Harrowing Of Hell
February 7, 2016


Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

What weighs you down? What clouds your vision and covers your life like a wet blanket threatening to get in the way thus preventing you from experiencing life and noticing what’s happening around you?

There are things that do this of which we have control and there are things of which we do not have control. I’ll give you some examples of the things of which we have control and begin with a story. Several mornings a week now, I drive a carpool of kindergarten age girls and I’ve learned that if I listen, I learn a lot. So, the other day, the girls were talking about something and my ears perked up when I heard my daughter say, “My mom doesn’t like money.” Hmmm. That’s interesting. Out of the mouths of babes.

I immediately ran through my mind what kinds of things we’ve been saying lately about money in our house. That’s clearly not the message I had hoped to be sending to my 5 year old, but obviously it’s what she has picked up.

As I’ve reflected on that statement over the past week, I realize that anxiety around money weighs me down. I know I’m not alone in this and it doesn’t matter how much or how little money I actually have, it is an attitude. Somehow, I have taught my child a theology of scarcity around money instead of a theology of abundance and that makes me sad.

If you gave me a test, a stewardship test, I would get all of the answers correct. I believe in a theology of abundance. I remind my kids we are thankful for the many blessings in our lives. We give thanks to God each night in our prayers for the food we have to eat, the clothes we have to wear, and the house we have to live in.
But somewhere, my insecurity, my anxiety, my pervasive attitude about money in general has permeated my daughter’s thinking so that she considers me to be someone who doesn’t like it and she is right. She speaks truth.

Peter, John, and James were on the mountain praying with Jesus. Jesus was often leading his disciples to places they didn’t want to go, but at this point in the story they were tired. They had been traveling all over the region around the Sea of Galilee, healing people, feeding people, performing miracles, and they were weary.

The group from Epiphany, including Doyt, Diane, and 20 some pilgrims are near there now. The disciples and Jesus needed to rest and so Jesus took them where people have always gone to retreat. They went to the mountain. They climbed the mountain to pray and rest, but as you may or may not know, on the mountain everything changes.

Mountains are thin places where the kingdom of God seems even a little more near than usual. Mountains are where God often shows up and talks to us, or reveals things to us. If you visit Mt Tabor in the Jezreel Valley today, as our pilgrims are doing this weekend, it is still a quiet place. It is still a thin place, a holy place, and it feels like God is right there, so near.

But for Jesus, Peter, John, and James, their prayer and silence is broken when Moses and Elijah show up and Jesus is transfigured. Can you even imagine?! They were calmly praying and relaxing. The text says Jesus was praying, when “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.”

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep, but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory!” They were weighed down with sleep, with fatigue and exhaustion, and yet, they noticed. They noticed God!

What weighs you down? What threatens to keep you from noticing God or the relationships in your life that are primary? What weighs you down like a wet blanket, obscuring your view?

Just the other night, I caught myself red-handed. Avery was talking about those Kinder Eggs, the chocolate ones with a toy inside. I pulled up Amazon and searched for one and Avery asked what I was doing. Without thinking, I started to say, “I’m looking to see how much they cost.” But, I stopped and laughed at myself. And instead, I said to her, “I want to see what they look like.” Because for a 5 year old who thinks she has all the money in the world in her piggy bank, it doesn’t matter what a Kinder Egg costs and she shouldn’t have to worry about it. That’s my anxiety. That weighs me down and it shouldn’t affect her.

Change is hard. It’s a whole lot easier to live with the bad habits we’ve acquired over the years than to change them. So, what weighs you down? What clouds your vision? Is it bitterness in your marriage? Broken relationship with a sibling? Drinking too much. Obsession with work, or trying to keep up with social pressures… Always having to be right, or the smartest one in the room….

These patterns are hard to break. They even seem unsolvable. So, how are you paying attention? Or, are you sleepwalking through your life? The first step is noticing. And once you notice, it’s paying attention and catching yourself like I did when I heard myself saying, “I want to see how much it costs” about a silly chocolate egg.

When I heard myself say that, I realized I was teaching my daughter a theology of scarcity. What was happening before bedtime was about spending time together, talking about something she was interested in, and it had nothing to do with money. That was my baggage. That weighs me down and it was preventing me from being in relationship with my daughter in that moment, but I caught myself. Will I catch it next time?

That’s what transfiguration means. It’s a preview. In the case of Jesus, it was a preview of the resurrection, a glimpse of the glory that was to come. In our lives, transfiguration is the courage to change. It’s being brave enough to rouse ourselves from sleepwalking, and shake off the shackles of whatever is weighing us down. It’s a glimpse of what is to come if we can keep on paying attention, if we can keep noticing our bad habits and patterns and replace them with new ones. That is transfiguration.

But in that moment, on the mountain, the revelation is a gift while we desperately want it to be a possession. Peter’s just like you or me really. He wants to set up shop, build a house and stay forever, but he can’t because revelation is a gift, not a possession. Eventually, we all have to walk off that mountain.

That’s the gap between our momentary but stirring mountaintop visions of the kingdom of God and the dingy reality of life clouded by whatever weighs us down. Sooner or later, we have to come back from retreats, break our silence, interrupt our prayers, and face the reality of our lives and that includes the messiness of whatever is weighing us down.

But the hope is that flash of transfiguration. We saw it on the mountain. I heard it coming out of my own mouth as I started to say but didn’t… In that moment, I caught myself and was changed. But will I catch myself the next time and the next and the next?

Revelation is a gift, not a possession and so we have to just keep working and praying. We have to keep working on ourselves to be the person God knows we can be.

What weighs you down? And are you paying attention? Or, are you sleepwalking?