Today is transfiguration Sunday, the day the church celebrates transformation and change. Here are the some things that a pastor dreams of hearing as dreams of renovation fill her or his church:
- Hey! It's my turn to sit in the front pew!
- Gee I am so enthralled, pastor, by the life in this church I’ve invited my neighbor to come.
- Personally, I find volunteering in the local food pantry more enjoyable than golf.
4. I volunteer to be a teacher for the Youth Sunday School class. While I’m at it, let me sign up for coffee hour too. I just love to serve!
6. Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign! I’m upping my pledge, and going to bible study too.
7. What! I’m nominated to be an Elder? When can I start?
8. Pastor, I really love it here. The joy is contagious, so what can I do to spread the church’s ministry in the community?
Humorous or not, if you could add to this list of things you would change about church, what would it be? What attitude encourages growth? What actions inspire? What do we need to give up, in order to see the church thrive?
These reflections are important because our church is at a turning point. Will we continue as we are, staying comfortable on a plateau? Or do we seek transfiguration, transformation, revitalization? Will we risk? Will we let ourselves even be uncomfortable as we follow the footsteps of Jesus? Will we carry the cross? As we enter lent will we seek and let God mold us into a new creation --- perhaps a creation that we, right now, cannot even perceive at this moment in time? Big questions: What will we give up to be transformed? Will we turn from the past and turn to an unknown, future of renewal?
Today, our gospel passage depicts Jesus at a turning point. He has recently disclosed to his disciples about his impending suffering and death. He is now headed toward Jerusalem. But he stops to pray on the mountain. He takes Peter, James and John with him. During this time of prayer, something happens to Jesus. His face changes. His clothes become dazzling white – like the angels. The disciples see two men with him -- the great Hebrew leaders Moses and Elijah. Moses stands as the representatives of the Law, and the mediator between the people and God; Elijah appears as the great prophet, zealous, devoted to the Lord. Moses and Elijah represent the most prominent of the Jewish figures, giving support to Jesus.
Although the transfiguration appears in two other gospels, Only Luke tells us the content of the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. They were "speaking of Jesus’ departure which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem." Luke uses the term departure which is really translated as exodus, to describe Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that would unfold there. The Hebrew exodus is one of freedom from slavery to a deliverance to the promised land. Here, at Jesus’ transfiguration, exodus points to Jesus’ journey and passage through death and resurrection, is the new exodus, the new deliverance from sin and slavery. This is the great turning point. The text encourages us to embrace exodus, to leave the past of slavery behind to enter to new life.
Just as the voice of God spoke at Jesus’ Baptism, now at this turning point. A new chapter has begun in Jesus’ life. This second half, the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus is transfigured to show his essence, his identity, the divine light that resides at the center of his being. As his light shines, God speaks again. God tells the disciples, as the cloud overshadows them and speaks “This is my son, my Chosen, listen to him!” In Jesus God’s glory dwells. In Jesus, God’s saving action is manifest. In Jesus, God’s presence is visible. In Jesus, God’s chosen, we hear God’s words of transformation and change. We want change? We want to embrace hope for a new tomorrow? We begin by listening to Jesus. We have been given the answer to transfiguration. We take in the glory. And most of all, we listen.
So, they came down from the mountain, full of joy, but we are met by a great crowd, and from the crowd a man shouts to Jesus, to cure his son, his only child. And here is a manifestation of brokenness, not glory. Can we take in the pain and distress? The unclean spirit a father’s only child and the boy shrieks, or screams. The spirit forces the boy to have convulsions –until he foams at the mouth. The spirit mauls the boy and torments him -- it won’t leave him alone. His father is helpless to free his son. What a horrible situation it must have been. No luminosity here. No brilliance.
Jesus is fed up with his disciples at their inability to do anything; he calls them faithless and perverse. How strong is that? He insults them further: “how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” Jesus is concerned. Jesus knows time is running out. They won’t have him much longer. And they haven’t caught on. As this demon continues to harm this boy, Jesus rebukes the demon. The boy is healed and given back to his father. All are astounded at the greatness of God. Glory of God on the mountain is manifested in the healing acts of Jesus.
The great crowd didn’t need to go up the mountain. They didn’t need a vision of Moses and Elijah. They didn’t need to be overshadowed by the spirit or hear God’s voice in a cloud. That glory meant nothing to them. They needed God present, here and now. In this act of exorcism, and restoring the boy whole to his father, the people had their glimpse of glory. This was the turning point they needed. Here on earth.
So, as we journey with Jesus on the path of transfiguration, we first embrace the mountaintop experience. We are filled with the dazzling glory of Jesus. We ground ourselves in the holy history Moses and Elijah represents. We open our hearts to the chosen one, and we listen to him.
Next, we listen to him when we come down the mountain and encounter the pain and worries of the people around us. We learn that transfiguration enables us to care for people, to take risks to help, to be one with the suffering, lost, and hurting people of God. Do we want to transform our church? We need two things: To ground ourselves in the glory of God as we listen to Jesus leading us. The second thing we need to dois to open our glorified hearts to reach out into our community.
As we enter the Holy Season of Lent this week, we embrace the turning point of faith. Make change for the better a spiritual discipline – an act of exodus, from slavery to freedom. From sin to salvation. To manifest the glory of God in a life fully lived: in worship, in church, with our neighbors, our country, our world. This Ash Wednesday, when we begin our Lenten journey, let us reflect on how we can change, what turning points we need to follow, so the glory of Jesus and the greatness of God becomes tangible in us and around us.
To be the church Jesus calls us to be. To learn to be bold in mercy, joyful in worship, to care for each other, to practice trust in the midst of uncertainty.
We are listening, Jesus. We choose your way. I will be enthralled and invite my neighbors to come. I will volunteer where God leads me. I will serve. I will be open to new ways of worship. I will let go of the past and follow Jesus, where he leads.
So today let this be a turning point -to change us –for our Church --- for the glory and the greatness of God. Amen.