Delivered 27 January 2013, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (Year C) by the Rev. Mary Slenski.
You’re driving down the road. Make it on a road trip of some sort and you’re making good progress. And then . . . detour! We trust the Department of Transportation to post those orange signs and guide us around the obstruction and get us back on our way. You never know, you might discover something new and exciting along the way. Now, if the obstruction is something like a tree that just fell across the road and INDOT hasn’t been there yet, it’s a disorienting and anxiety producing to find our way without a guide. The expected is interrupted.
I read more of the gospel than was printed in your service leaflet this Sunday. Those who were simply listening didn’t know the difference. Those who follow word for word reached a point when what they were hearing didn’t jibe with what was on the paper, and for a moment they were confused. The expected was interrupted. I can imagine the questions that were flitting through some people’s minds. Did she miss the little bracket that sets off optional text? Was something left out of the leaflet? After a few moments, usually accompanied by paper shuffling, people raise their eyes from the paper, sometimes even turn their bodies and concentrate on listening. And then the familiar words: “The Gospel of the Lord.” We’re all back together.
It’s that micro-moment of confusion that I’m interested in. Confusion precedes transformation. In that micro-moment, our senses had new information, they were put to work, energized to bring order out of the confusion. The possibility exists that the ears became more attuned and the eyes rested. In a heightened state of listening, they might have heard something they would have missed otherwise. And maybe, just maybe, what they heard was exactly what the heart needed to hear.
I realize that I’ve used a good number of words expanding something that occurred in a moment, but it is an experience we have now all shared. As I begin in Lent to gradually incorporate some alternative, approved texts into Sunday worship for you to try on for a season, you may have moments where the expected is interrupted.
Just as sometimes the transportation people put out big signs to let you know the detour’s coming, I’d like to let you know what the changes are from Lenten worship in past years. The opening words and the form of confession are different. The Prayers of the People are a very simple variation accompanied by music. That’s it as far as new stuff is concerned; you’ll have all the words you need in the service leaflet. And then we’ll be back on the familiar path in the Book of Common Prayer for Holy Communion. I’m asking y’all to trust me to lead you through worship. A different word or phrase might be just what you need to energize one part of your spirit while another takes a much needed rest. Let me know! On to our gospel reading . . .
I wonder what Peter, James and John expected when they starting walking up that mountain. Important things happen on mountains like. When the tablets of the law were given to Moses, his exposure to the light of the Holy One was burnt into his face so brightly that people were afraid to look upon him. Elijah the prophet heard the sound of sheer silence standing in a cave in the side of a mountain. While I’m pretty sure that this hiking party knew those stories, I bet they weren’t thinking about Moses and Elijah. I bet they were watching the trail, chit-chatting about the day as they walked, and then just getting quieter as a way to prepare for this prayer retreat Jesus had invited them to.
Whatever they expected, they reached a moment when it took several unexpected detours. Jesus’ appearance changed and his clothes became dazzling white. The appearance part doesn’t surprise me too much. One of my best friends in seminary was a woman in her late 60s. I looked across the chapel at her one morning and almost didn’t recognize her. The woman sitting in her chair looked decades younger. I did a double take before I knew who she was. I mentioned it to her when we walked out. She’d had trouble sleeping that night, so rather than fight it, she’d gotten up and spent two hours meditating. She was wearing an inner glow from that time sitting in the presence of God. Anyone doing what they love or talking about the one they love can take on an energetic dazzle that seems to come from within.
I don’t think the vision of Moses and Elijah was really much of a detour, at least as far as meaning is concerned. Jesus was standing within the tradition of their forefathers, with the law of Moses and the heritage of the prophets. And Peter responded in a pretty expected way. I really think it was the voice-bearing, overshadowing cloud that undid Peter, James, and John, our hiking party on a prayer retreat. In a moment when time stood still, they were tossed into confusion.
“This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him!” They were not to stop and worship what they saw, but to engage their ears. And then it was all over. They’d returned to the reality of their retreat, just the four of them. It was time to get some sleep and then leave the mountain. And then St Luke records, “And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen” (9:36).
This is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. It’s been a relatively short season since Easter comes early this year. We’ve heard that…
Mary and Joseph listened as the Magi proclaimed their infant son a king.
Jesus heard, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus heard his mother say there was no wine at the wedding at Cana.
Jesus’ synagogue heard him say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And today Peter, James, and John heard, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him.”
Each one of these threw their hearer into times of confusion. The expected was interrupted. The seeds of transformation are sewn in moments of interruption and confusion. I find a lot of hope and comfort in this. We don’t have to always understand immediately.
What I propose is that in these moments of confusion, we listen. We listen for companions who are caught with us trying to tune our ears and rest our eyes. We look for the signs of detours along the way and take them in stride. We might find something glorious along the way. We, like Peter, James, and John, accept invitations for prayer. We just might see amazing things. We just might see each of us, all of us, have moments where we know we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, where we see the glory of God reflected in each other. Amen.