This was the message today. The scripture used were: Exodus 34:29-35, II Corinthians 3:12-4:2 and Luke 9:28-36.
Our two words for the day are transfiguration and transformation. I really thought that if I looked up one, I would find a definition for the other. I really seriously felt that these two words were extremely close synonyms. And perhaps in many ways they are, but I was more than a little shocked at what I saw with the word, transfiguration. This word is defined very particularly about Jesus. It is a change in the appearance of Christ on the mountain with three of his closest disciples.
Transformation is defined more as a change in structure or appearance or attitude. For some of you who are starting to catch on to the way I think or present things, you already know that we are going to talk about that last word, “attitude” in terms of transformation today. But first, I want to tell you a little story about a funeral that James and I attended this past week.
Now I will be honest with you, lately when I have the chance to sit in the pew and listen to how someone else talks to a grieving family, I pay attention. I want to know how the family is handled and what sort of advice is given to them, and if the deceased is even acknowledged by the person giving the message. (We have had some personal family experiences when we didn’t think the minister even knew who the funeral was for.) Let me just clarify that on Thursday we knew exactly who the deceased was and the priest did a lovely job of engaging the family and letting them know he knew them, and he knew their mother well. And while he didn’t carry on about her faith, though she was quite stanch in her beliefs, I was very interested in an interpretation he made regarding her lifestyle and her many illnesses.
See this lady was not a healthy woman. She had heart problems, diabetes and as of late some real trouble breathing. In fact she had a defibrillator attached to her and at least twice before her passing, her husband had to activate it to bring her back. She was told some years ago that she should have a new heart, but it didn’t sound like she was a candidate for a transplant.
Now keep those things in mind as I tell you the description the priest shared about the sort of lady she was. She was a giver. She wanted nothing more than to feed you or care for you or do something to make you feel better. And mostly food was her way of showing you how much she liked you or appreciated what you did for her. It was mentioned that they could not be in the field or on the yard at her farm without her insisting you stop in the house for lunch. I also don’t know how many times we have been at some birthday party or celebration of some kind where she was and there were trays upon trays of wedding kuchen that she made for the event. And when you hear the story of how her mother died young and find out that she helped raise her younger siblings, you know she was someone who cared deeply for her family and did whatever she could for them.
So what could the priest have possibly said about this woman and her life style and her illness that amazed me and sort of made me take a step back and think that maybe I had just been flipped on my head? His comment that her illness may have been part of God’s plan to help her learn to be more accepting of what others could give to her. What? Really? He suggested that when we are in the presence of God, not only are we praising and sharing our love for God, but we are in the presence of the epitome of love, and we need to be able to accept that love as much as we need to be able to give our love. We must be able to receive, be able to take in, be able to accept what God has for us. Wow! Really?
God might have to go to such lengths to make us see, to make us transform our ways to open ourselves up to the love that Christ has for us. At the least it was an interesting thought, an interesting twist on how to look at things and situations. For me it fit fairly well into that theme of our denomination that God is Still Speaking, God is still telling us new things.
Moses when he went up the mountain to receive the commandments from God for the Israelites was changed in a way that made his face to shine with such radiance that the people could barely stand to be around him. It was so bad that he started to wear a veil so he was able to be with the people. Yet in the passage from II Corinthians Paul explains that the veil became more of a curtain that kept the people from seeing the truth.
When Jesus was on the mountain with Peter and James and John and he was transfigured, Luke tells us that his raiments (his clothing) became dazzling. Apparently it was the brightest white you could imagine, and then make it whiter, almost sounds like an advertisement for a laundry detergent. The brightness was so overwhelming and the change in Jesus that the disciples saw seemed to frighten them. Peter didn’t even seem to know what he was saying let alone understand what he was suggesting they do, build houses for Jesus and Moses and Elijah there on the mountain.
Some of the scholars, the bible experts look at this passage as a “mountain” moment. They talk about it as something that happened in a high place, almost like a great feat or major event. But it was more than just a time to go to a mountain and meet with some of the major figures of Biblical history. It was more than a chance for Jesus to have a summit or ask some of the older prophets for advice or a plan or any of that. And it wasn’t just a meeting to show the disciples who Jesus really was and how important he was.
As we are looking at this passage about this event in the life of Jesus, we are looking at how it is about a change. It was a change that Jesus had to go through to prepare for his journey into Jerusalem and the time leading up to his betrayal and crucifixion and resurrection. Meeting with and being seen with Moses and Elijah was an important part of that change. Hearing the voice of God exclaiming that Jesus is his Son, and they were to listen to him was an important event for the disciples to experience in their learning and growing to be his disciples. It was part of how they changed.
At his birth, which we celebrate as Christmas, Jesus changes from a heavenly spiritual being into a tiny human baby so that he can come into this world as one of us. But at Easter at the time of his crucifixion when he dies a human death, he is able to rise again, not just in ghostly or spiritually, but in human form and in spiritual form. Jesus alone has that ability. And this event that we read about today is part of that change in him, part of that process that allows him to be who he is as God’s Son and our Savior. It really isn’t as simple as I might be making it sound, but all I can grasp at this time is that it was a change and one that was necessary for Jesus to be who he was to us and to God.
On Thursday as I listened to the idea the priest had about how God may have used illness to make the deceased woman change enough to allow others to do things for her, to show her their love for her, I began to think of what that might mean for me as a church leader and for us here in our church. I began to think of how I am always talking about how we are to give and to search out others who need us and what we might have to offer. I began to realize that I have been so busy focusing on what we can give that I never once stopped to think of what we might receive from someone outside of ourselves.
And even as I pondered the whole thing, instead of accepting the blame for myself, I chalked it up to our German-Russian heritage: that fierce stubborn independent quality that makes us so self-sufficient. Yet maybe as long as we are able to carry on without any help from anyone else, we are missing out on all the love and nurturing and the blessings that we might receive by opening ourselves up to others, perhaps not just in sharing what we know about Christ’s love, but listening and communicating real genuine communicating. What an idea!
It was mentioned to me that we are beginning to see our current place in our community and our wider church in how we share our resources with others, but I think perhaps there is more. I think that maybe it isn’t just about sending resources and things away from ourselves, but perhaps we need to be ready to see what happens when we open ourselves up to the love that we will receive when we open wide our arms in welcome as we are welcomed by Christ.
As the face of Moses was changed, his skin became radiant, shinning so brightly it scared those around him. As Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, so we too are to be transformed, changed, made different because of our love for and acceptance of the love of God through Christ. Because we are able to accept Christ’s sacrifice for us, because we look to Christ’s love for us and receive it, we also accept the change that God makes in our lives.
We are to be different. We are to be God’s creatures. No, becoming a Christian doesn’t result in an instant and absolute and no problems sort of change, but with God’s help and with prayer and study and worship with a fellowship of believers, we are able to offer ourselves for the change that the spirit of God can and will work in us. If we are willing to receive the love that God has for us, we can be transformed into the believing Christian that Christ died for, we can each be the one that he is waiting to welcome home to be with him worshiping God and receiving God’s love.
When we are willing to allow that spiritual change in our lives, then Christ’s time on earth and sacrifice is worth the cost. And the veil that separates us from God’s love will be removed and Christ’s arms that were stretched out on the cross can be stretched out in a loving embrace for us. May we go today with the idea that we are ready and willing to be spiritually transformed so that we are able to share with others about the life changing love that God has for all. Amen!