“A Glimpse” Matthew 17:1-9

The season of Epiphany in the church is book-marked by two stories, each and every year. It begins with the story of the Baptism of Jesus.  In that story, God’s booming voice proclaims, (depending upon the Gospel either for either Jesus alone, or for all to hear) “This is my Son…”

The Season of Epiphany always ends with this story, of Jesus Transfigured on the Mountain, and the second iteration of God’s proclamation, “This is my Son…”

In between the Baptism and the Transfiguration, the ministry of Jesus begins and the stories we hear bring into sharper focus what can be expected of him, and what will be required of the one whom God claims as his own.

The Transfiguration event is quite often a head scratcher for most folks.   We’re not quite sure what to do with it.

We are as puzzled as anyone over what Moses and Elijah are meant to represent, what they may have discussed with Jesus, or what symbolic action this meeting might be meant to convey.

We join with Peter, James and John in fumbling and stumbling over what to make of it all, and just what to say or do in the moment.

Shall we “live in this moment?”

Do we build a shrine or a shelter to commemorate it?   Or a shelter to remain upon the mountain for a time and avoid what Jesus has predicted will lie ahead in choosing to go to Jerusalem, and go the way of the Cross?

It can be a quite a conundrum for us.   What do we make of this strange vision?

Perhaps, Vision is precisely the word and experience we are to take from this story; that it is a vision.  It is a moment between baptism and what will lie ahead in which we get only a glimpse of something.

If that is the case, then I would submit that the Transfiguration is not so foreign to us after all.

You know this moment.

You have had this kind of moment.

If this is a vision granted, it is not so much something for us to “figure out” or explain as it is simply a “moment to remember.”  It is a moment that will be looked back upon that provided something — a measure of hope, insight, or clarity for what was to come.

We all experience transfigurations, don’t we?

You have had a moment like this, or you will.

Transfigurations, this story tells us, are comprised of three distinct parts.

You see something that you have never seen until this moment.

You recognize something of the past in this moment that you realize will have implications for the future..

You feel a moment of fear that a word eventually addresses or dispels.

So, when is it that you have had a “Transfiguration” event happen to you?

If you are a parent or a grandparent I’ll bet it’s there tucked inside your memory, a Transfiguration of your child.

Probably several.

Maybe it was the moment when for the first time, on their own, they toddled into the bathroom and used the toilet without being prompted, coaxed, bribed or scolded.

It was a moment when you saw them as something they had never been before, and something that you longed for them to be, independent!

You recognized something of the past fading away.  The day of no more diapers becomes a real possibility!

But, in that same realization you feel also a moment of fear.

They are growing up!

“I did it!”  “I do it myself!”  Is the word that comes to address the moment.  It pulls us back to reality, and dispels a bit of the anxiety.

I think there is a transfiguration moment when a parent sees his daughter or son come down the stairs dressed up for a special event.

You see that she is not your little girl anymore.   He is not just a little boy.

You recognize in her poise, or in his pose, in their appearance a bit of her mother perhaps, or you see your own father mirrored in the way he stands, or someone else from the family memory.   At any rate their appearance is quite unlike anything you have ever seen in your child before.

There she is, transfigured before you.  She is a young woman.

There he is, tall and dapper, and you recognize that he is no longer the child of playing with legos or in the backyard but a young man.

You feel the weight and joy of that.   And then they say something that snaps you back to the moment, something so like the little child again.  A word dispels your momentary fear of them slipping away from you.

Transfiguration moments abound, they appear in the donning of the cap and gown of graduation, in the tossing of the car keys when the teenager gets their license, in the first time your child reaches for the check at the restaurant when you are out to eat.

Oh, we know this moment of Transfiguration.  It signals a change to come, and change can be delightful, and fearful, and hard all at once, because it marks also a sense of loss.

Why is it the disciples want to build booths when they see the change in Jesus?  Is it not for the same reason we fight over the check at the restaurant?

Grow up, but not quite so fast.

Can’t we stay as we are… just a little longer?

