Thin Places, a Sermon by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., February 11, 2018

This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January February 11th, Transfiguration Sunday.  The readings and Psalm were: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9 .

Thin Places

What does a pastor offer on this day named “Transfiguration?” What do I offer you today in this moment in time when we journey from the last and fading joyful voices, festivities and wonder of birth at Christmas, New Year and Epiphany and begin crossing this 72 hour threshold to Shrove or Pancake Tuesday into Ash Wednesday and Lent? What indeed?

I have crafted sermons for this day, here and there, for 40 + years. I knew, each and every time, that I was close (and a time or two or three not even near) to the power, message and meaning of this day.

Then a requested e-mail arrived Thursday evening…an e-mail born out of a casual conversation at that day’s meeting of The Pastoral Care Team. Bless you Liese for our moment of serendipity…a moment of coincidence. Serendipity and coincidence I have come to believe is God making needed and wonderful mischief in our lives.

Liese’s e-mail turned me toward a person I wish I had met years and years ago: Jan Richardson is a pastor of The United Methodist Church; an author and a visual artist…and an artist with words. She is a woman who’s heart was broken by the death of her husband only 4 years into their marriage. She has opened my eyes, brain and heart to the realization that Transfiguration is poetry, not prose. It is visual art and not words.

Today is a about dazzlement. Today is about glory.

Today is about amazement.

Today is about wonder.

Today is about awe.

Today is about “There are no words…there are no words.”

Today is akin to The Annunciation…angel telling Mary she will have a baby. Amazement and wonder.

Today is first cousin to Easter, and Christmas, and the last Sunday of the Church year…the reign of Christ Sunday. Awe and majesty.

Today is like turning the corner in the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy and gazing down the long hall and seeing and then being captured by Michelangelo’s carved in marble David…“The David.” I mean captured! He beckons me to come close. At 17 feet he towers over me. It seems wrong to take a picture. The muscles, the veins, the magnificence. I want to stay.

Today is like June of 2009. Doris and I are sitting in The Castle Church in Lutherstadt, Wittenberg, Germany, listening to the music of it’s great pipe organ, the trumpet, the soloist offering us the wedding music repertoire from which couples choose for their weddings: Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air; Bach’s Wachet Auf; Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark March; Vierne’s Carillon; Dvorak’s Gott ist mein Hirte; and more and more…concluding with the 6 minute 30 second Toccata by Widor. We are transfixed. We are transported. We want to hear it all again and again. And we do with a CD identical to the concert…always defying time…returning to the Schlosskirche where Martin Luther is entombed.

Today is like November of 1992 when our daughter, Kathy, and I camped on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. She had never seen the canyon. We walked to its edge on this cool night. The sky was clear and the moon full. We sat there speechless for a long time as the colors could be seen by the light of the moon.

Today is like going down Route 5 to St. Gauden’s Historical Site and sitting before the bronze relief sculpture of the Massachusett’s 54th Regiment…the 11 by 14 foot tribute to this all black regiment of the Civil War. And the emotions and tears come as it tells so many stories and touches my heart.

Today is coming here for The Easter Vigil that begins in spareness, darkness and solemnity. After a worship time in the fellowship area we re-enter this space to the bright light and fragrances and the songs of resurrection.

Today is Christian in the Celtic tradition. With great awe we enter into what the Celts describe as “The Thin Place.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. The poet Sharlande Sledge offers this description of the thin place:

“Thin places,” The Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side. God shaped space. Holy.

The Thin Place is the mountain of Transfiguration……where the glory of God intersects with Jesus, Peter, James and John. The cloud overshadows (that is, protects and blesses them) and that same word was used only one other time in the Gospels…when Gabriel tells Mary of the child to be born of her. “…the power of the most high will overshadow you.”

Thin places are most often associated with wild landscapes…coast of Maine; the Shetland Islands; the island of Iona. For me that Thin Place also came at The David; in Wittenberg; at the Gran Canyon under the full moon; being in awe of Augustus St. Gauden’s work; and being present at the Easter Vigil. There are no words…or only, “It is good, Lord, to be here.”

Today is about knowing that we need to have moments of transfiguring awe. The story of the Transfiguration is about opening our eyes to glory, allowing that glory to alter us, and become willing to walk where it leads us.

The story urges us to trust what we have seen and heard will go with us and transfigure us. It assures us that the gifts that we receive on our mountaintops will continue to illuminate us not only on level ground…also on those unmarked and unexpected rocky, hilly and dark moments of feeling lost. We have seen a dazzling Jesus; have met Elijah and Moses; have heard God’s voice… “this is my Son…listen to him.”  We descend from the Thin Place…with Jesus.

A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday
Believe me, I know
how tempting it is
to remain inside this blessing,
to linger where everything
is dazzling
and clear.

We could build walls
around this blessing,
put a roof over it.
We could bring in
a table, chairs,
have the most amazing meals.
We could make a home.
We could stay.

But this blessing
is built for leaving.
This blessing
is made for coming down
the mountain.

This blessing
wants to be in motion,
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.
It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It simply knows
how to bide its time,
to watch and wait,
to discern and pray.

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all that it has seen,
when it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.

-Jan Richardson.


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