Our Humanity & Transfiguration

2 Kings 2:1-12 | 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 | Mark 9:2-9 | Psalm 50:1-6

You may have read in this week’s newsletter that this weekend is The Clergy Letter Project’s Evolution Weekend, the 13th year of pulling together clergy of all traditions to advocate for a relationship between science and religion rather than putting them at odds with each other. Our Bishop Benfield signed onto the Letter, as did I. As responsible citizens and faithful Christians, we have a responsibility to know how our actions impact our environment, how science enhances our understanding of the world around us. Our growing understanding of the world around us does not negate the existence of God. If anything, this understanding enforces the magnitude of the beauty and mystery of Creation, in what we know and the growing expanse of what we don’t know.

This year the theme of Evolution Weekend is “Our Shared Humanity.” Because of the divisiveness in our societies worldwide, emphasis is placed on our shared humanity, our commonalities even and especially at our genetic level. Often, divisiveness is based on “race,” which is itself a human construct, a designation based on geography or melatonin levels. We’ve used race and ethnicity to sort people throughout history, so much so that we’ve shown a tendency to reduce a person to their race or ethnicity, losing sight of their humanity: that’s how we end up de-humanizing people and finding ourselves in the midst of discrimination and oppression to outright racism and genocide. This seems particularly appropriate during February, Black History Month. So neglected from our American narrative, the black story needs at least a month a year to get recognition as an affirmed part of our collective narrative. We need incentive to pay attention to what often gets the attention and recognition, let alone how we use language and imagery. Think how often we associate darkness with what is bad and light with what is good. We need to think. We need to be aware. We need to wake up more often to our shared humanity.

This Epiphany season we’ve been focusing on how we manifest the Light of Christ in our humanity. We’ve been highlighting wonderful organizations and efforts to serve our neighbors, especially those who are suffering. We recognize the brokenness in our humanity that enables the perpetuation of this suffering, and we realize the desperate need we have for Jesus Christ to be in our midst, the wholly human and divine one that opened our way to reconciliation and redemption.

The transfiguration story we have in the Gospel of Mark highlights the contrast between the humanity of the apostles and the divinity of Jesus, while still holding on to Jesus’ humanity, too. Jesus needed these witnesses, even if he didn’t want them to share anything just yet. There was a hill to climb, a revelation to be had, and a moment to be savored.

There’s so much meaning in the details. Note that when something significant happens, it’s often someplace hard to get to, set apart, or up high. On this high, set apart mountain, Jesus, radiant in glory is accompanied by two who were thought to be ascended directly to heaven (Moses, whose burial site is unknown, though the was buried, and Elijah taken by chariots in the whirlwind): this moment is a revelation of God. In Greek tradition, a transfiguration or transformation occurred when the gods walked the earth in human form and then manifested their divine glory or radiance. Peter’s response to make three dwellings was completely in line with the Greek tradition to build a shrine on the site of an epiphany of a deity, as was their response to be in awe and fear of the divine manifestation.

But what of Jesus’ response of silence, of not knowing what to say? That might seem odd to us–thankfully we have the voice of God speak up–but Mark doesn’t have a problem showing Jesus’ humanity. His divinity has words, but the human doesn’t. We so often don’t have words for the most intense moments of fear, grief, sadness, joy, or love. We just have our witness to those moments. I have no doubt that Jesus brought a full-bodied awareness to the moment with the apostles, with all their fear and awe and wondering. The wisest people have a way with silence, and it’s not always what they don’t know that calls for silence. Think of all that Jesus didn’t say during his wandering in the desert, in his times of prayer, and during his trial and crucifixion. When Jesus does speak, he tells them to hang on until after Easter, which the guys didn’t understand yet because they hadn’t experienced the resurrection yet.

But we have.

And we’re neither Greek nor Jew, nor East nor West, nor male nor female . . . but we are humans, created in the image of God, gifted with the saving grace of Jesus Christ, whose glory we believe in because it shines in our hearts (as Paul says). But because there’s still suffering in the world and God’s glory hasn’t been fully realized in me (and maybe not in you, either), there is need for transfiguration, for transformation. There is need, and there’s a way: through Christ’s reconciliation and redemption.

We start with ourselves. We climb the climb of whatever struggle we’re facing and do it again and again until we’ve seen and tasted the image of God long enough to bring it back into our daily lives, until we’ve heard the Word of God and take it with us, working through our fear/resistance/oppression until we trust in the power of the resurrection to see us through death and even hell itself. We do this because Jesus showed us the power of eternal life. We do this because Jesus Christ is alive, pulsing with every beat of our hearts.

