We call this day Transfiguration Sunday. On this day we go up the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John. The journey invites and equips us, after we have heard what Jesus said and did, to see who Jesus is. The hike up the mountain is an invitation to see through all the episodes, anecdotes and moments, to see beyond all of Jesus’ teachings, healings and meals with sinners, and to know him. “He was transfigured before them,” the scriptures tell us, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” How do you talk about such a moment? With great hesitation, I suppose, because there aren’t words to capture it, to capture the fullness of it.
This mountain moment is the point in the story when everything shifts from Jesus’ work in the villages of Galilee to his work in Jerusalem. Everything shifts here from his beautiful proclamation of God’s reign in his words of comfort and demand, his healing touch, and his radical hospitality; everything shifts to his journey to Jerusalem, to the dark hill outside the city where all is lost in betrayal, injustice, and violent death. And here at midpoint, this luminous mountain moment already sings of Easter. It sings of the light of God’s new day when life is redeemed from the power of sin and the glory of God is seen by all in all. How do you speak of a moment when everything sings of the fullness of God dwelling in Jesus, when Jesus, the light of the world is no longer a metaphor but the true light that illumines everything?
Brian Doyle wrote a marvelous biographical piece, seemingly about something altogether different, but perhaps not so different in the end.
Very rarely are we able to reach back into the past and mark a moment when our innermost tides began to flow in another direction; but I think I see one, a moment when I realized with a first hint of cold honesty I was being a selfish buffoon—and possibly the moment when I began to grow up. It is beside the point that it took me another ten years at least to get there, or that I am not quite there yet, even in my fifties.
I was sitting at the dining-room table. My dad and my mom and my sister were sitting there also. I believe it was lunch. My brothers were elsewhere committing misdemeanor. I believe it was summertime. The room was lined with books from floor to ceiling. I believe the meal was finished, and my mother and sister were having tea and cigarettes. My father mentioned casually that our cousins were coming for dinner next Sunday or something like that. I believe these were the Connecticut cousins and not the New York cousins.
I shoved my chair back and whined and snarled and complained. I believe this had something to do with some vague plans of my own that I had of course not shared with anyone else as yet, probably because they were half-hatched or mostly imaginary. My father said something calm and reasonable, as still is his wont. I said something rude. My mother remonstrated quietly but sharply, as still is her wont. I said something breathtakingly selfish. My sister said something gently and kind, as still is her wont. I said something cutting and sneering and angry. My mother slowly put down her tea. Odd that I would remember that detail, her cigarette in her left hand and her teacup in her right and the cup descending slowly to the table. The table had a blue cloth, and just outside the window the yew hedge was the most brilliant vibrant green.
As I remember it was just as my mother was putting her teacup on the table, just as the smoke from the cigarettes was rising thin and blue and unbroken like twin towers, just as my father put his big hands on the table and prepared to stand up and say something calm and blunt to me and cut the moment before it spun out of control, that I realized I was being a fool. It wasn’t an epiphany or a trumpet blast or anything epic. It was an almost infinitesimal wriggle of something for which I don’t have good words even now. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, though I was embarrassed, later. It was more like for a second I saw who I actually was rather than who I thought I was, or wanted to be, or wanted other people to think I was. I understood, dimly, for an instant—I believe for the first time in my life—that I was being a fool.
When I first read that piece, I immediately remembered that moment in my own life. For me it didn’t happen at home with my parents and siblings, but with a group of friends on a Friday night.
For a second I saw who I actually was rather than who I thought I was, or wanted to be, or wanted other people to think I was.
Brian Doyle calls it A Fool’s Awakening, and awakening is the word, the experience that for me ties his piece to the luminous mountain moment the gospel writers struggle to describe. It wasn’t Jesus who was transformed in front of his friends’ eyes, but their manner of seeing him. Suddenly they saw who he really was rather than who they thought he was, or wanted him to be, or wanted other people to think he was. They saw, not because somebody convinced them or told them what Jesus books to read or urged them to try harder, but because they awakened and they heard the voice from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
We heard a passage from 2 Peter this morning that makes reference to that mountain moment. The text addresses a situation where believers wrestled with disappointment and doubt. For more than a generation, the church had lived with the hope of Jesus’ return in glory. The Risen One will come to judge the living and the dead, but when? Why hasn’t he come yet? What’s taking him so long?
People were making fun of them, and not just the usual despisers of religion, saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” Apparently the argument was gaining ground that the apostolic teaching about Jesus’ return as judge at the end of time was a “cleverly devised myth” and that the prophecies of scripture were unreliable. Cleverly devised myths. Stories made up for people who can’t handle the cold, hard truth that justice is but a dream. Sounds remarkably contemporary for a text from the end of the first century, doesn’t it? I expect commercials and campaign slogans to be cleverly devised myths, designed to tell people what they want to hear, but I can’t think of the apostles’ witness as Jesus commercials, cleverly devised to sell a religious brand. “We did not follow cleverly devised myths,” the author insists, “when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
The apostles who were with him on the mountain, the men and women who saw him on the third day, they were not a bunch of myth makers bent on deceiving impressionable people, but rather eyewitnesses of his majesty. They were men and women struggling to find words for that moment of awakening, for an experience that opened not just their eyes but their entire being to the presence and promise of God in Jesus. To them the point was not when Jesus would come to judge the living and the dead, but that it was Jesus who would come; that the unsentimental and dependable love of God they had encountered in Jesus was also the power that holds the future; that in the end we would all be answerable not to ourselves or to the powers that want to hold us and God’s creation in thrall, but to Jesus. Cleverly devised myths? No, but rather a transfigured, an awakened way of seeing, thinking, and being.
I want to close with a quote from John Calvin, and I promise I won’t do this often. I know it’s not easy listening, but it’s good, challenging stuff.
True, were I called to contend with the craftiest despisers of God, I trust, though I am not possessed of the highest ability or eloquence, I should not find it difficult to stop their obstreperous mouths; I could, without much ado, put down the boastings which they mutter in corners, were anything to be gained by refuting their cavils. But although we may maintain the sacred Word of God against gainsayers, it does not follow that we shall forthwith implant the certainty which faith requires in their hearts. Profane [people] think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, (…) insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of [people], until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.
We have no great certainty of the word itself, until it be confirmed by the testimony of the Spirit. For the Lord has so knit together the certainty of his word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the word when the Spirit shining upon it enables us there to behold the face of God.
We’re about to enter the season of Lent, a time of deep critique of the cleverly devised myths we tell each other and ourselves. A season that can awaken us to the Spirit’s presence and desire, and bring us face to face with God.
 Brian Doyle, “A Fool’s Awakening,” Christian Century, February 19, 2014, p. 12
 2 Peter 3:4
 John Calvin, Institutes, 7.4.; see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.viii.html
 John Calvin, Institutes, 9.3.; see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.x.html