One of my all-time favorite movies is Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a man named Phil, a TV weatherman who finds himself in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania covering that yearly tradition of the local groundhog coming out of his den to forecast whether winter will end or last for 6 more weeks. For Phil, this whole assignment is beneath him- it doesn’t do justice to his talents or his stature as far as he’s concerned, so he’s very upset when a major snowstorm hits and he, his producer and cameraman are all trapped in this little town.
Phil has a miserable day and a miserable time and it only gets worse when he wakes up in the morning to find that it’s Groundhog Day AGAIN. And then again. And then again. He’s trapped! He just keeps living this horrible day over and over again. It’s really funny to watch as he begins to take advantage of the fact that there are no consequences to his actions and so he does a lot of really outrageous stuff. He tires of that meaninglessness eventually though and figures that to get out of this day, he has to learn how to get everything right. And so you watch as he eventually executes the day perfectly but much to his dismay- he’s still trapped in the same, awful day.
The thing is that Phil has faked it. He’s gotten all of the outer appearances right, but he hasn’t really learned anything. It isn’t until he realizes that he has to change from the inside out that he is set free to live a new day, and ultimately a new life.
And of course it turns out that this was the point from the beginning. Phil has to let himself be transformed.
You know in some ways, this isn’t too different from our own lives. We don’t necessarily relive the same literal day over and over again- but we might find ourselves feeling a little trapped or a little stuck at times. Maybe we feel like we relive the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe we’re stuck in a job or a vocation that we don’t find fulfilling. Or maybe it’s a more general sense that we’re not living our lives as fully as we had once hoped or as we had once dreamed.
And we may try to fake our way through it by pretending that everything’s okay or we might make little surface changes to our routines. But the truth is, we won’t really be set free to live a new day and ultimately a new life until we let ourselves be transformed from the inside out.
In the church calendar we are fast approaching Lent, and it seems to me that one of the purposes of these 40 days is to experience that transformation and to learn to live from the inside out. This can be an uphill battle when a lot of our world encourages us to do just the opposite, to live from the outside- in. Want to be successful? You don’t necessarily have to love what you do, you just have to earn a lot of money! Want to be beautiful? It’s not about your character, it’s about how you look and what you wear.
That becomes shallow and meaningless very quickly, doesn’t it?
It’s traditional during Lent to give something up or to take on something new- like a spiritual book study or daily prayer if you’re not already engaged in that. And these are good practices. As I mentioned to the Pilgrim’s Path class this past week- 40 days is a long time, and if you commit to something for that length of time, you can’t help but be transformed by the experience. The point though is not ultimately about taking on a new discipline, as worthy as that is. The point of Lent is to have an encounter and to deepen our relationship with Jesus.
Because it’s when we have an encounter with Christ that we are set free and we are transformed. Friends, this is not a magic act- and it’s not an attempt to make us into something or someone who we are not. When we are transformed by Christ & in Christ- we are made into our truest selves.
A couple of months into my first semester of seminary we came to fall reading week. Now the faculty and administration were very adamant that this was in fact reading week, and not fall break, and that they would expect us to be in our studies and at the library reading, and not traveling to visit family and friends or go on vacation. So like a dutiful student I of course went back to Tallahassee to visit friends. I should mention that when I left Tallahassee to go to seminary, I had always thought in the back of my mind somewhere, that if this little experiment didn’t work out I could always go back to Tallahassee, back to my job, back to my friends and back to the life that I knew before. But on that first trip back as I made the rounds and visited my friends, all my old stomping grounds, and even my old office- it became abundantly clear to me that I could NOT go back. And it wasn’t that anything was wrong, but I had changed. I wouldn’t have said it or even recognized it then- but I know now that I was being transformed.
Michaelangelo was once asked about his statues and the art of sculpture, and he answered that the statue was already in the marble, and that he was just setting it free. It’s the same with us. We are the marble…Christ is the artist, the sculptor who sets us free to be who we were born to be.
All that we are and can be is already inside of us. All we have to do is open ourselves up to the transformation, the freedom that is naturally found when we follow Jesus. All we have to do is to take the examples of Peter, James and John in our Gospel this morning. And that doesn’t mean we have to have an extraordinary religious experience, either. For all that happened up on that mountain at what we now call the transfiguration, it comes down to something very simple. The disciples had an encounter with the divine. For their part: they showed up and were attentive to what was happening in their midst; and when they went down that mountain into the everydayness of their lives, they did their best to learn and practice the teachings of Jesus.
Well we can all do that.
Show up- and I’m speaking not only about attendance at worship, although it is important to be part of a Christian community. But be present in the moment. Sometimes we’re so worried about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, we miss what’s going on right in front of us.
Be attentive- to where God is in your world and in your lives. I truly think that God tries to reveal himself to us more often than we realize, because a lot of times we’re just not aware enough to recognize it.
Do our best to learn and practice the teachings of Jesus in the everydayness of our lives. Whether that’s in our job, our school or in our families.
Over the next 40-something days, my hope is that you’ll accept the invitation given to us by Jesus. It is an invitation to new disciplines and new prayers or new fasts- all of that, for sure. But more importantly it is an invitation to transformation, and an invitation to live more fully the life that you were always intended to live. This is what it means to walk these 40 days with Christ.
When we walk with Christ we are set free to live a new day and a new life.