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Shine, Jesus, Shine

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Matthew 17:1-8

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

I don’t usually preach in poetry. I usually preach in prose

but the last few weeks have been particularly prose-y—

lots of research and teaching and exploration of translation.

My ordination vows called me to be preacher and teacher

and I love being both, simultaneously,

but sometimes I wish for a Trinitarian calling:

preacher and teacher and poet.

Usually the scripture demands of me prose—

all those explanations and clarifications and elucidations

to get to the application to our lives today.

But sometimes the scripture speaks to me differently,

sings to me, indifferent to my ordination vows,

and I have to reply in rhythm and rhyme.

 

You see, for me the difference is mystery.

The poet in me loves those stories that defy expectation,

resist explanation,

the ones I cannot define without removing the shine.

I don’t want to explain the mystery.

I want to enter it, be center in it.

So climb the mountain with me, if you will, answering the poem’s call.

 

It’s Peter, James, and John—the lucky three—

who got front-row seats to this mystery.

His inner circle, his closest friends.

And we would be them.

Would we not?

If we were numbered among the twelve, we would all be one of the three!

Not left behind on mundane ground

to stare around wondering about the odd flashes in the clouds.

Or, with cloudy minds, left behind not knowing we were missing out,

grateful that our hamstrings were spared.

I’m not sure which would be worse.

 

But this is our story, our rhythm, our rhyme, so up the mountainside we climb

with Jesus, uncertain why we’re here,

uncertain why we’re chosen,

uncertain why we’ve chosen this unconventional life of discipleship.

But here we are and there he is and it’s a lovely view up here

in the thin air of chosen-ness.

Then without warning he is changed.

Now, I like change.

I change my clothes. I change my mind.

I change my home arrival time.

I change the places that I stand.

I change what I alone can understand.

But when it’s not my change? Yeah, never mind! I’ll change that rhyme.

I am not so fond of change when it’s out of my control.

But there we are, on the mountaintop,

And there goes Jesus—changing, rearranging

our ideas of what a mountain hike can be.

His clothes become white—unnaturally white for desert wanderers,

unearthly white for spiritual wanderers.

Then he himself begins to shine

and we are scared.

It isn’t the light that scares us—

it’s that we cannot see its source.

The heavens didn’t open. The clouds didn’t part.

No glory streams from heaven afar.

He. Just. Shines.

And we realize he IS the source.

 

And as if that wasn’t scary enough,

suddenly we see dead people,

or, rather, not-dead people who died long ago.

Moses and Elijah, the symbols of the Law and the Prophets,

and we wonder if they have come to take Jesus to heaven,

since that’s clearly where he belongs

with his unearthly bright-ness of being.

If so, why are we here?

To be witnesses?

Or traveling companions? to heaven?

We just went on a hike, Jesus.

We just wanted to be near you, Jesus.

We just wanted to be your inner circle, Jesus,

now what circle are we in?

Jesus, I’ve got a great idea!

It’s—it’s good for us to be here. On this mountain. On earth.

So let us build some shelters, some tabernacles,

anything to hold you, contain you, keep you here, keep us all here.

Suddenly a bright cloud overshadows us—

a cloud of light (how is that even possible?),

and then we hear the voice.

This is my son, my beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!

Moses, Elijah, listen to—oh. You mean—us.

We listen. Of course we listen. We always listen.

And listen, we’ve been following him a long time now,

and, well, in case you haven’t noticed, he says a lot.

We listen to a lot of what he says.

But what he says to do is a lot . . .

to love our neighbors (have you met mine)

to love our enemies (I don’t have—okay, I have nine)

to care for the poor, to side with the oppressed,

oh, don’t press me to change that much!

 

So Jesus, could you maybe stop shining?

Your brightness is scaring me, baring me to the light

when I much prefer shadows or flight.

So could you maybe stop shining?

Or at least turn it down?

It’s a little bit much

for such a time as this,

for I am scared of your light and scared of your change

and scared how your light might ask me to change.

 

But then I feel his hand on my shoulder and I hear his voice over my head,

saying, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

And I look up, and I got my wish. His shine is gone.

But instead of being glad, I am sad

because his shine told me who he was.

His shine told me who I was.

His shine told me the darkness could not overcome him.

And I need to know the light can win.

I need to know the light won’t get snuffed out.

                                    Don’t let the light go out!

I need to know that it can get better than this,

this life I’m leading, this life I’m weaving

with threads of hopelessness and fear.

I need to know that you are near.

“Get up,” you say, “and do not be afraid.”

Oh, but Jesus, I am. I am afraid.

I’m afraid of your light and afraid I won’t see it.

Afraid of your voice and afraid I won’t hear it.

Afraid of your truth and afraid that I just won’t get it.

I need to see you, O Christ.

And I take back what I said, about building

those structures that seek to restrict and contain.

I don’t want you in a box, Jesus.

I don’t want you holed up on the mountain, Jesus.

I don’t want to build a shrine to your glory.

I want your glory in me.

I want you to have a home in me.

Because I need to shine, too.

            This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it . . .

I have no shine without you.

My clouds don’t part. My skies don’t open.

No voice calls to me from clouds of light.

I have only you, Jesus. I see only you.

So never mind my fear.

Never mind my building plans or grasping hands.

Shine for me, so I can see you.

Shine for me, so I can be you.

 

Shine, Jesus, shine,

Fill this land with Creator’s glory.

Blaze, Spirit, blaze,

Set our hearts on fire.

Flow, river, flow,

Flood the nations with grace and mercy.

Send forth Your word,

Lord and let there be light.

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