Sermon: Life Lived in Lights, Shadows and Darkness
February 11, 2018
The video of the whole service is here:
9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.
4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
May the peace of Christ be with you! I am delighted to be here today. Thanks to my precious brother Rev. Dr. Luke Powery for the invitation and to Bruce Puckett for all the help along the way. I thank God for all you do here in this place! Duke Chapel is a beacon of light to the world. A place sanctified by the people who work here, sanctified by the memory of those who have come before us and those who studied here such as our precious Rev. William J. Barber II. I am also happy that I can see many of my friends here! Thank you! I also happy because my family is with me today: my wife Katie, and my kids: Libby, Cici and Ike. They are the most precious things in my life.
The gospel of Mark for today speaks of the transfiguration of Jesus. Sometimes considered and preached as a “fantastic” event. Let’s see.
Jesus is at the top of the mountain being transfigured, receiving the visits of Moses and Elijah. They were celebrating the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles where people celebrated the protection offered by God during their wanderings in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:39-43). Moses and Elijah have been interpreted as the law and prophecy, now reunited with the Messiah. When the disciples see this gathering they want to build a booth for each, so they can stay with them but Jesus says they need to go back to the people. Elijah and Moses disappear into a cloud that overshadows them. From this cloud appears a voice from God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
For the rational mind this is a very strange text, because it is about transfigurations, people who didn’t die reappearing, and a voice coming from a cloud. If you have ever read anything from Gabriel Garcia Marques, Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende or Laura Esquivel, among others, you know that this transfiguration text can easily be counted among the Latin American magical realism literature. It is as if these authors had also read the second and third century early Christian apocryphal literature, like the Acts of Paul and Thecla: – wonderworking, self-baptizing, animals-defeating in the amphitheater Thecla! Or Perpetua: a martyr whose visions empowered her to do impossible things – magical things like seeing God, healing the dead and departed, and perhaps most impossible of all: reconciling opposing bishops!
Different levels of reality working at the same time. The real together with the fictional , the natural countered by the supernatural and the fantastic as a true presence. Stories with people of all kinds, ghosts, and other presences that figure, disfigure, unfigure, and transfigure our realities.
But today I want us to think about Jesus’ transfiguration through the notions of lights, clouds/shadows and darkness. This story is marked by many shades and movements of light: the story begins with the normal light of the day, then there is an experience with a super radiant light that shines like nothing else! Then clouds and shadows that swallow Elijah and Moses. At the end, they were left with the normal light of the day and had to return home with the demand not to tell anyone about what had happened. Let us unpack that a bit.
Jesus takes his 3 disciples to a high mountain to be apart from everything and everyone. Jesus knew that the only way to handle this world is by resting, praying and meditating. Time and again Jesus retires to the wilderness so he can be by himself. This time he takes 3 friends, perhaps wanting to teach them how spiritual practices matter to the sustenance of one’s life and ministry.
In the desert, we are called to manage our own selves, to pace our hearts, to deal with our fears. To see ourselves more closely. And this is so difficult. Jesus knew that to be his disciple, to lead people, even just to live well, one needed time of solitude as a way to learn how to be with people.
In the desert, we deal with our own demons and we have nowhere to run for every place is still the desert. The Desert Mothers and Fathers knew this wisdom. They noted that we can leave everything behind in our journey to the desert and still be overcome by what we bring in our own selves. Our challenge while in the desert is to see it as part of ourselves as we learn how to go inwards and discover that God has always been already there. Waiting for us. Knowing us before we even knew God’s name. To discover ourselves perhaps for the first time.
Also, very strange things happen in the desert! Like Transfigurations! Here we have one happened in three forms of light: brightest lights, shadows and normal light. In the desert, the sky has an all-encompassing light during the day. But nothing like what they saw. The text says: “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them… Peter did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”
Here they are: experiencing one of the brightest moments of their lives. One that is much as unbelievable as it is real! Elijah and Moses with Jesus. How great was that? I don’t know about you but if I was there I would say the same to Jesus: Lord let us stick here together and hang out for a while. This is too good to be true! The law, the prophecy and the Messiah all together! Incredible! Today perhaps we would say: let’s form a foundation. Establish some endowed chairs. Let’s create a webpage.
Truly an experience beyond the limits of any reasonable vision, faith. They experience a light that was brighter than the sun at midday! The same light that blinded Paul. The light that is Jesus. The light of the world!
This light that takes us! This light that overwhelms us! A movement of beyond right here. Something else that shows that life is not only what we see or believe, but that life is beyond what we can think or imagine or measure. A light that shows that life is always more! Beyond the sum of all its parts. A light of life in its fullness. A miracle!
A light like a supplication for which we never prayed because we didn’t even have the grammar to pray. But like so much prayer… in is more a provision than an answer. This transfiguring moment takes up our whole entire beings. It is not about we understand! It includes what we cannot control! For our faith always includes the realm beyond the possible.
Like an unexpected light in the cloudy day! Or a light in the middle of the night when we are desperate and whispers in our ears: keep going! Like a visit of something or somebody that alters the entire path of our lives! A light from God!
As such, this light shines a glory that we can’t describe or explain but only say: ahhhh! Thank you God! The mystics wondered whether this light was the same light that shone on the first day of creation. The suchness of this light is the very presence of God shining within us! Guiding our hearts and our feet.
We, followers of such a light, must learn how to receive God’s transfiguring light changing and charging us into new paths. With courage! With strength! With no fear! PAUSE!!! Where are the moments you can remember God’s light shining a light brighter than yourself?
