Y’all are lucky this Sunday. Though we celebrate the Transfiguration every year, I have never preached on this feast before. This sermon is all-new, it’s fresh.
Some of you church nerds might know, though, that usually, the Transfiguration isn’t celebrated in August, at least not on a Sunday. Usually, this story is read and celebrated the last Sunday of Epiphany season, and that’s no coincidence; think of it — the season of Epiphany celebrates and reflects on the revelation of God in human form, beginning with these non-Jewish foreigners, the wise men, who follow a star to find Jesus.
Here on the feast of the Transfiguration, we remember and celebrate a story where God is revealed in human form “in raiment white and glistening” our collect says, and to only a few witnesses — more than a few echoes of the Epiphany story.
So today is the actual feast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, just like the feast of Epiphany and Christmas don’t change dates either, January 6th and December 25th. So it’s rare that Transfiguration would fall on a Sunday, and here we are in one of those very special years.
It’s significant too, because over the month of July, we’ve been reflecting on the Kingdom of God; Fr. Jordan talked about how, having never been there, we can’t quite grasp what it means, but Jesus, himself the king of that kingdom, does his best to describe this other reality to us. Last week, I tried to paint a little picture myself of what the Kingdom of God might look like, and I hope perhaps you saw some glimmers in your own lives this week, whether they were in the form of gifts to you, a blessing that someone else brought to open a window into God’s kingdom, or whether you yourself decided to step into that reality that Jesus describes, joining in God’s kingdom work yourself. Putting yourself out there, doing something you weren’t asked to do, walking around for awhile in somebody else’s shoes.
Here in the Gospel passage today, and indeed, in our Old Testament lesson for that matter, we hear witnesses telling us again of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, breaking into our earthly existence. These experiences recounted in Scripture are more mystical than the ones I’ve highlighted over the last weeks, the way that the Kingdom of God is breaking in when Moses’s face shines and when Peter, James, and John see Jesus in white clothing, chatting with Elijah and Moses himself, is full of mystery and other-worldliness, much more than mowing somebody’s lawn or insisting on watching their kids for a few hours. The Transfiguration seems to insist that the Kingdom of God is more than just being nice to each other, more even than sacrificing your time or money for somebody else. There seems to be more to God and to his earthly reality than kindness and goodness and faithfulness.
Those fruits of the Holy Spirit are good and important things, they’re the very marks of what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus, but if our lives are about being kind to one another, why do we bother showing up to church on Sunday mornings? Why do we waste our time wrangling our kids into their clothes and car seats, why do we get up early on Sundays, too — as if the rest of our week isn’t hard enough. Of course, I’m sort of here preaching to the choir, as they say — here you are, you’ve done the work of getting up and out, and you’ve chosen church over brunch, or at least you’ve put off brunch. But sometimes we can forget why we do the things we do, and I believe the Transfiguration is here to remind us.
First, we can heave a sigh of relief — the Transfiguration is not here to teach us to be nice to one another. The heart of the Gospel is not “be nice.” It is not even, “seek justice.” The heart of the Gospel, my friends, is that you are messed up — I am messed up too — and even though we are gnarled and twisty and wounded and burned, maybe even bitter and calloused and narrow and needy, God loves you. To him, all hearts are open, all our desires are known, from God, no secrets are hid.
Though he sees each nook and cranny of our hearts, our minds, and our lives, he does not look away in disgust or shame, he looks beyond our messes and our wounds and he looks with love and compassion into the deepest part of ourselves. In our great neediness, God heals.
More than just reaching down, or reaching out, or touching to heal us, more than being a sort of doctor who binds up wounds and then sends us on our way, or a famous orator who gives an inspiring talk and then leaves us in our tracks, God desires a two-way street with us. God not only knows everything about us, we are not just open books to God, but in the Transfiguration, God shows that he wants us to know him, too.
Way back in Exodus, as Moses is traipsing up and down the mountain, talking with God in the burning bush, in the fiery pillar, and in the cloud that covers the mountaintop, God not only comes near to Moses, but God lets Moses get close to him, too. God reveals himself to Moses so intimately that God’s glory rubs off on Moses’s face. I’ll be it’s not a coincidence that the other person in the Old Testament who saw God intimately was Elijah, the other character who came to hang out with Jesus and his disciples on that mount. Elijah’s story is the one when there was the earthquake and then the storm, and wind, and then the sound of sheer silence, and that he knew that that was God passing by.
So my point is that we’re not just open and exposed before God, but God chose to open and expose himself before us. The Transfiguration is one of those glimpses. Like the Kingdom of God parables we explored over the last several weeks, Jesus shows us many facets of who he is, of who God is. God is the humble, helpless baby born to Mary, he is the bright child who argues with the men in the temple, he is the carpenter’s son and the wise friend and the healer and the teacher. He is all those everyday, common, human things, but that’s not the whole story.
Jesus is human, but Jesus is also God. Today we celebrate the truth that Peter, James, and John first witnessed, that Jesus is not just fully human, but is also fully God. That God doesn’t just know all our sin and darkness and wants to heal us, but he also wants us to know and love him, too.
And sure, seeking justice and being kind and mowing lawns and making food and helping our friends with young kids out, those are ways to know and love and serve God, but I want to make sure that we don’t try to sidestep the uncomfortable truth here at the center of this story and at the center of the Gospel itself.
God wants you to know him. To listen to him. To hear him. To love him. Who is God to you? Who is Jesus Christ in your life? When was the last time you sat in silence with your creator? If it was this morning, what was it that he said to you?
I, for one, have become too used to shortcuts. Microwaves, washing machines, even a robot vacuum cleaner — I hardly have to spend time doing any chores anymore. I can skip right to the fun part. But I suspect you’ll agree, in the really good stuff, you can’t skip right to the fun part. The fun of playing the piano or some other instrument is when you know your instrument really well, when you have spent hours and years practicing and growing a relationship with it, that’s when it really gets fun.
I want to skip to the fun part with God. I want to sit down and just start gabbing. To be immediately on the same wavelength, to just hop over the fence into this reality of God’s Kingdom. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s more like other parts of our earthly life, it takes practice and attention, it takes time and determination. It’s not something that God needs or requires of us, it’s not that we have some obligation to fulfill, as if we’re stuck making conversation with God till our parents dismiss us to play in the yard.
God knows and is interested in you. God desires and delight in you. God has revealed himself to you. Do you maybe want to get to know him?
Please pray with me:
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.