Transfiguration, 2 March 2014
Mt. 17 INI
Some of you know about thin places. They say you can find them a lot in Ireland. It may be the fog or leprechauns, but whatever it is, the super-natural seems a little closer in Ireland than here. Thin places are spots where the wall between our everyday world and the spiritual world seems, well, thinner – so much so that there is some leakage from the other side into the here and now.
You also may have favorite locations where you go to get to a different place, where the mood is richer, where you can touch a reality you can’t quite reach in most other spots. Windy moonlit summer nights out under trees will do it for me sometimes. I hope that this church is also such a place, at least sometimes, at least for some of you.
The thinnest place is wherever Jesus is; where his presence is most fully experienced. He’s where heaven touches earth, where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. That is what he shows his friends today. He’s transformed before them, shining bright with glory and life, because an entire new creation is waiting to burst through him into the world. He’s showing what our world is headed to, where God’s going with us, the future goal of creation, what we shall be like when God is done with us.
Be clear, this is no escapist heaven for people who haven’t the stomach for facing up to the evils in this present world. It is not a spa for the faint -hearted. We see this in the two characters standing by Jesus: the fire-breathing prophet Elijah, who resisted in the strongest terms the way-wardness of the nation, and Moses, who gave God’s law to the people.
The world waiting to burst into ours through Jesus will wash over the mess we have made of creation and clean it. God will put wrongs right, restore what’s broken, and stop people from preying on each other. He will free earth from the powers that twist and corrupt life. This means that some who clutch power now with a death grip will have it ripped from their hands, and the lairs where they hide will have to come down.
But the new world bursting in through Jesus is also a place where people who hate each other, who are afraid of each other, who fight and bite each other are finally reconciled. Freedom and reconciliation, freedom and reconciliation, those are the two watchwords for the new world bursting in through Jesus.
And because these are thin places, there is some leakage of the new world into the old. Where in this world has Christ set you free from a fear, an insecurity, an addiction, a destructive relationship, a crippling sense of guilt for something you’re terribly sorry you did? Where do you see Christian people trying to keep folks out of jails? I was on the phone the other day with someone whom God freed from a terrifying danger, partly through the active love of you good folks. Talk about grateful!
Then again, where do you see Christians step up and put their lives on the line in war zones and hot spots, trying to make peace? Trying to help folks have healthier and more respectful relationships? Forgiving people who have done them terrible wrongs? There is a lot of that, and this is how the new creation leaks from Christ into the world partly through us.
That’s why it’d be silly for Peter and his friends to build a campsite on that mountain. The good stuff can’t be contained there. You’d miss most of it as it rushed downhill past you into the world, where it belongs.
The one odd thing is why Jesus told his friends not to say anything about the sight they had seen up that mountain until after he was risen from the dead. Why the silence?
The silence is because the bright vision is misleading and deceiving until you see the strange and terrible way in which it will be brought in. We would prefer to develop a pill to cure the world, or a machine, or maybe a cheerful social media movement. Or a war. Maybe the government can develop a new program or some corporation’s research and development guys can come up with an idea. There’d be a lot of money to be made.
God will have to do it by himself, of course. We’re great at creating problems we can’t solve ourselves, usually when we’re trying to solve some other problem. God will have to come and absorb into his own life everything that is toxic in us and in our world. He will have to accept the consequences of everything we have done and can’t undo. He will have to put himself into the power of everything that holds us captive, up to and including death. He will have to face the utter hostility of the human race, our murderous anger and fear directed toward God.
He would have to get himself into everything he wants to get us out of. And this he would do on another mountain where his clothes were not shining because he wasn’t wearing any and where his companions were not two holy men but two criminals and where he revealed not the beauty of a new world but the sickness of the old one.
And we? How do we get in on what he has done? Is there a course we can take, or a training program or a special diet? Is it something only special people can do? No, it is something anyone can do. We can die to our old fallen nature, to the people we were when we fit in naturally into
a fallen world. We do it once when God drowns us in the font and links us up to Christ. We do it again when we confess our wrongs and ask God to kill off the part of us they came from. We do it again as we learn to say no to our fears and desires and let the Spirit of God rule in our lives. And we do it once and for all when God leads us through the dark door of death into the light of the new creation.