Sunday, August 06, 2006

Transfiguration and Transformation

House of Prayer Episcopal Church
Year B: The Feast of the Transfiguration
August 6, 2006

Exodus 34: 29-35
2 Peter 1: 13-25
Luke 9: 28-36
Psalm 99

Transfiguration and Transformation

Well, sisters and brothers, it’s always nice to come home to House of Prayer! And it’s especially nice to be here for Transfiguration, one of the major feasts of the church. I’m sure that most of us have something really special planned for this afternoon – maybe a traditional Transfiguration dinner and then later we’ll exchange Transfiguration gifts? I see Stella is here, back from Florida. I know she has a big Transfiguration party tonight. I wasn’t invited, though. I guess it must be “out of sight out of mind…” I’m sorry that this year I didn’t get around to sending out Transfiguration cards…you know, it’s been kind of busy…Hmm…you’re looking at me kind of funny. Don’t tell me you don’t have special Transfiguration customs here at House of Prayer!? Oh boy, I’ll have to talk about this with Pastor Judy when she returns!

I’m just kidding, of course. Although it really is one of the most important feasts of the church - maybe because for us it falls in the summer - the truth is that Transfiguration doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. And that’s too bad. Transfiguration is about what happens to Jesus on the mountain. But, Transfiguration is also about what happens to Peter. Transfiguration is also about what happens to us. Peter opens his heart to the power of God in Jesus Christ and he is transformed. And if we open our hearts to God’s power we can be transformed too.

Besides the fact that it’s summertime, I suspect there’s a deeper more troubling reason that we ignore Transfiguration. The scene that Luke depicts in today’s gospel lesson is really mysterious and strange. It’s very hard to explain exactly what’s happening here. We have the familiar scene of Jesus going off to the mountain to pray and Peter and some of the other disciples struggling to stay awake. So far, so good. But then Jesus is mysteriously transformed and then Moses and Elijah appear “in glory” talking to Jesus. And then, as if this wasn’t enough for one night, the voice of God commands, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Wow! This is a lot to take in and to try to make sense of. Listening to Luke’s account I think we can hear him straining to come up with the words to somehow describe this awesome experience. And so, since the Transfiguration story is so mysterious and supernatural, we’re more than happy to let it pass by and not spend too much time trying to figure out what all this might mean for us.

And you know what, we can just skip over the Transfiguration… unless of course you’re asked to preach on the Transfiguration! So as I thought about and prayed about the Transfiguration, first of all I realized I was very relieved that Peter was there and that we have a record of what he had to say about all of this. I’m always happy when Peter appears in the gospels because so often he’s a really good stand-in for us. Over and over Peter – this great apostle and saint - tries his best but let’s face it much of the time he really just doesn’t get it. So the good news is that there’s hope for us all!

So, anyway, Peter witnesses this amazing event on the mountain and what’s his response to all that he’s seen and heard? I know, let’s build three booths – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. We’ve just had a wonderful, powerful experience – let’s build a shrine, this way we can come back and remember the Transfiguration year after year.

Now I think this is a perfectly reasonable response. I’m a big local history fan and I enjoy reading historical markers that tell me on this spot in this year something important happened. In fact there’s a historical marker right outside on the front of the rectory telling the story of that old building and the 1887 invention of motion picture film upstairs in the attic. Now that’s some important history, but just imagine if we had seen Jesus, Moses and Elijah out on Broad Street! We would definitely want to put some kind of monument to mark the spot. And each year we would come back and remember that amazing experience. “Remember when we saw Jesus on Broad Street? Were you there? Oh sure, I saw him too. Wasn’t that something?” But the truth is, year by year our memory would fade and eventually all of us who experienced this amazing event would be gone. And our monument would just be collecting dust on the side of the road.

So, Peter’s suggestion is perfectly reasonable. He says, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And then Luke adds, “Not knowing what he said.” Peter’s suggestion is reasonable, but unfortunately he just doesn’t get it. At least not yet. The Transfiguration is not about marking the spot where exactly these events took place. The Transfiguration is about Jesus, God’s beloved Son, God’s Chosen One. And the Transfiguration is about the transformation that takes place in us when we open our hearts to the power of God in Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration is about the transformation that takes place when we do what the voice of God says – listen to Jesus! Transfiguration is about something that never fades away.

