The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
Please pray with me, Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we encounter one of those mystical moments that’s designed to make us sit up and pay attention. It’s commonly known as the Transfiguration. That story appears in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke—another sign that we are to pay attention. In the Gospel of Mark, what has immediately preceded the story is Jesus in conversation with the disciples saying, “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” Then he goes on to tell them that he must suffer and die and be raised in three days and Peter pushes back and protests and rebukes Jesus. And Jesus famously says, “Get behind me, Satan,” as in, don’t tempt me. Because Jesus knows that the road ahead will be one filled with pain and suffering.
As we encounter the story today, immediately following that conversation with the disciples, Jesus takes Peter and James and John and they ascend a high mountain, unnamed. Before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured. And if that wasn’t enough to grab their attention, here comes Elijah representing the prophets and Moses representing the law. And if that wasn’t enough, then we get the cloud, the theophany of God saying, “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.” Well that would’ve struck me dumb. I don’t know about all of you, but it certainly would have gotten my attention. You see, God is making it clear in a way that is unmistakable that Jesus is not just a rabbi, not just a prophet, not just a healer and a teacher and a wise and a good man. Jesus is nothing less than the very Son of God and that changes everything. Listen to him. Listen, learn, see what he does, see what he accomplishes and if you seek to follow him, follow his lead.
The lens of God and Christ changes everything. Isn’t that your experience on those mountain top times in your life where all of a sudden you have a different lens? It’s so easy in life when we’re in those valleys to get mired in the muck. When we ascend a mountain, we have a different lens: the lens of the light and the life and the love that surpasses all understanding. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about,” I’ve been to the mountain top and I have seen the Promised Land.” From that mountain top, we can see something beyond the muck of life to the promise, the possibilities before us, through the lens of Jesus Christ.
In his book, Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis referred to it this way, that “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it rise, but because by it I can see everything else.” For those of us who seek to follow Christ, that light that could not be overcome by the darkness abides in us. That love that surpasses all understanding abides in us and that is what God challenges the disciples and you and me to take with us when we come down that mountain and as we begin this week in the season of Lent to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.
In the season of Epiphany, we are constantly looking at those themes of light and darkness and good and evil, and I’m reminded in that of a wonderful children’s classic that is making a resurgence. It’s a book by Madeleine L’Engle called A Wrinkle in Time. Do you know it? It was published a little over 50 years ago in the height of the Cold War. In this brilliant story L’Engle combines, if you can believe it, quantum physics, Christian theology and a cosmic battle of good and evil. If you haven’t heard of it, you soon will because next month Disney is releasing a new film based on this book, and three of the main characters are celestial beings who will be portrayed by none other than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and of course, as the oldest and wisest celestial being, none other than Oprah Winfrey. Why not?
In this book, the heroine is an unlikely gawky, brilliant teenage girl who just somehow doesn’t feel like she fits in in high school. I’m sure none of us can relate to that experience! Her younger brother Charles is scary smart, sort of off-the-charts scary smart. They pick up a friend from high school along the way named Calvin and these three children are charged with the responsibility and opportunity to save their father who has been imprisoned in this planet that’s been taken over by the Dark Thing. And it’s run by this evil disembodied brain called IT. This Dark Thing and evil IT seek to overtake the universe and it’s important that they get to their father and they start to combat the evil that is engulfing the universe.
So with time travel and with the assistance of these three celestial beings, they get to the evil planet, they encounter and they find the father and they are able to get the father out. But they can’t take the younger brother Charles because he’s been captured by this evil IT. It’s taken over his mind and his thinking and his speech and everything. And so it becomes obvious that once they escape, they have to sort of, you know, collect themselves and one of them has to go back to get Charles. It becomes obvious that only one person can get Charles and that’s Meg, his older sister. Despite the protests of the father and the friend Calvin, she’s the only one and it’s a dangerous journey. She knows she’s likely not to be successful, much less live to tell the tale.
But the three celestial beings said, we won’t let you go without sending you with gifts, tools for your toolbox. And listen carefully to what they give Meg. Mrs Whatsit says, Meg, no matter what, remember, I love you. You are loved. Mrs. Who quotes Scripture, even though it’s not identified as such—it’s a passage from First Corinthians where God speaks about the foolish being wiser than the wise and the weak being able to take over the strong that ultimately says God’s in charge no matter what. And then Mrs Which says Meg, you have one thing that IT doesn’t have and that’s your only weapon, but only you can find it, only you can discover it.
So with this, Meg is transported back to the evil, dark thing planet. She encounters her brother Charles and he immediately— because he’s under the control of the evil thing called IT—starts spewing venom and lies and hate. And Meg starts to respond in kind with hate and loathing and as she does, she feels that she’s being taken over and being sucked in by this IT evil brain. IT didn’t lack for hate or evil, that was not the answer, but she felt herself getting pulled and sucked away, and then IT, through Charles, made a fatal mistake. IT said, “Mrs Whatsit hates you.” And she knew that was a lie. Then she knew what she had that IT didn’t have and that was love, the love that surpasses all understanding. You see, you can’t fight hate with hate. Tit for tat doesn’t work. Jesus taught that the most important things were to love God with your heart, mind, soul and spirit, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And as Meg lived into that love, that overwhelming love she had for her brother, he broke free from the evil clutches of IT. Spoiler alert: what she had was love. They go back, they’re reunited with family, and so the story goes.
Don’t miss the point. Jesus taught that each one of us has the love of God and Christ that surpasses all understanding. We know there’s darkness in the world. We know that there are things for us to do as we come down off that mountain and that we seek to follow Christ and to bring light into the darkness. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. Amen.