"Became dazzling"-Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration, Luke 9:28-36
So, today, in the life of the Church, is the Feast of the Transfiguration. And, the word transfiguration refers, specifically, to the physical changes noted in our Gospel reading that Jesus undergoes on the mountaintop, as he emanates his divine glory while praying and then speaking with both Moses and Elijah…the two greats of the Old Testament…who together, represent the two primary pillars of the Jewish faith…the Law and the Prophets. As you recall, Luke writes, “And while [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Luke, also notes, that when Moses and Elijah arrive on the scene they also shine with divine glory.
Now, if I am glowing a little bit right now, it’s because I just returned on Friday from a mountaintop moment of my own of sorts…well more like the bright, green hills of Jolly Old England. Though we did actually climb a few mountains along the way in the Lake District, which is a popular hiking destination in Great Britain, and where we spent the bulk of our time while on vacation visiting our English family, who live just a short distance from the Lake District in York, England…that’s very Old York, not new. And, to be clear, if I am shining a bit it is surely not due to anything divine about me, but, instead, an insufficient use of sunscreen and just the glow of energy provided by the rest and renewal that comes from restorative time spent unplugged…time spent mainly playing with my most beloved ones…my family.
But, I think there is something to the idea that the various mountaintop moments in our lives should change us in some demonstrable way. Perhaps not as dramatically as what Peter, James and John witnessed of Jesus’ transfiguration into his divine glory on the mountaintop we remember on this feast day. And, as we heard in this morning’s Old Testament lesson, perhaps not as radically as Moses’ face that was shining like the sun, apparently for the rest of his life, when he came down from Mt. Saini with the two tablets that contained the Torah, God’s Law. But, still, our own mountaintop moments should change us in real and perceptible ways…in our bodies and in our behavior. And, not for ourselves alone, but for the life of the world.
And, when I say mountaintop moments, I am referring to our intentional encounters with the living God…not unlike Jesus and Moses in their respective stories. Moses went up the mountain to speak with God to learn what God’s will was for his life and for the collective life of the people of Israel. And, similarly, Jesus went up the mountain to pray and seek God’s will and wisdom for what would follow in his own life and ministry. Specifically, Luke tells us, for what would soon unfold in Jerusalem…that is both his death and resurrection. So, both Moses and Jesus went up a mountain to encounter God…and, indeed, both did…and both were changed…both were transfigured.
Now, our roles in the building of God’s kingdom on earth are perhaps not as grandiose as leading a nation to the Promised Land and organizing their religious and political life, as was Moses’ task. And, certainly not as consequential as Jesus’ ultimate purpose that sits at the very heart of our faith, which was nothingless than to save all of creation from the power of sin and death through cross and resurrection. But, still, I do believe with all of my heart, that God desires and has every intention to use us, our good hearts, minds and bodies, to transfigure this world more and more into the very image of love.
And, I don’t think we should minimize or understate our potential and place in God’s love-spreading, life-giving work in this world. For to do so, would only diminish our efforts…make us feel small and unimportant. And, you are not…we are not…small or unimportant. We are a good and powerful lot here at St. Julian’s that God already has and will continue to use in transformative ways in the lives of many, many people. And, we really are the sum total of our many unique parts. Meaning, our ability to burn brightly with the dazzling light of God’s love that shone in Jesus on the mountaintop…and to shine that light in such a way that beats back the darkness that seeks to swallow people up…is fueled by the individual lights that burn in each of our unique lives. It is my light joining with yours and yours with the very next person in this family of faith and so on…that makes our transfiguration into God’s own glorious heart and hands possible…for the very life of the world.
So, I implore you to find your mountaintops and go their often. For, it is in those mountaintop encounters with the living God that ignites our fire…that like Jesus and Moses…transfigures us more and more into the divine glory that we were create to be in this world…for this world. And, I say go there often, for I will note, that Moses did not walk up Mt. Saini to be with God only once. Further, Jesus’ journey up the Mount of Transfiguration is not the only time the gospels record Jesus escaping to deserted or high places to connect with God. The mountaintop, in the Christian spiritual tradition, is a metaphor for spending intentional time with God wherever and however that might be. And, mountaintops can look like lots of things and, again, we should seek them out often. Therefore, my invitation is to dream about that a little bit with me now…and maybe even in the days to come. So, here are some thoughts to get the wheels turning.
