The Transfiguration of Ourselves
Text: Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly, when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
Most of us avoid trouble. Yet, a few people go out of their way to ask for it.
Donald Wood (1933-2001) was one of those people. Wood, a black South African journalist in the 1960’s and 1970’s (editor of The Daily Dispatch), wrote and spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. He believed what Abraham Lincoln stated was true - "That which is morally wrong can never be politically right."
As a journalist, he interviewed the South African Prime Minister. Wood asked the Prime Minister how he reconciled the degradation of blacks with the teachings of Christ. Woods wrote that it was just after he asked the question that Wood observed a real flash of anger from the Prime Minister. He said he knew then he was asking for trouble.
Because of his writings against apartheid and government practices, the white South African government banned Wood from writing or even meeting with people. The movie, “Cry Freedom” (1987) dramatized his fight against apartheid; and his autobiography entitled “Asking for Trouble” (1981), chronicled his fight for freedom.
His acts of trouble helped to change a repressive government, and he was the first average citizen to speak before the United Nation’s General Assembly. His life was a life asking for trouble.
You may be wondering what a South African journalist has to do with our Scripture story about the Transfiguration of Christ. I will tell you. But first, I will say this.
The Transfiguration of Jesus has never been one of those Sundays or Scripture stories I have joyfully approached. I had difficulty understanding it in my younger years. So, I did what any courageous pastor would do – I avoided it. I wondered what this story had to say to me and to you today.
Let us face it. The story is full of mystery. It takes place on a mountaintop 11,000 feet high (possibly Mt. Hermon near the Jordan Valley), no easy climb for anyone. No wonder only Peter, James, and John were with Jesus. The others disciples were probably out of breath, hearts pounding, and strung out all along the trail to the summit.
Then, once at the top, the disciples see Jesus’ clothing transformed into a radiant white, and who shows up? Here comes Moses and Elijah. Then, just as mysteriously the disciples hear a voice saying – “This is my Son…listen to him!" Peter, oxygen deprived, says suddenly – “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, for Moses, and for Elijah." Yeah, right; who is going to climb all that way to see it? Much less, build it.
However, as I grew spiritually, the more I thought about it, and the more I perceived what was going on in the world, the more clearly I saw what was going on here.
The story of the Transfiguration teaches us about the transformation of Jesus, the transformation of ourselves, and the transformation of God’s creation - our world, and how all of this transformation parallels with asking for trouble.
First, let us deal with the transformation of Jesus. More accurately, let us deal with the transformation of our understanding of God in Jesus.
Like Peter, we easily misunderstand Jesus as Son of Man, as Messiah, as the Crucified Christ, and as the Risen Lord.
Like Peter, who wanted to build three altars on the mountaintop to venerate Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, throughout church history we have wanted to venerate Christ so much that we tried to conquer the world in his name, and then judged people on whether they agreed with our theology.
Unlike the people we hear today who boast about themselves, Jesus never boasted about himself. He humbled himself as one who served God. He even said once – “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” He did not call himself Son of God, but left that to others. That says a lot about how we are to view Jesus, especially as we move towards Good Friday and Easter.
When we declare that Jesus is Christ, we are not confining God to Christ, but we are saying that God is Christ-like. When we say that Jesus is Messiah, we are transformed to declare that if anyone wants to see God, one must see a human servant like Jesus who gave it all on the Cross. And why was he crucified? Because he upset the powers that be. He spoke out for the powerless, the poor, the sick, and the dying. As such, he was constantly asking for trouble. Because he asked for trouble, he was crucified.
In the transfiguration, we understand that God becomes like us so we can become like him.
Secondly, besides the transformation of our understanding of God in Jesus, so there is the transformation of ourselves.
People who worship God in their religion – including Christians – have tended to think of themselves as “the chosen people,” as the elect, as the special ”saved” people among all other persons in the world. This has led to horrible religious wars throughout history, is still prevalent today, and leads to exceptionalism. Exceptionalism is believing and acting as if I am, we are, people who think and belief like us are exceptional and thus set apart from the rest of humanity.
However, the transformation of our understanding of God in Christ, transform this belief about ourselves.
If God is like Jesus – and Jesus was servant of all – ministering to the poor, the powerful, the Romans, the Jews, the Gentiles, to men, to women, to children, to prostitutes, to leaders of the law, to people who knew him, and to those who did not know him – then we are to do no less.
Jesus became unexceptional, so everyone would become exceptional.
To be followers of Christ, we have to do the same – become unexceptional to show that all persons are exceptional. Either the love of God is for all, or it is for none. Either we all enter the gates, or none of us enter. A full understanding of what God did on the Cross and in the Resurrection leads me to make such a powerful claim.
Thus, we have to be willing to take up the cross and follow him. If we are to be the first of all, we must become the servant of all. You and I are not exceptional; rather, all of us are exceptional. Religion may say others are expendable; God in Christ says no one of us is expendable.
To have such a radical love, as God does in Christ - we are asking for trouble.
That leads us to the third transformation – the transformation of God’s world.
Before the Reformation of the 16th century, people flocked to monasteries and convents, to flee from the world, to find salvation for themselves. After the Reformation, monasteries declined because people saw that God calls us into the world, to transform the world, not to flee from it or to abandon it. To flee from the world is to be safe from trouble. To enter the world, to transform it is asking for trouble.
Do you know what inertia is? It is doing things the same way they have always been done. (Paraphrase from philosopher/economist Robert Heilbroner)
To transform the world, to transform even a small part of it, we have to do things not merely the same, we have to consult larger maps, and to think of new ways to make the world a better place for all life. We are going to have to transform and extend ourselves. Our nation – our home – the one that can be at times misguided and hard-hearted, we have to risk trouble and transform it. But we have to move beyond inertia – doing things the same way. It is possible, you know, to be a safe as well as a wise and compassionate nation.
Finally this, you through your ministry here have transformed this world. You have transformed the community by reaching out to others by giving backpacks and coats, food and money, the Post Clinic, the Homeless Coalition Dinners, and the Arms of Love. You have extended yourself to transform the community by welcoming people of all races, genders, sexual orientation, economic status, or in times of loss or guilt. Why have you done this?
I believe it is because you risked trouble transforming yourself and the world knowing that God’s love for others does not lessen God’s love for you. That God’s salvation of others, does not threaten your salvation. That what God did for others on the Cross, does not lessen what God has done for you on the Cross. That God’s resurrection of others, does not threaten God’s resurrection of you.
Surely, the transformation of ourselves is to know that in God – just as in heaven - there is room – plenty of room - for us all. Amen!