Think of your front door. Imagine that particular spot in your house where inside meets outside. I don't want you to focus on the door, but on the opening. Here is where you welcome friends, family, pets, and gifts, into your house. Here is also where you turn people away because you don't want to deal with them; Jehovah witnesses, "go away." UPS package, "Oh, I'll sign for that." Here is where you pause to button your coat and decide if you need an umbrella. The most important thing about this space is not the door, but the space. You know, religion is like that.
There is a Taoist saying: “Cut doors and windows for a room. It is the holes that make it useful.”
The same can also be said about a piece of Tupperware. The most important thing about the plastic bowl or the bag that you put your leftovers in, is not the plastic or the how the little seal at the top takes a yellow stripe and a blue stripe and makes a green one. No. It's the fact that the container has enough space for what you want to put in it.
A beautiful vase is made mostly of space. Without the emptiness inside it, a tennis ball won't bounce. We tend to think that religion is about what we do; the songs that we sing, the offerings that we bring, and the words that the preacher says. Religion is really about the meeting space, the doorway, the emptiness, the wilderness, and the mountaintop where people and God meet.
For about two years, or so, Jesus has been doing things with his disciples. He has been busy. We read about his miracles. We try to make sense of what he taught. He's also been training his disciples to be compassionate and preparing his people to come together and form his church. But Jesus knows what lies ahead. He is really at the mid-point of his mission. And at mid-points it is good to pause, take stock, and reconnect with what matters for the journey.
The important things about what happens in 9th chapter of Luke is not how Jesus' appearance is changed. That is the door. Remember, the important thing is the empty space the door passes through.
Next week we begin Lent and our focus shifts for forty days to how Jesus went to Jerusalem and did his work on the cross. That's what lies ahead, once we cross the doorway. Pause in this space. Turn around and look behind you. Back there is Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and Super Bowl Sunday. All those celebrations are like the nick-knacks of our house. Too much clutter, too much junk. We pause for this moment to consider this empty place. We are at the mid-point of our journey with Jesus.
So, Jesus takes three of his disciples up on the mountain in the middle of the night. They looked around. They see nothing but darkness and emptiness. Suddenly, Jesus is transfigured before them. That's an odd word. Transfigured. I only get to say it once a year. What does it mean? It doesn't mean the door. It means the empty space the door swings through. The disciples see Jesus changed. Could it also be that they are really seeing God in him for the first time? Just like you meet strangers at your front door. Jesus has swung aside and for a moment. Then mystery: God, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elijah, you and I, are all meeting in this empty space.
When do we get to experience transfiguration in our lives? I have enough faith to believe it will happen for each of us when we die. Death itself is only a door, the important thing is the space we pass through. I also know that it can happen in the wilderness places of our lives. When we have a sudden loss. When we fail at something, or do something that we are ashamed of. When we have a serious illness. When we lie alone on a bed of affliction. Each of these things are only doors. It is the empty space that makes for religion.