What You See Is What You Get
Luke 9: 28-42
The year I turned 30 my good friend Molly and I went traveling around Ireland for two weeks. When she’s here to preach next month be sure to ask her about driving a stick shift car on the left side of the road. Let me just say now: every time she attempted to shift gears she rolled the window down instead.
During the trip we spent a couple days in the town of Lisdoonvarna, known for its annual Matchmaking Festival. One evening listening to music in the pub, several of the musicians came over to the bar to chat and we asked them about the festival, which wasn’t for another month or two. These guys told us it was a big deal in the town and brought in a lot of tourists but that quite of few of the folks who showed up to be matched were, as they put it, “past their sell by date.” Sort of takes the old-world charm and romance right out of matchmaking, doesn’t it?
This lovely phrase has been a favorite of ours ever since. It makes me think of day old bread or a house that’s sold “as is.” What you see is what you get.
This past week there has been a lot of chatter about a new book by Lori Gottleib called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. I don’t know if it’s on the radar screen here at UVA but I’ve seen the author on morning shows and in The Washington Post and on several web sites, talking about the book and the backlash she’s gotten for writing it and, particularly, for the word “settle.”
The story is she is 42 and single but would love to be married. And when she looks back on her dating choices in her 20s and 30s she thinks she may have been too picky, as if she had a checklist and she were interviewing potential mates that way. Looking back, she sees that she dismissed many men because they didn’t seem to measure up to her idea of the perfect man and she’s learned way too late that there are no perfect men (or women). So she wrote the book to help folks like you avoid the same pitfalls.
In some ways her book is meant to function as a primer on seeing: how to see what’s right in front of you, how to see past what you thought was important to what really is. What you see is what you get. If you see imperfections and if you see people as beneath you, that’s all they will be to you. But what else might you see?
Don’t worry, I’m not about to claim that Jesus was past his sell by date or that he wanted us to settle in life.
But there might be something in the story about seeing.
It’s the day in the Christian calendar we call Transfiguration Sunday, named for the story we read tonight from Luke’s gospel. For most Protestants it’s always the last Sunday before Lent begins, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. And on this Sunday we catch a shining, blazing glimpse of Jesus right before we walk the long dusty road through the desert of Lent. In some ways it’s the vision we can carry with us to sustain us during the temptations of the wilderness.
Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples – Peter, James, and John – high up on a mountain and undergoes a sort of metamorphoses. Right before their eyes his appearance changes, his face begins to shine like the sun, and his clothes turn a bright, dazzling, impossible white. As if that weren’t enough, suddenly Moses and Elijah appear and start talking with Jesus. Never mind that, as my friend Jason points out, this was in the time before photographs: the disciples recognize the key players immediately.
In fact, Peter recognizes that there is a certain significance to this event and quickly pipes up with an idea for capturing the moment. Right over top of the conversation Jesus and the prophets are having, Peter says This is a great place to be. I can make three huts, one for each of you. Before Jesus or the prophets have a chance to respond, God intervenes.
A brightly-lit cloud overshadows the mountaintop scene and God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9: 35). After that, the disciples look up at Jesus and suddenly he looks normal again; Moses and Elijah are gone.
The next day down off the mountain a man whose son is seized by an unclean spirit asks Jesus for help. He says, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not” (9: 20). And Jesus immediately loses his temper. He says to the disciples – including Peter, James, and John who’d been with him on the mountain – “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (9: 41).
To put it mildly, Jesus seems annoyed that they weren’t able to heal this boy. It’s almost as if he expected them to change on the mountain, too (www.gbod/worship ).
The last words of this encounter stand out for me: “But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father” (9: 42). Isn’t that what we are all striving for? To give ourselves back to our Father? Isn’t this what the journey of faith leads us closer and closer to, with each worship service, each work of justice, each prayer, each time we avoid the temptations that plague us, each time we choose love? Isn’t it all so that we can finally stop giving ourselves away to what doesn’t matter and instead give ourselves entirely over to God?
Jan Richardson will be here leading a retreat day next Saturday and preaching at both worship services on Sunday. (There’s still time to sign up for the retreat day so let me know if you are interested.) As I’ve mentioned before, part of Jan’s ministry is a blog she writes throughout the year meditating on the lectionary readings each week. In this week’s post she described her creative process as she does collage work. Listen to what she describes (www.thepaintedprayerbook.com , 2/7/10):
Along the way, what I keep working and hoping to do is to give myself to the mysteries involved in the process of making: to pay attention to what emerges among the papers and to follow where they lead; to keep clearing out a space within myself that leaves enough room for something new to show up; and to avoid growing so attached to a particular style or technique that it becomes overworked and ossified.
I can only assume that’s a good description of collage art. But I know it’s a good description of life with God. Paying attention to what emerges. Following where that leads. Clearing space within for new things to enter.
And the last one: Avoiding the temptation to think there is only one technique or style – only one way – that will get you there.
It’s a good description for this trip down the mountain and over the threshold into the season of Lent. It’s tempting to hold so tight to the vision that we can’t see the subsequent revelations. It’s tempting to respond like Peter, wanting to build something permanent to mark the spot so we can keep coming back to it rather than following the flesh and blood Jesus on to the next healing.
The vision is dazzling, arresting, beautiful. It’s moments like that that we remember. We can chart a course based on this sight. But it’s just a moment and the cloud disappears and the prophets, too. And it’s just you and Jesus again. Another beautiful, breathtaking site, but different, more everyday.
We can see how tempting it would have been for Peter to start building on the spot. We can understand him wanting to stay there. Look how glorious Jesus looks – and can you hear God in that cloud? It’s understandable, but it wasn’t his calling.
It’s not ours either.
What you see is what you get. Do you want the Jesus of one glorious moment in time? Or do you want the one you have to follow? On to the next town, the next one in need of healing? Do you want to look at a hut forever or do you want to follow the one who can give you back to your Father?
Thanks be to God!
© 2010 Deborah E. Lewis