February 28, 2010
The Second Sunday of Lent
Intent: Control of Speech
The comfort of night-lights is something we cherish as children but tend to forget as adults. The world can truly be a dark and scary place. But by the time we are grown, both our eyes and our hearts have often become so accustomed to the dark that we forget the warmth and radiance that light can bring to our soul. Our theological ancestors reminds us that one of the primary ways God has made the divine presence known on Earth has been through revealing glimpses of the divine light.
Moses begged for a glimpse of God. Once he was honored with a back-view peek; he found his face forever emblazoned with God's radiance which he had so briefly glimpsed. The prophet Habakkuk describes God with beams of radiance shooting out from the Creator's creative hand. Today's Transfiguration text introduces the miraculous mountaintop epiphany with the presence of dazzling light.
The three disciples wanted to build three temples of light at the top of the mountain. A transfiguration "booth" would serve as a light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon of light beckoning those squinting from dim tunnel vision or those stuck at the wrong end of long, dark tunnels.
Jesus rebuked their "light-at-the-end-of-a-tunnel" understanding of discipleship and challenged them to embrace a tunnel-at-the-end-of-the-light discipleship. The church is not called to invite people out of the darkness into the light so much as to bring the light into the darkness. We spend so much time building our booths, our own safe "temples of light", our church buildings and communities, but fail to spend anywhere near that much time bringing that light into the dark tunnels.
The Transfiguration scene from our Gospel reading today, does not call us to be "a light at the end of the tunnel," waiting for people lost in the dark to blunder their way towards us, especially considering that in this day and age, most of the population avoids the Church altogether. The church is to take the light of truth, the gospel and glory of Christ, boldly into the tunnel. There is always a tunnel lurking right outside our ring of light.
If we are to enter the tunnel at the end of the light; if we are to poke new windows, not drill tiny peepholes, into the darkness of the world; if we are to live our lives in the light and lead others toward Christ, then we need to build three new kinds of windows in that tunnel.
First, windows that face outward; ever notice which way the beautiful stained-glass windows of churches are directed? Most stained-glass windows only tell stories to those already safely inside the illumined interior of the church building. To those trapped outside in the tunnel, the beautiful windows are nothing but hazy, multicolored blurs, a visual inharmonious confusion incapable of casting meaningful, penetrating light on anything.
One of the biggest barriers to God-bearing in the third millennium, is that the church seems to be a closed community. An invisible "For Members Only" sign is found on too many of our churches. In fact, it's a sign that is etched in bigger letters on our church doors than on many Rotary, Kiwanis and animal club doors. So many people find themselves not welcome at the very places that all should be welcome; within our churches. Hence why churches, such as our denomination, come to existence. So, people feeling unwelcome in many churches, can feel welcome as Christ meant them to be.
It's time to turn our stained-glass windows outward, to tell our stories to the world. But a word of warning: once we turn them around, it must be light enough inside for people to see outside. Unless the community inside is on fire for God, there will not be enough light to illuminate the windows so that the world can see them from the outside.
Second, churches should not only have windows that lets the light out, but windows that let in the light of the outside; some churches have forgone the expense of stained-glass windows but have instead erected great panes of frosted, glazed-over, or intentionally crackled glass to obscure any view of what lies outside the walls of the sanctuary.
In the early 18th century, when the imperial English colonized the wild Welsh, proper English travelers who ventured from England to Wales used to close the curtains of their carriage to shut out the "horrid scenery." They didn't want to be disturbed by the horrors of the outside world.
How many of our churches are using frosted glass for the same reason? For us to see the outside world as it is rather than through our blue-tinted windows would mean that we must come to terms with the fact that it's a different world out there. It's time to open the curtains. What realities are we hiding from behind our frosted-glass windows? How can we offer light to the world when our view of what that world is like is filtered through frosted, tinted glass?
Third, or finally, we need new stained-glass windows, the stained-glass windows for the 21st century; computer screens.
