Demanding Change

Matthew 17: 1-9

Did you ever wonder about the other nine?  They always seemed to be excluded or left out of some of the best moments in the gospels.  It seems, like today with the Transfiguration, that it’s always Peter, James, and his brother John who get singled out and are given the chance to experience things that the others don’t.  Let’s be real.  The three of them aren’t even the most stellar of candidates to single out.  We know Peter from hearing the stories.  Next week his faith will be tested.  He doubts.  He denies.  He runs away when things get tough.  A little further down this journey the two brothers will be fighting amongst themselves as to who’s the greatest and who should sit at the right and left of the Lord.  More often than not, these three are about power and grabbing for it in ways that never seems to end well.

Even in this gospel that we hear today they are told one thing to do and that’s to keep their mouths shut when they get down to the bottom of the mountain where the other nine are located.  Now, I’m one of six and I can tell you that if three are separated to go experience something that the others don’t, one of two things will happen.  Either they’ll come up quickly to find out what happened since it was a secret or the three will taunt the others that somehow they’re better than because they had something that the others didn’t!  It’s life and it shows where they are at on this journey, still children themselves in faith.  Like most, it won’t be until something is demanded of them before it’s all put to the test and who and what will stand the test of time.

It appears in these instances that Jesus is setting them up to fail, but maybe not fail in the sense that we often understand, but rather setting them up to fall apart and that they will do.  The journey following the transfiguration in the gospels is one on the decline.  Everything has been building to this point and from here on they will go down the mountain literally and figuratively, into Calvary, to the Cross, into their own hearts and souls.  When their lives are demanded of them as the gospels go on, they will fall apart but they have to fall apart in order to once again build community on its true foundation in Christ.  Up to the great test of the cross and their childish faith, not much has been asked of them.  And as we know, even what is asked doesn’t seem to happen, like keeping their mouths shut about these experiences.  It’s about that power that they think they have in their agendas, in their thinking of being better than, in talking about who’s the greatest, probably jealousy and all the rest that we are familiar with in our lives.  Jesus could transfigure all he wants to these three, but at the moment, it doesn’t mean much of anything but can easily be used as an experience to build themselves up.

But the whole event casts a shadow upon them which is when they become fearful.  They become fearful of themselves, more than anything and what this is all going to mean to them as the journey continues.  It’s no wonder why Peter would rather stay here, stay put, because they’ve been given something without having to give anything in return.  Nothing has yet been demanded of them in this journey of faith.  This downward journey of transformation and conversion will eventually push them to change.  We all know that none of us changes easily.  We, like them, are often pushed to the brink, to the cliff, before we will finally surrender and let go, opening ourselves to change and transformation.  It comes, so often, when our own mortality is put on the line before we can finally begin to ask what’s most important, what do we value, what gives us meaning, and quite frankly, what is it that I need to finally let go of in life.

All too often we hold on way to long rather than surrendering to the demand of the gospel to a change of heart, to grow into an adult faith of trust and mystery.  That is what is revealed to them on that mountain in today’s gospel, but for them, not yet.  For them, their center remains outside of them and beyond them and has not yet moved within.  When they are finally confronted with the cross and everything begins to crumble around them, they will be left with the opportunity to mature in their faith and become the disciples the Lord summons them to and quite frankly, promises them from the very beginning.  They will begin to form community around the eternal, around the transfigured Christ.

On this feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, sure, it is about the Lord’s transfiguration before these three would-be disciples, but in the end, it’s about what is going to be demanded of them in their own lives.  If they could stop for a minute, maybe the most important thing that is revealed to them in this shadow is to listen.  If we can learn to listen on a deeper level, beyond all the noise of our lives, the truth and the promise will begin to reveal itself to us.  It will reveal itself to us as individuals but also as community and where it is we need to grow into the promise that is given in this moment.  The day always comes when something is demanded of us and more often than not, it’s giving up what we think has given us life or giving up what we believe has given us life but no longer nourishes and nurtures us.  That’s where true transformation can happen in our lives.  As we listen, what is it we are holding onto in our lives, individually and collectively, that holds us back from the promise.  It is in that space that surrender is being demanded to live a life of faith and trust in the promise shown in the Transfiguration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Changed Vision

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading today from the Book of Genesis probably sounds rather bizarre to us, especially if you’re a parent or grandparent. I can’t image anyone wanting to be in Abraham’s position today as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. What makes it even more bizarre is we know the back story and the waiting and questioning that Abraham and Sarah did in their lives in wanting to give birth and now here he is about to do something that we’d consider quite crazy! The obvious connection between this reading and Jesus is of course the sacrifice of the son and the Son. Yet, like in our own lives, it’s often not about the obvious; there’s often something deeper going on in our lives that is beyond words and understanding and maybe by means of reflection, can we ask ourselves if we’re willing to give up and sacrifice what’s most important to us?

Again, think of the context of their lives, Abraham and Sarah. Think about how they struggled in life and with God, how they would question and wonder and doubt what it is that God was doing in their lives, working on them constantly. When they learn that they were to give birth to a son they laugh in the face of God! When they can finally let go of the doubts and how they thought God should act and what God should do in their lives, somehow shorting them of something they felt they should have in the birth of a child, the Spirit begins to break through in their lives. The same thing happens with Abraham in this reading today. He think he understands what God is calling him to do, again, in his own need to grow and change over time and in life, is being called to see and hear and listen from a different point of view. In that moment, the Spirit breaks through his life and his soul begins to expand, “countless as the stars in the sky and sands of the seashore”. Once again, Abraham is invited into a deeper place, a more radical place in his own life in becoming the father of faith and living the will of God.