We nurture this pulse of Christ with our prayer, worship, and fellowship. I read an article that addressed the trend of churches giving up time-consuming worship to emphasize sharing a meal and doing deeds. That hits close to home because I find great value in meals shared and service in the community. But like the article emphasizes, the time we share and the service we do outside of our worship times and prayer practices are an extension of our gratitude for all God has given us, our way of sharing in God’s glory, our way of manifesting the Christ Light into the world around us that others might recognize it for themselves. That’s what I think of when I think of ministry. It’s not about doing good to make people feel good about themselves or make them think that our church is “the” place to be. I apologize if I haven’t made that clear.

What we do is an extension of our praise and thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ve been saved from death, we’ve died to sin in our baptism. We’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ. We’ve been given the greatest gift, for which we don’t have the capacity ever to repay. But we’re told to love one another. And our loving one another with thanks and praise to God–genuine worship and gratitude–manifests the Light of Christ in our communities. It shows in the fellowship we share, in the works we do, and we have room to grow and improve in this area, for we have so much to be thankful for. I’m going to continue doing my best to make sure we have beautiful, meaningful, prayerful worship together as a first priority. And I’m going to continue to encourage living out that meaningful faith in acts of service to our neighbors.

When I went to the Q Commons event, Sister Lisa from Mercy shared her 8th Street Motel feeding ministry. The motel was a site for sex trafficking, abuse, drugs, and violence. Since they began the feeding ministry, which occurs once  a week, reports of violence reduced drastically. Relationships built over time also helped former motel residents establish more stable lives. My ears perked up when she said she was starting the same program in Bentonville at a motel that showed great need for positive influence, a place that often houses those who are homeless, addicted, impoverished, and otherwise marginalized. I can imagine a so-called transfiguration story of those who are in the midst of battles making it to a bounteous buffet, receiving the love and hospitality of willing volunteers, and going back to their friends to share the good news of a free meal. That story seems kind of flat. More meaningful is the story of people being fed, listening to one another, encouraging each other, empowering the weak and afraid, and showing up month after month to check in and share where they’ve seen points of hope in their lives, where they’ve sensed grace and experienced faith. More transformational still is the story of those who thought they were easily dropping off a portion of a meal but who stayed with people who might otherwise challenge them–even frighten them–and stayed with them long enough, built relationship with them deep enough, to recognize their shared humanity and develop a common bond, not for their sake alone but because they loved God so much they wanted to share it with others. 

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(Almost a Sermon)


(This is the sermon written for today. The sermon preached had a lot more LOVE in it, thanks to the Holy Spirit and a wonderful Saturday.)

Exodus 24:12-18 | Psalm 99 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9

As guilty as I am of it, I’m still amazed of how often these days more and more people are busy looking at their phones instead of at each other or looking through their phones to take pictures to capture the moment so it can be shared broadly through the social media venues. Again, I’m guilty, too, because I benefit by seeing the experiences of others, seeing what brings you joy, knowing when you are hurting (if you post it), and generally having a sense of what is going on. Unless we bump into each other at the grocery store or call each other on the phone (yes, phones are still good for phone calls), online is the way many people connect these days.

If he’d had a phone, don’t you know that Peter already had photos taken, had tagged Jesus, James, and John and had marked the location complete with new hashtags for Moses, Elijah, and the three new booths he was going to set up when he was saying, “Jesus, this is going to be so good!”

Only, it wasn’t.

Really, how many times are you able to capture a picture of the amazing sunrise or sunset, one that gets all the shades of purple, blue, pink, and orange spread all across the horizon? How many full moons and moonlit landscapes have you photographed and felt that the lunar beauty was adequately portrayed?

Peter thought he caught was what going on and was ready to mark the place and spread the news, but it wasn’t time. He didn’t have it right just yet, but what didn’t he have? What about Jesus being transfigured into full glory before them isn’t enough to verify his status as Son of God?

Because God already spoke from above when Jesus was baptized. Peter already said Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus shushed him then, too. Jesus has been performing works giving witness to his authority and to the glory of God. Surely this mountaintop transfiguration is just the thing to bring around all those on the fence about believing. Now we’ve even got Moses and Elijah for certain on our team. We’re ready to hit “send” on this press release now.