It is good that we are here, and good to see this moment, and can it last just a little longer?

But no, down the mountain we must go.  There are tasks to be accomplished, work to be done.

We cannot hold the Transfiguration moment.  It is a vision, a moment.

But, visions can be remembered, recalled, and employed again.   They can be brought back to mind, and will be, to make sense of the future as it unfolds.

The vision of that little girl becoming a woman will be recalled in future events.  In the walk down the aisle at her wedding, in the cradling of her own first child, eventually in role reversal, where the child becomes the parent, extended caregiving back to the mother or father who once cradled her.

The vision of the little boy becoming a man will be recalled in future events, as he takes on his own life, finds his own way, and eventually in the role reversal as the things his father helped show him how to do are now returned.  “Here dad, let me….”

Oh, we are well acquainted with such moments of transfiguration, when we see, recognize, feel and a word dispels our fear.

But now, we need to pull this back to the story at hand, what the Transfiguration means for faith, because while we now know that we know this experience, we still don’t know exactly what it means for us.

Maybe what it means is this.

Change is possible, and we need not fear its approach, for it comes regardless of our wishes or attempts to hold it back, and God is in the change as it unfolds.

Maybe the reason Jesus gives the disciples this vision is so that they can recall it after the horrific events of trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.  That seems to be the direction given.  “Tell no one until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Maybe even after 3 years of following in Jesus’ footsteps, even after the resurrection, the life of bringing in the Kingdom becomes a bit of a blur, something hard to sustain.

Did Jesus really do that?  Say that?

Were we just imagining the healings?

Was the feeding a miracle, or really just a slight of hand where he got everyone to share the lunch they had tucked away?

When the days get long, and the work gets hard, and you begin to wonder if all this living as a follower of Jesus is worthwhile, as you wait for Jesus’ promised return, what is it that will sustain you?

Is it not those moments of transfiguration?  Those times when you saw, recognized, felt and heard a little glimpse of what could be?

Maybe we aren’t supposed to figure out what the Transfiguration means exactly, but rather recall it as a vision bestowed.

Peter, James and John believed this was significant.  They spoke of it after the resurrection.  It got recorded.

“We got to see a glimpse….”

And maybe, that’s all we will ever get to see at any given time, just a glimpse.

Martin Luther would often speak of how the “true church” was always hidden.  How could the Church of Rome with all its corruptions, abuses, and shortcomings be considered a church at all?    Where was Jesus in this mess of competing interests, sale of forgiveness, and building of grand structures while the poor suffered?

Well, Christ was indeed there, but Christ was not found in the grand decrees of Popes or the architecture.

No, the “true church” is revealed only in glimpses.

The true church is revealed where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacrament is rightly administered.

It is an event, not a place.

It is a moment, not an institution.

Church happens when Christ reveals in that moment what the individual is to do, to say, or to be to be Christ to the neighbor.

It is the act of Hospitality, the care for the other, the word that must be spoken.

It is the doing of what you are gifted and able to do in this world for the sake of the neighbor.

For Luther, the matter of church was a kind of “cat and mouse” game with Satan, lest the work of the Kingdom be too exposed and Satan get his hands on it.   And we know the truth of that.  More often than not in doing the “business” of the church we lose sight of in whose name we are doing what we want to do.

Maybe all we get are “glimpses” of how God is at work, how the Kingdom comes of its own accord through and sometimes in spite of our own actions.

Between Baptism and the Mountaintop, that’s where we live our lives as well.   So maybe all we are meant to hope for is such a glimpse of God at work in our action now and again.  A moment that makes us smile and say, “I see something I’ve never seen before.”

And when the vision is dim?   Well then we still have a reminder from God in a booming voice.

“This is my son… listen to him.”

“Be What You Are Called” Matthew 5:13-20

This parable of Jesus has never made a whole lot of sense to me.

Salt is elemental, one of the most stable compounds known to chemistry.   How could it ever lose its “saltiness?”

