2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 8:28-36
This past week, my daughter decided to have some fun with us. Using her TikTok app, she recorded both Forrest and me while we were relaxing and watching TV. Now the filters she used distorts the mouth. So, she ended up laughing her head off with images of us looking like this: puckered lips or exaggerated smiles. Our pets got the same treatment. Imagine a cat or dog with their mug like this (exaggerated smile). All in good fun, right? Fortunately, she deleted the videos as we requested. But it made me wonder: what about all those times people video-record their friends or even strangers with these enhancing features that then get posted?
Like many people her age, Hannah loves to take selfies, and she plays around with these filters that distort her face or body shape. People it seems are desperate to put their best foot forward and to look attractive according to worldly standards. But this is far from new: In order to promote unrealistic body images, social media uses photoshopping to trim a few pounds, to make wrinkles disappear, to make lips poutier, or muscles more bulging. We live within a culture that glorifies impossibly slim body shapes and is quick to fat-sham. The more youthful the better. Liposuction is becoming a common way to get rid of stubborn body fat. Face lifts, nose fixes and tummy tucks have created a 16.5 billion cosmetic plastic surgery industry in the US; with an additional 62 billion spent on beauty products, and 33 billion on weight loss products. This points to a profound struggle people have to accept themselves, and others, just as they are, warts and all. We are bombarded with images from every corner that want us to believe we aren’t good enough – we need the help of expensive products, scalpels and body-shaping apps on our phones to be worthy. Our minds are hardened. It is like there is an invisible veil covering us, hiding us from who we truly are.
All this is contrary to what the scriptures teach us about ourselves. Each one of us is way more than our height, weight, skin or eye color, hair type. Right from the getgo we are told that we are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). The apostle Paul reminds us: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? (1 Corinthians 6:19). The psalmist reminds us that we were shaped by the loving hands of God: “You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 13-14). This outer shell, this body that encases our spirit, that houses our soul, is a superficial representation of who we really are. We live under constant spiritual assault that seeks to convince us to measure ourselves to unfeasible standards, that whispers in our ears we are worthless, ugly, we don’t measure up.
Our gospel lesson flips this evil message on its head. In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus, while praying on the mountain, is physically altered. Luke tells us that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning or dazzling white. Moses and Elijah, appear next to Jesus in glorious splendor. It’s as if Jesus was turned inside out and the disciples can see Jesus in his pure essence. This is the image and likeness we are made from, not the shape or color of our physical body. The disciples get a glimpse of Jesus’ inner being, and by seeing Jesus like this, they get, as we do, some insight into themselves, and we in turn gain insight into the essence of our being. The disciples do not see Moses and Elijah as they looked when they lived on earth, but as they exist in heaven, in glorious splendor. They get a peek at the glorified bodies, made in the image and likeness of God. They see what awaits all of us.
Each of us has a glorified body, the kernel of which resides within us at this very moment, at the very core of our existence. It exists in us at this very moment. When we are at peace with God, we can sense it. When we act in a Christ-like manner we display it. Ultimately, death just peels away this outer level and we become whom we were truly created to be, in all our glorious splendor.
It is not surprising that just before the transfiguration and the witness of Moses and Elijah in their glorious splendor, that Jesus had his first open discussion of his mission with his disciples. Luke tells us that Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God. Following this, Jesus declares to them that he would undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Jesus tells them the truth of who he really is, what he has come to earth to accomplish. All filters are off. Erased are all the superimposed images of Messiah as conqueror of Rome, the restorer of the old covenant, the defender and newly minted King of Israel. What’s left is the essence of Messiah, the Son of Man, who comes to suffer for our sins. The implication of this is that we too deny ourselves and take up the cross and follow Jesus. We must put aside the superficial flesh and all that is represented by the outer world and seek to be who God has created us to be. Other-centered. Selfless. Seeking God’s will, not our own. Not focused on the ways of the world. We are called to live in glorious splendor, a heavenly glory, while here on earth. A glory that the outer eye can’t comprehend. It is a glory that only spiritual sight can apprehend.
There is a way for us to get a glimpse of that glory. Just image what 16.5 billion dollars spent on cosmetic plastic surgery could go if it were invested in early childhood education? What 62 billion spent on beauty products were spent for the hungry and for clean water in the world? What 33 billion spent on weight loss products would accomplish spent on helping the homeless? Imagine what all those hours spent fretting on appearances were redirected to tutoring and mentoring vulnerable children? Or picking up litter? Checking in on shut-ins? Visiting those in prison? What if the energy we expend on worrying about our self-image or seeking to be right all the time went to energy seeking to find ways to build each other up, to speak words of kindness and encouragement? Because that’s what in glorious splendor looks like here this side of the veil, here on earth. We may not see it with our physical eyes, but our spirits capture it when we live like Jesus did. When we grasp the truth about ourselves as God sees us. When we embrace our mission to pick up the cross and follow Jesus. When we go to some sacred space apart from the world and pray – and through praying find our very selves transformed, just as Jesus was, there on the mountaintop.
As we approach the season of Lent, which begins this Wednesday, we will explore the themes each week of being good enough. We don’t need self-enhancement products. We don’t need special surgery. We don’t need special apps on our phone to change our appearance. Perfection may be impossible, but transformation isn’t. So, let’s train our hands and feet to good deeds that make glory visible on earth. Let’s develop the spiritual sight that sees the good in others beneath the rough exterior that we adapt to survive in the world. May we set aside that vital time to pray, just as Jesus did, and discover the truth about ourselves underneath the layers of lies and distortions we have carried for so long. We are glory embodied in all its splendor.
As we follow Jesus to the cross over the next six weeks, let’s peel away all that gets in the way and let us live in glory, let us bring glory wherever we go, and may we rest in the truth that we are good enough because Jesus made it so. May the dazzling light of Christ guide our steps these next 40 days and may we encounter the glorious splendor in ourselves, and in each other. amen