3 Mar 2019
Maybe the blinding snowstorm of last weekend comes as close to the transfiguration as anything I can imagine. If you have been out in a snowstorm, more particularly a true blizzard, you understand all about light that blinds and feeling lost in a world of light. Ironically you cannot see because of the total whiteness, the white light that devours everything. You feel fear, the kind of fear that says death could be close at hand. You feel a helplessness that nature could so control and paralyze your life. But if you allow yourself to enter fully into those feelings you realize something about the awesome nature of God. I speak as one who has been caught in a blizzard and who understood infinity as the place and time where the earth and the sky were one and that there was no difference between the two and where there was no longer such a thing as direction. It was, and is, for me a place where I learned that God’s time and spatial dimensions and mine were not the same anymore than my vision and God’s vision are the same. Things that I thought to be important suddenly paled to insignificance.
My father was 21 years old the winter of 1935-6. He lived in Calhoun County and said the weather was so bad that snow drifts were up to the top of the electric lines. I wondered about the truth of that until I came across a photo taken that very winter showing someone at eye level with the poles, standing on 20-25 feet of snow.
So maybe blizzards and heavy snows are one way that God reminds us about who and what we are.
I don’t think all these stories of shining faces and light and mountain tops are there just to remind us how powerful is our God any more than the function of a blizzard is to show God’s power. If that were the case all that would be needed would be a huge show of thunder and lightening and smoke. But what strikes me is that the story from Genesis would not have any meaning for us if it were not for Moses any more than the reading from Luke would have any meaning for us if the disciples had not been on the mountain with Jesus. Yes, it is about God’s power and that strange word “glory”, but it is also very much about us and our relationship to God.
You know that God does not need us; God is self-sufficient. There is nothing we have in any material sense that God needs. But God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us, each and every human being. That’s why Moses went up the mountain and why Jesus did not go alone up the mountain. These stories are meant to be Good News for each one of you.
For Jesus the Transfiguration marked the point in his ministry where he turned towards Jerusalem and the cross. I wonder if he was thinking, as he stood on that mountain, just what he had agreed to be and do. He knew, without a doubt, from this point forward where his life was going and how it would end.
But why? That is the 64,000-dollar question of the New Testament. It is a question I never asked for much of my life. Why would God come in human form and then suffer death in one of the cruelest and most humiliating ways ever conceived by the warped mind of humans. I have, I believe, found an answer: love. Not a selective love of you but not you, but the universal love of God for all of creation, every bit of it, the parts we like and the parts we do not like.
There are many things going on locally, nationally, and globally that I do not like at all. Some of them may be things that upset and appall you as well; others may be things about which we disagree. Yet all of us need to step back and look through a different lens.
The lens that most of us have held to our eyes, I would bet, is the lens that tells us all of humanity is bad and evil and that to be saved, whatever that means, we need to accept Jesus as our personal savior. We owe a huge debt to God from the moment of our birth, if not before; one which we cannot pay. But Jesus paid the debt and if we just believe hard enough, say the right words, and don’t do anything wrong, we can go to heaven after we die. If you don’t, then you are forever condemned to hell.
The Transfiguration is perhaps telling us an entirely different story. God has come among us and is one of us and it is that very human Jesus who is transfigured on the mountain. It is also we who are changed; it is meant to tell us to transform our own lives not because God demands some sort of payment we cannot make, but because it is intrinsically who God is had has been from the very beginning. It is all about a love for everyone and everything.
I am coming to believe in the view of St. Francis: that Jesus came to show us the nature of God, not to die so that God could be paid for some wrong or that we needed to buy God’s love. Jesus’ death was because he challenged the political powers of his day and they could not abide in the idea of the kind of love he preached. They could not stand the revelation of who God is.
Next Wednesday Lent starts. It is my hope that you think about it today, the day of transfiguration, and about how you need to dig deeper or go further into your spiritual life during Lent. I would also ask you to think about the idea of your own transformation and the transformation of this body of believers. Lent is internal and Lent is external; Transfiguration Sunday is external and about Jesus, but it is equally internal to your own life and the life of the congregation.
I will not be with you for Ash Wednesday, so I will ask you today to look at this feast day, this very special day on the church calendar, and take it with you to Lent. Rethink your own life and your communal life. Lent for some of us needs to be a time of personal renewal and a time to remember how beloved we are. For others it needs to be a time of introspection and restitution from wrongs we have committed. For others it needs to be a time of renewal and resolve. Lent should not be reduced to giving up meat on Fridays because it is Lent.
I know that I need to both do more and do less during Lent. So I will take the lesson I have learned from Transfiguration Sunday: that God made a world that is good and loves every bit of that world, that Jesus fully embraced the role as the Christ and knew that his life would end in a sacrifice to the State but that he took on that role willingly out of love, and that I am transformed if I just let myself so be. Once transformed I can fall into a new creation that is love and justice and mercy.
Listen to the passage from Corinthians as paraphrased in The Message:
Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.
The Message, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18