But because we resist opening our hearts to this transformation in Christ, just like Peter we’re more than happy to move along onto next week’s subject.

But this is a huge mistake. Because if we do give in to fear and just ignore the Transfiguration we’re missing out on who we are really called to be. And unless we are transformed by the power of God in Jesus Christ I believe there can be no meaningful and lasting transformation in our lives and in the world. No transformation in us – no transformation in the world. And I think we can all agree now more than ever the world desperately needs to be transformed. The world needs Jesus and the world needs us!

One of the nice things about today’s lessons is that not only do we get to hear from Peter at the Transfiguration; we also get to hear from Peter near the end of his life in the reading from Second Peter. Now we hear from a wiser Peter who has reflected for many years on what he had experienced with Jesus. I’m sure there were times when he wondered if it had all been a dream. Was that really Moses and Elijah talking with the Lord?

But after all those years of prayer and reflection the voice of old Peter insists that what he saw and heard on that mountain was real. And then he uses a very beautiful expression when he says that we should pay attention to his message “as to a lamp in a dark place.” “As to a lamp in a dark place.” Peter has spent years praying, thinking, reflecting on his experiences with Jesus and the other disciples. And what has happened to him? Peter has been transformed. Peter has grown from being that sincere but bumbling fisherman to being a great Christian leader who now is passing on his wisdom to the next generation.

Transfiguration – the power of God to transform us. And the good news for Peter - and for us - is that we don’t have to “get it”. The most important thing is for us to be open to the power of God working in us and in the world around us. Openness can be hard. It’s easy to close ourselves up. But for Peter and for us that openness to God’s power comes through prayer and simply paying attention. Look at the Transfiguration story again. It’s no accident that all this happens when Jesus has gone to the mountain to pray. And Peter and the other disciples are able to see this amazing scene because they are paying attention – they have stayed awake and they have seen God powerfully at work in the world around them.

Prayer and paying attention – as to a lamp shining in a dark place. It’s really as simple, and as awesome as that. Prayer and paying attention are the beginning of our own transformation into the people God dreams we will be. Prayer and paying attention are the beginning of our transformation into the people who we really are.

And what would our transformation look like? We know the answer to that. Just look around. We experience some of that transformation each week here at House of Prayer. Our transformation would look like – it would be – love. Our transformation takes us from being maybe self-centered, frightened, suspicious, doubtful people into loving people. We become people who love without counting the cost. We can become people who really do see Jesus, Moses and Elijah out on Broad Street! That’s the power of Transfiguration.

Again, think of Peter. This fisherman who doesn’t really “get it” is transformed into a man who gives up everything for Christ. At the end, according to tradition, he gives even his very life for Christ when he is crucified in Rome.

Since this transformation makes us who we really are, we adults ought to pay more attention to young children as our role models in life and in faith. Children who have not yet become hardened and cynical by the world. Here’s one example: Last weekend Sue and I were at a child’s birthday party. One of the kids there was a five year old boy named Thomas. In his young life Thomas has already had his fair share of troubles – his parents have split up he’s had some behavioral problems. Anyway, that afternoon he was happily playing with another five year old boy, a kid he barely knew, named Noah. After a while Thomas came over to his dad and with great seriousness and sincerity said, “I love Noah so much.”

Now I admit that my first thought was to dismiss him: “Oh that’s very cute. But, come on, give me a break, you don’t love Noah – you don’t even know him! You’re too young to even know what love even is!” But this week as I reflected on the Transfiguration I kept going back to that little moment at the party. I came to see that young Thomas’s declaration of love for his new friend Noah was a beautiful glimpse of what our transformed, transfigured lives, can be. His innocent words were a reminder of who we really are and of who God calls us to be. When we are transformed by the power of God in Jesus Christ - we love!

So there you have it. Maybe we should have a Transfiguration party! Happy Transfiguration Day! Let’s set aside our fears and on this summer day let’s celebrate Jesus, God’s Chosen One. Let’s celebrate God’s power to transform us and our world. Today we are reminded that all we need to do is open our hearts, through prayer and paying attention, to God’s presence and power among us. Like Peter we can know Jesus as God’s Chosen One. Like Peter we can be transformed. Like Peter our message of love can be like a lamp shining in a world that has grown very dark. And like a little boy named Thomas we can say to our brothers and sisters, “I love you so much.”