Mathematicians spend time trying to solve unsolvable problems. The theory behind this practice is that it makes them better mathematicians, by working toward the unsolvable—it hones their craft…
Perhaps this is why the Transfiguration exists.
An impossible story upon which Pastors can hone our craft, sharpen our tongue, become better preachers.
Knowing, from the beginning that preaching about the Transfiguration is an impossible task…
Let us pray,
So, knowing I’m about to fail, here’s the deal.
Peter’s words, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,” speaks to two halves of the human experience.
“It’s good for us to be here,” speaks to those who are Spiritual, but not Religious—those who seek the high of Divine experience—a prophetic frenzy, without the moorings of buildings and tradition, and more disastrously community—so the divine, at best, sparks and sputters out, leaving only a shadow behind.
“Let us make three dwellings,” speaks to those who are Religious, but not Spiritual—those who dimly recognize the divine light among them, and so they do what they can to capture that moment, make a dwelling for that moment—taking the trappings of place, or era, or people there as the central part of that God moment—they take these things and harden those things into an idol
As you might imagine, both fail…
The first, the Spiritual but not Religious crowd, cedes all control of events, perhaps they make everything an inward blaa, they give up clarity for the sake of expediency.
I can find God in the woods, I can find God without community, I can find God by sleeping in, and at some point they no longer care to find God.
The second, the Religious but not Spiritual folk, muzzles things, stuffs God in all too confining boxes, makes ritual out of righteousness and prescribed acts out of piety.
God is found on this mountain only, you can access God by living among these people only, God only shows up if you wear this particular funny hat.
To these words of Peter, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,” —to our own inclinations to Spiritualism and Religiosity—comes the voice of God from a cloud…
Hey—maybe we’re getting somewhere now… right?
Perhaps it is in those clouds that we find a way to be both religious and spiritual… perhaps if we just listen to the beloved son all will be better… perhaps this is the road to success?
But those clouds too disappear, just as the prophets and the idea of dwelling places, disappeared.
There you are—there we are—there is the human condition—right there. All these things lead you into a grave nothingness—no flighty spirituality, no grounding ritual—not even the very voice of God
—there you are, only Jesus. There you are, neither Religious nor Spiritual—there you are, with only Jesus.
And that sparse reality is a good thing to keep in front of you, as you enter Lent.
Lent is all about the Spiritual and the Religious—extra worship, prescribed prayers, fasting, almsgiving, a personal piety explosion, chasing after Jesus, boxing Jesus in—ritual and rigor.
And here’s the thing. Both Spiritual and Religious yearnings and strivings—the basic stuff of Lent—all of it, end in utter failure.
Either we go half-way and recognize we can’t do it—or we go all the way—all the way through the desert, and congratulate ourselves, patting ourselves on the back…
Only then, once we’ve made a right fool of ourselves… then we realize it wasn’t us, it wasn’t our own will that brought us this far, but the faithfulness of God that put that will within us.
You Spiritual, your transcendent warm fuzzies will float away, clearing like a cloud.
You Religious, you’ll succeed only by formalizing and forgetting, fixating on the mountain instead of the message.
—either way—we find ourselves in failure,
—stripped of all pretentions—only Jesus remains.
Interestingly the date of Luther’s death—February 18th, will fall on Ash Wednesday this year.
Luther’s dying words were, “We are beggars all; this is true.”
That right there is the point of Lent—it’s the process of striving, and failing—recognizing that we are beggars.
Sanctification is nothing more than growing in identification with the needy world we are part of.
Growing more profoundly a beggar ourselves, arriving at that place where only Jesus remains.
It’s dying and being brought to life by the one who was so profoundly a beggar that,
he veiled himself,
he entered the darkness,
he knelt down in the dirt and dust with us.
Yes, this sermon here is a failure.
All Transfiguration Sermons, are failures.
And I thank God for that, for failure.
It is in that failure we show ourselves for who we are.
And Christ shows himself for who he is.
In failure we are left with nothing
—nothing but Jesus.