But in this account of the transfiguration according to Matthew, the apostles heard the voice from the cloud, repeating the baptismal approval and adding what I’m sure had to be a booming “listen to him!”, and they hit the ground. Well, it says, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear,” but if you’re covered in a cloud and hearing the voice of God, you’re most likely going to hit the ground because your time has come. The apostles were afraid.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t know what to say to their fear. In Luke, they all keep silent. Here, in Matthew, Jesus comes to them, touches them, and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

The apostles look around and see that the moment of transfiguration has passed, along with Moses and Elijah. It’s only Jesus with them now. As they make the trek down the mountain, Jesus orders them not to tell about what they’ve seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead–basically until what he’s already told them will happen has actually happened. He’s going to be captured, and he’s going to die and rise again.

Why wait? Jesus continues to perform miracles. Crowds still seek him out. He’s working as one with authority. Why wait? Because there’s more. Epiphany is a season of light, focusing on Jesus’s ministry in the world, how God manifests Light in our world through the Incarnation, but that’s not all of Jesus’ story. The Light of Christ gets overshadowed not by the cloud of God but by our brokenness, not just the nonbelievers and traitors of Jesus’ day, but by our brokenness, too. Jesus’s story continues to be our story because the gospels don’t end with the transfiguration or even the crucifixion.

Jesus’s story is our story because he goes through suffering and death yet rises again. His friends betray him, but he comes back to them, allowing them to profess their love and ascertain their faith. Jesus’s story is our story because he sent those first apostles out to make more disciples, and people’s lives have been touched by God throughout our history, giving testimony to the many ways we suffer, fail, and rise again. Jesus’s story is our story because He continues to be revealed to us, showing up as “a lamp shining in a dark place.”

And I don’t like it, but sometimes we have to wait. We have to wait on God’s time. We have to wait while we discern the next best move, and by “best move” I mean move in accord with God’s will, not mine, and most of the time that’s hard to understand or to have a concept of a bigger picture. Sometimes we wait because we’re afraid, and our first response is not one of compassion or respect, let alone love. The voice from the cloud told the apostles to listen to Jesus. Jesus tells them to “Get up and … not be afraid.”

In an interview, civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, reflected on his childhood and young adult life. Listening to him talk, it’s hard to believe that his man was at the front of the march on Bloody Sunday in March of 1965. This man who admitted that he probably cried too much and lamented that we don’t tell one another “I love you” enough, led a nonviolent protest straight into the mouth of hell, where it seemed if one wave of violence didn’t kill them, another one waited at the other side of the bridge.

He didn’t wake up one day and decide to protest. He grew up wanting to be a preacher. He grew up asking questions. He grew up with an unshakeable faith and  persistent love. He believed that things could be better, that we could be better people.

He and the many others who joined Dr. King studied nonviolence. They studied Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts and read Thoreau’s civil disobedience. They dramatized situations, taking turns assaulting each other with horrible insults, learning how to fall and protect the head, practicing maintaining eye contact so that they could show that their spirit was not broken. But they would not retaliate with violence. They would resist the urge to strike back and lash out, knowing that something bigger than themselves was at stake. They studied and practiced nonviolence until they were ready to go out and do when discussion, when civil discourse failed. Being ready meant that they were also willing to face death for what they believed.

And he thought he was going to die that Bloody Sunday of March 7th, 1965. More than worrying about his death, he feared for those who were behind him in the march. But he didn’t die. He lived. He lived to see the day when he could meet the children of the man who beat him and meet the police department that had carried out orders to stop them, all of whom were now seeking forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, seeking freedom from a past that haunted them. Lewis met them in peace, with love. As Christians, we know that the story doesn’t end when one good thing happens, when something bad happens, or when we get scared. In fact, we know the story hasn’t ended yet because we’re still waiting for the Son of Man to come again in full glory.

In the meantime, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to train on God’s Word. We’ve got to study and practice being in relationship with one another in true love and reconciliation. Sometimes we’ve got to wait because we don’t understand fully, and we may not be ready to give up our egos or even our lives for a greater Good. If we keep seeking God’s will and keep looking for God to show up in our lives, chances are we’ll recognize the glimpses of God’s glory when we see it. Our hearts, minds, and lives are the only thing created to capture and reflect God’s glory, so it’s okay to put down the electronics and turn to one another in love. It may just be that God’s waiting for us.

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