Jesus in 3D
By Rev. Emily Tanis-Likkel (2/19/12)
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A young couple had just moved into a new neighborhood. Their first morning in their new house, while they are eating breakfast, the woman looked out her window and saw her neighbor hanging the wash outside.
That laundry is not very clean,” she said to her husband. “Our neighbors do not know how to wash correctly. Perhaps they need better laundry soap.”
Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time her neighbor hung the wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.
Then, about a month later, again while eating breakfast, the young woman looked out her window and was surprised to see a nice clean wash on her neighbor’s line. She said to her husband, “Look! Our neighbors have finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught them this?”
Her husband said, “No one. I got up early this morning and washed our windows.”
Things are not always as they seem!
What gets in the way of our seeing Christ? What muddies the windows of our souls?
The disciples glimpsed the reality of God manifest in the person of Jesus. What helps you to see the reality of God in our midst?
In the calendar of the Christian church, today marks the final Sunday of Epiphany. Epiphany, a sudden appearing of God's glory, began with the wise ones who followed the star.
It ends today with transfiguration. Transfiguration means changing form.
Jesus had gone up to the mountain to pray, taking three friends: Peter, James and John. His face and clothing began to shine, his whole being changed. By the time the disciples rubbed their eyes to be sure they weren’t playing tricks on them, Jesus was deep in conversation with Moses and Elijah, and they were all wrapped in magnificent light. Moses and Elijah are symbols of the law and prophets. As Moses led God's people out of slavery and into Promised Land, Jesus' departure would bring about freedom, hope, and new life. Elijah showing up fulfilled the Scripture that he would signal when the Messiah was among the people.
The radiance intensified as the disciples found themselves in the light as well, and heard the very voice of God. This is my Son, my chosen — listen to him!
The disciples wanted to bottle up the moment, but it was not to be. Jesus had an exodus to accomplish, and they all had to get going.
As Epiphany draws to a close, and Lent begins this Wednesday, we are beckoned on a journey of confession, self-reflection, possibly sacrifice of that which distracts us from following Christ. We are asked to listen to God speaking in our lives, and not simply hearing but allowing for transformation in our lives, change that leads us to do what we would not have had the guts to do otherwise.
This story requires us to press the reset button on our spiritual lives. The focus is definitely not on us.
Peter, like a lover who cleaves to his beloved, wanted the moment of Jesus revealing his glory to last forever. Peter saw the beauty, but didn't yet grasp the complexity of Jesus, how much he would sacrifice, how far his grace would reach. Peter did not sense the immensity of the moment. He saw it according to what worked for him — and missed the deeper meaning of Jesus' revelation of glory, that his relationship with the world was about to evolve, was about to be transformed, that he was preparing for his exodus to the cross. Peter saw Jesus as two-dimensional, so beautiful and lovely and awe-inspiring, he wanted to stay there with him forever. And Jesus was mysteriously beautiful, standing transfigured on that mountain.
But the moment didn't last — because Jesus had to get going. The disciples did too, because the crux of Jesus' ministry was close at hand.
Some of the experiences that led me to envisioning a completely different model for Christian worship is in attending and leading retreats. I am giddy about spiritual retreats. I love the time away, the connections made, the insights received. Others have similar experiences from attending a family camp or a mission trip. These experiences allow us to take a break from our daily routine and immerse us in creativity, beauty, friendship and insight. The breadth of experience tends to make the time away stretch and bend in peculiar ways.
Even then, the time seems a bit too short. Our connections to God are renewed in all kinds of ways. When we worship God, when we sing and pray and listen to God and to one another in community, we have the opportunity to lay aside our own agendas, to re-set our gaze on Jesus, to soak in the light of Christ, and let it energize us.
We can reset our walk with God by getting outside, by reading a good book, Bible study, journaling, calling a friend, creating art or cooking dinner. Whether it be a weekend retreat, a daily meditation, a morning walk, or singing our hearts out in the car, this renewal can give us the energy and spiritual fuel to do the work of love that God is calling us to do.
