United Church of Christ (USA)
Last Sunday After Epiphany
Sunday, February 19, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I went up to Haleakalā with a friend during the January
cycle of the full moon. It was on a late Sunday evening.
I wore a tee-shirt, a sweater, a jacket and took along two blankets to ward off the cold. The thermometer in my dashboard read 53 degrees near the gate entrance to the park.
There were a couple of cars in the parking lot at the second lookout that is close to the observatories. I saw a couple leaving. When I arrived at the lookout with its semi-circular view of the crater, a group of four visitors were about to leave.
I told the friend I was with that I needed some time alone and away from the folks who were there. I walked away from the lookout and found a spot and offered an oli or chant as an expression of my appreciation to God for being able to be in such a sacred place.
The moon was in full light but it was still easy to see the shimmer of countless stars above and in the distance. I have always felt that the high places of our island mountains were sacred places long before anyone said so.
I sat down on the slope of a hill and pulled the blankets over my head and in close around me. Against the dark night sky, the moon became a dazzling white.
In our reading from The Gospel According to Mark, the
disciples see Jesus transfigured before them. It is said that his
clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark
9:3) I wondered how much more dazzling he would have appeared in the
light of Hina’s glow.
Peter, James and John were with Jesus at the time. It is said that while there Elijah and Moses appear and they begin talking with Jesus. Peter suggests that they built three dwellings – one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus.
Jesus does not know what to say to them but he is aware
that they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them and God’s
voice comes from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen
It is Mark’s claim that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. (Mark 1:1) That claim finds strong support in the story of the transfiguration. When God’s own voice addresses Jesus as “my Son, the Beloved” we are made aware of Jesus’ relationship to God.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus orders Peter, James and John to say nothing about what they had heard or seen. In one sense going up to the mountain and experiencing God’s presence was easy.
It is quite another thing to for them to come down from the mountain. David J. Lose is the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He points out, “Coming back down is almost always harder than going up.” (“Reflections on the Lectionary,” Christian Century, Chicago, Illinois, February 8, 2012, page 23)
“This isn’t news for most of us,” he continues. “We are accustomed to the letdown that follows a holiday or vacation. Oddly sometimes, it is the climb to the heights with all that we saw there that makes the return to normalcy harder.” (Op. cit.)
Perhaps that is the point of the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John could have remained on the mountain. But their work, our work is not on the mountaintop but in the places where we live our everyday lives.
We are needed down here. Most of living is here in the valleys and places made low, not on the slopes or mountaintops. And if our work is here then God will meet us here.
Some may say that we must withdraw from society in order to meet God. Yet in Jesus we are reminded that the opposite to be true. Rather than retreat from the challenges we face, Jesus calls us to embrace them. Rather than avoid those who are unclean or diseased, Jesus calls us to cure them. Rather than condemn those who are sinful, Jesus calls us to forgive them and forgive one another.
When we meet others in the valleys and low places, we find God waiting for us. We do not withdraw from the world we live in and that is as it should be.
The drive to the top of Haleakalā took some time. The focus was on the summit. Once there it was remarkable to see even in the distant darkness the great expanse of ocean and sky. In that place and in that moment I was reminded once more of the presence of God – not in the wind or earthquake or fire but in a still small voice (I Kings 19:12) – no chariots of fire or horses of fire or a whirlwind – but a still small voice.
Over a century ago a young Hawaiian man named ʻŌpūkahaʻia said as much when he wrote these words just before his decision to become a Christian. Although he died before he was able to return home to Hawaiʻi to share his faith, it was his faith and faithfulness that gave birth to this church and many, many of our other historic Hawaiian churches.
Moments at the summit of Haleakalā or other mountaintops can give us insight into our lives and courage to continue on our journey of faith. We celebrate such moments and know that as we find our way down the mountain, we hold within us God’s whispering voice that enables us to witness to the word and work of Jesus in our lives and in our world.