I have read various commentaries and illustrations that try to understand what Jesus might be referring to here.

There is an Illustration of how salt is found in impure deposits in the middle east, so that what at first looks like salt doesn’t carry flavor anymore, the actual salt having been leached out.   It may look like a salt deposit, but the salt is gone.

Or the illustration of how salt was sometimes used as a fire retardant and base in the act of baking bread, a layer of salt being placed over the coals that you then place the bread upon.   The salt used in this manner seasoned the loaf but would become unusable because of the ash, and so it was thrown out and trampled underfoot.

None of those are ultimately very satisfying explanations however, because they both tend to get around the central question.

How can something “lose” what it essentially is?

That salt deposit that looks like salt but doesn’t contain any?   Guess what, the salt that was once there is still around, it’s just collected in a new place.

That salt that you threw out to be trampled?  Guess what, the first rain that comes along that is also going to be dissolved, and it will collect, and recrystallize, and voila!   Salt again, or still, just in a new place!

How could salt ever lose its essential nature, what it is?

The light part of the parable is perhaps a little easier to understand, or least we think so at first.  We can imagine putting a basket or pot over a candle, thereby obscuring the light.

We know the light is still there, you just can’t see it.

We know what that is like to hide a light source under something.  It’s probably been a game you’ve played with a child, put the flashlight under the covers and then pop it out to reveal it again.

You don’t put a candle under a bushel not just because it’s pointless, it can’t do what it is intended to do, you also don’t put it under there because doing so denies its very nature, it can’t do what it is meant to do and be!

So, part of me just doesn’t get this parable.

You can’t “unsalt, salt.”

You can’t “unlight, light.”

You are going to “be” what you are!

No, the question appears to be whether or not you will be recognized as what you are.

And this, dear friends is where it gets a little tricky, because after using the illustration of salt and light, what we are to “be” Jesus goes on to talk to us about doing things.

He talks about letting our light shine before others.

He talks about having righteousness, actions that exceed even the righteousness, the actions of the Pharisees.

In other words, he moves from the realm of being into the realm of doing, and that is always a tricky transition.

Don’t believe me?   Let me give you an example that I think can resonate with.

Many a proud parent have hungered to watch their little one “become.”    It is what you hope and dream for from the beginning.  The child is born, and you look into their soft, innocent face and you begin to wonder just what it is that they will grow up to be, — what they will become, what they will do.

The little lump of flesh that we baptize is a unique individual upon whom we pronounce this blessing from Matthew.   “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

“Be, little one,” we say with our blessing.  “Be like salt and light, you are elemental in your nature, and you will “be” what you will be.

You will “become” what your Father in heaven desires for you to be, endowed with those unique gifts, talents, thoughts and abilities that God has given to you.

And this is where the difficulty begins, for the journey of “being” and “becoming” is a  movement to action, and that is fraught with danger.

The “become” portion unfolds as the little one begins to assert who and what God has made them to be, and it doesn’t always jibe with the wishes and hopes and dreams of the parent.

As I said, we delight in that “being” and becoming” at first.   The lump of flesh moves from laying, to rolling, to crawling to walking and then on to running and eventually borrowing the car keys and moving out on their own.

Oh how we delight in each new phase, but with each new phase we are terrified as well.

“Oh look, she’s rolling over!”

Which, of course, is all good and fine until she rolls over and off of the changing table, landing abruptly with a smack on the floor, and a scream of surprise and pain, or maybe being caught just in the nick of time.

Then the parent exclaims, “Why didn’t you lay still?!?”

Well, it was of course not in the child’s nature to lay still.  That is NOT what they are meant to be and do!   You were proud of that initiative at first, before you realized it had potentially negative consequences.

“Oh look, he’s crawling!”   And so begins the adventure for the inquisitive young one who proceeds to crawl over to the electrical outlet and tries to slobber on the receptacle.

“What are you doing?”  The parent exclaims, sweeping the child up in his or her arms.  “No! No! No!  OUCHIE!”  the parent instructs.

