#Reality is the podcast for March 17, 2019, the Second Sunday in Lent. The Transfiguration is a direct challenge to the basis for everything we have ever thought. It is a challenge to reality. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Luke #Luke9 #Descarte #CogitErgoSum #IThinkThereforeIam #PostModernism #Modernism #TheEnlightenment #Lent #Lent2 #Transfiguration #Booths #Peter #Heaven
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a homily for Sunday, 3/17/2019 The 2nd Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 9:28-36.
Who are we and what is our place in the world? The Transfiguration answers that question. [For our protestant listeners, we are following the Catholic lectionary. This reading appeared two weeks ago for you.]
The French Philosopher Rene Descartes published his book Discourse on the Method in 1637. This is nearly two hundred years after the Christian Humanist Erasmus began what many believe to be the beginnings of the Western concentration of existence on reason and science. It was Descartes who crystalized these philosophical shifts into one simple phrase from Discourse and the Method, “cogito ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.”
What Descartes is saying that the only thing that really exists is our thinking. Our reason, our mind, is the only thing that exists. Our being is situated or focused in our ability to think, our consciousness. This means that everyone’s perceptions are just as good as anyone else’s. This means that reality is subjective, meaning depends upon who you ask. It makes perfectly acceptable that people live in their own world and that everyone else has to accept alternative facts because all reality is focused in the human mind. The impact of cogito ergo sum has been immense. Its upside is that we have seen incredible advances in science because we do not accept the status quo. The downside of cogito ergo sum is that the lack of the status quo is the status quo.
This is why if someone decides that today they are something other than what they are, they can just say, “I am this new thing.” Reality is in the perception of the individual. The individual gets to define everything. To this way of thinking, the Transfiguration is a head on challenge.
If we were to interpret this passage through Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, then we would be on Peter’s side. This was an amazing experience. Here he has been invited by the Master, the Prophet, the One he has just confessed as the Son of God, with his fellow disciples James and John, up to the mountain to pray with him. Peter should be complimented that he is in the exclusive group. If we were in Peter’s mind, then the reality is that he is now a leader, with James and John. From Peter’s perception, he sees a common vision with the fellas.
They see Moses, the great law giver. They see Elijah, the great prophet of prophets. Next to them is Jesus. From Peter’s perspective, he thinks, “Wow! Jesus is the equal of Moses and Elijah!” We know this because he wants to build three booths and not one. If he knew who Jesus really was, as he has just confessed, then he would have only built one booth. Elijah and Moses would be with them around Jesus’ new booth. His thinking is understandable.
Peter’s thinking makes perfect sense to the human mind. Peter thinks, “Wow, I experienced this great thing, let’s put them in booths so that we can repeat this experience. Others can come, experience this dazzling white experience and then we can build an entire tourist industry around it. Soon, people will be seeing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in booths in the salt formations under viaducts in Chicago.
Then, the voice comes. The voice from heaven comes and shakes him up. The Father speaks from Heaven to clear up the situation. Jesus, says the Father, is not equal to Moses. Jesus, says the Father, is not equal to Elijah. In fact, says the Father, Jesus is the only begotten son of God. Rather than trying to booth him up and capture the moment to be preserved, listen to him, says the Father!
Think about what is really happening for a moment. You have Moses, Elijah, a white glow, you are up on a mountain where people experience God a lot in the Bible, and there you have the guy who has been healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, driving out demons, and who is getting hated more and more progressively. This, clearly, is an experience of heaven with one who is from heaven, the Son of God. What human is able to contain heaven in a booth?
If we go to the passage just before this passage, we know the Transfiguration is an experience of Heaven, because Jesus told us so. Eight days earlier, says Luke 9:27, Jesus said that some of them who were with him would experience heaven before they died. Here it is. The response of the three who were with Jesus to heaven is what? It is fear. The experience of heaven causes a lot of fear in humans.
Oh, sure, when we talk about heaven being our best desires, our golf games without end, our fishing trips, our large sewing rooms, our endless video games, getting to see loved ones we missed in this life after their death, all of our wants satisfied without suffering, then heaven is OK. I hear this all the time at funerals and when we talk about the dead. Whenever I have given homilies about how heaven is even better than any of those things that we imagine, I get tremendous push back.
“Father, can’t I think of heaven as an endless golf game? Can’t I think of heaven as seeing my grandfather I miss so much?” Well, you can, but then you would be denying this passage. What we are doing when we cannot imagine heaven being so much more than our earthly desires met is no different than Peter wanting to build booths for Moses, Elijah, AND Jesus. It is all about who gets to decide what heaven is like, us or God. Do we get to define reality? Or does God?
It makes perfect sense that we are would reject the notion that God knows heaven better than we do. On the other end of the spectrum, but also rejecting the idea of heaven is Western Philosophy. The Enlightenment, Modern Philosophy, Post Modern Philosophy, all have worked to reject the idea of heaven, or spirituality, or God, because to do so would mean that human thought is not the center of the Universe. The reality of life is not that life is what we say it is from our little spot on a small planet in a large solar system, in a very large galaxy, in a ginormous universe, which is all outside of the living God.
We were born into this universe. We did not make it. We discover truths. We do not invent truth. We live in God’s reality. Jesus Christ is the Son, the same substance as the Father. He came to this earth. Can we accept it? Can we believe what he shows us to be true? Or, is God only as good as when he allows us to create a booth to contain him and visit him when we desire? Is God the god of when I need him? Or, is he the Living God to whom we should listen?
In this season of Lent, when we are so fond of “giving things up”, I challenge us all to give up our cogito ergo sum. I challenge us to accept who God has made us to be. I challenge us to believe that we were born into a world to discover that God has not called himself to fulfill our mission. He is calling to us to lay down our lives and fulfill his mission.
Are you ready to lay down your understanding of life, of heaven, of God and listen to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah? If so, then you have entered reality. Let us, then leave behind the idea of boothing up God and heaven and take up our part in the mission of God to those who are living in the great un-reality. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2019.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian