Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Year C

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Year C

Based on Exod. 34:29-35 & Lk. 9:28-36

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Where can I see God?” It was a question Eliezer asked everyone he met, as he wandered the world in his quest to meet God, to actually see God face to face.

   But in response to his question, Eliezer received few answers. Most people had no answer at all for him; many scoffed at him for even asking such a question, and undertaking such a quest. But a few pondered his question seriously, before suggesting that he seek to meet God in a great cathedral, or mosque; in the deepest part of the forest; or the highest mountain summit; or that he look into his own heart and soul.

   Eliezer tried all of these things—he never passed a cathedral without entering, praying, and waiting for many hours, even days to meet God there. He walked many miles through forests, and climbed many mountains. He looked as far as he could into his own heart and soul—but he did not see God anywhere.

   He spoke with spiritual leaders of many faiths, and listened to their accounts of their own quests for God, and their advice—but still he did not meet God face to face.

   Then one day, Eliezer was told to seek out a wise, holy man who lived in a hut in the forest. When at last he found the man, he asked him, “Where can I see God?” as he had asked so many people, so many times before.

   The old man gave no answer, but instead, asked Eliezer about his quest, where he had been, and where he had sought to meet and to see God. Eliezer told him of his many travels, and his many attempts to meet God—and of his failures to this point. They talked for many hours, and finally the old man said to him, “God is everywhere you have been and everywhere you have sought  him, but you have not seen Him because you have looked to see Him through the eyes of a mortal human being.”

   “But I know of this,” Eliezer protested. “I have heard this before many times, I’ve tried and failed everywhere I’ve been, to see God. The only eyes I have are eyes of a man, but I had hoped that if I sought long enough and diligently enough, God might permit me, mortal that I am, to see Him through these eyes!

   After a long silence, the old man spoke: “I have heard of an old woman who lived in the mountains of a land far away—it is said that she lives at the feet of God. Perhaps she can help you more than I.”

   Taking encouragement from these words, Eliezer set out to find the old woman; and all through his journey, everywhere he went, he sought again to see the God that was everywhere. In cities, he looked for God on the heights, where the rich lived, and in the dark interiors, where the poor lived—but all he saw was glitter in one place, and darkness in the other. He saw criminals and thieves; prostitutes, selling their wares in the streets; dope dealers and users, selling their souls, for money or for a momentary escape from the pain of reality—but he did not see God.

   As he passed through drought and famine-stricken countries, he saw entire villages perishing for lack of food. He saw hunger, pain, wretchedness and squalor—but he did not see God.

   As he crossed the oceans, and experienced the power of the waves; as he trekked through forests, and saw and heard the beauty of nature, he felt the presence of God—but he did not see God.

   Finally, he arrived in the land of his destination, and immediately began asking after the old woman. At first, he was greeted with suspicion and scorn (he was not the first to seek the woman, many who sought her did so for godless purposes) but he persisted, and eventually, in a valley below the mountain range, he found some shepherds who told him where to find her.

   Upon finding the woman, he asked her where he might see God. She asked him: “Do you know what it is you seek? Do you really think that God would allow you to see Him?”

   He stayed many weeks there, until at last, the old woman was apparently convinced of the sincerity of his quest, and told him where he must go. “Climb that mountain,” she told him, “and wait for the sun to rise on a cloudless morning.”

   “Then will I see God?” Eliezer asked. “Just do as I say,” was all the old woman would tell him.

   So Eliezer went, climbed the mountain, and waited on the summit for the sunrise. Three days later, the sun rose into a cloudless sky, glistening brilliantly on the snow-covered peak. Eliezer stood transfixed, waiting expectantly for what he would see. As the sun rose higher, he had to squint to protect his eyes from the brilliance of light reflecting off the snow. As it rose yet higher, he had to cover his eyes with his hands, and to peek through the cracks between his fingers. As it rose fully above the horizon, he had to close his eyes altogether, and cover them with his hands.

   Before long, the light penetrated his hands and his eyelids. Eliezer felt as if he were staring straight into the sun itself. He fell to his knees, burying his face between his legs, but it made no difference, so powerful was the light. He felt it must be shining right through him; and he knew that if he could have looked, he would have seen that his body did not cast a shadow.

   In that powerful light, Eliezer felt a presence unlike anything he had before; he felt overwhelmed and terrified. But his fear was not of the light, or of the presence that accompanied the light. It was not a fearful presence. Eliezer’s fear was for himself. For the smallness and unworthiness he felt within himself in that light, and that the light must surely expose. Finally, he was overcome by the light, and he fainted. When he awoke, the light had dimmed, and the presence had gone—but Eliezer was blind! It was a strange blindness, or so it seemed to Eliezer. For it was not a darkness, such as those who were blind had described to him. Rather, it was a brightness, as if he were looking at the sun through closed eyes.

   He stumbled and groped his way back down the mountain, and was lost in the woods until the same shepherds found him and took him back to the woman. “Did you see God?” she asked him—but he did not know how to answer her.

   She looked after him for several months, until his sight recovered to a point where he could begin his journey back to where he had come from. He thanked the old woman, and left—still overwhelmed by all he had experienced, and still trying to understand it.

   This time, however, as Eliezer returned by the same route he had come, he saw the world, and everything in it, in an entirely new way, in a new light. He saw things he had never noticed before, he saw them in a gentle, but brilliant light—a light, he concluded, must be the presence of God.

   In the famine-stricken country, he was filled with awe, as one hungry family shared what little food they had with another hungry family. In one village, everyone pulled together to help each other, as they dug graves for their loved ones who died of hunger and disease. All of the people were now bathed with the gentle, but brilliant light that he saw on the mountaintop. Even the smell of death failed to dim the radiance of that light. Eliezer knew that he was seeing God, or at least the hand of God, as he had never seen Him before—as he could not see Him before.

   In large cities, Eliezer looked for light everywhere, and, to his amazement, he saw it where he least expected to see it. Once in the poorest slum of a city, he saw a prostitute come to the aid of another prostitute, who was being beaten by a violent customer—together they drove him off, while the light shone over them.

   Eliezer spent the rest of his long life contemplating all that he had experienced on the mountaintop, and all that he was now seeing, in the valleys and plains. He did not know if he had actually seen God or not, and he no longer cared. He did not know if a mere mortal could ever see the Immortal—but it did not matter. He knew now that God was indeed everywhere; that the presence, or the hand of God could be seen everywhere; even or especially where it was least expected. And to his dying day, Eliezer never ceased to be surprised, amazed, and overwhelmed at where he saw the presence of God.*

*I thank my good friend and colleague Pastor Dennis Wiig, who wrote this story. I made a few editorial changes from his original version.

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