A middle-aged man had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table he had a near-death experience. Seeing God, he asked, “Is my time up?” God answered, “No, you have another 40 years, 2 months and 8 days to live.”
Upon recovery, the man decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, a “tuck” here and there, a little liposuction for the love handles. He removed the grey and got a little something for the bald spot in back. He figured that since he had so much more time to live, he might as well make the most of it.
After his last operation, he was released from the hospital. While crossing the street on his way home, he was hit by a car and died immediately.
Arriving in front of God, he demanded, “I thought you said I had another 40 years, 2 months and 8 days to live. Why didn’t you pull me from the path of that car?”
God replied, “Well, I didn’t recognize you!”
The lesson is: Sometimes the changes you make, can get you in trouble; transformation is not easy.
Take Jesus, for example.
We know this story well. The “Transfiguration of Jesus.” This event is reported in Mark, Matthew and Luke. Taking disciples Peter, James and John along with him Jesus heads to the mountaintop and there has a classic mountain-top experience. He stands with Elijah and Moses. He is changed – he looks different after the event. The disciples don’t know how to process it: “Who is this guy?” Peter wants to build three booths – he doesn’t know what he is doing. They are in a fog; a cloud of unknowing. “A Beloved Son – listen to him!”
They descend and the ministry of Jesus takes an ominous turn. From here on out it is to the cross.
What Mark wants us to pay attention to is this: Jesus is the embodiment of the law and prophets. Jesus is the beloved son of God.
Frederick Buechner writes: “It is as strange a scene as there is in the Gospels.” Indeed it is!
And then Buechner writes this, and it got me thinking: “Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking a child in the park, of a woman picking peas in the garden, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.”
This morning I am called less to the transfiguration of Jesus and more to the question of how you and I are transfigured and transformed by God’s spirit, into being who we are really. For that is what this transfiguration story is really about: Who is Jesus – yes a teacher, yes a revolutionary, yes a spiritual master, yes a miracle worker, yes, all these things – but our tradition has, from the beginning, said that in Jesus we see God.
If Christians want to talk about God they talk about Jesus. If you want to know what God looks like, what God wants, to what extent God will go to reveal love to you and to me – then look at Jesus – that IS the central claim of Christian faith.
And the question “Who is Jesus?” leads to the question “Who are you?” Really? Who does God want you to become, how is God seeking to reveal the divine in you?
We are all heading up mountains of discovery, or descending into clouds of unknowing – some into the same old ruts of dysfunction where we don’t want to know – climbing into any closet available so we don’t have to deal with who we really are. But then there are moments of revelation, of transfiguration.
A lesbian daughter comes out to the family – transfigured forever; a new woman, same old girl.
Women and men coming to realize that they are trapped in the other gender’s body – they are transgendered, transfigured – same and completely different. Bruce Jenner has just made the news – Gold Medal athlete, step-father of the Kardashians, a women in a man’s body.
Brian Williams – trusted news reporter, massaged the facts – changed forever.
Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon – will they be transformed? Can they?
Jesus – peripatetic preacher, to savior of the world, to hunted revolutionary.
How we yearn for ourselves, for our children, for our spouses, and partners and friends and lovers to step into the light because we know there is more than meets the eye. We want to grow into our best selves.
“I just want to see you be brave” as Sara Bareilles sings.
And then there are the moment – falling in love; what just happened?
Your child – the one you thought you knew – suddenly shows that they can take care of themselves and do not need you.
Nelson Mandela in prison – a revolutionary turned Father of South Africa.
Someone taking the first of the Twelve Steps.
Or finally going to therapy – because you can’t keep doing what you are doing.
Forgiveness – truth telling, holding accountable, speaking truth that has been bottled up too long.
It happens. The bible story is not so remote after all. Happening all around us. There is so much pressure not to change, to hide, to run away – but Jesus wants to drag you to the mountain top with him. The Holy Spirit will do almost anything to pull the rug out, to send tension in the night, to turn on the light – anything to get you moving.
Transfiguration is about Jesus – but it is also about you. When have you been shining lately? What “you” are you trying to hide? What “you” are you afraid to reveal?
The well-known words of Marianne Williamson, in her book Return to Love, remind us that:
We are all meant to shine… We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
And just as Jesus beckons us to come up the mountain, he then beckons us to descend transformed with power to help transfigure this world. To seek to liberate those imprisoned in poverty, chained in unjust structures. Not easy work…but holy.
Jesus leads us up and sends us down; calls us out and pushes us into the fray. Oh no, we will never arrive – always on route until that day we breathe our last.
And as St. Paul writes: “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day for this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure….”
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” “In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me; as he died to make us holy, let us live to make all free, while God is marching on.”
Julia Howe wrote those words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. She saw the coming tribulation and the transformation, the transfiguration that must occur in our nation in the Civil War – we are still going through the change.
I just want to be honest. Transfigurations are not easy. To become who you are and show it forth will have costs. But remember. Jesus – transfigured in glory – transcended even death. What do you have to fear?
I don’t want to lead you on. But as Ananias Nin once wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
It is all about blossoming, becoming who you were born to be. It is all about standing in the light and letting your real self out. It is all about the risk of revealing yourself, truly and letting people say: “Who knew?”
God will recognize you. And the best part is – you will feel good in your own skin!
You will shine… at last!