This has been the weekend of love…Valentine’s weekend. While the primary understanding of Valentine’s Day is that it is a day to spend with one’s sweetheart, celebrating each other and your relationship, long ago Hallmark cashed in on the idea that Valentine cards could be sent to anyone you care about – mother, father, child, sibling, friend, neighbor, cousin; and I think that’s just about right. Everyone needs love in their life, whether it is romantic love or not. When we are loved we are seen for who we really are, and valued, appreciated, understood, held in at least a metaphorical embrace that says – “You are special, valuable, you matter to me.” That experience of being loved makes us shine – not just in the eyes of the one loving us, but in our own eyes as well.
Today we are winding down the Season after Epiphany. Six weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, and the experience he had of the Holy Spirit hovering over him, and the voice of God saying: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well-pleased.” And now today we hear God reprising that same message. Jesus has taken Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. They have what must have been an amazing spiritual experience; Mark, in his usual condensed way, says merely that Jesus was transfigured before them – a dazzling whiteness. And then Moses and Elijah make an appearance – a moment beyond time, outside of the here and now. Finally, after a bit of a scramble on Peter’s part to memorialize or preserve the moment, they hear God’s voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” What had been an experience private to Jesus at his baptism has now also been revealed to his inner circle. Jesus is the Beloved, and he shines with that love – the Father’s love for him, and his love for the disciples, the rest of the world, and all of us.
All through these last six weeks we have seen Jesus manifested as the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Son, the Beloved, in a variety of different ways and from different angles. That’s because God’s love is so great, so deep, so high, so strong, that we cannot fathom the whole of it. And so we get glimpses, peeking around the corner, hoping to get a greater understanding; until today, when we get the Transfiguration full out. Divine love has so infused Jesus that he shines with a brightness from beyond human comprehension, and yet is not undone by it. No wonder Peter thought it was an amazing experience, and should be recorded somehow for posterity.
Now, you may not readily be able to think of a time when you had such an experience; this must have been pretty overwhelming. But I think more of us have transforming moments than we let on, experiences of God that are beyond anything we expected or could have manufactured. And truthfully, that is the aim of our worship and our prayer; not for the experience’s sake, but to know ourselves to be in the presence of God’s holiness, and to be moved and changed by that presence. We seek God’s powerful love, so that we can be changed into more of God’s image, so that we can shine with the Spirit of love and be a light to the world around us.
And so God speaks to the small group on the mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” When we have a moving spiritual experience, we are to savor it, but not keep it to ourselves, not let it end there. We are also to listen to what Jesus says, to hear his teaching, to let his words shape our life and our actions, just as we let his divine love shine in our hearts and in our minds.
Sometimes when we’ve had this sort of direct experience of God we find it hard to talk about; perhaps we think no one will listen to us if we try to tell them, or maybe they will laugh at us, or think we are crazy or strange, or maybe we struggle to find the words that will convey what we have felt and seen and heard. But stuffing these experiences away doesn’t help; we just sit with them bottled up inside us, and God can’t use the impact of those experiences to help us change our lives or the world around us. It is like receiving an envelope with a red heart on the outside, but never opening it, leaving the Valentine message inside.
What, then, do we do? Tell a friend, or spouse, someone close to you, whose spiritual wisdom you trust, and in the telling, see if the experience doesn’t reach to new levels in your spirit and soul. Sit quietly, and see if a particular prayer you know, or passage of Scripture, or even a word, or phrase of a hymn comes to mind. Pray, and ask God to help you understand your experience, go back to the passage of Scripture, or the hymn or prayer (if you can) and see if that larger context is speaking to your particular situation or need, and ask God what it is that he wants you to see and hear. Ask him to help you listen to Jesus.
Most likely what you will hear or see or comprehend will not be a full set of directions about what to do next in your life, or how to solve problems you may have. Instead, the Holy Spirit wants to give you wisdom, and insight, and understanding – wants to saturate your being with the love of God, and then help you to live that in tangible ways at work, at home, in your volunteering, in your friendships, as a parent, or spouse or child. God also wants us to be vehicles of love in the more complex structures of society and culture, knowing that there is no human endeavor outside of God’s interest and care, or beyond the Spirit’s reach.
So, keep your eyes open, and the ears of your heart attuned to listening for God to be at work in you and through you. Sit with these experiences when they come; let them soak into you so that you may absorb every bit of God’s shining love that you can; and then yourself be changed – from the inside out – so that your life may become more God-shaped, more Christ-centered, ready to hoist the sail of your heart and let the Spirit blow you where God wants you to go.
Let us pray.
“Create in me, Gracious Lord, a spirit that is patient and kind. Keep me from all envy, boasting, arrogance, or rudeness; give me true wisdom and understanding, that I may always rejoice in the truth and never in wrong-doing. Strengthen my trust in you so that I can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Through your strong leading and my own feeble effort, let me mature and grow from the childish to the adult. You, Lord Jesus, are love; make me to be more like you. Grant that your love may be my word and my wisdom, my great offering, and my one accomplishment; for of all things, love is the greatest and it never comes to an end. Amen.” ~ St. Augustine’s Prayer Book
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
Last Sunday after Epiphany
February 15, 2015