Are you guys as pumped as I am about Wednesday?!?
Lent is my favorite season of the church year. I love it.
Not because I am some sort of masochist or some sort of crazy person (though, maybe). I love lent for a lot of reasons that I will probably manage to circle back around to, but for now let me sum it up by saying that Lent reminds me that small actions can make a big difference. It reminds me of the power of small things.
But before we excitedly jump into Lent with both feet,
Happy Transfiguration Sunday. The last Sunday in the season of epiphany.
A season of miracles and mountaintops.
A season where we are invited to see Jesus as the manifestation of God as a human being. 1
Today’s mountaintop Gospel reading is the pinnacle of Epiphany season. It’s peak Epiphany. It provides the paramount theological claim for this season.
The transfiguration reading basically gives us all of Luke’s claims about Jesus wrapped into one scene. 2
This. Reading. Has. Everything. 3
Disciples. A mountain. Jesus with his best shiny face and wearing clothes made out of lightning. Moses is there. Elijah is there. That baptismal theophany thing - the one where a voice comes from a cloud and says "This is my Son, Listen to him?” That thing again. Remixed.
There’s a lot of glorious revelation to be had on the mountain here. A lot of revealing about who God is and who Jesus is…
There’s echoes of Jesus’ baptism,
there’s foreshadowing of the crucifixion,
there’s a glorious prefiguring of the resurrection and ascension.
According to this scene:
Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Jesus is going to be the frontrunner of a new kind of exodus.
This scene points to who Jesus is and also makes the theological claim that
Encounters with God have the power to transcend space and time and logic
And our encounters with God have the potential to radically transform us.
But you know what?
This story, with all of its glory and high theological symbolism ...
Is also like, pretty unrelatable.
I mean. My guess is that nobody here has experienced something quite like that.
I mean, don’t get me wrong . . . many of us HAVE HAD, at some point, experiences of God’s presence that have shaken us.
Episcopalians don’t often talk about them, but IF and when we do we call them “mountaintop experiences” or “thin places.” I usually call them “spooky God stories.”
As Fr. Jared mentioned to us several weeks ago in a sermon on Isaiah - I think it’s good to hang on to those moments of epiphany we’ve experienced. It’s good to remember them from time to time and reflect upon them and how we’ve experienced God in those moments. To ponder them in our hearts.
If you’ve had one of those acutely transformative encounters with God - if you have a spooky God story, man. I’d love to hear that story.
But when it comes to the Transfiguration story, I really identify with the disciples.
No. Not those disciples. Not the three guys trying to figure out how they can build booths and just camp out in the land of Alleluia. Not them.
Most of the time I’m down the hill with the other 9 guys living in the land of “Lord, have mercy.”
Trying to do the work of God and failing miserably.
And I wonder about those 9 guys at the bottom of the hill.
I wonder if the nine were jealous when they eventually heard the story?
I wonder if they wished they had gone up the mountain.
I wonder if they even had the option.
I wonder if they resented having to stay behind and work, while Peter, James, and John were chilling with Moses and Elijah?
The text doesn’t say.
It’s like Peter, James, and John won the God-encounter lottery, and the other 9 weren’t in on the office pool.
But Luckily for the 9, Peter, James, and John weren't able to just stop time and live in God’s radiance.
Jesus had to come down the mountain. The three had to come down the mountain.
And all of them, Jesus and all of the disciples have to get on the road to Jerusalem.
Afterall, there’s more to life than mountaintops.
There's Good News for those 9 other guys.
The Good News in this story is that God’s transformative power isn’t limited to . . . isn’t trapped on the mountain.
There’s also the road.
All of the disciples in this story, the three and the nine, get to go on to walk the road to Jerusalem with Jesus. Everyone. Everyone gets to go on to talk with Jesus. Get’s go on to experience pain and joy alongside the other disciples. They go on to pray. They go on to serve.
They go on being transformed bit by bit. One foot in front of the other. One tiny bit of glory here, another there. Another there.
