The Rev. Canon Barbara T. Duncan, D.Min.
“And the greatest of these is love.”
A little over a month ago I went to see the movie Finding Forrester. It was a wonderful reminder of the grace of God working in our lives. It was the transformation that took place in the lives of two people–one young and one in his fifties or so. More than anything, I saw two people of different backgrounds who found through their common gift and interest, a mutuality and respect that transformed both of them. The greatest gift that they gave to each other was love.
For the younger man, a teenager really, he no longer had to struggle alone with his writing. For the older one, God had graced his solitude with the presence of another person with whom he could share his gift. The light of each other had so illumined each of their lives that they became for each other a sign and symbol of God’s presence. The old man became the young man’s advocate and the young boy had brought Forrester out of his reclusive lifestyle into the mainstream of life once again. The experience of sharing in each other’s lives became a pivotal time for each.
The Transfiguration was a pivotal moment for Peter, James and John. They had gone with Jesus to the mountain to wait while Jesus prayed and instead were witness to a phenomenon. Some skeptics say that they were drunk on wine and hallucinating. Others make the claim that what occurred was an elliptical event that created the appearance of light. What about the appearance in their account of Moses and Elijah, two precursors of Jesus who had an unquestionable relationship with the living God? For sure, they saw something that so startled and amazed them that they wanted to freeze the moment in time and to build some type of booth or covering.
These three people also found themselves in the presence of the living God who proclaimed Jesus his Son, and God said to them and to us, “Listen to him!” These were just ordinary people with whom God was speaking, called by Jesus to do extraordinary things. They were to become fishers of people, telling the good news of Jesus and his faithfulness and love. They were to tell others that Jesus came to be among them as the light of God to the whole world.
Most of us are just ordinary people who, through our baptism, are called to do extraordinary things. It is likely that no one will read about us in the newspaper or see us on TV or even give a plaque in recognition of the act. But, like Forrester, we don’t often consider what we are doing for others as a big deal. To some, a kind word and a smile when they are feeling low may be the biggest gift of love in another’s day.
Christ says that, “You are the light of the world.” For those who chose to follow the path of Jesus, we are called not only into the presence of God but also to service. We often hear of people whose lives are touched by great fortune or misfortune. They take up a “cause” and change all of our lives in some small or large way. Because of a family tragedy or an injustice, people have started support groups, changed legislation or created an oasis out of a wasteland. They rarely count the cost. They accept the call of a difficult path with a courage that brands them with a radiance that emanates from a spiritual core that is unshakable.
It is related of Michelangelo that when he had finished his famous statue of David, many of his friends who had not seen him while he was occupied with his carving, declared that he was greatly changed. When they looked at the statue and then at the sculptor, they learned the secret of the transformation. They saw that Michelangelo had carved his conception of David not only in the white stone but also, unconsciously, into his own face.
We need not be intimidated by the gifts of others nor be jealous of their accomplishments. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that we all have been given a special gift to accomplish Jesus’ mission in the world–that of bringing hope, of bringing healing and of bringing peace. We can’t all be alike. That’s by divine design. Each has something different to offer for the building of God’s Kingdom.
How often have we come to a place of accomplishment or the completion of a task well done and felt that we have arrived? We were, for the moment, on our own spiritual mountain. There, we had a rare glimpse of God in the ordinary matters of our lives that was truly holy. Yet, to our surprise, and sometimes consternation, we are called to move on and face new challenges. That was the nature and ministry of Jesus. Even in those seemingly rare moments when he hoped to go off to rest and pray, the crowds quickly found him and sought his wisdom and counsel, his healing and teaching. He gave himself fully to God’s mission and did not count the cost to himself. What he did know is that he would pay the ultimate cost with his life. But that did not daunt him, for his death would be the ultimate gift of love.
The stories of the radiance of Moses and that of the Transfiguration remind us that we must die to self that we might live as God intends. We are all a part of the body of Christ, each with something significant to offer. Paul, writing to the people at Corinth, suggests that the greatest give we can give to others is unconditional love. It is not limited to the love of a family member or friend. It is the love that includes everyone outside our circle. It is being open to everyone whom God sends to us. We look for the Christ within them.
There is good reason why Christians should die to self. If we know our own hearts, we find enough sin to keep us humble for the rest of our lives. But Christ calls us into fellowship anyway. When we follow the Lord, we don’t worry about the judgment of the world. We don’t worry about who is getting ahead of us. Rather, we keep our eyes open the needs of our sisters and brothers and we listen to the voice of God who says, “This is my Son.”
The face of Moses shone because he had been in fellowship with God. He had taken on the burdens of his people weighing heavily upon his heart. It was for their sake that he prayed. He came down from Mount Sinai with a fresh zeal. Jesus and his disciples also left the mountain They couldn’t remain very long There was no time or point to building a monument or altar to this event. That moment was over. It was time to get on with the warp and woof of living. No sooner than they had come down, that they were met by a man who was seeking healing for his son.
We can’t remain on the mountain of a heady experience or of accomplishment. We must come down to where people of God are most in need. We are the light of the world. Each of us has the capacity to radiate the joy of living as God intended. The secret is not hidden away. It is in each of us as we listen to Christ in Scripture and from each other. As we prepare our hearts and minds to enter a holy Lent on Wednesday, we may well begin our journey up the mountain into the presence of Christ as we approach the Lord’s Table this day. May we find in the coming season the strength and courage do God’s will and walk in the way of Christ. Let the light of Christ fill your heart that, like Forrester and all the known and unknown men and women of God, your spirit may be transfigured into the likeness of Christ. He is the greatest gift of God’s love. May love be our greatest gift to others. Amen.