It's tough to come down from the mountaintop.
It's no fun for Peter, who wants to stay up there where Jesus is seen in such shining light. Peter is a good churchman and he wants to build something that lasts-just a little building, or two, or three.
But Luke's story of the Transfiguration (Luke 9) for this next Sunday makes it clear that the mountain high doesn't last, and there is plenty of work to do down on the flatlands. Luke shows Jesus engaged in that healing work the very next day after the men come down from the mountaintop. Jesus takes the light to the place of need.
It's time for us, too, to come down from the mountaintop. I have a particular mountaintop in mind this year as I come to the story of the Transfiguration. It's one that shows up every now and again in church circles, especially the kind of church circles that I've found myself in-the more liberal, or progressive kind. It's the kind of mountaintop that lets us avoid the healing work that a day-in-the-life on the flatlands demands.
This mountaintop is a pristine place, a place where all motives are pure, and all understanding is deep, and all complexity is acknowledged. It's a place of perfection. It's a lovely place to stay.
I've seen that mountaintop lately in the new national conversation about gun violence. The mountaintop voice says, with a knowing yawn, "Everybody's upset just because some white kids from a nice suburban town in Connecticut got killed. Kids are killed everyday, and have been for years, and most of them aren't white. I'm not jumping on the bandwagon just because of this."
I want to respond to that mountaintop voice with something that the Book of Common Prayer calls "calm strength and patient wisdom," but it's a struggle.
Down here off the mountain--where children have indeed been killed every day for years in a daily mix of urban drive-bys and home accidents and schoolyard and shopping mall shooting sprees-down here, a whole lot of folks are not yawning and making oh-so-wise-and-weary comments about "NOW they're upset" but instead are seizing this moment to do some healing work.
Twenty tiny bodies on a schoolroom floor caught our attention. And now good people everywhere, from the Senate floor to the National Cathedral to local pastors parents everywhere, are stepping up the plate to counter the madness of violence.
People have been working for years--for decades--for sane gun regulations in our country. They've been outfoxed and outspent by a powerful economic engine, the weapons industry. Preachers have been silent, or silenced, too often.
But right now, there's a window of opportunity. Now is the time. It's time for us to take the light to the place of need.
And so I want to say what I said two years ago, in a piece I wrote after Tucson:
". . . It's time for us to get busy and start practicing love. And I don't mean sweet sentiment. I mean the hard work of love.
As a preacher, I could talk about the hard work of love by quoting a bible verse about loving the other as our self. I would also quote another preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." I believe that.
But the best way I know how to describe that love is as a mother. What we need in the public square right now, in our places of worship and places of learning, in our Tweets, blogs and Facebook posts and in our supermarket parking lots, is a kind of love that looks something like a mother's love.
The kind of love I'm talking about is tender, and it's fierce:
It means paying attention, knowing what time it is and what the weather's like out there.
It means naming danger when it threatens, and meeting it with savvy and with courage.
It means teaching the difference between right and wrong.
It means being responsible for our words and our actions, and calling on others-like those public figures with their crosshairs-to take responsibility for their actions.
It means showing up, being present, caring, not expecting somebody else to handle it.
It means compassion, knowing that we are all in this together.
And of course it means getting your heart broken, which opens you to hold the pain as well as the beauty of being fully human.
So with our hearts broken open right now, I hope we can meet the challenge of these violent times with the power of love, fierce, tender love. We owe it to Christina."
And now we owe it to those Newtown schoolchildren, and to the southside Chicagosophomore who performed at the Inauguration and to every single victim of gun violence before or since. Enough is enough. Time to come down off the mountain and get to work, the hard work of love.
Echoes from the Edge
By Sarah Thompson, 2011 Beatitudes Summer Fellow - February 4th, 2013
I arrived at my host's home after a long day of work and travel as interim Outreach Coordinator with Christian Peacemaker Teams. As is the case every time I come to the Bay Area of California, my life is full of epiphanies: I meet people, think ideas, and see haircuts that surprise me and reveal to me more about God's humor and creativity.
In the weeks after the northern hemisphere's winter solstice, light increasingly surrounds our lives. The same is true in the lectionary texts, a steady increase of light features in the Bible readings. Since the first Sunday of Epiphany, we watch the light grow. We trace its glowing path of revelation from star to heaven's opening over the Jordan to desert sun to Jesus' reading of the Isaiah scroll. This week we arrive at the last Sunday in Epiphany. The texts are filled with light, reaching through the centuries of the story of Jesus and his community; tracing their relationship with it. The passage from Exodus narrates the effect of the shine on Moses' skin as he reflects divine brilliance (Ex.34:29-35). Jesus' disciples experience illuminated transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). And the second letter to the Corinthian church elucidates believers' relationship with Jesus Christ, divine light (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2).
After dinner, the host and I jammed to "Just Breathe" by Pearl Jam and Lilly Allen's "The Fear." Both brilliant social commentaries. We invented a Twitter hashtag #purposeforexistence after our all-time preferred question to ask people, "what is your purpose for existence?" paralleled only by the party favorite, "what makes you truly come alive?"
As my hosts put their other children to bed, I spent time with Aday, their son with severe developmental challenges. Not unlike the parents in this week's text who confront Jesus on behalf of their ailing son (Luke 9:37-43), they seek healing. Since birth he never seemed to focus his gaze, nor looked his parents in the eyes. They thought he was blind. One night, during a massive power outage in Oakland, they got out their flashlights. As they searched for needed objects, they noticed that Aday followed the beam of the flashlights with his eyes. An epiphany!
To this day Aday has a special relationship with those objects that emit light. He is deeply drawn to them. Though the doctors thought he may never be mobile, his parents helped him learn to crawl by placing light-up toys in front of him just out of reach. Inch by inch, he built up the muscle to reach the objects and more closely encounter the light.
What is your relationship to light? Like sunshine on your face in winter, does it remind you of your purpose for existence?
The epistle this week invites close encounter. It details the relationship of light and freedom, the medium being God's spirit, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). As we find our #purposeforexistence, coming close to God, we shine. Sometimes it is tears glistening. Sometimes our whole being glows with new knowledge, sensation, hope. It's our purpose to crawl close to what energizes us, as individuals and communities. To chase after it with whatever muscles we have, feeling the enlivening freedom. Cut through the cacophony and darkness; let your mind's eye trace the beam.