Transfiguration and transformation. Today Jesus is transfigured. His experience begs the question – is his transformation just for him – or can we be transformed?
The reading today from second Peter has the apostle insisting that he is an eyewitness to this event. He was there. He saw with own two eyes. He heard with his ears. We trust eyewitnesses; they are the people who were at the scene and heard with their own ears and SEEN with their own eyes. We TRUST them as being truthful.
Today’s gospel, is eyewitness news. What had happened on the mountain was so important, that uneducated Peter, got hold of a scribe to set it down for future generations.
For Peter who lives in an oral culture, it would have to be something unusual to write it down.
Our four gospels are the best witnesses to the Christ event, because very little got written down at that time. If something got written, then it was something super important.
Peter HEARS the words, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Then Peter says, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Christ draws us here, to St. John, as witnesses that life and the world are more than what we can see or hear. We TRUST Peter’s account of events. We are a part of the REAL substance of the divine cosmos that may settles upon the earth, like it does on the mountain in today’s gospel.
We come together to attest to the fact that God DOES dwell among us as John’s gospel says. The Divine One DOES find a home among us. The Star of Bethlehem BURSTS into flame here on this mountain as JESUS the LIGHT of the world is transfigured.
He’s there with Moses, Elijah, and then the FATHER SPEAKS, affirming him, calling him BELOVED SON, and to LISTEN to him. The Father’s instruction to us is LISTEN to him. Jesus is a living TORAH, whose words will give us LIFE.
The word transfigured is used four times in the New Testament. We know it as the Greek word, metamorphose, a word we use when we look at caterpillars and butterflies. The caterpillar metamorphoses into a new creature. Up on the mountain, Jesus metamorphosed into a new being, this being made of LIGHT, even if just temporarily.
The same word, metamorphose, is used in Romans 12:2 St. Paul urges us “to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul urges us on to this transformation of the renewal of our minds. Transformation is here for all of us.
It may not be turning into a flame, like Jesus, but the promise of transformation is real. St. Pauls’ words are REAL, and we can cling to those words as REAL and LIFE-GIVING. HUG GOD’s WORD like the LIFE PRESERVER that it is, and the POWER and RADIANCE of the WORD will penetrate, renew and TRANSFORM your inward being.
We see in today’s gospel, Jesus glowing as with a bright light, “his face shown like the sun”. On either side, are Moses and Elijah.
What does the feast of the Transfiguration mean for us? We may probably never GLOW like Jesus does in today’s gospel, but I’ll be you’ve seen people who have glowed – with goodness.
I remember years ago going into a store near me in Queens, and the young woman behind the counter, sold cards and knick-knacks for 12-step groups; her face GLOWED.
It was actually a little hard to look her in the face, doing so might hurt my eyes. Here was someone who had obviously been set FREE, and she GLOWED with God’s inward light. You may know someone like this.
Where else is there transformation?
Last year around this time, on Transfiguration Sunday, I was at St. John Church in Union City, NJ., doing pulpit supply. We heard Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, where after Jesus is changed, he and the apostles come down from the mountain, and we read how he goes into the crowd of people that are waiting for him at the foot of the mountain. I imagine it’s a crowd of sweating humanity, a crowd that is in desperate need of Jesus’ healing power. They’ve brought their ill family members and friends, and hope.
Then the gospel story focuses on a young father, who begs Jesus to deliver his son from an evil spirit, which Jesus does. Like the Transfiguration, this story of the young father and his son is in 3 of the 4 gospels, it’s so important. Another eye witness account.
While I was preaching my sermon, there was a young man in the church whom I had never seen before, and he was weeping and weeping. One of the members moved into his pew so he wouldn’t feel so alone as he wept. After the service, I asked this man what was wrong, could I pray with him. He told me, that his young son, only ten years old, had tried to commit suicide. The father had found him in the closet with a rope around his neck. For the first time, the boy told his father that he was gay. The boy had told his mother he was gay, but hadn’t told his father, and the mother hadn’t told the father. What a mess . . .
The boy tried to hurt himself, thinking his father wouldn’t accept him or love him anymore, and the man wept and wept as I prayed with him and for his son.
From that time on, he and his son started attending St. John in Union City. There was both an immediate and gradual transformation of the young father and the son as they were loved and welcomed into the community of this other St. John. It’s a tiny church – I would count – me, the pianist, that’s two. Eight people in the seats, two coming in late. A dozen people on a good day, mostly politically conservative people, who like this St. John, love their cookouts and parties with plates piled high with food. Their love and support of this father and son, is based in the love they have received from God, their gratitude to their part time pastor, for whom they feel truly grateful.
Psalm 34 says “I sought the Lord and God answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.”
God’s Word, God’s LOVE in Christian community is transformative. What happened to Jesus is a foretaste of what is going to happen to us when we are reunited with him in heaven. But we don’t have to wait for the afterlife. Transformation is possible now through Christ’s LOVE in the Word and Sacraments.
Christ’s LOVE is also here in this church. As it says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” Today, let your goodness radiate from you. Can we call our gay brothers and sisters, BELOVED? Can we put aside prejudice and SEE our gay brothers and sisters as one of us, just as Jesus got down into the River Jordan as ONE of us? Can you trust my eyewitness account of this father’s anguish? Can our church be a place of transformation for US where we reach out in friendship to CHILDREN? I KNOW it can.
In a couple days I’m going to meet with a manager at PRIDE for YOUTH to talk about how St. John is here to WELCOME their gay youth and young adults. I’m going there to reassure the gay youth and young adults of God’s love for them. There are plenty of gay people who were raised in the church, but then got kicked out for being gay. I hope you are as horrified by that as I am. I hope you are horrified by that desperation of that 10-year old boy in NJ, and never want that to happen in this day and age.I hope you’re ready to affirm God’s love for all people.
Will you believe MY eye witness account that love and acceptance of gay people is necessary by church people? Will you believe MY eye witness account that love heals? Will St. John of Bellmore be a place of love and acceptance for people different from ourselves? I know it can. Or do you think God’s love is only for you?
There’s no fooling around about this. It’s a matter of life and death.
The young father and his son, found they could TRUST the people of St. John in NJ, and they, and everyone is being RENEWED in this tiny church.
“The heavens declare the glory of God.” Jesus’ transfiguration is a promise for us – RIGHT NOW. Yes, one of these days we will ALL glow in the dark! But let our love and goodness grounded in grace and the CROSS of CHRIST shine right now.
Lord, give us the strength and compassion to reach out to our gay brothers and sisters. Give us your vision to see them as our brothers and sisters. Guide us in the paths of love, following YOU. We pray this in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.