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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

Being present in the presence

The Transfiguration (c) by Mike Moyers
The Transfiguration by Mike Moyers

Our journey for this Season of Epiphany is coming to an end. All through the last few weeks we have been considering God’s invitation to Abram – “Get out of your tent and look up!” “Get out from under whatever limits your view and open your eyes to what I want you to see.”

To cap our journey, today we hear God calling Moses up to the sacred mountain, “Moses – Go up the mountain!”

I wonder what Moses may have thought about going up the mountain. They already had the Book of the Covenant, and the Commandments – Hasn’t he already written everything? (Exodus 24:4-7). What else God may have had in stock for them? What God was talking about and why was it important for him to go all the way up to the mountain?

Now, as far as we know, Moses had never been at the top. And I wonder if at his age, Moses was looking forward to the trek. Nevertheless, up he went.

It is interesting to note, that the words that usually are translated as “wait”, as in “go up and wait there” have a more meaningful and richer meaning. It meant a lot more than something like, “Go up and wait for the bus.”

Rabbi Daniel J. Feder commenting on the lesson writes that, “The meaning seems straightforward in the English translation (…) [However] a close reading of the Hebrew verse can yield a different perspective. The key Hebrew words are literally translated as: ‘Come up to me on the mountain and be there.’”

In other words, “be present.” Or in the words of the Psalmist, “Be still and be aware,” (46:10).

Rabbi Feder continues, “It turns out that chronic distraction may not be unique to our age. God seems concerned that even the great Moses might be distracted and not fully present for the Revelation. And if Moses needed the reminder, how much more so do we — in our multitasking culture — need to be focused and present. It’s a discipline that’s as challenging now as it ever was.”

The Scriptures don’t tell us anything but Moses, being a shepherd to his people may have worried about leaving the people behind – and as we know from the story about the Golden Calf, Moses had good reasons to be worried (Exodus 32) and to be, with his mind somewhere else.

A case in point can be found in the story about Jesus going up the mountain with his disciples.

As the gospel tells us, it is Jesus who takes along his disciples up the mountain. While Moses was summoned to the mountain, the disciples, instead, had almost to be carried up by Jesus. In the original language, it reads that Jesus “lead them,” as in “almost had to push them up.”

As we know, once they arrived, Jesus moves a little further away to pray. And as Jesus was praying, He was transfigured – His appearance changed. And lo and behold, not only our Lord’s appearance changed, but two others appeared alongside Jesus.

In the story, as written by St Luke in his gospel, we are told that the disciples began to discuss among themselves who were those with Jesus. Mind you, the visitors were not wearing their name tags, and no one had seen a picture of them. So, it was perfectly normal for them to try to figure out who they were and what was going on.

Eventually, the conversation changes. There is no clue why they changed their subject, but the issue suddenly became, “Where are we going to spend the night?” And then they began to consider their options.

Again, St Luke tells that, eventually, the disciples went to take a nap. But let’s be honest – they were not young men. Even if they were rugged fishermen, after following Jesus wherever He went, and going up the mountain, they were tired. In a way, it was perfectly normal for them to trying to rest.

Suddenly, a thunderous voice awakes them – “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

In the second lesson, Peter testifies about his own experience writing that he and his fellow apostles were “eyewitness to our Lord’s majesty.” He may as well have written, “And we almost missed it!”

For, let me suggest, perhaps the loud voice was meant more for the asleep disciples than for Jesus who was perfectly aware of what was going on.

It could be said that in a way, the disciples were at the mountain top and yet, they failed to be present at the mountain top. They were there and yet they were not there.

And if Moses and the disciples needed to be reminder to be focused and present before the presence of the Lord, how much do we need it.

Like Moses and the disciples when we gather in Church every Sunday, we are called to go up to the Sanctuary – and once there, to be present.

As a priest and pastor, it is always a challenge to set my mind in the worship of God and be present in His presence among us. Sometimes my mind wanders, and I begin to I ask myself, “Are they listening to what I have to say?” “Will it matter come Monday?”

(What follows is an addition to my original sermon and reflects what happened during the Lord’s Supper --

As a made-to-order illustration of what can distract any of us away from the presence of the Lord, let me share with you what happened today right during the Eucharist. As I took the chalice as a sign of focus and worship to the presence of the Lord, I lifted my eyes up. And what did I see?

No; it was not a vision of the heavenly realm. But little lady-bugs crawling on the ceiling!!)

Being sidetracked away from the presence of the Lord happens to all of us. Or, at least some of you. We all come to church looking for a place to rest our souls and a time to enjoy God’s loving embrace. And yet, we all are exposed to the same challenges the disciples faced. They were there, and yet they were not present.

For we live in a society that has been trained to mourn the past and to dream of the future but, at all costs, to skip the present.

And the minute we sit in church, or we take a break to say a prayer or read the Bible, the big screen flashes in our minds the long laundry list of all our worries, even those who we may have not been aware. Or, like the disciples, even plenty of good questions.

Now here is the Good News… The only thing that God expects from us when we come into His presence is to be present in His presence.

And here is some more Good News. By allowing ourselves to be present before the presence of the Lord, we will be transformed.

The Scriptures suggest that just being in the presence of the Lord is, in itself, transformative. As we read later on, when Moses came down from his second trek up the mountain, “His face was shining brightly,” (Exodus 34:29).

And it is what St Paul hints when in addressing our brothers and sisters in Corinth, he tells them that if we allow ourselves into the presence of the Lord we are transformed from glory to glory – “The Lord's Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord, (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Today the Collect of the Day invites us to pray that “beholding by faith the light of our Lord’s presence” we may “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”

Let us make this prayer our daily prayer. Even if as the Collect says, we need to be strengthened to carry our burdens, let us strive to be present in the presence of the Lord.

Let us pray: Almighty God: In your love you bid us to come into your presence, not in fear or trembling, but in amazement and joyful thanksgiving and praise. Pour your Spirit of peace so that we may become fully aware of your presence and, by the same Spirit, transform us more and more into the likeness of your Beloved Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Fr. Gustavo

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