St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (February 7, 2016)

Liturgical Color: White

Reverend Doctor Lyle E. McKee


Time, Time, Time

Grace to you and peace from our loving God, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

One last moment of the glory of Epiphany remains before the light of Christ is dimmed throughout the season of Lent. This last moment, of course, is the transfiguration of our Lord as detailed in our gospel reading from Luke. The heavens open, the glory of the Lord breaks through, and the ancient prophet's word is fulfilled: "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed."

My mind turns back to December 18 and that glorious concert given by our choir here at St. Thomas. "And the glory, the glory of the Lord, shall be reveal-ed." That too was a transfiguring day, as we were transfixed and transported by the great music of Handel and the prodigious gifts and skills of our musicians.

Aaahh, how marvelous to recall... Sorry. I'd better get back to the text.

Peter, John, and James go up with Jesus to the hills to pray, and while praying, Jesus appears, along with Moses and Elijah, in glory—transfigured.

I call your attention this morning not to the event itself, but rather to the response of Peter. First, he—along with the others, regain their senses, having been heavy with sleep through most of the episode, and catch sight of what is transpiring. Then, Peter, enthralled, asks to build shelters so as to preserve the moment, which he and James and John nearly miss for sleepiness.

Perhaps your mind turns as did mine to the matter of time in these events.

There are two basic ways to contrast the experience of time. One is time that is experienced as negative, as destructive, evil, painful, or simply burdensome—what theologians call chronos (as in chronology). The other is time experienced as positive, constructive, good, pleasant, or significant (kairos). Time, as we all know well, can be a threat, an enemy, a destructive force; but it can also be pleasurable, a friend, joyful, and growth-producing. Chronos or kairos.

In this gospel account, both kinds of time are present. Peter and the other "favorite apostles" of Jesus, come to the hills with Jesus to pray. Apparently nothing is said of why they come. Jesus merely takes them with him to pray.

They couldn't have been too thrilled at the prospect, for we are told by the evangelist that the disciples were weighed down with sleep by the time of the transfiguration. Peter and the others were experiencing the first kind of time—negative time—as they stay with Jesus to pray.

The scene calls immediately to mind that other time of prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. These friends must surely have gone to quiet places often in order to pray. And it seems that their tendency was to doze off during these hours of vigil. They always seem to be asleep—or on the verge of it—even at the most auspicious of times, times which most of us would give our eye teeth to have been able to witness.

We might imagine that the other disciples said to one another as Jesus left with Peter and John and James: "Wow. I'm glad he didn't pick me this time. When he goes off to pray, he means business."

We say that these three were Jesus' favorites. But one wonders whether they felt that they were indeed considered to be special. They might well have thought of these times as a kind of trial or punishment—all this praying.

In any case, they are tired and perhaps bored. And sleepiness begins to numb their minds. They most likely experience this time of prayer as negative time—boring, over-long, tiring, burdensome—plodding chronos. Indeed, that time must have passed very slowly for them.

Fortunately, they rally at the unexpected presence of vaunted figures from the past and powerful light; and time takes on an entirely different character for them. The moment of significant had arrived—kairos. Witness Peter's request: "Master, it is good for us to be here: let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Time had suddenly become a thing to be grasped at, held sacred, and hung on to. Time had become a very positive thing, and at the same time it moved too quickly. Peter wanted to preserve the moment, to build shelters and make sure that everyone would stay exactly as they were. He wanted fully to drink in the glory and profundity of the moment.

And Luke tells us that Peter didn't know what he was saying. That seems to be from the perspective of Jesus. Peter, at the time, knew exactly what he was saying. It was good to be there, and he wanted to stay. And we all have had similar experiences. Time becomes different for us depending on what we're doing.

In the midst of pain, time drags. We reflect on the moment of injury with sadness and regret. "If only I had taken a different path." "If this could only have come at a more convenient time."

