Sunday, February 14, 2010

[sermon] "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

[Sermon for the people of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, preached on February 14, 2010.]

Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9: 28-37

Nothing Gold Can Stay

It's the feast of Saint Valentine, and so I'm going tell you a love story.

The story goes something like this: a young woman, just blossoming, sweet sixteen and never been kissed, radiant with newfound freedoms, becomes, for the necessary moment, a princess. And at the necessary moment, her princess or her prince arrives for her, unveils herself or himself, and the world looks --

inside out.

And the girl's heart is

upside down.

And everything is gold.

An ordinary girl is suddenly beloved, and transformed, illuminated. Her face lights up and her insides are warm, and she is radiant and her ordinary clothes are dazzling white.

Love casts a spell on her, and the ordinary boy who was her best friend is the young wizard who will make her world shake; the loud-mouthed girl who was her lab partner is her knight in armor who will whisk her away on a black steed.

Like all magic, this spell comes with an expiration date.


We were each other's for twenty-four hours, my boy and I.

When the spell broke and he came to his senses (and decided that loving his lesbian best friend from afar was quite different from actually having her), my boy shared this Robert Frost poem with me:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

"Nothing gold can stay."
"Nothing gold can stay."
"Nothing gold can stay."

Since this is Transfiguration Sunday, I'm going to tell you a love story.

It goes something like this: Four dear friends spend all day climbing a mountain together -- mostly in silence, because strong and well-traveled as they are, mountain-climbing isn't easy on them. There are a few close calls when one of them nearly slips and has to quickly grab a friend's hand for rescue. It's good for them to be apart from the crowds, for once, because these days they're always surrounded by people, most of them wanting something. They reach the mountaintop late evening, utterly exhausted, and all of them are ready for sleep, but they've come up here to pray, and one of them is actually going to do it.

So the others keep their eyes open as best they can, because they love their friend and admire their friend and are, as a matter of fact, a little besotted with their friend -- not in a romantic way, of course. It's only that they've given up their lives for this person, have given up family and financial security and the chance of a long lifespan, and one of them has just declared that, in his considered opinion, their friend is the Anointed One of God.

So these sleepy-eyed friends are rewarded with what is, at the time, the most magical moment of their lives (later there will be deeper magic, from before the dawn of time, but that is a story that must wait seven weeks for telling). They see their friend transformed, transfigured. They see the greatest prophets of their faith in living color and realize that their own friend is greater still than these prophets they've revered their whole lives.

At the necessary moment, the veil lifts entirely, and they see their friend transformed and hear God's own voice, announcing, "This is my Child, my Chosen, my Beloved. Listen to this one!"

They are entranced, enchanted, and everything is gold. Their friend, their beloved friend, face glowing and clothes glittering, is the Chosen One of God and they have witnessed this moment. They will never be the same. How could anything be the same ever again?

Like all spells, this one comes with an expiration date.

The next day, they descend the mountain and go among the crowds again, still demanding, still suspicious, still completely, painfully ignorant.

Nothing gold can stay.


So, here's the thing about glitter.

[begin pouring glitter into the glass bowl]

It never goes away.

I worked in a craft store for two years and the thing about glitter is, it never goes away. "Clean-up in the glitter aisle" means sweep and mop and try your best, but there will be glitter in the cracks between tiles and glitter under the shelves and glitter in your hair and under your fingernails and in your apron until Kingdom come.

When I bought seven and a half ounces of glitter last week for use as a sermon illustration, the containers immediately began to leak. Containers may be airtight or watertight, but there's no such thing as a glitter-tight container. You touch glitter, and you will have glitter with you for the rest of your days.

Nothing gold can stay. The shiny fades and the romance wanes and you fall out of love and you come down from the mountain, and you're left with glitter in your hair, a poem, a memory, bewilderment and maybe a little fear, facing the world again after you've seen paradise.

So what do you do with transcendence?

There are moments in our lives when everything is clear and pure and right, when we see the world as it ought to be. We look at loved ones, strangers, enemies, and we see the glowing, dazzling face of Christ. We look at ourselves and know that we are beloved children of God; we look at the work our church is doing and we see the heart of the Gospel in our midst. The chord of music that is God's True Name, the landscape that is God's face, the poem, the painting, the lovemaking, that show signs of God's inbreaking Kingdom.

And then there are the other 525,599 minutes of the year.

There is the mountaintop experience when, with Peter and James and John, we see Christ's transfigured face. And then there's the inevitable descent. We try, with Peter, to remain, to build tents and set up altars and reread love letters and return to the place where we met God, and we find, with Peter, that nothing gold can stay.

We can't return to the mountaintop. We can't go home again. We can't become sixteen again. Once we come down from the mountain, we have no choice but to head towards Jerusalem, to follow the path that's set out for us, to go forward -- because there's no going back. But some dusty day on the road to Jerusalem, Simon Peter runs his hand through his prematurely graying hair and looks at his fingers and sees that they're covered in glitter.

We take mementos with us. We take photographs, we buy souvenirs, we save love letters, we carry wee jars of glitter that is sure to get all over everything, [pass around the bowl with the wee jars of glitter] and we look at photos, nick-knacks, letters, shiny, and remember that we have been transfigured.


changed forever.

Gold goes, but WE stay, and the change stays with us.

It's our nature to forget, of course. It's in our nature to revert to our old ways of acting, our old ways of seeing. We come down from the mountain and see that the world has not changed, and we are tempted to despair. We come down from the euphoria of first love and the agony of heartbreak and swear we'll never love anyone again, and we forget what God's face looks like, forget that we've seen God face to face, forget that we have been named Beloved. Like Peter, we see God face to face, and like Peter, we deny God.

But like Peter, we're forgiven, and like Peter, we are transformed people. We are people who've been baptized with the Holy Spirit, people who've been fed with the Bread of Life, people who've seen God face-to-face, and we can never unsee, never unhear, never untaste, never unknow --

We are God's.

We are chosen.

We are beloved.

We are transformed for a life of service, transfigured for a life of dignity, transmuted for a life of love.

We are fairy-tale princesses, and we are beloved. We are fairy-tale knights, and we have the power to change the world. We are fairy-tale wizards, imbued with the deep magic of God's love. When the mountaintop fades into the distance and is finally no longer even visible on the horizon, when the dazzle dies and even the last shards of glitter have been washed from our bodies, when all the gold is gone --

we will still glow from the inside out.