Feb 4, 2018
Sermon: Reflect and Refract
I’ve been at Covenant for almost three years. I have served alongside you now for three Christmases. I’ve had a different head of staff for each Christmas. Through each one of them I have learned different things about being a disciple and a pastor. You know they’ve served as a witness to so much for me, that I think I’ll build something to remember them by. I think I’ll put up three shiny brass plaques to honor them right here in the sanctuary. For Bob, I’ll create a place to display all of our softball trophies. For Carl, I’ll install a fancy coffee cart. For Kyle….hm, are you scared? Well, I know he’d probably like more hours in the day (don’t we all wish for that) so I think a big, engraved clock might be nice---maybe we’ll make it Carolina blue. When it chimes the hour it can play Amy Grant songs. It could be like a cuckoo clock and every hour on the hour some of Beth’s amazing muffins could pop out.
It’s not inherently wrong to want to honor people who have paved the way for us. Peter, James, and John—they had this perfectly human reaction to something magnificent that played out before them. They couldn’t exactly comprehend what they were seeing, but in the heat of the moment they wanted to act- they wanted to DO SOMETHING that would mark the occasion—even if they didn’t grasp it’s meaning.
On Sunday I had the opportunity to worship at Three Chopt Presbyterian Church in Richmond. I served TCPC for three of my four years in seminary. I was a youth advisor, a student intern, and an interim youth director during my time there. I hadn’t been back there almost four years. The last time I was there Kemper was like a basketball sitting on my bladder and I was baptizing my dear friends’ daughter Hana, who is now four years old. This Sunday was a special one in the life of Three Chopt because Brenda, their Head of Staff for 11 years was retiring, it was her last Sunday. I know you all can relate to how that congregation—so much like your own—is feeling right now. Out of their love of her, their witness to her ministry, they wanted to honor her life, her work, and her friendship. They said lovely words, they gave lovely gifts, they blessed her with the laying on of hands. But all the while, I watched one of my mentors bring the focus of the day directly back to Christ. She preached her sermon on John 3:1-16. She reflected on all that the congregation there had accomplished in her 11 years—from changes in staffing models to amazing facility renovations she praised their commitment to the church. But, she reminded them that all of that was guided by Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Because God loves us all so much that he sent his only Son to be our savior. She reminded the people gathered that the life everlasting is what we are to be ever striving toward.
Brenda is the one who taught me the nickname I like to use for Peter: “Open-Mouth-Insert-Foot-Peter.” Time after time, Peter is the one who instantly reacts to Jesus, perhaps before grasping the whole picture. It is no surprise that in today’s narrative he is the one who wants to build three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Christ. He knows it must be significant that he is seeing these great prophets of Israel with Jesus…so he must mark the occasion in some way, even though he doesn’t understand what is happening. He’s been with Jesus for almost three years—and yet he cannot see the forest for the trees. Jesus is radiant and sparkling before them! I imagine it was like driving into the sun… but before we ask the questions of why or how, let’s first do something, Peter seems to exclaim.
I wonder if perhaps Jesus ordered these disciples to keep quiet about all they had seen and heard until after his resurrection because he knew they didn’t fully grasp what had happened yet. I think Jesus knew that while his disciples trusted him and loved him, they didn’t really believe that the Son of God would suffer. They didn’t want to believe that their rabbi and friend would die and certainly not be resurrected, and come before them, once again, in dazzling, heavenly light.
Perhaps, we too, struggle with the overwhelming, trans-formative nature of Christ. It is hard to take a leap of faith and trust in God’s constant care in our lives. It is hard to imagine Jesus’ transfiguration, his resurrection, his ascension. Especially since we were not there to witness these miracles. Many of us have had mountain top experiences—moments and places where we felt close to God, where we felt energized to dive back into life’s valleys. Like the disciples it is much easier for us to busy ourselves with the work of faith than the life of faith. We find ourselves wading through the details, struggling to see the larger picture of God’s continued work in human history. God is with us you know, no matter how dark the world becomes.
We often talk about the Light of Christ. We are told here that Jesus was transformed and his robes were the whitest of white—Jesus was glowing. This got me thinking about light. Light can be reflected and light can be refracted.
Reflection is when light bounces off an object, while refraction is when light bends while passing through an object. Reflection is bouncing back of light into the same medium. When you look at a mirror the light bounces of the mirror from different angles, so you can see your reflection. ... Light waves are refracted when crossing the boundary from one transparent medium into another because the speed of light is different in different media. Refraction is when light bends. Light waves are refracted when crossing the boundary from one transparent medium into another because the speed of light is different in different media. So, refraction can change the direction of the light. Do we want to be a reflection of the light of Christ or a refraction?
Do we want Jesus’ light to bounce off of us, or do we want Jesus’ light to be refracted…. If light bends when crossing from one transparent medium to the other….perhaps we want to refract—because the light enters into us—our media or who we are---is intertwined with how we live as Christians. Where as if we were to reflect the light of Christ—it would simply bounce off of us without our ever taking it in? The disciples on the mountain with Jesus wanted to create a way to reflect what they had seen and heard but Jesus kept them quiet, because they were not yet prepared to take it all in and truly understand what had taken place and refract the light—they didn’t understand that it would change them.
And so, the next time you are itching to do something. To build three dwellings, to engrave a plaque, to dedicate something pristine—even in the best of intentions—whether life has been easy or difficult—try to step back from that moment and discern the larger picture. The mountain tops change us, but we cannot remain there. We must bring the dazzling light into the mundane, somehow. Not hurried, but faithfully. We must always ask ourselves, how is Christ being glorified? How is the light of Christ being displayed? How is the one who is, and was, and ever will be, echoed in the life of the church? The transfiguration of Christ sets an image for us of how in faith we too can be transformed by God’s grace. Amen.