Saturday, February 9, 2013

Transfiguration Sunday: Close Encounters

I saw a video yesterday that made me laugh.[i] It was called “A bear encounters a washing machine.”

Some people were shooting a commercial for a washing machine out in the frozen wilderness.   You can hear them talking, setting up the scene.  Someone says they’ve run a line from the frozen lake to the washer, so they have water to run it during the commercial.

Then someone hears a noise.  A bear – a big brown bear - comes meandering into the area. The crew scurries off to safety as the bear comes over to investigate the washer.  It stops in front of the washer, and stares.  Then it rises up on its hind legs, lifts its front paws up as if to strike…

There’s a gasp from everyone huddled a safe distance from the bear, as it takes off its coat and shoves it in the washer, and starts it. (Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of computer-generated stuff going on here, but bear with me).

It passes the time, listening to music, sitting in the director’s chair, doing a little dance in its skivvies, playing a guitar.  Finally, the wash is done and the bear pulls its coat out of the washer – its shining white coat.
A voice says, “That is insane – it got THAT clean on a cold cycle.”  The bear dons its coat and walks away - transforming from a brown bear to a polar bear as it leaves the scene.

The next shot is a close up of the washing machine.  But the story doesn’t end there.

The scene switches – now there are 2 bears standing there, one in its skivvies while the washing machine runs.  She’s talking to the next bear waiting its turn for the machine.  The shot pans away and there’s a whole line of bears waiting for their turn at the washing machine.

I saw this clip because a colleague[ii] posted it as an illustration of the Transfiguration.  It stuck with me all day yesterday.  I thought about that bear and wondered how we experience transfiguration.  Does it make those around us want to line up to get what we got?

It made me think of all the unexpected encounters and how it changed the people in today’s gospel

Jesus, of course, is transfigured, revealed in all his glory.  God’s words reveal his identity.  Maybe this is not 
such an unexpected encounter - it happens while Jesus is praying.  We hear in Luke’s gospel that Jesus often would go off to a deserted place (a wilderness) to pray.  Jesus praying was a common sight to his disciples. In fact, Jesus’ prayer life so impressed his disciples that they asked Jesus to teach them to pray like he did. And Jesus taught them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer figures in several important events in Jesus’ ministry – at his baptism, Jesus was praying with the Holy Spirit descended and God called him his beloved son. Jesus spent the night in prayer before he selected the 12 disciples. Immediately before this reading, we read that Jesus was praying just before he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Which led to Peter’s astonishing declaration Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And of course, we’re all familiar with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for strength and courage as he faced going to the cross.  Jesus even prays from the cross – Father forgive them, Father into your hands I commend my spirit.

Prayer connected Jesus to the Father – an openness to the will of the Father that was reflected in Jesus’ ministry.  Grounded in that relationship to God, Jesus was well prepared for what was waiting for him when he came down from the mountain – not only for the demon-possessed boy, but for the journey to the cross.

How do we encounter God in prayer?

The two groups of disciples have very different encounters. Peter, James and John encounter Jesus in his glory, see Moses and Elijah, and hear the voice of God!  God commands them to listen to Jesus and Peter’s foolish talk about building shelters is silenced by God’s words.  They barely have time to process what they have seen and heard before they are thrust back into the work-a-day world, before they are face to face with demons - the same spirit the other group of disciples encounters unsuccessfully. 

What are the demons we face?

How do they keep us from being able to listen to Jesus?

Do we use prayer to take time to listen to Jesus?

 The father and the son encounter Jesus.  There is no doubt that the son was transfigured – he was healed, all that had been locked away by the spirit was now released.  The father had his son restored to him in perfect health.  The crowd seeing the boy’s healing, was overwhelmed by God’s greatness. 

Where do we encounter God? 

How are we freed and healed by our encounters with God?

Do the people we meet see our healing and want to line up to get what we got?

The story doesn't end on the mountaintop, or with the healing of the boy.  It doesn't end with the cross, or even the empty tomb.  It goes on, God revealed to us, revealed through us.  We walk off with our shiny white robe washed in the waters of baptism.  Transfiguration is not just something that happened on a mountaintop a long time ago - it happens in our lives every day. 

There’s a song I really like that’s about transfiguration – about the changes that happen to us when we encounter God, when Jesus is revealed in our lives.  It’s ‘Shine’ by the Newsboys.  The chorus goes: 

make ´em wonder what you´ve got
make ´em wish that they were not
on the outside looking bored
let it shine before all men
let ´em see good works, and then
let ´em glorify the Lord

[ii] Thanks liz at

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