A Sermon preached by Sara Milford at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Community Correction Center Baptisms on July 29th, 2012.
The Scripture Texts for the Feast of the Transfiguration:
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
Open our hearts and still our minds, O God, that we might hear you in both word and silence.
We are blessed – those of us here in this place this afternoon. Together, in a time intentionally set apart, we get to witness transfiguration.
Transfiguration, indeed, is “Christ’s appearance in radiant glory” to Peter, John, and James, as accounted in three of the Gospels. More generally, it is “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state,” “an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.”
Consider those moments when you have seen for yourself a transfiguration in those you love. Have you beheld a bride and groom in a quiet moment after their marriage ceremony? Have you seen the face of a mother or father as they gaze at a newly born child? Think of the child who suddenly realizes they can ride a bike by themselves or a person of any age who realizes they can actually put letters together to make words as they read on their own. What about the women who complete their time at the correction center and walk through the doors to the other side? Are they the same women who entered only months before?
Can we witness such moments and not be affected?
What is our responsibility, having seen such a gift?
Peter, John, and James just happened to be awake and saw the Transfiguration of Jesus while he was praying, when “his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” And then they see Moses and Elijah with him. Moses, whom we heard earlier, whose face was ever shining, so long as it wasn’t veiled, because he had spoken with God.
God is there.
Peter wants to make dwellings to honor the place. “Not knowing what he said”? Wasn’t what he saw a good, amazing thing? Doesn’t Peter want to glorify and exalt the Lord, marking this holy place?
Then the booming voice from the clouds. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Now Jesus was alone, and they were silent.
They saw Moses and Elijah with a radiant, dazzling Jesus, and they told no one. Silence.
You women know a thing or two about silence. I think we all know that even when words aren’t spoken, volumes can be revealed.
It doesn’t say Jesus told his disciples to be quiet. But hearing the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus, you bet they did. They knew what they had seen. Perhaps the Light of Jesus, the Christ Light, shone brighter for them than ever before, and as they listened to Jesus, it transcended all words. They listened in silence.
From Second Peter, we’re told “to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
“…be attentive to this…” “This” meaning, I believe, that Christ is God’s son, God’s beloved, as the Spirit proclaimed upon his baptism.
The Light of Christ, the Love of God is real and true. Hold onto this until you have it in your own heart . . . until you realize it’s been there all the time.
There’s a quote attributed to St. Ignatius:
A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe
that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture,
and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor,
who sees by her genius what she can make of it.
We are all children of God. In our baptism, we, too, are transfigured. We take the opportunity to wash away the barriers the block our Light so we can be who God created us to be. As a prayerbook I have concludes St. Ignatius’ quote, we can “ask for the grace to let (ourselves) be shaped by (our) loving Creator.” I am God’s beloved child. You are God’s beloved child.
Witnessing moments of God’s revelation in ourselves and in others, we are affected. If you’ve ever seen the glory of God in any circumstance, you cannot un-know it. We can forget. We can turn away. We can re-build those barriers. But it doesn’t change the fact of what is, the evidence of God’s great beauty and love — even in the midst of hatred and fear.
What’s our responsibility? I asked earlier. Be awake. Peter, John, and James only saw Jesus because they were awake, but they were tired. They could have been asleep, but they weren’t. What do we miss when we let our minds wander and our attention wane? Who do we miss? Where have we missed seeing Jesus in our lives. Be awake.
And listen. Obviously they weren’t silent forever, or we wouldn’t have this story. We need the story, though, because we weren’t there. As they were listening to the living Christ, we, too, need to listen for the Living Christ, often described as that still, small voice. Probably a lot like the voice, the pull, the desire, that brings you today to your own transfiguration.
There are very few people
who realize what God would make of them
if they abandoned themselves into his hands,
and let themselves be formed by his grace.
Again, St. Ignatius.
A prayer: “I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love.”
And may you know how brilliantly you shine.