February 27, 2022

"Deeply Aware of God"

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 9: 28-36

In one of the most misunderstood and, in my opinion, most poorly preached upon passages of scripture is this story known as “The Transfiguration.” Where, I believe, folks get tangled in the weeds is in their determination to make sense of it. That is when they try to figure out precisely what is meant by its component parts rather than appreciating its symbolism – for instance by drawing a direct parallel between the Exodus of Moses with Jesus’ Exodus from this life to the next, or by linking the audible voice of God in this story with that of Jesus’ baptism – all of which is quite interesting and perhaps plausible but, I believe, misses the obvious.

You see, some of the biblical stories are simply not explainable – nor were they intended to be. Instead, they are offered that we might let them soak into our consciousness and then our unconscious minds allow us merely to receive them as they bathe us in a kind of “holy essence” thereby eliminating our need for accurate translation as they offer deeper truth for our souls. I think this is one such story. In its own way the story only makes sense as it invites us to a different way of “knowing.” Let’s take a closer look. [Pause]

Jesus and his disciples headed back up the mountain for a time of prayer. While Jesus engaged in his own spiritual practice the disciples (Peter, James, and John) grew weary and fell asleep. That seemed to happen to them quite often. While they were snoring, Jesus had some sort of interaction or conversation with his ancestors – Moses and Elijah – a holy moment which brought about a kind of ecstatic experience that transformed his whole being. It was then that the disciples awoke and were overwhelmed, awed, and for a moment – speechless.

In his excitement, Peter wanted to capture the moment by erecting monuments evidently so they could come back again and again to repeat the experience. But as he babbled-on, a cloud overshadowed them, and when they were buried in the cloud, as the story goes, they became “deeply aware of God.” [Pause]

That’s the phrase that I cannot get out of my head, they became “deeply aware of God.” As I turned that phrase over and over in my mind I tried to think – when has that happened to me?

What I really wondered was, how often, in my haste and pace of life, have I missed those moments – those opportunities when God was trying to get my attention. Rather than remaining still in the Divine presence of a holy fog, I have simply turned on the high beams in my attempt to gain further clarity only to miss what was going on right in front of me. When we repeat this kind of practice often enough, we soon become quite good at missing similar holy moments in favor of efficiency and accomplishment and while we keep God conveniently at bay.

You see, this story is only partially about what happened then and there. And there is no telling whether this story has even been reported accurately. But something profound occurred – and, I believe, similar experiences are happening all the time – even today.

Whatever happened to Jesus during that time of prayer prepared him for the final phase of his ministry AND rendered the disciples who were with him – speechless. They became deeply aware of God. There was no longer any doubt. God was made know to them on that mountain in a way they could not fully explain nor comprehend. And it changed their lives forever. [Pause]

I wonder when that’s happened to you.

Notice I did not say “IF” but “WHEN” that has happened to you.

I wonder how you responded. [Pause]

You gotta love Peter in this story. His reaction is precious and one, I bet, most of us can relate to. He wanted to capture the moment – to freeze it – so to speak. My guess is he wanted to mark the precise spot where he saw it happen so he could return – perhaps bring the other disciples – so they too might share in the experience. In his desire to harness The Holy – AND the holiness of that experience – Peter tried to do what cannot be done even though we have tried for two millennia. He wanted to box God into a place – but God is not so easily contained. [Pause]

In his insightful book, If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk, John Pavlovitz describes how we have tried to lasso God for our convenience – attempting to contain God within our houses of worship, or in our liturgies, or in “the way we have always done things.” We have tried our best to contain the holy within our tightly sealed arks of our own making. Why? Because we are deathly afraid of that which we cannot control.

Pavlovitz makes a compelling case that, try as we might, it is impossible to control God. And the sooner we realize that God is everywhere and, in all things, – in all places – in all beings – and in all expressions of faith – we begin to form a new spirituality of awe and wonder – of mystery – as WE become “deeply aware of God.” Because God is making God Self known to us and to all others – ALL THE TIME. We simply need to notice. [Pause]

The other morning my husband Randy and I went out with the Kihei Canoe Club for an early morning paddle. Our walk to the club began with that wonderful tension between the chilly morning air and warm ocean water tickling our feet. And as if the sunrise over Haleakalā wasn’t enough and the golden rays shining on the West Maui Mountains wasn’t evidence enough of God’s presence, we were soon greeted with the awakening sound of a mother and baby’s exhale and the giant plume of spray of the great humpback whales less than 100 yards away. Whoosh! And then the her pectoral fin waving high in the air as if to say – greetings favored ones, her tail waving high before dipping down into the water as audible gasps of “woah” and “wow” became our language of amazement — of awe. Was everyone “deeply aware of God?” I don’t know, but I sure was. [Pause]

I know you have similar stories. If we were in a less formal setting, I’d invite you to share yours. To bring them to consciousness – those memories when God spoke deeply to you. Or surprised you. Or was somehow revealed to you making you “deeply aware.”

Allow yourself to be reminded of them and, by all means, take the opportunity to share them with others as a means of encouragement, to remember that our faith cannot be contained in creeds, or statements, or liturgies or even sacred places like this. God is too big to contain.

As Pavlovitz would say, “God has left the building and is showing up all over the place, dazzling us when we least expect it, seeking to gain our attention and to remind us that we are ultimately not in control.

You can make what you want of this strange and mystical story. If you need to believe it happened literally the way Luke and other gospel writers have recorded, well God bless you. I, rather believe, God wanted us, instead, to enter into the experience of Peter, James, and John. To notice the cloud that is all around us – a cloud where we too may hear mysterious voices, see unbelievable sights, and feel the kiss of chilly morning air and a warm ocean at our feet – to have our breath taken away by the very breach of nature – and in that moment to become more deeply aware of God. How about you?


About Our Website Any opinions expressed in this website are those of the writer or writers involved. Unless otherwise noted, such opinions are not to be construed as the position taken by any of the boards, committees, or council of the church.