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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Intelligence Assisting and The Meaning of Life

Luke 9:28-36
I don’t own an iPhone, - a smartphone, yes – but not the Apple iPhone. But I know many people who do have iPhones, and a favorite pass-time among them seems to be to pull out their phones and ask ‘Siri’ all kinds of questions.
In case you’re wondering, “What or who the heck is “Siri?”, ‘Siri’ is a software application or app, which the Apple company, makers of the iPhone, refers to as a “built-in “intelligent assistant.”
This “app,” ‘Siri,’ enables users of the devices on which it is installed, to use voice commands to ask for information and carry out certain tasks.  You can ask ‘Siri’ questions practical, profound, or mundane, and you will receive an answer.
For instance, you can ask ‘Siri’ “will I need an umbrella tomorrow?” And she might say, “There is a 40 percent probability of rain in your area tomorrow,” or, she might answer, “You can forget the umbrella tomorrow. All sun, all day long is forecast for Easton, Maryland.”
Some people I know (you know who you are) like to ask Siri existential, tough, or silly questions, just for the fun of it. For this reason, I know that if you ask Siri a question like, “When will the world end?” one of the responses she might give is, “I don’t know, but maybe we should put bags over our heads or something.” Siri has a sense of humor.
I was reading the blog of a pastor recently, who she wrote that she had inquired several times of Siri, “What is the meaning of life?” and received different answers each time.
“As you can imagine,” she writes, “[Siri’s] answers ranged from the ridiculous to the humorous to the surprisingly profoundly practical. For instance, these are some of the responses Siri gave her to this question:

“Life: a principle or force that is considered to underlie the quality of animate beings. I guess that includes me.”
“And then, contradicting 'herself' [Siri answered]: ‘I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.’

This was my favorite answer to the meaning of life question: ‘All evidence to date suggests it's chocolate.’

She has also advised: ‘I don't know, but I think there's an app for that.’

“Finally, in an entirely practical vein, [Siri] seems to offer advice to give content or texture to life's 'meaning:” ‘Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then. Get some walking in. And try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’