This new world will not get its inspiration the Gutenberg Way. We Catholics have had a rough affair with the bound book ever since typesetting was invented in mid-15th century. We have been accused, of many things, but notably by non-Catholics that we did not read the Bible, however incorrect that may be. Why, we failed to put windows in our churches for people to see in. A restricted membership with a high level of adherence expectations. However, the past century has been a mission to put a Bible in every hand, in every pew, even in every motel room, which has pushed the church and Christ's gospel message out into the darkest places in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, however, the way people carry on the fastest communication and obtain their most important information is no longer from the pages of a book. Instead, our postmodern culture is turning toward a new kind of stained-glass window for one of its sources of light. There is a very good chance that you look at that "window" at some point every day. When you boot up Microsoft Windows 7, what is the first visual you see? The colored panes of a software stained-glass window.
Christianity is now undergoing a visual metamorphosis. Our image of images must be altered. The image, not the word, has become the primary unit of cultural currency. I grew up in a world where texts were better and images, or pictures, were held in lower esteem. A book with pictures in it was inferior to one without pictures. In fact, if you had a lot of pictures in your book you had written (Oh, my gawd!) a "coffee table" book.
Christians of the 21st century will be Christians who experience God in a variety of ways, including a sensory web made possible through powerful new visualization technologies. In my opinion, one of the reasons why the three generations born after 1964 are not in our churches and have not become Christians is that we have not made it easy for them to become hyper mediated believers and metamorphic believers through multisensory worship.
Will we be a church that pokes new windows in the tunnel at the end of the light? We have to be a church that does not segregate those who seem to fall under categories that other churches find uncomfortable to deal with. We also need to be a church that is willing to live the passion; the passion of Jesus Christ.
Most of us live far too hectic lives; we are busy from morning to night with work chauffeuring kids, cleaning, meals, answering e-mail, taking care of the dogs, and any number of other things. When we finally sit down in the evening to relax a little, we often doze off while reading or watching TV program. We might wake up with a start when the book drops out of our hand, or when a loud commercial comes on, and we realize then that we have missed half of the program.
Peter, John and James in this gospel must've been really tired after their climb up the mountain, fore they fell fast asleep. They then awaken to see Jesus transfigured in glory. How startling, that must've been.
Luke's Gospel of the Transfiguration event is the only one that includes the necessity of the passion on the journey to glory. St. Peter awakens from sleep to see Jesus is Lord and wants to stay there. But the Gospels say that he didn't know what he was saying. In order to share in the glory of Jesus the disciples must walk the journey of Jesus. Meaning they must offer their very lives for the sake of others. These three Apostles were privileged to awaken from sleep to see Jesus transfigured in glory. But they clearly missed the most important point; this transfigured glory foreshadows his risen glory. Luke's foresight is to glory always presupposes embracing the Passion.
This is the paradox of the Paschal mystery; that something as desirable as to share in Jesus' transfigured glory only comes through our embracing something as demanding as dying to self for the good of others. Even in this glorious moment of Transfiguration, which gives us encouragement and hope during our Lenten journey, we are reminded that the only way to remain in glory is to die to self. We have to come off the mountain walk our own journeys through death to glory.
Let's face it, constant dying to self gets tiresome! This Sunday, we are given a glimpse of glory to help ease the discouragement of a lifetime of self emptying. This tells us something about how we might keep Sunday's holy. If each Sunday were a day of rest time, to be good to ourselves, to do something special that is uplifting, to enter into a moment of glory, we would be better fortified to continue dying to self.
All told, this Sunday, the readings are speaking to us in an attempt to get us to see beyond the stained-glass window, to open the windows and not only let the light in, but most especially, let the light out. As the church, we have a double duty; first, we must point out the things need to change, such as sin and Self-centeredness. Second, that we are all creations of God no matter who we are and therefore all are welcome into the building known as the church, where the light can be found; so that those who have little to no light in their lives, may see and find that light.
Let us be the beacon; let us be the light to others; let experience the Transfiguration this Lent, by the giving of ourselves in the opening of the doors and windows to all.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.