A few years ago I was at the University of North Carolina doing an event and a young man came to me after it was over and presented me with his dilemma. He told me that he was struggling with his faith. He told me he was a med student and was taking an astrology class as an elective. He said that they had recently studied that scientist had found a dark spot in the Milky Way Galaxy and they used the Hubble telescope to look through that spot and found millions of more galaxies. He asked me how could there be a God of all of that? I gave him my honest answer: I don’t know!
I asked him what was most important in his life. He told me his family was most important. I then told him that the two things you can’t prove in a court of law are the existence of God and the existence of love. I told him that what he told me was most important he actually is not able to prove in a court of law. So I told him that since we know love exists, because we can feel it, and God is love according to John’s letters, then maybe he could start rebuilding his faith with this truth. He smiled and said that was a good point.
The first step is to believe. And even though it’s hard to believe in what you can’t actually fathom, the next step is harder. Trusting in what you believe, especially when it is uncomfortable. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans: that if God is for us who can be against? He told them this so that they could not only just believe but also trust that God was with them. But when things go bad, when life gets tough, when there is unjust suffering, how is God for us? When 17 innocent people get murdered in Florida how is God for us? It’s hard to trust when life becomes difficult and suffering enters in. We look for signs that there is a God. We long for answers to the question of why is this happening to me.
In the first reading today we hear how Abraham trusted that God had a plan even when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. I can hear Abraham asking: St Paul: how is God for me? God is asking him to kill everything that has been promised to him? And yet he does what is asked because he believed so much that God was with him that he trusted in what God was asking of him, even if it was out of his comfort zone. Abraham listened to what God asked of him and became a sign to others of his time that God doesn’t want human sacrifice, but wants our faithfulness to trust and believe that God is for us and loves us and invites us into a relationship. When we have this kind of faith, then nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Today the Gospel is about the transfiguration. The line that strikes me is what the voice of God says to the apostles: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
What does Jesus say that they are commanded to listen to? First off he tells them they can’t stay in this moment of bliss. He tells them it’s time too get up and go down the mountain to do the work where actions out weigh words. I can hear the apostles groan here a little like my kids when I have to drag them to church or to do something they don’t’ want to do: “Do we have to?” All of Jesus’ miracles are signs to us that God is for us. All the healing, and mercy and forgiveness and compassion reveal to us that God is for us and in the end, all will be healed and all sadness will be wiped away. The apostles present were instructed to listen, but they had a choice to believe and trust and follow Jesus. They could have said, no this is to hard. But all of their experience with Jesus led them to stay the course. They were instructed not to tell anyone what they had witnessed until he rose from the dead. They couldn’t understand what that meant until they encountered Jesus risen and then they completely trusted to the point of offering their own lives to God as they did what they were instructed to do and spread the Gospel that God is present and calls us to trust that God’s love and mercy is beyond our understanding and everyone can know that God is for us.
Sometimes it seems God is asking me to do difficult things. Maybe it’s with asking for forgiveness or being more merciful or compassionate to someone who gets on my last nerve. Maybe it’s letting go of relationships that are not life giving. For me I’ve come to see there are two choices in life: faith or despair. If I look at the truth the world offers: stuff will make me happy, the more stuff I have, such as money or material things, defines success or will take away my pain. But those of us who have walked that road know this is not true because things don’t ease our suffering, and without faith the other option is despair.
But Jesus offers us the gift of faith. When we can begin to have full, active and conscious participation in life and see the examples of those like Abraham, the apostles, the saints, who trusted and believed that God was for them, then we can perhaps give faith a chance and choose to trust that God is present to us in word and deed. God is revealed to us through signs and present to us in the Sacraments that are gifts to unite us with God. When we begin to trust and believe we become transfigured which means changed into living signs and called to listen to Him. Where does Jesus lead us? Out into the world to those who are suffering to let them know they are God’s beloved ones. We are called to embrace them and tell them Jesus is our Lord King and they to can be transfigured from their sorrow into joy if they listen to him.
This past week I met a man who was friends with Eugene Cernan. Gene was the last man to walk on the moon. This man, whose name was Paul, told me that he and Gene were in Elgin Illinois visiting a school where Gene was going to talk about what it was like to be on the moon. On their way back to the airport, Gene asked Paul if they could stop by and visit the grave of his parents. Paul of course obliged him. They searched through the graveyard he said and they finally found his parents. After a moment of silence, Paul asked him if he believed in God. Since he was a scientist and had seen so much that could it have caused doubt like it did in the young man from UNC. He told Paul that when he was on the moon, he took his thumb and put it up by his helmet and he could blot out the earth with his thumb and what he saw was the vastness of the universe and how it was black and as dark as could be. He said it left him with such awe and wonder, that it renewed his faith that there definitely was God. With all of these witnesses of faith in our history and present, will you give faith a chance and not only believe in God, but listen to him?