Sermon given by The Rev’d Nancy Rowe, Sunday Feb. 15, 2015
This is the last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. Epiphany began with a brilliant light in the form of a star illuminating the Christ child and ends with the grown up child radiating a brilliant light. A beacon of light in the darkness of the world. It is such an unworldly event that we can sense Mark’s struggle to find the words to describe it, “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them”. More dazzling then dazzling. If that is not enough, Jesus is joined by the two greatest prophets in Jewish history, Elijah and Moses. Both had encountered God face to face. Both had encouraged hope and faith in times of suffering. Jesus’ Transfiguration was amazing, unworldly, transforming.
Transfiguration isn’t something that is unique to Christ. Transformation, metamorphosis, change are all synonyms for transfiguration. They all speak to moving from way of being to another.
Peter tries to fit the experience into the pigeon hole of the familiar, the known.
It is in Peter’s response that we are invited into the story. Where our story and the transfiguration story come into contact. At the moment of the Transfiguration everything changes. It is a transition from one way of seeing Jesus to another. Peter realizes that if Jesus is changed, then he too will be changed, transformed. Jesus’ transfiguration is a life altering change in direction. Peter, just like you and I know that transformation is hard. Change is hard. Moving from the familiarity and comfort of one place to an unknown place is hard. You cannot prepare for an altered perspective. No amount of strategizing can make you ready for a ninety degree turn in your life. And so Peter reacts like we would react. Peter tries to fit the experience into the pigeon hole of the familiar, the known. Have you ever wondered why Peter, suddenly. oddly decides that the right thing to do is to set up tents? It isn’t really tents that he is talking about, it is booths. One of the high Jewish festivals is the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles. Jewish tradition associated the ‘Day of the Lord’, the day when God would draw history to a close and Israel’s enemies would be defeated, with the Festival of Booths. Peter, upon seeing Moses and Elijah takes that as a sign for this event and jumps in with an offer to build booths. Peter takes this encounter and tries to make it fit into a pre-existing narrative and religious framework that helps him to make sense, to tame so to speak that somewhat terrifying and totally inexplicable event.
We want transformation, we really do. That is what New Year’s resolutions are all about. We want to be slim. We want to be fit. We want to be good and giving. I want to loose the weight but …I don’t want the discomfort of dieting or doing a dietary life style change. I want to be fit, but…all that sweating and its faster to take the car. We want to be a better person, to be the person that God created us to be. We want St. George’s to be a beacon of light in Georgetown, with people who are the hands and feet of Jesus, who bear the good news. For ourselves, for St. George’s we long for transformation. Soon it will be vestry an opportunity for us to contemplate the possibility of transformation.
This desire and fear of transformation marks our relationship with God.
This desire and fear of transformation marks our relationship with God. We long to encounter God, and yet when we find ourselves on Holy Ground, when God calls, when God beckons, we are afraid, unsure, feeling suddenly no longer in control. We are in the unfamiliar place of having no plan, on the cusp of transformation. Suddenly change, transformation is not where we want to go, we cling to the familiar, the comfort of what is. David Lose noted “what we have, who we are, may not be everything we want, but at least we know it, are used to it, have a relatively orderly life around it, have a plan that it fits in to”. Transformation is frightening. To Peter’s credit, he did not turn tail and run down that mountain. His reaction was to stay, but to try to control the uncontrollable. To transform, but within the bounds of the familiar. Peter came perilously close to missing an encounter with God. God, all but interrupts him with an announcement and a command. “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” God is inviting Peter to let go of his plan, to enter into the wonder and mystery that is Jesus.
God invites us to do the same. Celebrate what is by moving beyond it. Use the familiar as a launching pad into transformation. Let go of fear and embrace the excitement of exploration. God’s power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine.