Transfiguration Sunday


17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 17:3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 17:4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 17:8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

O God, who before the passion, revealed your glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of your countenance, may be strengthened to bear our burdens, endeavor towards the reconciliation of all creation, and be changed into your likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh Lord, our rock, and our redeemer.

As we gather together on this, the last Sunday before Lent, on this, transfiguration Sunday, with spring but merely one month away…I cannot help but notice the few sparing minutes of daylight we are starting to get back each evening… As a newcomer to Nebraska, I was warned about the weather… But, truthfully adjusting to the weather in Omaha has been fantastic…If I don’t like it… I just wait a couple hours and surely it will change.

Nevertheless, this time, this season, this last stretch just before spring draws its long awaited first breath; as the cold of winter begins to loosen its grip, as we begin to journey together again through lent, and onward towards Easter, onwards towards our Paschaltide, and in particular today, transfiguration Sunday, a day in which we hear a gospel story full of not merely the miraculous event of the transfiguration of Christ, but also a story full of subtle expectations, old habits, and new revelations…

See, let us be clear, it is no coincidence that as we close our epiphany season, and look squarely into the eyes of lent, that we hear of the transfiguration as we are able to witness and see the literal transfiguration of our world, of nature, which we are charged to be stewards of, transforming and re-imagining itself around us.

It is no coincidence that as we begin to re-imagine our own lives, our own daily activities, our comings and goings that will subtly change with the weather that we hear of the re-imagining of our Lord…

For while an oft overlooked, or even worse yet oft misused text, our Gospel this morning cuts acutely to the heart of what part of being a person of Faith truly is… Our gospel narrative this morning, while not laden with the devotional acts and examples of what it means to viscerally live out our call, nonetheless, speaks directly to the ephemeral nature of our own lives, and the spiritual attributes of living a life of love, living a life dedicated to the grace, mercy, and healing inclusivity we find through the acts of our Lord. See family, our gospel this morning is speaking to us about the re-imagining of ourselves, our space, our community, our habits, our preconceived notions… Our vision. Our life, both individually and corporately.

I was young once… Now I know, some of you may laugh at that statement, but nevertheless, I say again, I was young once… And as a young soul I set out to see the world, endeavor alone in some brave new horizon… And I ended up finding myself in Tibet, and then eventually in the Zhongdian Monastery in northern Yunnan Province in China, outside a little village called Deqen, that sits at the base of the Himalayas… I was there working in an orphanage by day and spending my evenings/nights living in the monastery. It was there after a few weeks of living on dirt floors wrapped in yak blankets by night, and spending evening devotions in silence, that over a lunch at the orphanage I turned to one of the monks that I had taken a friendship with and said, “You know… I see a lot of Christ in you, in your work at the orphanage, in your dedication to feeding the needy of this community, in the rigor of your devotion…”

And with a deep sigh, and a polite, but downturned smile, he looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you my friend… But I wish you would see a lot of me in me…”

Now I could stand before you this morning and tell you stories of sunsets over those intrepid mountains, of days spent on the open steeps that press up against those majestic peaks herding yaks with locals, or of nights spent with families whom I became a part of yet whom I will assuredly never see again in this realm.

But my point here, and more importantly the point of our gospel this morning is to see that in that moment, in that fleeting exchange of understanding, in my own ignorance and projection and the humbly rebutted education, I came face to face with what it meant to begin to re-imagine my own faith, my own understanding of how I see not only God, but creation, and all peoples within it.

And this is our call this morning. This is our decree… To live a life, to be committed to a faith that re-imagines, that transfigures, stoic and oppressive held notions of what is, and what is to be.

This re-imagining, this transfiguration, which our Gospel is calling us to live into, is the re-imagining of faith that learns, that understands, that all loved by god, not only some elect and chosen few… This is the transfiguration that calls us to see not only the importance, but the magnitude and significance of welcoming the stranger in our midst. This is the re-imagining that allows us to see God in the margins of our society. This is the re-imagining that calls us to a revolutionary leadership, modeled after Christ, and lived out by us all. A leadership that, as Paolo Feire wrote, “Must bring us to realize that we are not merely fighting for a freedom from hunger, but for a freedom to create and construct, a freedom to wonder and to venture. A freedom that requires the individual to be active and responsible,” not a slave or well fed cog in the machine that pre-subscribes and pre-ordains archaic, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, and hetero-normative narratives.”

