“A Transfigured Faith”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
March 3, 2019
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.
34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Have you ever had one of those “Aha!” moments? Sure, probably all of us have had at least one. You know, that moment when something suddenly appeared so clear to you that you felt like that cartoon light bulb was going off over your head? Well, what about an “Aha!” moment that turned out to be wrong, not an “Aha!” moment at all but you realized a moment later or years later that your “Aha!” moment was something very different? Maybe that is what we might call an “Uh-Oh” moment.
I ask this because the story in our Scripture lesson is a bit of an “Aha!” moment. It is a moment when we might say a “bright light” went off before them but it is hard to tell if Peter and John and James really understood exactly what happened or what it meant. That is easy to understand really, if we put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine being on a mountaintop somewhere with someone you considered a teacher, maybe even a mentor or perhaps even a hero of yours and suddenly you have this mystical vision of that person and it is so shocking and real you start babbling stuff but don’t really know what you are saying. That’s a little of what this passage of Scripture feels like.
Maybe that is even underselling this powerful moment a bit. In the verses just before this Jesus has sent these disciples out to heal, to teach, and to proclaim a new reality he called “the Kingdom of God.” They come back on a spiritual high because they saw so much happen. People’s lives were transformed by both the healings and their proclaiming God’s reign. Then they witness Jesus feed 5000 men plus women and children. And right after that Jesus asks them who they think he is and Peter says “you are the Messiah of God.” So maybe teacher, mentor, hero isn’t enough. And even with that proclamation, we come to realize that Peter needs to be transformed, Peter needs his faith to be transformed. It is clear he doesn’t really understand the meaning of his words, calling Jesus “the Messiah.” And that brings us to this mountaintop experience.
This story has a magical, mystical, spiritual quality to it that seems almost like a dream sequence or a “vision” feeling to it. But what I take from it more than anything else is that it was a moment that transformed not just Jesus, but the disciples who witnessed it. It suggests to me that if people like Peter, John, and James, the disciples who had the most personal and most intimate experience of Jesus of Nazareth -whom we believe is Christ the Lord, and our Savior, and the son of God- if they needed to have their understanding and their beliefs about and even their actions as believers, as followers, as persons of faith transformed, then all of us need to be open to ways in which God wants to transform or transfigure our faith. No matter how faithful we may think we are, no matter how much we believe what we believe, no matter how many ways we have followed and served and witnessed to others about Jesus we all need to be open to the ways God wants to transfigure our faith in Jesus.
Many times it seems God seeks to transfigure our faith but we resist. We worry that God will ask too much of us, or we are so busy we can’t possibly do anything else. It’s like we say to God, “God my calendar is really full right now, can I get back to you in a month or two for this ‘transfiguring’ thing?” But just as God can use simple acts of caring for others to transform our world, God calls us to the simple act of caring for others to transfigure our faith and our lives. And isn’t caring about someone else ultimately what Jesus Christ seemed to be telling us to do in its simplest form? I was struck this week by a recent news story about a neighborhood that showed it cared for someone else. That someone else was a little girl who was hearing impaired. Listen to the ways their actions maybe transformed a neighborhood from strangers to people who cared about each other in real ways:
[ it is about 2 minutes long ]
As I watched that video for the first time I had something of an “Aha!” moment. It is a simple story really. New neighbors move in. They have a baby. It turns out the baby has a hearing impairment. The neighbors care enough to spend time learning to communicate with this little girl by sign language. It took some effort, but mostly it took caring for someone else. The “Aha!” moment? Do I really have to spell it out?
So we thanked Craig and Tammy for their weekly efforts to sign so that we can share our service with our sisters and brothers who have hearing difficulties. A while back they even offered a series of classes to anyone who wanted to learn enough to communicate with anyone who comes to ACC whose primary communication was through sign language. I was always too busy to sit in. I was always too tired after church to do it. I haven’t learned a lot of sign language, yet I have an in-house tutor. Maybe it is time I started caring about someone else a little more.
Maybe if more of us started doing a little more of caring for someone else we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all these stories of hatred and division and injustices. Maybe if we started caring for someone else who is different from us enough to discover they aren’t that different from us. Maybe if we started communicating with one another a little more and stopped labeling each other with hateful and hate-filled labels we might begin to catch glimpses of what God envisioned for this world when he sent Jesus Christ to announce the reality of, and the presence of, God’s realm, of an alternative to the way things are.
Maybe if we just simply start caring for someone else we can begin to transform our faith, and our lives. And if we do that I believe we will transform our world. We don’t necessarily have to go to the mountaintop to see the world differently. Maybe we just have to go next door. Can it be true? Can we transfigure our faith if just started caring a little more for someone else, for someone different, for someone other than ourselves? Seems to me that is what it’s all about. May God continue to transform me, and my faith, and on the way, maybe everyone else’s too so that the world might become truly the Kingdom of God.
The Sacrament of Holy Communion in part communicates God’s vision for God’s reign, for what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. In it all serve and are served. In it all feast without cost or price, for all is provided by God. In it we are all sisters and brothers in a family of love and forgiveness and hope. In Communion we remember that Christ cared for us enough to be the sacrifice to overcome the sins of hatred, injustice, and evil. This is the mystical, sacred vision God has for the world and when we see it, it will truly be the most glorious “aha” moment we will ever know.
So let us take this sacrament and not only envision a new world, but live it out, both in the moments of this sacrament and in the everyday world we go out to live in from here. AMEN.