In 2005, my granddaughter Norah was in kindergarten. It’s really hard to believe that she is a high school junior today. We are not sure how she put together the information about the open call for singers, dancers, and ventriloquists for the elementary school Talent Show because she couldn’t read yet, but somehow she had got wind of it. She knew that the music teacher, Mrs. Roebuck, was in charge. Entering the school one morning, she simply announced to the first adult she saw that she needed to talk to Mrs. Roebuck. Apparently, however, Mrs. Roebuck sees by appointment only and so the meeting didn’t happen that day. Even so, in Norah’s mind the thing was a done deal.
She therefore announced it to my daughter that evening as an accomplished fact. My daughter told my son-in-law, and without further fact checking, they considered the matter seriously. One of the many things I admire about my son-in-law is that he has always taken marriage and parenting very seriously and he does not shy away from tough issues. “If she gets up there and decides she doesn’t want to do this, she’s going to have to go through with it anyway. We are not going to get started with her saying she wants to do something and then not doing it after money and time have been spent.” It was at this point that they did begin to wonder, however, exactly what Norah intended to contribute to the occasion. Rebekah and Ford went to Norah’s room to discuss the matter further.
“I hear you’re going to be in the Talent Show,” he began.
“You understand that once you agree to this, you’ve got to go through with it,” he continued sternly.
That seemed to be the sum of the matter for the time being, but later that evening Rebekah went back to Norah’s room. She found her sitting on the bed looking pretty downcast.
Rebekah tried to soothe her. “Are you worried about how to get out of this?”
“No,” Norah answered without looking up. “I’m just trying to decide whether to do jazz or ballet.”
As far as any of us knew, other than having heard these terms, our Norah had no knowledge of how either sport worked!
I remember having that kind of pluck, although not as early as kindergarten. (Norah’s clearly extraordinary.) I remember on my tenth birthday climbing to the top of the oak tree in our yard and declaring to the world: “Today I am ten! I know long division, how to spell mayonnaise, and I can find middle C on the piano!” In the decades that followed, however, that steely confidence faltered.
It seemed the world was determined to throw increasingly more difficult lessons at me to learn than long division, spelling, or simple piano scales. No longer so sure of myself, I preferred to blend into the crowd rather than stand tall. It seemed that the pluck I showed at ten had been dampened by the heartache I’d experienced by twelve.
Courage is one of those virtues that seems to wax and wane in humans throughout the seasons of our lives. As children, we are so anxious to be grown and engage life. But, as older adults, we bemoan how quickly the years fly by, wishing that they would slow, fearful of what lies ahead for us.
Our lessons this morning have some sense of these dual phenomena. The exuberance of the disciples in the Gospel text can hardly be contained. Should they start building permanent structures to mark the spot of these spectral appearances? Perhaps Moses and Elijah might return there if they knew they had a booth! Or, should they race down the mountain to tell the guys who didn’t make the trip, “Oh wow, you are going to be so sorry you didn’t come along today!”
Whereas, in the first lesson, it is an elderly Moses who climbs to the top of Mt. Sinai and sits for six days shrouded in the midst of the glory of God, just sitting there. We have no sense from the text that Moses was anxious for things to get going, no sense that he was rushed to know why God had brought him there or to learn the extent of these additional statutes that will follow the primary legislation of the ten commandments he had earlier received. Perhaps we can appreciate his apparent reluctance when we look at the word for “glory” used here. It is the word that is more frequently translated not as “glory” but as “grievous” “thick” “fearsome” “sore” or “heavy.”
For anyone who has ever experienced profound grief, you know that there are times when it feels suffocating, thick, and grievous – a mood we are not used to associating with God. And, there are times in our lives when we would rather not know what God has in mind about something, fearful that what God wants is going to be hard for us to accept. In either case, it can be a challenge for us just to be present in the midst of God’s thick, fearsome, heaviness.
In the case of Moses, God would use the next seven chapters to describe in detail how to construct the Ark of the Covenant, its trim and trappings, the offerings of the people and the role of the priests. These are the crucial details that will govern the ways in which the people will approach the Almighty, whereas the earlier commandments governed how they would approach each other. Both are so important. So, as with the Gospel event, what happens in the midst of this heaviness is a divine command issued to Moses and to the disciples: “Listen!”
Whereas God talked in great detail to Moses, when Jesus talked to the disciples that day on Mt. Tabor, he spoke briefly but powerfully: “Get up. And do not be afraid.”
“Get up and do not be afraid.”
As things turned out for Norah, there was a minimum grade and age to compete in the Talent Show, and so we never learned whether she had settled on ballet or jazz. She dodged a bullet that time. But, the lesson was learned all the same and before long she would have the opportunity to apply it, especially in situations where others would be counting on her to show up as promised.
Norah and I would both learn that following through is no guarantee of success at reaching every goal. But it succeeds at building the core of what it means to be faithful. And, although with age, our courage to live fearlessly is more tempered than when we were in grade school, we value it more highly than we once did. We know that no one lives forever and that the day will come for each of us when we will need to follow through with the courage of our convictions, and not care whether we dodge the bullet.
This Wednesday we will officially enter the penitential season of the forty days of Lent. And we will receive the smudged ash of the cross on our foreheads, a public symbol that frames our humanity in the context of God’s divine presence in creation, harkening back to the Gen 2 version of the event, returning us to the dusty earth from which the first person was brought forth. It is, not surprisingly, a season frequently marked by extremely weighty encounters with the Holy.
But, I don’t think we have to go looking for an extreme encounter during these forty days and nights. I think that intentionally stopping our scrambling around, in order to listen instead of talk, can open up to us something that has probably been right in front of us for a very long time, waiting for attention. This Lent is our opportunity to stand tall, despite our fears.
We go through Lent as individuals and also together as a community. Moses, with his lisp and shyness had Joshua with him on the mountain. Reckless, fickle, foot-in-his-mouth-Peter had James and John with him. And, Norah knows she has me. Consider during these forty days of listening who stands listening with you, and be grateful for their company. Let’s covenant together that we will not rush to get on the other side of this intentional time or be afraid of getting to the other side of it. Who knows what God has to say to us?
But, sooner or later, Jesus’ compelling commission will bring each of us to the place of no turning back when we hear in our hearts: “Get up. Do not be afraid.”
The Rev. Dr. Park
February 26, 2017