by Charles Morello, Jr.
Last Spring my wife and I were
at Cape Henry, VA, a few miles north of Virginia Beach. We,
along with many others, were sitting on bleachers to celebrate
the 400th anniversary of the first landing of the 3 ships under
Captain John Smith the group that would subsequently
found Jamestown, VA. It was quite a cold and foggy morning and
we wondered just what was going to happen.
Had we come all this way in
the uncomfortableness of a foggy, damp, and cold beach just
to listen to speeches?
Suddenly, we began to make out
the sails and masts of a ship slowly emerging out of the fog.
Behind it came two other ships, which also slowly emerged into
full view. They had been a quarter of a mile off-shore, but
to our eyes and in the fog, and, until they appeared, they might
as well have been many miles away.
I bet it was a bit like that
for Peter, James, John (the Apostles) as they went up that mountainside
with Jesus and then, suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear and God
talks from the clouds. That's enough to give anyone heart palpitations!
The Rev William S. Bennett calls this a feeling of "Fear
and Trembling" which we hear mentioned in today's
Psalm as well.
In today's Exodus reading, the
Israelites look up at the mountain shrouded in a cloud
waiting as Moses waits. Then, suddenly, God speaks from the
cloud and fire makes everything too bright. That, too, must
have made for "fear and trembling" for the Israelites
looking up from the valley below.
For the Apostles and the Israelites,
this "Fear and Trembling" was a way to identify the
presence of God; and, they are comfortable with this God. They
are comfortable because they know how to act in God's presence:
They bow down in fear, with their knees shaking, covering their
eyes and with their bodies dimpled and pimpled with the little
mountains of gooseflesh. They, however, like it, because it's
the fear that keeps God distant. They never can approach this
God of fear and trembling. And it is with this same "fear
and trembling" that we often approach God today.
Look at our Lessons today:
Moses and Jesus speak with YHWH and Peter, James & John
hear God speak. All the others keep their distance and keep
God at a distance.
It is only in Matthew, when Jesus
tells the Apostles to "Get up and do not be afraid"
that we are offered a chance to transform our relationship with
Here's a real opportunity for
God and the human part of God's creation to draw closer together.
Jesus tells the Apostles and us not to be afraid
of the presence of God.
Did you notice? Peter does not
mention "fear and trembling" in recounting this story
years later. He has experienced God's presence, God's love.
The Exodus reading speaks of
fire coming from the cloud. We know that the light of that fire
is God's love a love so powerful and so overpowering
that we turn away in perceived unworthiness. How often do we
say, "how can God love someone like me!"???
However, I think, that that is
how God wants us to see him as love making radiant all
of God's creation. All of it, mind you from the smallest
of creatures to the great Leviathan; from the smallest of plants
and microbes to the giant sequoias; from deep ocean basins to
We usually think of the Transfiguration
story in Matthew as something that happens only to Jesus. Dare
we think of Jesus's transfiguration as something that happens
also to us?
When the transfigured Jesus said
to the Apostles, "Get up and do not be afraid" he
was offering them a transfiguration
- from "trembling and fear"of God
- to "overwhelming love" by and with God.
Perhaps, our personal transfiguration
should be in radically cultivating our awareness of God by living
out our lives knowing and recognizing that God is present in
all of Creation not just in human beings or not just
in Christians. Can we look at a grain of wheat and not think
of how it can be transfigured into bread? Or a grape, into wine?
God wants all of creation to
show forth God's love a love that moves across and among
all parts of God's creation.
The Season of Epiphany
very short this year is an ever expanding manifestation
of Jesus Christ in and to the world and it comes to an end somewhat
as it began with God announcing that Jesus is God's son
and that God is pleased with Jesus.
We hear it in the Epiphany story
of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan in a valley
and we hear it in the clouds of a mountain top with the Apostles,
and we hear it in Peter's retelling years later at all
times and at all levels of God's creation God proclaims that
Jesus is God's son.
Some may see the clouds in both
Exodus and Matthew as a metaphor for that which obscures our
understanding of God. I would offer that the clouds also tell
us that it is in the ordinary and everyday things of creation
that we encounter the presence of the Creator. It is in those
times when we feel God's presence dazzling us, that God's voice
may be heard in the gifts of creation.
We all expect to experience
God on a mountaintop after all, retreat centers are built
with that in mind.
- But what if we were to experience God in all places and
in all times not just on mountaintops?
- What if we sought after God in the swamps and bogs and in
the ghettos and slums of the world?
- What if we recognized God's presence in butterflies and
in poor families and rich tyrants?
in water, wheat and grapes?
Surely God is present on the
high hills and mountains of our world. Should not that same
creator God also be found in even the smallest microbe down
here in the trenches of our lives?
For those who remember Bishop
Charleston's presentation at the 2006 Diocesan Convention, one
of his points for us Episcopalians is that "wherever we
go, we go together" we go as companions on a journey
through and with God's creation. We humans are not separable
from the rest of creation.
So, my sisters and brothers in Christ, today on our journey,
when we look around at God's creation, we can't help but be
- We hear about pollution, climate change, global warming,
and dwindling resources.
- We hear about people who want us to wait for more evidence
that climate change and global warming are real.
- We hear about "better living through chemistry"
as a way to grow more food and stop pollution.
- We hear about mining our way through creation to take the
resources we need.
For some of us, the only way
to go is to escape from the problems of the "real world".
These people seek refuge away from the "maddening crowd"
and all of the problems of day-to-day life. By escaping to their
mountaintop they hope to escape the world's problems. They,
like Peter, want to build booths the walled communities
to keep out the problems. They do not want to be bothered by
the problems of climate change or pollution. They have separated
themselves from creation.
Recently, I read something from
the Rev Peter Kreitler of Earth Talk Today. He said,
Today, out of the whirlwind
of climate change and global warming, the question is not where',
He then muses about God saying
Woman and man, I have placed
you in the garden to be guardians, to keep and serve. And you
are watching as creation collapses. I have given you two hands,
one for the book of scripture and the other for the book of
nature, as your guidebooks along the pathway of life; I've lifted
up prophets to hold mirrors to your face; I've lifted up a modern-day
prophet the voice of water Jacques Cousteau, who
said [at the Earth Summit] in 1992, unless we do something
radical today, we will be unable to do anything at all tomorrow.'
And, my brothers & sisters
in Christ, Kreitler concludes
Tomorrow is today. The earth
is in our hands.
So, my friends in Christ, our
way of living has now transfigured God's creation in a way that
is becoming inhospitable to humans and many species of plants
If Jacques Cousteau's tomorrow
is today, then perhaps we need to change our actual relationship
with God's creation to be more expressive of God's love.
The Episcopal Church and our
local communities offer us plenty of opportunities. Here in
Northeast Minnesota the Environmental Stewardship Commission
of this Diocese offers many opportunities to learn about changing
our relationship with God's creation to be more loving. You
here at St. Andrew's are about to start a Lenten series about
the Effect of Climate Change on our Surroundings.
Peter Kreitler was right when
he said "the earth is in our hands."
So, my sisters & brothers
in Christ, as you begin your journey down from the mountaintop
of Epiphany and into the "real world" of Lenten discussions
about God's creation and what we are doing to it,
- are you ready to be transfigured and transfiguring in this
- are you ready to find God in all of Creation?
- are you ready to "get up and ... not be afraid"?