But the child is just “being” who they were intended to be.  It is their nature to explore with tongue and mouth.  That’s who they are, that’s what they are to do at that age, if they are to “become” who they are meant to be.

And that pretty much sets the tone for all of this Salt and Light stuff as we grow and develop and the years go by, doesn’t it?

Once we understand or perceive who we are to be, what we are to become, then the world of action beings, and we begin to explore what that will means for us, and all of the consequences involved in being and becoming begin to unfold for us.

“Be a little more independent” we say to the teenager, and then when they do exert their being, and do act on what they are becoming, — when they stay out too late, or act in an independent fashion that the parent does not agree with, the admonition comes.

“Don’t be like that!   Where did you learn that?”

But they are just “being!”   How can they “be” other than what they have become?

Herein lies the problem with this Salt and Light thing.   It quite often sets you up to get in at least some amount of trouble, and some element of conflict as you push the boundaries to discover who you are and what you are meant to do in this world.

To be and to become involves action in this world, and what you consider to be the right action may not necessarily fit into the desires of those around you.

We are still in the Beatitudes here in Matthew, and this is only the beginning of how Jesus is going to press the boundaries, how he is going to encourage his followers to press them as well.

The Pharisees were righteous.  They tried hard to keep the commandments, and their teaching on the 613 laws that surround the ten commandments were all designed to help the community know and understand just what was required of them.

So the Pharisees taught how one properly keeps the Sabbath.   Work is to cease at sundown on Friday, and is not to resume until sundown on Saturday.  Keep the Sabbath by avoiding doing these things.   Do not engage in trade.  Do not heal.  If you are have to walk, go no more than this distance.  Do no activity that might be construed as “work.”   Keep the law, and you will satisfy all righteousness.  God will be happy, and the law fulfilled.

What more could God possibly want?

But then Jesus comes along and while he says that the law will not be abolished, but rather fulfilled, he also says that playing by the rules will not ultimately be enough.

Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees….

“Let your light so shine….”

Press, and test, and push the boundaries of love, and of action, and of righteousness to see just how far your light can shine.

This is what will get Jesus in trouble with the Pharisees, and we’ll watch this unfold in the next few weeks in Matthew in rapid pace succession as Jesus rolls out the soon to be familiar phrase.  “You have heard it said of old, but I say to you….”

Love your enemy and pray for your persecutor.

If someone asks you to go one mile with them, go with them two.

If they ask for your shirt, give them your cloak as well.

Give to everyone who begs from you.

On Jesus will goes in relentless fashion pushing the boundaries, like a toddler on steroids seeing just how far he can take this “be and become” thing.

And we are invited to join, but more than that, we are pressed in it.

How can we be anything other than what God has made to us to be?

How can salt lose its saltiness?   It can’t, but choices can be made about where it is found now.   Something can look like salt, appear like salt, but what make it distinctive has been leached away.

Who puts a light under a basket?   No one, unless of course it is to obscure things.  Light is hidden only if there are things we simply do not want to look at, do not want to see.   Like going into the kitchen and seeing the sink piled high with dishes, you have a choice here, you can launch into action and start washing, or you can flick the light off and pretend you didn’t see it.   Make it someone else’s problem.  Hope it goes away.

Sometimes we put baskets over our light, because to see would be moved to action and to be moved to action would be to invite conflict.   It is simply just easier to not be, not to do.  But making that choice leaches away little by little at the essence of who we are, until perhaps we are no longer of any value.    We have all the appearance and none of the distinctiveness.

This is the unnerving invitation of God in Christ Jesus to us in being Salt and Light.  The call to be and to become always also carries with it the call to action because of who we are as God’s people in this world.

The prospect of being and becoming a follower of Jesus excites us.

It terrifies as well, and more often terrifies others, for who knows what God will end up calling us to do in this world once we sense who we are and what we are called to be?  What dangers we might embark upon in God’s name as we begin to seek to be who we are called, children of God who live to give glory to the Father in heaven?