Last Epiphany 2020: Under our noses

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Text for Preaching: Matthew 17:1-9, “The Transfiguration”

I know people forever changed by battle,
both on the ground splattered by blood,
and in the air singed by fire
while beholding a face through the glass
of another cockpit.

I know people forever changed by childbirth,
those for whom it was inside out
and the ones for whom the experience
was outside in.

Accidents and catastrophe
have transfigured and disfigured and re-rendered
more humans than can be counted,
lives ripped open and
torn asunder without warning.

The angel of death tip-toeing near,
touching the spine or whispering in the ear,
has changed many lives
for both good and bad.

Millions are enraptured almost weekly –
a Pentecostal fever
shivering the brain and racking the body
until encased in a dead faint.
Whether such drama has ever changed a life
I cannot say.

Few of us can point to a single moment,
a pencil spot in time
upon which everything changed for us –
upon which nothing going forward
would ever be the same.
And yet…all of us – all of us – have turned on the dime
of such moments.

We probably did not recognize
the gravity of the moment
the geography of the spot
the singularity of the minute or second
the separation of before and after,
but it was there
when we were.

In fact, all of us
have more than one moment
that changed everything going forward
and rendered everything we left behind
as just so much history.

It is surely a measure of grace
that we do not recognize those moments in real time
because we might never have chosen
what we did choose
and our lives would be lesser for it.
But that is how it is with us:
nearly every moment
and transfiguring,
and thanks be to God,
we do not even know it.

Jesus, and Mohammad
were each taken up
and rendered differently –
changed in an instant
of enormous transformation.

Not only them,
but mystics in every religion
write poetry and songs
about being changed in a razor-thin trice –
a twinkling flash of power
beyond forethought
or control.

This is how we live,
you and me even,
but we just hate to see it
as it actually is.

Ironically, we would rather pretend
that our lives are routinely ordered
because in that kind of world,
we call the shots.
We try to see randomness, change,
and transformations as unusual,
the exception
to all those plans
and the likeliest of scenario
we imagine for our futures.
That child we gave birth to,
the only one
that could have only been created
at the very moment that his or her conception took place,
a moment we likely never noticed,
became the child we have grown accustomed to
and may even imagine we planned.

That spouse we chose
and probably do not associate with randomness,
took place as a result of endless choices
by so many other people,
known and unknown,
that to call it “our” choice
seriously underestimates the role
of other people
making other choices,
many of which were random and ridiculously

The concept of the self-made man or woman
singularly carving out
his or her own destiny
is laughable.

The thin vision
of our lives as chosen and ordered
and the result of a good plan,
is dim vision at best,
and more truthfully, blind.

I have nothing to say about the so-called
“Transfiguration” story we hear twice a year
in the lectionary readings.
As far as I can tell,
it was told to one-up Moses and Elijah,
and later, among Gentiles,
as some kind of evidence
that Jesus was the biggest
and bestest of them all.
As a story it has very little,
if anything, to say to us
about the lives we lead.

But it does serve to remind us,
or at least it can,
that every next moment
is ripe with possibilities
we do not expect
and likely do not see
because of the assumptions we make.

The events
and people
and experiences we live
are braided with singular moments
and delivered to us
via people and events
we did not have control over
and receive often without input.

This is obvious to us
when something big comes along that we were not expecting
but it is equally true in every moment,
even though we are asleep to it.

We probably could not tolerate
hyper-sensitivity to this truth
but it would bolster our humility
and open our minds
if we were a tad more awake.

While we do get to make plans
and work toward goals
and anticipate rewards and accomplishments
for our efforts,
we should also be keenly aware
that nothing we have done, accomplished, or will do
is without the participation of countless other people
contributing to the trajectory of our lives
and the triumphs and defeats we have known.
In everything we do
and plan to do,
both randomness and serendipity
play a role.
And so we are changed,
transformed even,
by singular moments in time
we did not recognize
and often cannot trace back
or put our finger on.

I really do believe
that were we to ascend a mountaintop
from which we could see all the moments of our lives
spread out in detail before us,
we would be blown away by what we saw.
The crazy whacko-mystical story
about Jesus, Elijah, and Moses on a cloud
is nothing compared to the transformations in our lives.

If only we could see our lives
as they actually unfolded
and suddenly recognize the patterns
and interconnected events and people
we have always considered unrelated,
we would be speechless.

There is no real “so what?” to this sermon,
it is more like a sunset
or a dramatic spray of the milky way
on a perfectly clear night.

Just something to look at and say,
“Wow, we’re really small, aren’t we?”
And then bow our heads,
hold our hearts,
and say, “Thank you.”