Br. Randy Greve, OHC
The Feast of The Transfiguration - Tuesday, August 7, 2018
To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.
|Br. Randy Greve, OHC|
A couple of Fridays ago our Chapter Talk focused on the section of the Rule of the Order on the importance of study. The Founder notes that the telos of the study of theology is not to know theology, but to know God.
Behind such a statement is an awareness of the temptation to amass information, degrees (and for that matter titles, positions, possessions, and power) for our own ego’s sake alone and forget what the whole thing is about. The study of theology has a soul-forming purpose to be kept in mind with every turn of a page if we are not to fall into pride. Pondering the person and acts of God drives us to our knees, not to the ambition of our own agendas.
But what does “know God” mean in our study of the account of the transfiguration? Is the mount the realm of intellectual investigation and reasoned thought? What happens when we come to an event that is not easily defined within the containers of defined faith? Knowing God must be more than the accumulation of learned discourses. An authentic knowing is open to language that also includes silence, understanding with mystery, the safe remove of images which prepares us for a more direct encounter.
This is the gospel paradox when it comes to knowing God. Christ has been revealed and made known to us in the grace of the incarnation; all of Christ’s life calls with the invitation, “come and know me.” Yet our knowledge is still finite and boundaried around the otherness of God. Just when we have finally intellectually nailed it down, we are in trouble. Knowing on our knees is powerful, because when we stand up and begin to claim absolutes, declare with great zeal and confidence the how and what are who of our knowing, our knowing is no longer about God, but us. Wisdom is in knowing ourselves to be forever beginners in the face of Ultimate Mystery, our best and most beautiful language being feeble metaphors and hints.
We come to the transfiguration most especially on our theological knees. Imagine you are walking around in Palestine at this time and bump into Peter, James, and John on their way down the mount of transfiguration, see that they are a bit frazzled and dazed, and ask them what happened. They report, against Jesus’ command to tell no one and with bated breath and wide eyes, “well, we saw Jesus turn a blinding white, we saw Moses and Elijah, Peter babbled something about building a shrine to the experience, we were enveloped in a cloud and could not tell left from right, up from down, we heard God’s voice. We.. it’s.. I...
“Yes”, you reply excitedly, “so now you know God?”
Spiritual growth is popularly marketed as moving from fear to faith, from confusion to clarity, from mystery to understanding. Our built-in aversion to what does not feel good, make sense, or have definition means that we can label whatever is disorienting as a problem and go about fixing it. On the mount, however, these categories are shattered as a deeper reality and knowing is unveiled into the lives of the disciples.
The whole experience is about being disoriented, overwhelmed, and left with a mixture of terror and confusion. Such is a picture of the life of discipleship. At times Jesus calmly explains, tenderly touches, patiently guides. At other times this same Jesus explodes into light, bursts the heavens open, and shakes the very cosmos, including our tightly grasped images and plans. At those times the best response is to gaze in awe and wonder, to realize that though we are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we are treasured and precious. The glory we are made to reflect, desire to see, is also that which terrifies us and leaves us speechless. Our openness to the magnitude and beauty of the vision of God is itself loving God.
Real knowing is being freed from the safe idols of my expectation in order to be available to unmediated and terrifying glory. Rather than build a dwelling, Jesus is forming them to be the dwellings of the divine life. Jesus is beyond the shelter, beyond the image, beyond the knowing, constantly slipping out of our grasp, eluding our definition.
Peter, John, and James do know God in the transfiguration. Their vision of Christ in his unveiled and glorified state is a knowing that is both real and beyond words, beyond grasping. They were humbled back into the first rule of theology, – there is a God and you are not God. They realized that God’s call was to worship a person, not commemorate a place; to marvel at the miracle of Christ transcending time and space, life and death, without needing to enshrine the ineffable.
The last thing to do after such an event is to attempt to systematize it, classify it, or analyze it. The living reality of transfiguration unveils its mystery in its own way, continues to reverberate and build courage and faithfulness. Kneeling is a posture which can seem like weakness or passivity, and if misunderstood can become just another pious mask of avoidance. Yet in the presence of the glory of Christ it is the posture of receptivity, vulnerability. By God’s grace we are becoming what we have seen, we are invited to look with wonder, and to remember that growth in the knowledge of God is knowing less than we thought we did and more than we could ever imagine. Amen.