“Perhaps if you ask, you'll get different answers,” the pastor continues. “Either way, it is a universal quest, this trying to make sense of it all.”
Trying to make sense of it all may be a little of what the disciples did on that mountaintop so long ago, as it is what we try to do when we read this beautiful, wonderful, complex, mysterious, and puzzling story. Existential questions like this underlie much of our searching, seeking, and questioning.
What the disciples witnessed at the transfiguration was no doubt surprising, confusing and alarming to them. There had been and would continue to be so many questions for them about how God was answering their own search for meaning. How could they make sense of this wondrous vision they beheld, when Jesus was transfigured – transformed before them, entirely changed, from the clothing he wore to the appearance of his face?
While they were still digesting the sight of the transformed Jesus and what it meant, two men appeared with Jesus, and they talked to him, and then a mysterious cloud descended on them all as the whole vision is swallowed up by the cloud. The disciples clearly heard a voice then, God’s voice, speaking clearly to them out of the cloud, instructing them, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him.” What does this mean?
What are they to make of this whole event? I am not even sure Siri would have an answer to that question.
The text tells us the disciples were sleepy, and it is no wonder that they were exhausted. Consider what has come before this passage, in the 9th chapter of Luke’s writings. Imagine that you were one of those disciples who, within a short bit of time have been commissioned by Jesus and sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God, which you have done all over the Galilean countryside in fact, traveling from village to village and healing people everywhere.
Tired yet exhilarated from your travels, you returned to report to Jesus all that happened on your mission trip. Together you took off for Bethsaida, a quiet little place where you can get some R & R and where you might unpack all that you have experienced and explore what it means for the ministry you are engaged in, but in the end, there is no time for that – because crowds follow you there.
It is the demands and questions and needs of the crowds that Jesus then addressed and where more healing took place until finally, you and your fellow disciples had to prevail on Jesus to send the crowd away, for it is too large, and you are in too remote a place to be able to feed and care for all these people. “C’mon Jesus, give us a break!” Jesus, of course, had other ideas, and with just five loaves and two fish, at Jesus’ command you fed that great crowd, with plenty left over.
After that, as Peter spoke up on behalf of all the disciples and confessed that Jesus is God’s Messiah, Jesus made the prediction that soon he would be rejected, killed, and would rise again; to be his disciple, he said, would mean picking up his cross and following him.
Peter, James and John, along with the other disciples, must not only be exhausted, they must be reeling. How could Jesus die? God can’t die. The messiah is to come to bring victory and vindication – the messiah can’t die!
Then, just a week later, this.
The transfiguration bears witness to the identity of Jesus Christ. The disciples heard the declaration, “Listen to him!” God’s voice pronounces the definitive word about Jesus’ identity in the account of the transfiguration: “This is my Son, my Chosen.” This is God making sense of it all. This journey of Jesus’, this mountaintop experience, the healings and teaching the disciples have been witness to, and what is to come.
This transfiguration episode marks a transition point in the life of Jesus and in the lives of his disciples – including us. This mystical moment, when the curtain of the divine is pulled back and we get a glimpse of something holy, can change the way we see and experience the world around us.
Moses’ presence makes the connection unavoidable; he led the People of Israel on the first exodus. Now Jesus will accomplish a second exodus, leading people safely through the waters of death, even as his own flesh is parted in waves of pain on the cross.
While this talk of exodus and death in the midst of transfiguration may be lost on the disciples, it is not lost on us. Today as we make ready to put aside our alleluias, we acknowledge that the remarkable epiphany of Jesus, the revelation of God with us as the light that marks our way takes a different form.
As Jesus is praying, something remarkable happens to his divine face. As the face of Moses was transfigured on Mount Sinai, Jesus’ own face takes on a luminescence. It shines with the light of glory.
As we mark the end of epiphany, we remember that as Jesus’ authority and divinity have been revealed in varying ways at his birth, in the temple, at the waters of the Jordan, and now on the mountaintop, the revelation is for us. It is for our sake. It is a sign of God’s love that extends itself into a world of hunger, and pain, of searching for meaning, and for existential wandering.
The journey Jesus leads us on is the one true answer for any of our seeking or questioning, hungering and thirsting, struggling and doubting. This is my Son. This is my Son. This is my Son. My chosen. Listen to him!
It is as we listen to him, as we follow his teachings, his example, his life – it is as we take our learning from Jesus and make it a way of life; loving, caring, healing, forgiving, and wrapping all of this in prayer as did Jesus himself (note that in the gospel of Luke Jesus prays a lot – and that this transfiguration occurred as he was praying) – that we ourselves are transformed as children of God and recipients of God’s grace and mercy, into disciples of Christ, whose entire lives have shifted, altered, and been transformed in remarkable ways.
 “Two men” appear miraculously three times in Luke’s gospel accounts: to these disciples at the transfiguration, to the women at the tomb on Easter morning, and again to the men in Galilee on the day of the Ascension of Jesus.

In the words spoken during these three encounters, we discover valuable lessons, for our mountaintop experiences and for the day-to-day lives which can be so exhausting. May the words of Jesus' teachings and the modeling of Jesus’ actions be the ultimate guide for our decision making and our interactions with other people. Listen to him, for in his words lie the secrets to justice among peoples and the peace that passes understanding.
At the resurrection, the two men ask the women, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen." The message for us is, be prepared to be surprised by God. Do not dwell on the things that make for death, but seek the way of Jesus Christ among the hustle and bustle of daily life, and the opportunities for discovering new meaning in life through discipleship.
And on the Day of Ascension, they asked the men of Galilee, "Why do you stand here, looking up?" The same may be asked of us as Jesus bids us to look forward. It does us no good to stand rooted to the ground gazing into the skies. Rather, we need to look one another in the eye and move forward together, across lines of difference, so that the world can be a better place. And in so doing, experience the eternal in the present, the transcendent in the mundane, the mountaintop at the intersection. May it be so for you this day and every day.

Illustrations used by permission,  
iPhone image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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