Between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection - between those peak experiences, there’s a road that looks like regular discipleship.
That regular discipleship IS it’s own form of encounter with God.
We tend to write off the regular stuff,
But it can be just as transformative.
I think sometimes we read these miraculous stories - or maybe we hear dramatic conversion stories of other people - and expect that encounter with Jesus must always be dramatic. Like, we encounter Jesus and Voila! One and done. Everything is perfect from now on! 5 We experience a powerful revelation of who God is. We understand and we believe and we no longer have any doubts.
And if it’s not like that for us, well, maybe we’ve failed. Or maybe God has failed us. Maybe God didn’t choose us.
Here’s the thing:
you can gain wealth by winning the lottery. The chances are terrible and folks don’t tend to keep it very well, but you can gain wealth by winning the lottery.
But you can also gain wealth by consistently making deposits into an interest-bearing account. Over the long haul, compound interest can do a lot with a collection of small but consistent deposits.
Or maybe the financial analogy doesn’t work for you so let’s try it like this:
Michele and I have taken our camper to some amazing places. The Grand Canyon. Zion National Park. Mesa Verde. We have seen some absolutely make-you-cry glorious sights. We’ve had some literal mountaintop experiences tooling around the American Southwest.
What you’ll see of those journeys posted on social media and such will be the scenic overlooks.
But I can assure you that driving through thousands of miles of the desert southwest isn’t all scenic overlooks. There’s hundreds of scrub miles in between.
Putting a mile under the tires is nothing on it’s own.
Making a small deposit isn’t much on its own.
But if you keep doing it - it adds up.
And THAT’s what I love about Lent.
Lent reminds us of the power of small things when they’re in God’s hands.
The wildly transformative power of small acts of faithfulness applied over time.
Lent is a unique time in the church year, because it’s when you have freedom to try something new in your spiritual life while also having the maximum amount of accountability and support from the church community.
We basically do Lent two ways here: we “give something up for Lent” or we “take something on” for Lent. Or maybe a combo of the two.
The point is: you don’t have to do something elaborate for Lent. Start small. Small things matter. Mountaintops are cool, but the road matters.
This year’s invitation to a Holy Lent is an invitation to dream about what your relationship with God and others could look like after 40 days of intentional, small practice.
What kinds of little encounters with God might you have?
How might they shape you?
How much might you learn if for forty days you gave up Facebook for a devotional book?
What kinds of conversations would your family have if you committed to eating at the dinner table for 40 days?
There’s lots of small of things you could put down or take up to create the possibility of more encounters with God in your daily life.
It may not seem like a big deal to take on a new spiritual practice, but you may well be starting something that feeds you spiritually for years to come.
It may not seem like a big deal to give something up, but in doing so, you’ve just made a series of interruptions in your day where you have the opportunity to turn to God. Turn to God enough times, and who’s to say what you might see. Who’s to say who you might be by Easter?
I like Lent because it’s not high drama. It’s not miracles and mountaintops.
Lent is good news for the other 9 guys.
Lent is revelation for the rest of us.
Lent is spirituality for those of us who are skeptics.
Transfiguration for the “tough to get through to.”
I love lent because
To me Lent isn’t about the huge radiant mountaintop epiphanies - it’s about making little cracks in your day that let more light in. 6
Lent is about the power of small things.
And how God can use those small things to make major transformations in us.
So. I hope you’re as pumped as I am about Wednesday.
1 - “Epiphany.” Sacred Ordinary Days: A Weekly Planner. Jenn Giles Kemper.
2 - “Reflections: Luke 9:28-36.” New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke and John.
4 - I first heard this term in a Rachel Held Evans book, but I’m not sure which. I’ve heard it referenced by other authors now too - Barbara Brown Taylor and Richard Rohr are two I can think of off of the top of my head.
5 - Is this a Built to Spill lyric?
6 - and this one is Leonard Cohen