What Kind of Persons Ought We To Be?
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Transfiguration Sunday, February 26, 2017
Matthew 17:1-8 (Transfiguration) 2 Peter 17:16-20 (Eyewitness)
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You 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.
Thanks be you, O God, for this your Holy Word, and to your name let there always be praise. Amen.
Many of you know I love to hike. From early spring through the fall I often spend my entire Sabbath day hiking or climbing; and on my blog I detail many of the hikes I’ve taken and mountains I have climbed. I love doing all-day hikes because the intense physical experience of walking or climbing for hours, attending to my breath and the steady beat of my heart, and being conscious of earth upon which I am walking, is conducive to mental alertness and spiritual awareness. I am very mindful of being about in what all the saints knew as “God’s first book,” the Book of Nature.
Hiking outdoors is for me a spiritual practice – something I do repeatedly, over time, made meaningful by reflection and connecting me with others who have done the same and with the earth. The desert fathers and mothers sought out the wilderness. John Calvin called creation “the theater of God’s glory.” Many of the great saints were hikers and climbers. The more contemporary literature of walking, from Rousseau and Nietzsche to Thoreau, Muir and Proust, reminds us of a way of living all but lost to us today. Health and heart, body and soul, I know I am at my best when I stay connected to the world God made at the pace God intended.
Being outdoors also has many health benefits. I’ve recently read, for example, that a ninety minute walk in nature can significantly reduce rumination – the negative or obsessive thoughts so many of us experience, which take us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. Walking outdoors can reduce activity in the part of the brain associated with mental illness and is shown to significantly increase creativity and problem solving.
Since this past week was both so beautiful, with unseasonable temperatures in the 60s, as well as school vacation, I took my son out after worship last Sunday for a traipse along the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut. Traipse in a great word for a particular kind of walking. We parked our car beside the Housatonic River (the name means “river of the mountain place” in Mohican) and scrambled hand over hand up St. John’s Ledges and hiked over to Caleb’s Peak with majestic views of the Taconic Mountain range. We followed animal tracks, identified the cries of raptors, and observed various kinds of scat. As we walked we reflected on the Biblical stories behind the names of landscape we were tracing – Caleb the scout who spied out the promised land, and John – and we thought of John the Baptist who baptized in the Jordan River, John the disciple of Jesus who climbed Mt. Tabor and witnessed his transfiguration, and John the writer of Revelation, bearer of the vision of ‘a new heaven and new earth’ that concludes our Bible. We spoke of today’s story of Jesus’ transfiguration, noting that it took place after a day of rigorous mountain climbing which ended with Jesus enjoying the company of Moses and Elijah at the peak’s summit noting both Moses and Elijah themselves were accustomed to ascending and descending mountains in their search for God. And, as we always do, August and I remembered other hikes we have taken together, of lessons we have learned, and people we have met. The great joy of hiking as a spiritual practice means that our day together on the mountain was not just a single event but part of our growing relationship with one another, our world and its maker/creator. We are conscious of being a part of something larger than ourselves.
The holiest of moments (the moment of wholeness, for us) took place on a snow covered forest floor nestled between two ridges where, “the world in solemn stillness lay” below the bright blue sky. We had escaped the busy world, for a while, and could hear not a sound about us. We simply stood, silent ourselves, and content together. When next we spoke, we were ready to head home.
We need practices of self-care that keep us connected to others and that immerse us in this world that God loves so much; practices that bring us regularly to places of health and wholeness and return us to lives of loving our neighbor.
We need the mountain places, both metaphorical and literal, that lift us above our work in the world, if only for a moment, to remind us of the God who watches over us and works through us – who was at work in Jesus and who is now at work in us – so that we may look again at this world and see it as the “theater of God’s Glory.” Second Peter calls this metaphorical mountain place the Majestic Glory of God at work to redeem all creation. Second Peter hopes that the memory of Jesus, the stories of Jesus, will be for us like a lamp shining in a dark place, building us up in hope until the day dawns “when justice is at home” among us and when this light rises “in our hearts.” The language of darkness and rising is the language of death and resurrection. Peter envisions an earthly future for the beloved community similar to the one described in John’s Revelation which we are to “wait for and work to hasten” (3:11), because it will be “in accordance with God’s promise, … ‘for a new heaven and a new earth where justice is at home.’” (3:13)
David Cortes-Fuentes, who serves with his wife Josey Saez-Acevado as a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Cuba, writes
For many people who witness the lack of justice and live as victims of injustice, this declaration [of a new heaven and new earth where justice is at home] summarizes the hope of the letter and their own hope. The current system that perpetuates injustice by destroying natural resources, exploiting people, and putting too many resources in the hands of the few while too many people live in poverty and need, cannot represent the final word of Scripture. This letter’s call to faithfulness and hope is grounded in the certainty that believers will live “where justice is at home.”
The hope expressed here for new heavens and new earth finds its echo in the hope of many immigrants who come to the United States searching for a better life. My own experience as a first generation Puerto Rican helps me understand this hope with a double perspective. First, I am keenly aware that not everyone experiences justice or enjoys the same opportunities to succeed. Second, I hear the message of the gospel as in invitation to continue the struggle for justice, and as an assurance that although there is still much to be done, God’s promise is secure and firm. This hope sustains our struggles and strengthens our solidarity as people of God, waiting and working for a better future.”
But waiting and hoping is not passive. In chapter 3, verse 11, Second Peter asks the question, “what kind of persons ought we to be” while we wait for and work to hasten this day?
I invite you to take a moment and reflect on this question, and then, when I chime the bell, to scoot near a neighbor in your pew or a neighboring pew and share “what kind of persons ought we to be” while we wait for and work to hasten the day of God’s justice?
I left here a time for reflections and sharing. At the end of this time the choir start singing the hymn “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” in harmony, as a way to bring everyone’s attention back. I had intended to have the congregation call out some their responses, but was conscious that we had still to ordain new leaders and that our Mardi Gras luncheon was waiting. Instead, I concluded by praying, “May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O God. Amen.”
 For a fascinating introduction to this far from simple letter, see George Aichele, The Letters of Jude and Second Peter: Paranoia and the Slaves of Christ (Phoenix Guides to the New Testament). (Sheffield Phoenix, 2012).
 See Belden Lane, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice. (Oxford, 2015).
 One of many such books on my shelves is the beautifully written Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin, 2000).
 Think about it. Before fossil fuels, and coal in particular, the fastest any human being moved was that of a running horse, and that not often. Coal, and steam engines, accelerated out lives, shrunk our world, and altered life forever. See Michael Northcott, A Political Theology of Climate Change (Eerdmans, 2013), especially Chapter 2, “Coal, Cosmos and Creation.”
 The NRSV translates this as “where righteousness is at home.” But this is needless religious language that mystifies and (too often) personalized what the New Testament writers are speaking about. Justice is the better translation.
 David Cortés-Fuentes, “Introduction of 2 Peter” in The People’s Bible NRSV (Fortress Press, 2009).