Speaker: The Rev. Shearon Sykes Williams
The Very Reverend Shearon Sykes Williams
Saint George’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Virginia
Last Sunday after the Epiphany/Transfiguration
February 15th, 2015
“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white..”
Mark 9: 2-9
Anyone who is a Harry Potter (books and movies) fan knows that platform 9 ¾ is a portal into another world. It is the place that you catch a train that takes you to a place where those with eyes to see can experience life at a deeper level.
During the summer, Harry Potter lives a hum-drum life with his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, and his cousin Dudley. Harry couldn’t be more different than his extended family and life with them is very harsh. All summer long he waits for the day when he can return to school where he can be who he really is. Every fall, he packs up his trunk and goes to Kings Cross Station in London with a great sense of anticipation. He goes to platform 9 ¾, gets a running start and runs through a column, and on the other side, the Hogwarts Express is waiting to take he and his schoolmates back to school. The train takes them on a long and winding trip through the English countryside, and finally they see Hogwarts on a high, isolated hill with nothing around for miles. The Great Hall is lit with hundreds of candles. Everything is aglow and a feast awaits. Harry is home.
In today’s Gospel, Peter, James and John have something akin to a platform 9 ¾ experience. Jesus takes them “up a high mountain apart, by themselves” and they are transported into a world of deeper seeing. The three disciples may have thought that they were going up the mountain with Jesus to pray, as Jesus so often did. But suddenly there was no need for prayer because the purpose of prayer is connection with God and they were completely connected with God as Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white. He glowed from within. Light was shooting out from him, a light that was far warmer and more beautiful than any light they had ever seen. And suddenly, Elijah and Moses were there with them all, even though they had been long dead. Moses and Elijah were pillars of the disciples’ faith, Elijah, the great prophet, and Moses, the giver of the law. Moses and Elijah had pointed the way to God for the Israelites for centuries. Peter, James and John’s whole religious framework, everything they had been taught since their childhood, came together for them as Jesus talked with Elijah and Moses. Moses and Elijah pointed to God, but Jesus embodied God. Everything made sense to them in that moment when only Jesus remained and a voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Right before today’s story, Jesus had been telling Peter, James and John who he really was and what being his disciple meant. He had described how he was going to suffer and die and that their following him would mean sacrifice for them too. Not because suffering is glorious, but because suffering is a natural outcome of loving what Jesus loves. Jesus came to usher in a new realm, bringing heaven on earth. Heaven is characterized by justice for all people. Earth is often characterized by a lack of justice, power structures that keep things stratified. Jesus came to change that and when the powers of this world meet resistance, suffering results for those who challenge it. Heaven looks like peace, but this life is full of restlessness and lack of peace. Heaven is perfect love, but this life is full of imperfect love. Jesus came into the world to show us perfect love and to help us to work for it in our life until that day when everything is brought to fulfillment, that day when the whole cosmos finally embodies God’s perfect love, perfect justice, and perfect peace. And he told his disciples that following him until that time would often put them at odds with the world as they knew it.
Harry Potter discovers as he grows older and returns to Hogwarts each year that the world is getting more and more complicated. Each of the books and movies gets progressively darker. Harry is called to fight evil in the world. He has a very specific vocation to rid the world of Voldemort, the embodiment of evil. He suffers greatly but feels compelled to fulfill the purpose he has been given.
Having a God-given sense of purpose in life makes all the difference. Sometimes we find that purpose and sometimes it finds us. Jesus called Peter, James and John away from other pursuits. They made huge sacrifices to follow Jesus, but they gained so much more.
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Light is the primary symbol for this season. Epiphany began with the story of the wise men who found the newborn Christ after a long and arduous journey with nothing but a bright star to guide them through the night. And today this season ends with an even brighter light, that the disciples see, not in the sky, but from within Jesus, a heavenly light that reveals Jesus’ identity to the disciples as confirmation of all that Jesus has been trying to tell them- that he is sent from God, that he will suffer and be glorified and that following him will involve both glory and sacrifice for them as well.
This coming Wednesday, three days from today, is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the 40 day season of Lent. And today we are mindful that we are hearing the same Gospel that Christians have heard down through the ages on this last Sunday after the Epiphany. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is a bright light to guide us on our Lenten journey and it reminds us that Easter awaits us, when Jesus is resurrected in glory and we with him. The powers of the world do not have the last word.
Today we have the opportunity to be a part of revealing God’s glory in the world in a very concrete way. During the offertory, right before we celebrate the Eucharist that reminds us that sacrifice and glory are part of the great whole of God’s work in the world, we will be invited to put our Making A Space For All capital campaign pledges on the altar. Our pledges are a sacrament, as much as the bread and wine. They too are an outward and visible sign of God’s glory manifesting through sacrifice. Sacrifice that will bring greater life to us and to the world around us.
Offering our pledges today is something of a platform 9 ¾ experience. The first time Harry Potter tries to get through the column to catch the Hogwarts Express, he has a hard time doing it. But he follows the lead of his friends and he finally makes it and together they are part of something so much greater.
Many people have already made sacrificial pledges to Making A Space For All. And all of us are invited to follow their lead, knowing that when we do so we are part of manifesting God’s glory and we too are filled with light and a deep sense of purpose.
Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 2, The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2002. Pp. 267-275.
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1, Advent through Transfiguration. Ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. Pp. 452-457
Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Books (in the U.S.) 1997-2007