Year A, Transfiguration
Recently, I have been trying to get more organized. I realized that I was feeling scattered, trying to do a million things at once, but never seeming to get anything done. I thought, this has to be fixable. I just need to figure it out. I have made some changes in how I set my schedule and ensure I follow up on tasks. But the major change is that I don’t try to do more than one thing at a time. I am sure most of you have had this experience. You are sitting down trying to accomplish one task, and then your computer chimes and you find yourself reading an e-mail. You start to reply but are distracted because you see on your phone that a text has come in. You start responding to the text and then see a news item pop up on your screen and go to read the article. This can all happen in about 3 minutes. By the time you have read the article, you have completely forgotten what you sat down to do. Most people have experienced some version of this.
With all of our technology and devices, we have become more efficient in some ways and less efficient in others. Most people pride themselves on their ability to multitask, but the whole concept of multitasking is a myth. I have a good friend who is a neurologist and she told me that it is actually impossible to do more than one thing at once. What we do is that that we shift from one task to another rapidly. Sometimes this is handy. However, I think a lot of times, it makes us more fractured and scattered. That is why at a time when we are more technologically advanced than ever, there is a movement to become more mindful. That is why things like yoga are so popular because there is a focus on being present in that moment.
While Jesus and his disciples were not affected by technology, they still knew what it was to be pulled in different directions. Often times, Jesus would go off to pray because even the savior of humanity needed time to be away from people and day to day tasks. Occasionally he would take a few of his disciples with him. That was what happened in our Gospel reading for today. He took three disciples up to the mountain with him to pray. Yet instead of having some nice quiet time with their friend and teacher, Jesus, the disciples experienced a bit of a light show. While Jesus was praying, his clothes became dazzling white and his face changed. As if this was not strange enough, two men appeared out of nowhere. They were not just any two men, they were Moses and Elijah, two pillars of their faith, two people who were supposed to be dead.
It must have been an amazing thing to behold—these three men together. Peter did the logical thing, he offered to make some tents for them. He offered to make tents…for two people who were dead. It seems like an odd offer. Even the Gospel writer comments that Peter did not know what he was talking about. Peter is one of those people who always seemed to be saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. For millennia people have been speculating what Peter was thinking when he made that offer. Was it a display of hospitality? Was he being practical? One theory I have always liked is that he was trying to convince Moses and Elijah to stay a little while. They had come a long way… back from the dead. There were so many reasons why Peter would have wanted this holy moment to last longer.
Lately, I have been wondering if it was something else entirely. I wonder if it was just too much for Peter. I wonder if the moment was so astounding, he just had to do something else. He needed a task to accomplish. He wanted something to do with his hands so he would not have to think about the ramifications of this moment. He would not have to hear Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah about Jesus’ departure….which was Jesus’ death. Who can blame him? Why would he want to think about his friend dying? How many of us have turned on the radio to tune out our thoughts, or watched a stupid television show to zone out?
So much of what culture seems to be pushing right now is not things to make us more efficient, but things to distract us. One of the things I love about writing sermons is that it is the one time when I am forced to sit in silence and let my mind wander. Otherwise, I am always listening to music or podcasts or reading. Being distracted has become a way of life.
God does not like it when people try to avoid him or his message. Before Peter could even finish his sentence, God sent a cloud over them. Our text says, “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.” If this was not dramatic enough, God spoke from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” No more chitter chatter Peter! Stop your yapping and listen! This is what I love about this specific text. It says, “When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent…” Moses and Elijah were gone. There was no light show. No clouds. No booming voices. It was Jesus…alone. Thankfully the disciples had the presence of mind to keep silent. I imagine that they had a lot of questions rolling around in their heads, but they knew that there was only one response to this kind of glory…silence.
One of the things church should offer to every person is one hour a week where there is no distraction from God. It is one hour when we open ourselves up to what God might be telling us. There are certainly people out there who have the ability to do that on their own, but those people are the exception and not the rule. Of course we have our share of distractions, even in church, but the goal is to have time to focus on God. Our opening prayer for today says, “Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty…” In case you are not familiar with this word, disquietude is the elegantly Episcopal way to say anxiety.
Life is full of so many anxieties, even if you are someone who does not suffer from technology overload. Anxiety/worry is something we all carry. Therefore, it is important to have some time in the week to unload those burdens. Leave them at the door. Because it is only when we can release these things (even release them a little) that we can truly behold the King—the King of Glory– in his spectacular beauty. After Moses and Elijah were gone—after the light show was over—after the voices stopped and the cloud receded, there was Jesus…just Jesus. That is what we are looking for here every Sunday. We are looking for Jesus.