Dazzling – Feb. 23, 2020


A Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matthew 17:1-9

February 23, 2020

Main idea:  Listen to Jesus.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Who here has been to Times Square or Broadway?  Who has been to Los Vegas? (no judgement!)   Who watched the Super Bowl halftime show? (again, no judgement)  All of these places and events are built on spectacle; overwhelming us with bright flashing lights and catchy music so that we can not pay attention to anything else.  Who has watched cable news? The 24/7 news cycle is built on spectacle. “Breaking news” and talking heads indignant about the latest outrage cause us to get upset and overwhelmed by whatever they choose to share with us.  Who has been on the Internet?  Who has clicked on a video or article and found yourself 15 minutes later reading or watching something completely unconnected to what you were intending to learn?  The Internet is built for spectacle, for overwhelming us with advertisements and random information while collecting our personal preferences and information.  We are drawn to spectacle, like a cat with with a beam of light, we can’t seem to look away. Most spectacle is designed to grab our attention and shift it to some other purpose, to overwhelm us and cause us to let go of control.  If our attention is here then we won’t notice what is going on over there.

Today’s Scripture text is a dramatic story of overwhelming glory filled with light and the very voice of God.  Talk about a spectacle!  Talk about an event that grabs our attention and pushes all other thoughts aside.  But the heart of the story may be overshadowed by all the glitz.  The heart of the story is that we are called to listen to Jesus and to follow him. 

Jesus, Peter, James and John go for a hike up a high mountain. And on the mountain the disciples experience a spectacle like no other.  They see Jesus dramatically change. His appearance is dazzling.  His face shines like the sun, which will blind if one looks directly at it.  His clothes sparkle with a color that is whiter than any white. Like the sunlight reflecting on water, the color is so bright as to be almost unseeable.  It is a moment like Jesus’ baptism when the heavens are torn open and the glory of God is upon the earth; absolutely overwhelming.  Moses and Elijah are also with him.  Peter interrupts their conversation to say that he will build tabernacles for each of them, to contain their glory and to memorialize the moment.  Then, just as Peter interrupts Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so God interrupts Peter!  While Peter is still speaking they are surrounded by a bright cloud which obscures their vision.  This bright cloud overshadows them and from the cloud, a voice speaks words first heard at Jesus’ baptism.  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  From the midst of this overwhelming experience comes this amazing and beautiful instruction.  “Listen to Jesus.”

Now if this was a usual spectacle, we would expect Jesus to burst into song and to continue the laser light show, while he pontificated from his dazzling perch. But this is not what happens. This piece of the story, unique to the Gospel of Matthew, is often overlooked. Jesus reaches out and touches the disciples who have fallen to the ground in terror. He says “Get up and do not be afraid.” That’s it.  A simple touch and words of encouragement.  Remember for a moment how it feels to be overwhelmed with worry or fear, and for someone to just hold your hand or put their hand on your shoulder and say “Don’t be afraid”.  Remember the quiet power in that act.  In the Transfiguration, God says “Listen to him” in spectacular fashion, so as to get the disciples’ attention, and then Jesus simply says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  Not flashy at all!  Nothing overwhelming!  Just their friend and teacher and Messiah and Incarnate God reaching out to them with love and concern.  And actually what Jesus says is “Rise up and do not be afraid.”  When the disciples look up all they see is Jesus.  “Without heavenly companions, without heavenly glory, [Jesus, himself, is] the reality of God’s abiding presence with us.” (Eugene Boring, NIB, Vol 8 p. 364)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  And throughout the gospel, Jesus reveals the love of the Infinite God through the everyday actions of listening, feeding, and caring for others.  As the Incarnation, God set aside overwhelming glory to be present among the people in love and gentleness, sharing in joys and in sorrows, even to death.  Through his attention to those around him, Jesus lived out the love of God and invites us to live out the same.

Jesus tells us to rise up and be unafraid.  This is not easy to do in our world of deep crisis and deepening division.  We are on spectacle overload, unable to differentiate between real and fake news; unable to focus on any one thing because we are bombarded with a cascade of issues; climate change, the upcoming election, Mookie Betts going to the Dodgers, racism, sexism, why Prince Harry and Megan Markle are moving to Canada, the cost of health care and higher education, will Tom Brady remain with the Patriots.  How can we ever expect to lower our heart rates or sleep well at night with all of this fighting for our attention?

We are burdened with worries and real obligations that sometimes knock us down but Jesus reaches out to us, touches us with a calm and gentle presence.  Do not be overwhelmed, he tells us. Do not be afraid.  Do not be distracted by spectacle, or shiny objects, or trumped up controversies.

Instead, listen to Jesus.  Trust in him.  Follow him. Rise up to share the truth of God’s love, even when it is difficult.  This requires seeing beyond the spectacle to the truth.  In this season of overwhelming spectacle we can look beyond the bombast and the advertising to focus our lives and our actions on following Jesus.  We can speak the truth in love, advocate for the vulnerable, stand up to bullies, care for the earth, be a model of respectful diversity and live lives of love for all people.

As we prepare to enter into the Season of Lent let us listen to Jesus and follow him with courage and conviction. 

Let us pray,

Amazing God of mystery and love, thank you for your glory and for your deep presence in our lives.  Help us to see your truth in the realities of our day to day.  Keep us focused on what truly matters; sharing your love with a world in need.  Amen.