Transfiguration Sunday C-16
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Today’s gospel is like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, but in reverse. Getting up close and personal with our greatest heroes is often a disappointing experience –isn’t it? In the iconic 1949 movie, the great and powerful Wizard intimidates a quivering Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow shouting, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Dorothy’s little dog Toto pulls away the veil and the true identify of the Wizard is revealed. He is an old, somewhat tired looking ordinary man, trapped in Oz just like Dorothy.
This lifting of the veil parallels what happens all too frequently today. One by one the penetrating light of modern media exposes our heroes’ all-too-human flaws. The veil between public and private is gone. In many ways, our cultural innocence is shattered. Cynicism abounds. Celebrities famous mostly for being famous have replaced our heroes.
But it’s not all bad. Perhaps personal integrity has deepened these past 65 years. Personal humility is strengthened. 500 years ago, Luther said, simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. “No one is good but God.” (Luke 18:19) We all know that now.
None of us looks good once the veil over our inmost self is pulled away. If we could see what God sees, enmity and malice runs deep in the human heart. But a glimpse of the inner life of Jesus reveals the full brilliance of God’s grace that even now, invites you to be clothed in new life. On the mountain of his transfiguration, what we learn is not only spectacular news about Jesus. It is the good news that transforms all of us who, like the poor wizard of Oz, look better than we are. How does this startling metamorphosis occur? The gospel of Luke tells us over and over again: our transformation in Christ comes through prayer.
Jesus called the disciples to prayer –not so that they might become perfect —but so that through their prayer practice, they might cling to grace for God to create in them a clean heart and place a new and right spirit within them. (Psalm 51) This is how God’s love is unleashed in the world. Clothed in prayer, God’s work is accomplished through our hands.
Jesus taught the disciples, who were all ordinary people, that they too had power (dynamis) and authority (exousia) over evil (Luke 9:1). Jesus sent them out from village to village to preach the good news and they healed many (Luke 9:6). He challenged them to respond to the needs of five thousand hungry people. “He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat’”(Luke 9:13). He asked each of them to tell him who they thought he was. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked (Luke 9:20). Jesus was teaching them about the cost of discipleship and about the cross six days before he invited Peter, James and John to walk with him up a mountain to pray. (Peter Woods, I Am Listening, 2010)
On the mountain and on the way to the cross, Jesus showed the disciples the proper source and use of their power. On that mountain, Jesus showed what makes us strong doesn’t come from our muscles. It doesn’t come from prized skills and unique abilities. It doesn’t come from the muzzle of a gun. True power cannot be bought. Power to heal and re-make the world doesn’t flow from the ability to dominate, but to connect. True heroism comes from the courage to live our faith and follow Jesus’ way of the cross.
At his baptism (Luke 3:22), a heavenly voice spoke to Jesus “You are my Son. With you I am well pleased.” On the mountain the voice addresses itself to the disciples and declares, the imperative, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him,” (Luke 9:35).
On the mountain, Jesus becomes the New Moses. Paul calls Jesus the mediator of a new covenant in which we all become living members of the body of Christ. “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, ‘the veil is taken away.” So we, ‘with unveiled faces each reflect the glory of our Lord Jesus, and are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Corinthians 3:13 &16)
The power of God begins in prayer and ends with our own vulnerability. “The more open we are to God, and to the different dimensions of God’s glory, the more we seem to be open to the pain of the world.” (N.T. Wright)
Today we live in a society that the novelist David Foster Wallace has described as one of Total Noise. The Super Bowl is only one example of hyper-stimulation and information overload. Total Noise, said Wallace, is both euphoric and numbing. It’s way too much to organize or understand. Which is to say that it obscures or veils all those things in life, like the realm of the spirit, that are necessary for being fully human. (Daniel Clendenin)
Transfiguration Sunday marks the threshold between Epiphany, which began with the journey of the magi, and Lent, which begins Jesus’ journey to the cross. Standing in the doorway is characterized by ambiguity and openness. We are called to try something new or to give something up in order to grow. Lent is an invitation to walk out the door of our noisy, numbing modern life and into the grace and peace of God. Lent represents an opportunity for ordinary people like us to once again be clothed in the extraordinary power and authority of God that is for the healing of the nations.
Jesus arose early one morning. He took the disciples on a walk up a nearby mountain. It was a day like any other. It was a day just like today. The secret revealed on that mountain was that God is already always hidden within the ordinary moments of our lives. Our inmost self is enlightened grace. Now, we bear the light of Christ into the world. Often, we do not understand how it is that we do this. Often, we cannot see the light that we bear. But in the name of Jesus, we find joy in the discovery that God pours out power through us to bring new life to the broken-hearted –power to help the cowering stand tall. (Kate Huey) Like the disciples, we listen to Jesus in prayer. We follow the path illumined by the light of Christ advancing the Spirit’s call to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.