks be to God.