Last Epiphany March 6, 2011

2 Peter 1:16-21                                                                   

Matthew 17:1-9                                                                    

I don’t know about you, but as I go along through life there are little things people say to me or little things that happen – almost incidentally at the time – that I come back to again and again, that are so much more important than all the hours I spent in school or all my attempts to learn big truths.

One afternoon back when I was in seminary – this was in rural Wisconsin, country a lot like here – I was out on a walk with an old man who was a visiting teacher. He happened to be the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, but that isn’t really important to the story. It was mud season, which they have in Wisconsin like we have here. We were walking along this muddy road, looking up at the willow trees that were beginning to turn gold and some migrating geese honking their way north, and the beautiful spring sky. And all of a sudden, old Bishop Ramsay stumbled in a muddy spot, catching hold of my arm before he fell.

“This is a lesson, John,” he said. “In life you have to keep your eyes on the sky, but your feet in the dirt.” He was actually talking about life in the Church, but it’s true about all life: eyes on the sky, feet in the dirt. To live a happy and productive life, we need vision, goals, dreams, a horizon, hopes. But we also need to keep our feet on the ground, in the mud and the dust. Life is a lot of plodding along, one foot in front of another.

I have a friend whom I think of when I say this. We became friends in prison – him, not me. I started visiting him there. He was there because he’d messed up, of course. Like a lot of folks, his youth hadn’t been ideal and things, mostly his inability to get along with alcohol, had caught up with him. But the thing that impressed me about him was that he never once complained about his life or what had happened. And he was full of plans for when he got out – sky plans, in Bishop Ramsay’s terms, though not crazy unrealistic sky plans. He had a clear sense of direction. At the same time his feet were very much on the ground. In prison he avoided hanging with the troublemakers. He made himself useful doing maintenance and repair work. And when he was released he went back to his family and his job and has lived soberly ever since. Eyes on the sky, feet in the dirt. My friend has them both.

I think that’s what the gospel reading today is about. It’s called the Transfiguration. Jesus takes his inner group of followers up a mountain where they have a vision of him transformed in glory – a “sky” vision, a mountaintop moment. They want to capture this, build dwellings or shrines to hold it: Jesus is divine. But it disappears and they’re left with their ordinary old human friend, who leads them back down the mountain to journey on to Jerusalem and the Cross – feet in the dirt.

That’s what the gospel is about – a very simple story, but very profound. And that’s what God is like – what our relationship with God is like. Now and then we’re given these mountaintop moments, these sky glimpses when we have a sense that, yes, there is a God and he is near and life is glorious. But then there are the long stretches, most of the time, when it’s just feet in the dirt, slogging along.

You and I live in a world that tries to tell us that everything should be high sky feelings, easy bliss, all the time. We can buy it, win it, get given it by our parents or our schools or our jobs or the government. Advertising tells us that; entertainment tells us that; politicians tell us that; drugs, alcohol, shopping try to tell us that. So then when reality is full of walking in the mud and dust, we get defeated or we look for someone to blame or we drive ourselves crazy trying to capture and hold onto the highs. So how do we live sane lives, eyes on the sky but feet on the ground?

These Come and See Sundays are useful to us at Holy Cross, however they are for guests who respond to our invitation, because they make us stop and think what we’re really about here, what church is for. And I think what church is for is to help us live sane lives – even holy lives. Church is here both to hold out some of humanity’s greatest sky moments – Christmas, Easter, Baptisms and Marriages – and to offer courage, comfort and support through all the times of slogging through the dirt.

Did you notice that in that gospel story Jesus was there the whole time.  Jesus was the dazzling white divine figure of the sky vision. He was also the courage-giver, comforter, supportive friend, the fellow human being, for the walk down the mountain to the Cross. As the Church puts it, Jesus is both God and Man. Sometimes people come to church and they don’t stick because they’re looking for it all to be sky, and it isn’t – not the world’s kind of sky anyway. Our sky is always connected to the dirt, connected through the body of Jesus. That’s what we offer that the world doesn’t, the world can’t, offer: the whole body of life, the Body of Christ.

Our worship this morning, this Eucharist, is about just that: the Body of Christ. Ordinary bread, dirt stuff, becomes Christ’s Body, sky stuff. Ordinary people, you and me, become Christ’s Body too, his life of vision and groundedness in the world today. As St. Peter tells us, in the first reading today, we “will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

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