The most transfigurative moment in my life was when I saw Katie and then her three kids! When I saw them walking for the first time my body shivered. I didn’t know what to say but I felt like saying: Katie, can we stay here together a little longer please? But I couldn’t. All of sudden, Katie, Libby, Cici and Ike were my transfiguration mountain! My sun during the day and my moon during the night. They were God’s glory shining on my path. So intense I could feel the warmth of their light in my heart, in my limbs, in my mouth, in my soul. That day was like being on the mountaintop with Jesus! There, God showed me a light I had never seen before.
But the text continues and shows us a second moment. A moment when Elijah and Moses finally had to leave. They could not stay there. “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
From that same light, comes clouds that hide and confuse. From the clouds, Elijah and Moses disappear. They are overshadowed! A voice comes from it and keeps them astonished.
Clouds are places and situations where we don’t know what is happening. They encapsulate us in ways that we need to have other forms of measurements in order to move or to learn to stay within. Inside of a cloud there is nothing you can do but wait until the cloud that overshadows us goes away. The clouds overshadowing us can be compared with the darkness of the night, like the Dark Night of St. John of the Cross, a dark night that eclipses our senses and our spirit. A time when we feel we don’t have enough to go through.
We feel life gets stuck and that nothing is happening. The major challenge is the wait, to go through it in a way that we find peace. We often associate darkness with bad things. We associate darkness with a place with monsters and creatures, a place we can’t control and can’t get out. We grow so fearful with darkness that our first reactions to it is to try to avoid it at all costs.
Lately I have been praying with my son at night. He is 6 years old. In my prayers at bedtime, I always try to say things that try to console myself with the excuse of consoling him. Every night I pray: God thank you for the night! You are the night and because of that we are the night too! Nothing is beyond your love! And we will not be afraid. I kept repeating it until he came with his own prayer.
IKE CAN YOU SAY YOUR PRAYER?
“Guide me through the starts, guide me through the night, and wake me up with a morning shine.” In that prayer, the night is not something to fear or to be avoided but a place to go through. All we need is guidance. We can’t avoid the darkness of the night! Nor can we avoid the dark night of the soul. Thus, we welcome the night, we embrace the darkness of the night. Because when we are there, God’s darkness will guide us, God will see us through! With Ike, I am learning to trust that I could go through the stars and go through the night if God guides me. And the best thing? God will wake me up with a morning shine! Alleluia! A morning shine!
Ike’s prayer is a paraphrase of Psalm 23, verse 4:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
Or like the prayer most of you learned when you were young:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
The angels watch me through the night
Until I wake in the morning light
Now the text finally comes to its end with life coming back to its normalcy. The brightest light is gone, the clouds that brought confusion and fear are also gone. Now we are left with the remains of the day and of the night. Those remains are the experiences that guide us through life. In the liturgical calendar, after the Easter time with all its intensities of crucifixion and resurrection, and after Pentecost, we get into what is called the common time. Just like life is. Where there is nothing much more than the sometimes silly mundane daily events of our lives.
Now, the question remains for us: What are we going to do with such an experience of light and clouds? What are we to do with so much light? We follow the God of light! How are we to respond when clouds overshadow our lives? In truth, those who best know light are often well acquainted with darkness. My family welcomed me, but they had gone through the loss of a precious person, Peter Perella, my kids’ first father. They went through the dark night of the soul. They still have to deal with the clouds of that loss. I have friends who have grieved and yearned and waited many years. The waiting in the Lord was what made it possible for them to keep living amidst light and clouds.
We are living in very difficult and dark days. The social disparity across the globe is horrendous. 43 million of US Americans live under the line of poverty. The bill in the Senate will be a disaster for 50% of US Americans. Welfare going to the pockets of a few rich people. The erosion of democracies, the raise of fascism and global warming swallowing us all. We have difficult times coming ahead of us.
During this time, we need to keep our light shining! We are called by God to be light unto the world and that means be a light in the path of each other’s lives. For we are called to be each other’s light!
So be a light! Every place you go! Bring your light to sustain people during the night! Be a light as you fight against those who are stealing from the poor! Let your light shine! The light of Moral Mondays that started not far from here, let its light shine. Let the poor people’s campaign be a light to this country! Let its light spread!
But be aware! Only those who are not afraid of the dark night of their own soul can carry a shining light. Don’t let the brightness of your light be dimmed by your fears! Claim God’s light to your life. Would you please repeat after me:
In the name of Jesus, the light of the world, let there be light in my life!
Through Jesus light, I will be a light in my family!
Through Jesus light, I will be a light in my neighborhood!
Through Jesus light, I will be a light in the world!
Let us remember the transfigurations of God in our lives. Those moments where our lives were made anew. Moments that transformed us in one way or another. PAUSE Where are the transfiguration moments of Jesus in your life? Where is the light of Christ in you?
After this service, you will need to go back to your life, to your family, to your job, to your country, and you will have these moments to let your light shine!
If you can’t remember these moments, come to the table! At this altar, the glory of God will shine upon you once again! Let this moment transfigure and refigure your life once again. Completely! So you will leave here today saying like Paul:
“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
I am ready for the light of the glory of God to shine on me! God has transfigured me once again! Are you? I will now, by the grace of God, transform my community! Let light shine out of darkness! For where the light of God is, no one will go hungry! For God the light of the world, will shine in and through you and me!
Let us sing:
This little light of mine, I am going to let it shine…