Transfiguration, by Pastor Noel

August 6, 2017    Feast of the Transfiguration


      Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. Most feast days that fall on Sunday are transferred to the following week, but today we get a break from Matthew’s parables and read from Luke.

      Like the parables, this story has lots of ways to explain it and understand it. Folks often say it’s about either worship or ministry. I think it’s not either/or, but both/and.

      God tells us to listen to Jesus, and I think that means both being here in worship and being with Jesus everywhere else.

      Jesus and his closest disciples are having a mountain top experience. Mountains were where folks thought the gods lived.

      Mountain top experiences are wonderful, exhilarating, powerful.  We wish that they could last forever.

      We can have mountain top experiences on a mountain, as we look out and see so much of God’s creation spread out below.      

      We can feel that same heart rush when we first fall in love, or hold a cuddly baby. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for feeling like this.

      Of course, the mountain top experiences that we read about today for Moses and for Jesus were not just adrenaline rushes or sentimental highs.

      Moses and Jesus went up on the mountain to encounter the living God.

      This was Moses’ second trek to meet with God and receive what we call the 10 commandments.

      The first time, when he came down back to the people he was leading to new life, he found that they had made a golden calf and were worshiping it—not YHWH God, but a piece of metal.

      Moses was so disgusted with the people that he shattered the stones on which he had carved God’s words.

      The people had forsaken God, but God did not forsake them, and Moses made this second trip so God could renew the promise of faithfulness and belonging.

      God’s promise, or covenant, was made, as it always is, to invite the Israelites, and us, to live in grace and mercy.

      These laws are signs of God’s love for us, and show us how to live in that love.

      God also gave a command to Peter, James and John, and to us, when Jesus was on the mountain. Naming Jesus as Chosen Son, God’s command is “Listen to him!”

      This is the only command God gives in the Christian Scriptures. And, it is given in a specific context, that we may not want to face. Peter certainly didn’t want to!

      That context is the Cross, Jesus’ crucifixion.

      This is what Jesus was discussing with Moses and Elijah—our translation says they were talking about Jesus’ “departure” but the word really means “exodus.”

      So, Moses is there because the exodus he led was from being slaves to Pharaoh to new life and freedom in God.

      This experience of Jesus on the mountain is often called the transfiguration, although Luke does not say that.

      The exodus that Moses led was the transfiguration, the metamorphoses or transformation, of God’s people. They went from being slaves to the culture to being the free people of God.

      They took a journey of liberation so that God’s kingdom could be here on earth as in heaven.

      Luke is telling us that God’s kingdom is not only in radiant experiences on the mountain.

      God’s kingdom comes on the Cross, as the violence of Jesus’ death shows us the futility of all violence. And, this leads not to retaliation by God, but forgiveness and new beginnings.

      Just like Moses and the second covenant promises of God.

      Peter doesn’t want to think of this—he wants to enshrine the radiant, glowing moment of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, so it will last forever. God IS much easier to deal with when we can put him in a box and shut the door.

      On the wall beside the altar here is a box that holds bread and wine that have been consecrated, and oil blessed for baptism and healing. This box is called a tabernacle or aumbry.

      When I was here in RI 30 years ago, I heard Bishop Hunt speak to the clergy about what he called “aumbryology.” He was talking about putting God in a box to shut him out of our lives.

      Aumbryology is worshiping the God we shut away, opening the door from time to time to see that he is still where we want him. In this way, we think that we can be in control of our lives, and not have to worry about what God would have us do.

      We can do that with our Sunday worship, too. We can come here, spend a little time with God, and then walk out and shut the door.

      That way we don’t have to think about God for the rest of the week. If we can keep God locked up most of the time, then we feel free to do whatever we want with our lives and not be

concerned about how God would want us to live.

      If we only encounter God on Sundays, then for the rest of the week we can forget about God’s promises to us and our promises to God.

      We think that life is easier when we keep God locked up in a box, out of our lives. If we cannot have mountain top experiences all the time, we also would rather not have the experience of the Cross at any time.

      The only way to have mountain top experiences is to embrace the message of forgiveness and new life from the Cross. That is the only way we will experience the kingdom of God in this life.

      The mushy, sentimental love of Valentine’s Day becomes the sometimes hard reality of every other day. Chocolate and roses give way to making a relationship work; rewarding, but not easy.

      And that is true of our lives when we listen to Jesus, too.            Read the gospels, and the other scriptures written by those who listened to Jesus.

      Read how Jesus welcomed, healed, restored, loved everyone who came to him. The disciples, who ran and hid while Jesus was whipped were forgiven and trusted to tell us the story.

      The ones who condemned him, who held the whips and the nails and hammers—he forgave them, too.

      The Cross connects God to earth. The arms of the Cross reach out to embrace each of us and all of us.

      Transfiguration, or metamorphosis, or redemption does not happen to us on a mountain top. The light of Christ shines in us when we not only listen to Jesus, but follow as he led the way.

      Welcoming, healing, restoring, forgiving, loving everyone, because that is what Jesus did.

      Opening the door to God’s kingdom for them, right now.

      When we listen to him we know that we are welcomed, healed, restored, forgiven, loved.

      We know that we cannot keep God locked away from our lives. Everything we do, every day of the week, every minute of the day, God is present, inviting us to follow Jesus into and through the kingdom.

      When we let him lead, Jesus gives us all we need to follow him to the people who need to hear the invitation to the kingdom.

      So we need worship. We need a regular reminder of God’s overwhelming love for each of us. We need the transforming power of Christ’s Body and Blood—given for us! Amazing!

      I celebrated at the healing service at St. Luke’s last week. One of the women there said that when I celebrate I transform the Eucharist.

      I think what happened to her was her own transformation. Something in the words of the prayers opened her heart and mind in a new and transformative way.

      She was able to “listen” to Jesus, and be changed.

      She experienced the grace God offers each of us when we let our hearts listen and be open to it.

      We can experience God’s grace here in worship. I pray that we do! We can experience God’s grace everywhere else, too, as we are agents of God’s transforming forgiveness and new life for others.

      May each of us listen to the ways that God has chosen us to bring transformation to the world.

      May we show our love and thanks for God in here in worship, and in what we do in the world.

      In the power and strength of God’s grace, may we reach out our arms, like the Cross, and embrace all of God’s creation in God’s love.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details