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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

February 7, 2016 (Transfiguration Sunday)

Luke 9:28-36


When I was a girl, growing up in southwestern New Hampshire, one of the highlights of each summer was attending the Gilsum Rock Swap. Gilsum, a town of 800 people, has been hosting this annual event for more than half a century, and it draws dozens of vendors from across the country to a rutted field behind the local elementary school.

On one side of the field are the traders, where serious rock hounds can bring their treasures to swap with one another. They have trays and boxes of specimens, labeled with their composition, the location and date of their collection, data about their weight and size and purity and other details that only a true geologist or mineralogist or gemologist or spelunker would understand or appreciate. Some of them take their trade very seriously; only others with similar focus and dedication are welcome at those tents. Others, a bit more lighthearted, set out a children’s table with a tray of interesting but not terribly valuable stones, which they swap gladly with kids like me who turn up with a bucket full of rocks dug from the playground, or the driveway, or the local creek, or the side of the road.

On the other side of the field are the sellers, where the less personally invested visitors can go to find jewelry, lamp bases, clocks, kitchenware, loose gems, and just about anything else you can think of that could possibly be made out of stone. I loved to admire the black onyx, the blue-green turquoise, the silvery hematite, the red garnet, the glassy obsidian, the purple amethyst, the pearly, iridescent opal—not to mention the multicolored, fascinatingly-patterned agate and tiger’s eye and leopardskin jasper. I would run my fingers across those smooth, polished surfaces and turn them every which way in the light. And once in a while, if I was lucky, my parents would allow my brother and me ten dollars each to spend as we chose, and I would get to bring some of these amazingly cool items home with me.

But my favorite displays were not the jewelry, not the bowls or cheese boards, not the marbles or animal figurines, not the petrified wood or fossilized dinosaur dung, not even the swap trays where I could trade my drab side-of-the-road rocks for sparkly mica or pure-white quartz. My very favorite rocks to look at were the geodes.

A geode, in case you forgot to study your geology book this morning, is a stone that looks perfectly ordinary on the outside and completely extraordinary on the inside. You don’t know until you crack it open that it is filled, not with more of the same gray-brown limestone, but with jagged, pointy, sparkling crystals. They might be pink rose quartz or purple amethyst or clear rock crystal or multicolored chalcedony, but no matter what color or kind they are, they are always striking. At the Gilsum Rock Swap, you could see geodes as small as a marble or as large as a bowling ball—sometimes even larger. What I loved most was the surprise of it, the way that something that looked boring and plain on the exterior could be so incredibly beautiful on the interior.


I don’t know how much Jesus and his followers knew about geology or mineralogy or gemology or spelunking. I don’t know whether they had ever seen a geode. But I think they would get the idea, because I think that’s what today’s scripture story is all about.

It’s known as the Transfiguration, and it comes around in the lectionary every year on the last Sunday before Lent begins. All three synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—include their own versions of the story, so you know it must be important. Jesus and some of his followers, Peter and James and John, go up a mountain to pray. And while they are there, Jesus is transformed, transfigured. His appearance changes from his usual complexion to a shining, shimmering, radiant countenance that beams forth so brightly that those sleepy disciples cannot miss it. And a cloud overshadows them, and a voice—presumably the voice of God—speaks to them and proclaims again the identity of this man Jesus, God’s Son, God’s Chosen, the One to whom we should listen.

Many sermons on this text go like this. Peter and James and John had this amazing spiritual experience up there on the mountain. They discovered something new about Jesus. They felt close to God. But they weren’t supposed to stay there goggling. They were supposed to get up and go back down from the mountain and get to the work of discipleship.

But I wonder if this story isn’t really about a rarified experience that can only occur at a Holy Place. I wonder if this is a story that reminds us that our lives of faith are like geodes, that those shining, shimmering moments are right there within us all the time, if only we are paying attention enough to notice.

I wonder if this is not a story about transformation, about becoming different from what we already are, but rather a story about revelation, about the revealing of our true selves, our true identities. What if that shining, shimmering, radiant countenance is always there, but it is obscured most of the time by the accumulated dust of culture and history and politics? What if it is right there for all to see, but we disciples’ eyes—and maybe Jesus’ own eyes, too—are clouded by expectations and skepticism and baggage? What if Jesus was not painted over to appear shining white for a moment, but rather cracked open to reveal the sparkling crystals inside? What if Jesus was like a geode? And what if we are, too?

In the coming Lenten season, we will be considering together all the things that get in the way of our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with God. We will be considering the ways and means and moments when God shows up unmistakably in the midst of our drab, ordinary lives. We will be looking together beneath the accumulated layers of dust that cloud our vision and obscure the shining truth of who God is and who we are. We will be seeking to crack open those apparently-boring exteriors to reveal more of the beauty that dwells within.

Because the truth of this story is that Jesus is like a geode, shimmering and shining with light and love, if only we have eyes to see it.

And the truth of our faith is that we, too, can be radiant with the glory of God, if only we let that light shine. So, my fellow geologists and mineralogists and gemologists and spelunkers and geodes, prepare to be amazed by the beauty we will discover at our Lenten rock swap together.


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