These descriptions of encounters with God that we find in the scriptures this weekend: think of just how incredible they are. They read like something we might expect from a fantastical adventure book.
In the first reading from Genesis today we listen to this incredible exchange that Abraham had with God. Speaking back and forth, receiving promises from God, Abraham experiences a deep intimacy with the Lord. As the sun sets, he falls into a trance, and enters into a mysterious darkness as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass between the pieces of the sacrifice he had laid before God.
And then, in our Gospel reading, we have this incredible theophany, or revelation of God in the transfiguration. While Jesus was praying, Peter, James, and John witness his face change in appearance and his clothing become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear with him in glory, and then a cloud descends upon them from which the voice of God speaks to them.
Our readings today emphasize the intimacy that the Triune God desires to have with humanity. He invites each of us us, as he invited Peter, James, and John, into the very depths of his plans for us. He does not hide himself from us, in Christ, God is revealed.
But we hit a snag with this, don’t we? Then why don’t most of us experience God like Abraham, Peter, James, and John? Why don’t we experience him the way that so many saints have experienced his presence in their lives, in such real and tangible ways? Doesn’t our experience in our modern day and age show that God only reveals himself like this, in these kinds of dramatic and intimate ways, with a chosen and privileged few? That the rest of us must be content to be those who are blessed because we believe even though we have not seen? That walking with God, knowing and being known by him, is only for a chosen few?
No. And this is very important, that we refuse to accept this idea that God is content or that it is somehow his plan to be distant from us. We must resist the horrendously low spiritual aspirations of the culture in which we live - these hallmark endorsed vague feelings of God, this superficial sentimentalism that masquerades as genuine faith. So many people think that this is what it is like to know God, that this is as good as it gets: to just feel good about life and about yourself, to be content and to be hopeful about one day being in a better place with him. Wishes and hopes, dreams and aspirations…
To this idea, to this vague, washed out spirituality, Christianity gives a decisive rebuttal. No, that is not as good as it gets. That is not what God wants for us – vague notions of a spiritual nature and the dim hope of heaven.
God wants us to know him, really and truly. He challenges us to know him, to enter into a covenant with him, to be in on his plans, to be involved, to participate in the drama of his redemption. To no just be obliviously floating through life in a bubble of niceties. No – we are called right into the fray, into real spiritual dimensions that are mind boggling. Beyond the limitation and banality that comes from living in a world constructed on our own terms. God invites each of us into his life, a life that is so far beyond us, so immense, so beautiful, so alive that it is overwhelming.
And do we not want this too? Aren’t we made, don’t we long for life that is more than what we can imagine? Life that is more than we want? Life that is beyond our ability to achieve or to even conceive? Divine life, the life that God wants for us, is also the life we have been made for.
So why don’t we have this kind of intimacy with God? Why don’t we enter dark clouds and speak with God? Why aren’t we terrified out of our minds when we approach this altar, overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s love poured out for us?
Because, truth be told, we don’t want him enough. No, we don’t. If we did, we would spend as much time praying as we do watching tv or in idle conversation. If we did, we would give as many hours to the study of his word in the scriptures as we give to study of our careers and hobbies. If we did, we would be known throughout our community by our love for one another and our amazing generosity to the least among us who Christ tells us embody him. If we did, opportunities to deepen prayer and learning about God offered by the parish would be packed and overflowing and the line at the confessional would wrap around the building.
What is limiting our intimacy with God is on our end, not his. He wants each of us, he gives each of us the grace of the sacraments and scriptures to know him like Abraham, like Peter, James, and John.
It’s lent, it’s time for your priest to help you ask some hard questions:
Is God really number one with me?
Is this priority in words only, or also in my everyday decisions?
Do I often reflect that I am only a pilgrim here on earth, here for only a short while – and do I think of my eternity as I ought?
Am I convinced that the closer I am to the Lord in prayer the better I will be for everyone else?
Is my busyness often due to much ado about nothing?
Would I accept my husband or wife of close friend saying to me “I have no time to spend with you, I’m too busy.”?
The Triune God invites, calls to us, reminds us through St. Paul: Our citizenship is in heaven. In the midst of our skeptical and faithless age, we cannot grow faith of heart, we cannot be content with a superficial knowledge of God and his ways, we cannot lower our spiritual aspirations. We are called to ascend the mountain with Peter, James and John, not to settle for the valley. We have been made to witness the glory of the Lord, to know him and be known by him. To see our God face to face.