The mountaintop is sabbath. And, by that, I mean, like the trip from which I just returned, rest, renewal and play that restores the heart, body and mind is a place of encountering God. As we hiked up and down the English fells I saw the Beautiful Mind that created the heavens and the earth in each vista, each bright green fern, each wooly sheep, each summer flower. For me being out in creation makes me feel utterly surrounded and filled by the Great Artist that created it all. And, when I share such experiences while playing with my loved ones, I feel the closest thing I can possibly describe as the “joy of the Lord” filling my heart to overflowing. But you don’t have to cross the pond for those experiences, and I don’t either. Most of the time these sorts of experiences look like long walks with my family in our neighborhood or board game nights or cooking and eating together. And, what transfigures such experiences from simply a relaxing day off to a divine encounter comes from the intentional inclusion of praying together, of naming our gratitude’s together, of naming God with us and all around us.
And, the mountaintop is care for the mind and body. It is important to keep out minds active…to being committed to life-long learning. This looks like reading the bible and good books from both the secular and sacred canon. For God is so often discovered in story. This looks like appreciating art and listening to music…filling our minds with beautiful things that point us to the Transcendent Beauty, that is God, who stands behind all creative enterprises. This looks like practicing hobbies that clear the mind from the troubles of the day…that excite our curiosity and desire to improve. And, it looks like caring for our bodies with good food and exercise. If like me, you are no gym rat, just step outside the front door and see where your feet take you. Henri David Thoreau once wrote, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Indeed, God is encountered in learning, creating, and moving.
And, though, I could surely name other metaphorical mountaintops, I will conclude my list by saying, perhaps the obvious one, church and prayer is a mountaintop. I have heard so many people say to me over the years some version of, “I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. But, I did. I came to church, and I am glad that I did. I just feel better…more full.” And, what I would say, is that one feels better and full not solely because they got out of bed and did something productive, but because they joined hearts with the very Body of Christ and had a transformative encounter with the living God. That’s what happened, and what happens here each week. God is met in worship, prayer and community, and we are transfigured in incremental steps more and more into the very people God created us to be…remembering it was Jesus who said that, when two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them. And, then there are our daily prayers. Friends, I just know from my own personal experience that when I begin and end each day in prayer…even just a word or two of gratitude or the recitation of a prayer known by heart like the Lord’s prayer…I am more balanced and centered. I am more kind and joyful. I am a better and more present partner, parent, friend and priest. I just am.
And, my point is, that our mountaintops moments don’t have to be monumental climbs or wildly emotional experiences…but we do have to intentionally seek them out and prioritize them…schedule them, even, in each day. For God is waiting to be encountered and such divine appointments, indeed, set us on fire. They transfigure us into something the reflects Jesus’ own glory that shone on the mountaintop in and for the world.
You see, we spend most of our lives in the valley’s between mountaintops, which is in the places where we work, live, serve and sleep. And, we spend most of our time among all the people we encounter in those valleys…friends, family, co-workers and strangers. And, all of those people need us. They need the infectious glory that dwells in our lives…sometimes desperately so. And, it is our mountaintop moments, reveling in God’s own glory, where we are transfigured into the very thing they need. That is people dazzling brightly with a supercharged spirituality , who more ready to listen, more willing to help. People with a kind and hopeful disposition. People who bring into the room positivity and joy. People who are quick to smile and slow to anger. People ready to roll up their sleeves and generously sow the glory of God…alive in us…into the lives of those we get to serve and care for…especially when they are deeply lost in the shadows of their own valleys.
As I said, you have more power and are more important in the work of building God’s kingdom than you can ever know. So, I implore you to find your mountaintops, go there often, and be transfigured…into the very glory of God…in the world…for the world. Amen.