The same is true of time that separates us from something we seek. Boredom or anxiety sets in. Waiting in the doctor's office. Awaiting the arrival of friends or family we haven't seen in a long time. The long and lonely time of being in the hospital or a nursing home seeking some distraction or a visit or a kind word.

On the other hand, joyful moments grab us, and when the time is past, we find ourselves asking where the time has gone. "Time flies when you're having fun." Times during which we are engrossed in some activity—engaged in playing cards, games, vacations, sports, hobbies, watching a movie, and so forth—have the potential for absorbing all of our attention to the point that we and the thing that we're doing become one. Time can feel as though it loses its meaning for us. We lose track of it.

And there is something odd about time. It passes quickly or it drags. It threatens and stimulates. But even negative experiences of time can pass quickly—when we're anxious about something, time rushes past us. We say, "I'm not ready yet." Things can happen at different rates in the same period of time: "I grow rapidly weary of this book, and I am making slow headway."

Our inclinations are like those of the disciples. We want to get rid of the time that piles up on us in a negative way, and we want to preserve in whatever ways we are able those times that are enjoyable. We far prefer kairos to chronos. Naturally. It only makes sense.

The problem lies in distinguishing properly between the times that are truly positive and those that are truly negative. The disciples in our gospel obviously think they know what kind of time they are experiencing when they grow bored while praying with Jesus. But they are wrong.

That's a comfort in some ways. I know that worship can be a trying time for some. I wonder, for example, how each of you is experiencing this moment of time. Does it seem largely positive or negative? Pleasant or trying? Is the time going by rapidly or is it dragging?

The gospel is telling us that our judgments of time are not always correct. The disciples may have judged their prayer vigil to be worthless, but they were obviously in for a big surprise. You may be less than thrilled at this very moment. But, are you focusing your attention in the most helpful way? Do you really know what this time may bring? It's that kind of question I think this text is asking us.

We might even extend the boundaries of the question a bit. How is this congregation experiencing time right now? How is this community of the faithful experiencing the presence of God at this particular moment in its history and life? Are we feeling groggy with sleepiness? Or are we seeking ways to preserve the moment? Are we living in the past or the future, or in the present?

The disciples nearly missed one of the most glorious of moments in history. There is a caution here for us. The gospel calls us away from a tendency to avoid living in the present. The words are still on Peter's lips, when a cloud comes and overshadows them. They are terrified, but from the cloud comes a voice: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him?"

Listen to him. That is our call today and our challenge. We have difficulty listening. We want things done according to our judgments, by our rules. We want to be able to specify the timing of those positive, all-encompassing moments, and to build ways to preserve those moments or extend them.

Take note of what Peter and the others might have learned from what happened to them. Peter's request is totally ignored and considered fully inappropriate. He had entirely missed the point.

God's presence among them was not to be signified by shelters in which God might be kept and to which they might go to have a look now and then as it suited them, like an animal in a zoo. God's presence, this story tells us, is not primarily to be experienced in spectacular apocalyptic demonstrations but in the continuing and abiding presence of Jesus in the community. This is God's way of bringing to completion God's plans for humanity. To put that another way: Jesus' presence is our power in the present. It is to and for Jesus that we are to listen, at all times and in all places. Jesus' presence is our power in the present. Our challenge is to listen to him.

When Jesus and the three come down from the mountain, they meet a father who pleads for healing for his son. The intense mountain-top experience is over, and we are brought back down to the valley where we encounter the realities of life. We're back to living from moment to moment, meeting the challenges, hearing the call, listening for God's voice, and engaging actively in meeting the needs that confront us. Chronos, yes, but also joyful.

In the morning, we might prepare ourselves with prayer: "Lord, thank you for this day. Guide me through it. Help me to meet what comes with faith, being open to your leadings at every moment."

And at the end of the day, we might give thanks—for both kinds of time, for God is with us always. "Thank you, Lord, for your presence with me in this day, enabling me to meet the challenges, endure the hardships, and rise to your callings."

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life. Amen.

 

 

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