I have sensed a call to ministry since the age of eight. I went straight through college to Seminary, from a church internship to becoming that church’s associate pastor. My Dad, in-laws and brother-in-law are all ministers. I grew up going to church twice a Sunday and have always loved worship and felt very much at home in faith communities. I love preaching and leading worship, visiting people in their homes and praying with them.
But what I yearned for was the passion I felt for God when I was on retreat. I yearned to guide others in discovering that passion. I hungered to worship God through sculpting clay and weaving baskets, to share worship with others while sitting in a circle where each person is invited to speak, to demonstrate alternate forms of worship for those who do not resonate with modern ways of expressing faith. Forms such as body prayer, creating mandalas, drama and dance are not anything new. Many so-called new forms of worship are actually ancient. There is much wisdom in these practices that are centuries old. It is full-bodied, all five senses worship that resets me in my walk with God. It is Sabbath time that re-orients me to God, that deepens my understanding of the greater purpose of my life. In order to listen, I need to stop.
For you there may be completely different things that reset you in your spiritual walk. We are surrounded by holiness, but sometimes there is something blocking our view. Sometimes things are not quite what they seem. We may forget that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
God is here. But it is up to us to open our eyes. May we allow God to wash the windows of our souls, that we may see clearly the grace and beauty that God has placed in our lives.
When I saw Avatar, I was deeply moved by the beauty of Pandora, a paradise in which the bonds between creatures, the interconnectedness of all life was honored and upheld. The main character, Jake, comes to the realization that he was more truly himself in Pandora than he was anywhere else.
He said, "Everything is backwards now, like out there (in Pandora) is the true world, and in here (among his fellow humans) is the dream."
Now, I don't believe that we are actually in a dream, but this reminded me that we don't always have the eyes to see God's realm, but it is more real than anything else.
In the film, some of the other humans only saw Pandora according to how it could benefit them, for the resources it contained. Jake, however, laid aside his own plans in order to deepen his own bond with the Navi people and the creatures of Pandora. He fell in love. It was not a relationship one would guess would work.
Jokes abound about men and women from being of different planets, and in this movie, they actually are. To live in Pandora, Jake had to follow Neytiri, his beloved. He had to live as she did, move as she moved. He had to treat all creatures with respect, and he had to shed his material possessions. He was persecuted for it — the world he came from, the realm of consumerism, greed and self-absorption didn't understand him. In God’s realm, we need to move like Jesus moves, follow in his footsteps of love, compassion, prayer and justice. In beholding the glory of God, our own stuff suddenly is not so important, yet our interconnectedness with the world snaps into focu<.
Some of us experience spiritual highs and lows. Some may wonder if they have a spiritual pulse at all. Either way, we are invited, like the disciples, to behold the glory of God. We may get a better glimpse of our God when we move out of our comfortable circles, beyond what is easy — when we share our faith; when we are open to miracles, second chances, and are willing to become vulnerable.
Psalm 50 reads that “God shines forth,” and that the proper response is not empty ritual (animal sacrifice) but thanksgiving.
The disciples witnessed Jesus shining, and prophets appearing long after their death, and if they had any question of his divinity, it was answered on that mountain. The disciples received a spiritual high that they wanted to hold onto.
But it wasn't about them. They were instructed by God not to set up tent – not to stay at that retreat indefinitely, but to let it energize us for the work of discipleship — by listening to the voice of Jesus.
And Jesus says: feed and clothe the poor, preach the Gospel, welcome in the stranger and marginalized.
As we prepare to move into a new season when we recall the journey of Jesus to the cross, may we pause to soak in the wonder of Christ, the deep abiding love of God our Creator, the incredible energy of the Holy Spirit. May we allow the windows of our souls to be washed clean, as we watch, listen deeply, and follow.