The disciples will get there eventually. Their own vision and hearing is still limited to what they are being called to, despite the invitation that they are given in today’s Gospel. The glory is revealed before their very eyes and yet they are warned not to tell others of the experience. Jesus knows quite well that they aren’t there yet and it would be from a place of authenticity yet because their vision and their own ego and thought pattern of who God is and who and what it means to be the Christ; they remain limited in the midst of the unlimited. It won’t be until their own interior lives are rocked by the Cross that their own vision and hearing begins to change and the transfiguration will begin to make sense, not as something seen beyond them but rather something that unfolds within them and to live the more radical life of love that God calls them to in their lives. They have to come down off the mountain and out of their heads in order to not just think who this God should be but to experience the God they will come to know. Sometimes the most important thing we have to give up and sacrifice is the way we think, our opinions, our judgments that we hold onto, even the ones that we hold about God before we can embrace that radical life that we are called to as disciples.

As we continue this journey through the lenten season, we pray for a breaking through in our own lives and in our own journey as individuals and a community. Lent, and these readings, are a good reminder of how limited we can become or allow ourselves to be limited, avoiding a change in our own vision of life and God or our inability to hear that voice of God calling us to come down off our own mountains that we create for ourselves and delve deeply into our humanity and to see the divine within, straight to the Cross of Calvary, leading us to a more meaningful life, one filled joy, a life with an expansion of soul as Abraham experiences when never growing weary of God who remains faithful through it all, always trying to break into the world and into our sufferings in order to bring life and love, for as Paul tells us today, nothing can separate us from that love. God calls us to that more radical way of living, a life filled with love and meaning; a love that leads us to even sacrifice what we have deemed most important to us and, in turn, a love that expands from the stars of the sky to the sands of the seashore.

Journeying Downward and Outward

Image

Genesis 12: 1-4; Matthew 17: 1-9

While I was doing my train trip two years ago, I had blogged a post entitled, “Faces in the Sand” ( http://www.herodescent.wordpress.com/2012/07/28/faces-in-the-sand ).    I had written it while I was at the monastery in the desert out in New Mexico, literally in the middle of nowhere, twelve miles off the main road down a long dirt road.  I had happened to look up while I was out there and saw what looked like faces in the sand, hence the name of the blog!  In that moment, I had thought about all the people that had gone before me in that location, the desert mothers and fathers that are a part of our faith.  At that time, I felt a sense of peace because it was as if they were all praying for me at that moment to trust and to grow in faith, even if it meant going places that I would rather not go.

I thought of that post when I read this first reading from Genesis and the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Just think about it, their families probably thought they were crazy for what they were about to do in their lives.  Keep in mind that they both well advanced in age, often felt unsettled because at times it seemed as if God had not come through for them, and all of a sudden they are being directed to go out, to leave everything behind in these advanced years of their lives and head out to a new land.  The crazy thing is, they did it.  They left where they were not knowing where they were going and God provided.  God provides them with a son, Isaac, and Sarah literally laughs in God’s face.  Yet, when we leave behind and go out to the distant lands, into the desert of our lives, God somehow reaches us on new levels, trust builds and faith deepens, God provides.  They could take such a leap of faith in their lives because they have done much of the hard work and the journey within.  Up to this point in the book of Genesis it hasn’t been very good news and in comes the call of our father in faith, Abraham, to once again put his trust in God and go out.

For the disciples, who too are so often the faces in the sand for us, it wasn’t about going out to distant lands but rather a journey down, a journey that takes, sometimes, even greater trust and faith.  Abraham and Sarah had life’s experience and wisdom behind them but not so for the disciples.  They are new to this pilgrim journey.  They haven’t yet made the journey down and yet, love the experience of being on top of the mountain.  Peter wants to build tents and stay right where he is, along with James and John.  Imagine, any of us in that position would want the same thing, to stay put where they had just seen the glory of Jesus revealed, all is good in the world at that moment, and not a care in the world.  Yet, Jesus leads them down.  As much as Abraham and Sarah go out on their journey, the disciples, as it is for us in this season of Lent, we journey down into the depths of our beings, so often to the places we’d rather not go.  We know how it proceeds for the disciples as we move towards Palm Sunday and Good Friday when they face head on the evil, darkness, and shadow they face within themselves and it isn’t until they are led to those places, into the muck of life, will they be able to go out like Abraham and Sarah.  It will only be in some of the most trying times of their lives where they will learn to trust and their faith deepen.  When they do, they too will go out, but now a new people knowing truly what their lives are about.

As we pilgrims continue this journey, we come mindful of the centuries of those who have gone before us, the many “faces in the sand” which continue to encourage and strengthen us on our own faith journey and desire to take it seriously.  This Lenten season, for us, is about the journey of the disciples and where Jesus leads them, to the cross.  It will only be in facing the Jerusalem of our own lives where we will grow and deepen in faith and learn to trust God with all our heart and soul.  This is a journey, in many ways, we do alone, but at the same time, together, joined with these centuries of mothers and fathers of faith who lead us down to where we’d rather not go in order to leave what we know and trust the call to go out to distant lands being that faith and trust to all the world.  We pray, this season, for the courage to go and to respond to the call of God to let go and to respond with such conviction as Abraham to the unknown of our lives and world with such deep faith and trust.