See family, this is the depth of this day, this is the call of our faith, this is the power of Transfiguration Sunday, this is the power that each of you in this space here today share in and are called to live into.

Wolfhart Pannenburg, interestingly enough, reminds us that hopes are seldom fulfilled in the way in which they were originally imagined… And our gospel narrative this morning speaks to us of this reality… We hear of Peter, in more than just an act of hospitality, but an act of standard practice, in an act of taught habit, in an act of culture and repetition ask if he should set up three tents for all who were present on the mountain… This was the way it had always been, the way he had learned to operate… And through the transfiguration of Christ, through the re-imagining of the way things have been done, the way things have always been done before, that request to set up three tents was met with a new and profoundly re-imagined way to go about being… No tents would be set up… The way it had always been done was to be re-thought, re-understood, was to be transfigured…

And as our nation continues to burn coal to keep the lights on, drink from the well of corporate greed and from the spout of quick drilled oil and fracked plains… We this morning, now perhaps more than ever, are faced with the question, “Shall we continue to breathe the plague of loving things, of loving the way things have always been, of loving complacency, of loving stoic methodology, of loving things, of loving the visceral and ephemeral passing nuances of life, more than loving each other, loving our creator, loving the transfiguration, loving the re-imagining of ourselves, our faith, our hope?

In the words of a poet more eloquent than I,

I run to the rock, please hide me all on these days, but the rock cried out… I can’t hide you.
I ran to the river, but the river was bleeding,
I ran to the ocean, but it was boiling…
So I run to the Lord, please hide me Lord, don’t you see me down here praying…
But the Lord said, go to the devil…
So I ran to the devil, and he was waiting…
And I cried… Power. Power. Power Lord.
(Nina Simone // Les Baxter)

We face a very real and very powerful call this morning, our gospel brings us into a space of not only renewal, but also commitment, challenge, and even hope. Hope that we may find a new way to be stewards of the gift of creation… Challenge that we may strengthen our own hearts and our own minds, and love a little harder, open wider the arms of acceptance, make way the door of inclusivity… Commitment that we may not become stale and stagnant in our ways, that we may see the re-imagining of life, the transfiguration of faith and call and commitment on this day… As the season changes, so too must our vision…

Let me close by reminding us of this… We must be clear, that while this day and this connection we have in particular on transfiguration Sunday is unique and special… The reality of re-imagining how we love, the reality of God showing us the power of transfiguration is not new or exclusive to this text we heard this morning… No indeed transfiguration is repeated time and time again throughout our Cannon, both in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Testament. Transfiguration is a thread of love woven so tightly within the fabric of our faith that to tease it out would be folly.

See it is true our Scripture, and Deuteronomy 23 to be precise, speaks to us about the bad Moabites… But then comes along the story of Ruth… The Moabite… To challenge the previously held notions of who was in and who was out… See it is true we have heard before that people from Uz were evil folk… Specifically in Jeremiah 25, yet then a man from Uz, by the name of Job, comes to be known as the most blameless man on earth… It is to be understood Samaritans were hated folk in the chosen land… Samaritans were taking the jobs of the chosen and moving into their communities unwanted… But then our own Lord, Christ’s very self, speaks to us about the Good Samaritan… See family, the story, and particularly let us be clear the story of our own nation, our own faith, may have started out mired in human prejudice, discrimination, and animosity… But when we open our hearts to the divine transfigurative power of the Love of God, when we allow the spirit to move within us, we come to see how prejudice can be transformed into openness, how fear can transform into inclusion, how disregard can become acceptance, how placid denial of particular people, and particular ways of loving, can become not only acceptance, but affirmation. It is then, when we have allowed the divine transfigurative love of God to enter our lives, which we have truly lived into the spiritual power of our faith…

So… As we re-imagine the old ways of being, and see the new and lit path of love offered by our Lord for all peoples, a love that has no fine print, no expiration date, and only one requirement… That we here will take this love that we have been given, this opportunity for re-imagining our life, and go forward from this day, and forevermore, with the will of Christ upon our hearts, and work of Christ upon our hands…

And so, together, in a re-imagined, in a transfigured voice of love, let us say Amen.