"Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004
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Getting from Uh-oh to Aha
Epiphany Last C 2004 Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36
(NOTE: The web program does not support some punctuation marks and they have been removed automatically by the program.)
Robert Fulghum is a fellow I have found very interesting over the years. Whenever someone asks him, What do you do? he
usually answers that he is a philosopher. He explains that what he likes to do is think a lot about ordinary things and then
express it in writing or painting or speaking. At various times in his life he has been a working and singing -- cowboy, a
folksinger, an IBM salesman, a parish minister, a bartender, an art teacher -- drawing and painting and father. He and his
wife have also lived on a houseboat in Seattle, Washington. He still lives in that city and has four children and seven grandchildren.
Sixteen million copies of his seven books are in print. We may remember his first two, All I Really Need to Know I Learned
in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things and It was on Fire When I Lay Down on It. Kindergarten had has a lot to
do with how young children learn to love their neighbors. I am attracted to Fulghums writing because he has a way of standing
at an angle to the world and making observations about what he sees in a different sort of way.
This week as I was in the Lancaster Community Library, I checked out his third book: Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both
Sides of the Refrigerator Door.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the Transfiguration, but hang on.
Fulghum has this to say about that oh so ordinary and common term, uh-oh: "Uh-oh is not in any dictionary or thesaurus,
and is seldom seen in written form. Yet Most of us utter that sound every day. And have used it all our lives. Uh-oh, or something
like it, has been used as long as people have existed. And it may be the first thing Adam said to Eve after he bit into the
apple. She knew exactly what he meant, too....
"Across the history of the human family, millions and millions of distinct sounds have come and gone as we continually
reach for ways to communicate with one another. Often the most expressive words we use are not words at all, just those shorthand
sounds that represent complex thoughts grunts and moans and snorts and clicks and whistles compounded by facial expressions
and physical gestures: Uh-huh...no-no...mmmnnn...huh...hey...oops... OK...yo...ah...hah...humpf and an almost endless number
of others whose meaning and spelling cannot be conveyed with letters on paper.
"Uh-oh is way up near the top of the list of small syllables with large meanings....
"Uh-oh is more than a momentary reaction to small problems. "Uh-oh is an attitude a perspective on the universe.
It is part of an equation that summarizesthe conditions of existence:
"uh-oh + uh-huh + oh-wow + oh, God = Ah-hah!" (1)
Ah-hah! Aha! The Aha moment we hear so much about when we are transformed in ways large or small, when we reach a new
height of understanding or realization.
The Aha moment is intensely emotional at least it can be, particularly when it is an Aha moment of the mountain top variety.
But we cant stay on the mountaintop forever. Always we return to the valley below where we live out our lives minute by minute,
hour by hour, day by day, year by year.
Transformation is an interesting phenomenon. Particularly in this crazy season around the Oscars, the Grammies (Robert
Fulghum, interestingly enough, has a Grammie), the Golden Globes. On MSN there was a quiz about John Wayne : What was his
real name before he was transformed into John Wayne? Answer to follow later!
Bishop Johnson of North Carolina observed that the Church calls the mountain top event of our Gospel lesson for today
the Transfiguration of Christ "because Jesus was
"transfigured": the figure, the image, the look that he had, the face that he showed to others was changed over.
The appearance of his face changed. Jesus had a different look.
Bishop Johnson went on to say that "Transfigurations are big business today. I don't know anybody who doesn't
want one, including me. And many of us work hard and spend a lot of money to get one -- a new face, a new look, a changed
"Transfigurations are big business because we are very aware of the face we present to the world. And we will alter
our face to our advantage if we can. Sometimes the change is not just in looks but also in our whole image -- including our
"arushka Shikne did not like the image he thought his name projected, so he changed his name to Laurence Harvey.
Issur Danielovitch Densky did the same thing and became Kirk Douglas.
"In the same way, Frances Gum transfigured herself and her image into Judy Garland. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant.
Aaron Schwalt became Red Buttons.
"And would you have paid money to see Marion Morrison in the movies? Maybe, but Marion didn't take that chance --
he became John Wayne." (2)
This is not just a Hollywood showbiz phenomenon. In the Bible God gave people new names to go with transformed lives,
to complete their transfiguration, as it were, into a new image to present to the world. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became
Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter.
When the Clericus on Tuesday was discussing the lessons for today we asked what we could say about The Transfiguration
that would be different and new and interesting from what had been said every year before. Only our newest priest, six months
out of Seminary seemed shocked by this question. The rest of us sat quietly for a moment thinking it over. Then one of us
who had done this for over three decades said, Well, I have a baptism on Transfiguration Sunday and Im going to weave transfiguration
images from both the Old Testament and Gospel readings into my sermon.
And all of a sudden we well, I at least went from Uh-oh through Oh, wow to Aha!
Of course, Moses with the shining face when he came down from the mountain top to bring the stone tablets to the ancient
Israelites, the stone tablets written in fire by God himself as Moses stood on the holy ground by the burning bush in the
presence of the Holy and Almighty One.
And the shining face of our Lord Jesus Christ himself on the mountain top with Moses and Elijah as Peter, James, and John
watched probably saying Uh-oh to themselves as they watched with fear and trembling this powerful manifestation of the divinity
Think about when we baptize babies: Usually there is a change right before the parents come into the church with their
infant. I leave the details to your imagination and experience.
And the baby is scrubbed to a fresh brightness and put into shining white clothes. And is brought shining to the baptismal
We can see it shining in the faces of the parents and godparents as they face the congregation and make such serious and
binding vows in this holy and most basic sacrament of baptism. It is their child who in some marvelous and mysterious way
is being transformed by water and the power of the Holy Spirit, a transformation so mysterious that it can hardly be understood
but only accepted in faith.
And the grandparents the congregation cant see their glowing and shining faces but I can from down front here. I can see
the bond between grandchild and grandparents growing even as I watch in the moment. All grandparents know what I mean.
And I myself have been especially privileged to baptize two of my own grandchildren and I still feel the special bond
that formed between me and each one of them as I held them after I baptized them.
Every Baptism is a mountaintop experience and an Aha moment for us all. The next time we baptize a child, look for the
light of God shining in all of our faces. And Aha!
1. Robert Fulghum, Uh-Oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door (New York: Villard Books, 1991),
pp, 3-4, 6. Equation order modified. Biographical data from book jacket and robertfulghum.com
2. The Rt Rev Robert Johnson, Episcopal speaker, The Protestant Hour, 14 Feb 1999