Transfiguring Ourselves into Christ

(Sermon given at Holy Redeemer Catholic Community, Feb. 24, 2013)
We all have certain habits, certain things we do, certain changes in our behavior whenever we enter a church. For us, the tower bell rings, and suddenly all the convivial conversation in the narthex stops and everyone puts on his and her “church face”, and we file into the sanctuary. When we enter the church, we dip into the holy water font and cross ourselves. We genuflect before we enter our pew, and we take comfort in the light of the sanctuary lamp, which reminds us that Jesus is here. Maybe we don’t even know why we do the things we do, but we’re at Mass, and this is what we do. This is what is familiar.
Some Gospel stories are so familiar to us that we hear them and it just seems like the same story we’ve heard again and again. The transfiguration story is one of these: Jesus takes three of his favorite disciples up the mountain, his appearance changes, Moses and Elijah are there, the disciples are afraid, Peter says something dumb, and then it’s over. Most of us can recite the main outline of the story, but maybe it’s become so familiar, we’re not getting the deeper meaning.
On the mountain, as Jesus was praying, Luke tells us that “Jesus’ face was changed and his face became dazzling white.” We say Jesus was transfigured before them. “Transfigured” isn’t a word that you and I use in everyday conversation. No one says, in reference to the excellent meal they had at Eddie Merlot’s, “Wow! I was transfigured by the experience!” Even the Gospel writers have to help explain what they mean by the word: “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white (Luke) or “as bright as a flash of lightning.”(Matthew). Peter, John and James had seen Jesus day after day for quite a while and they knew what he looked like. What happened to Jesus showed them that there was much more to Jesus than what they could see with human eyes: what they saw in Jesus in that moment was what God saw from the very beginning, and I would submit, this is how God sees each one of us right now.
If the disciples had any doubts about what was happening, they were soon to comprehend it fully. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and had a conversation with him. The vision lasted only a short time it seems, but its message was clear. Jesus was selected by God to bring the Law of Moses to fulfillment and to surpass the greatest of the prophets through his mighty deeds. Of course, the disciples had heard Jesus say that he was God’s Son, God’s anointed, yada yada….but now they were finally given a glimpse of what that meant. It was, as Peter blurted out, “good” for them to be there. Good, because the vision was a gift from God.
Peter, who would later die a martyr’s death for Jesus, makes a ridiculous offer of setting up a holy trailer park for the three gloriously illuminated men, but thankfully, God interrupts him in the form of a cloud. ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him’.”
This is the high point of the story, and shows that everything in Jesus’ ministry has been building to this point. The disciples certainly had no doubt that God’s Son had a mission to fulfill and they certainly realized that they were part of this same mission. God adds the command, “Listen to him!”, and Luke, who is writing his Gospel for the Greeks, which is to say, the non-Jews, nonetheless makes it clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises, that He is God’s messenger to the world.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear God’s words, “Listen to him,” I feel some fear, a little discomfort much like those disciples did. I know that I don’t always listen to Jesus’ teachings. OK, I haven’t killed anyone this week and I’m not coveting my neighbor’s wife today, but I’m not so great at “loving my neighbor” sometimes, and I’m not all that quick to forgive either. We are all the same in this regard. Like those disciples, we have our own private doubts about Jesus’ message and teachings. We, like them, are sometimes ready to desert him when things get rough. God tells us through the life and example of Jesus how we are to live, how we are to trust in God’s abundance and grace, and sometimes we do believe all it. Other times we don’t. God tells us that the poor and disenfranchised among us are the preferred companions of God, but we sometimes prefer to keep on living our own life, spending money as we see fit, not really taking responsibility for those whom God has given us as sisters and brothers.
The transfiguration story isn’t meant to scare us straight, however, it’s meant to reveal to us the truth that God sees each of us as his beloved Christ. All who are baptized in Jesus’ Name are now born again as a new creation and are truly the presence of Christ in the world. That is the master plan, plain and simple. The disciples are fearful because they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lies before them. In Matthew’s account of this story, he has Jesus come to them and touch them, telling them not to be afraid. If you’ve ever wondered what the most common advice Jesus gives in all four of the Gospels it’s that we have no need to be afraid. “Fear not” “Do not let your hearts be troubled” No matter what, we are not to be afraid.
As they are coming down the mountain, after their brief retreat from active ministry, it all starts up again. Right away, someone is in crisis and in need of Jesus’ healing touch. And even Jesus is frustrated because, just like you and me, we’re so ready to believe if only Jesus will do some of his healing for us personally.
The glory of the Living Christ wasn’t revealed to inspire fear, it was revealed to inspire confidence. The Word of God is true, Abba God is like our Divine Father, and we no longer need to live in a fear-based relationship with a God who is always looking for a way to send us to hell. Many of us were raised with this notion of God. God loves us so much, we were told, that he will do anything for us, even send us his Son. If we cannot love God in return, however, He will send us to a burning devil’s hell for all eternity. This is not the God I have come to know.
Transfiguration, on the other hand, is what God really wants from us. We are made in the image of God from the moment of our conception and regardless of what we have done, regardless of some really bad choices we have made and despite the fact that we are not perfect, when God looks at us, He sees only the transfigured image of His own Son Jesus. Think about that for a minute. How different would our choices be if we were able to see ourselves as a transfigured Christ instead of an unworthy sinner, or a mediocre believer, or a stingy giver or a judgmental gossip? How would others begin to see us if we first knew and accepted the truth that we are good and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and that we had a mission from God? How different would our relationships in our family be if we passed on this perspective to our children instead of criticizing or blaming or putting them down when they make their own bad decisions and normal mistakes? How different would the situation of the homeless, the destitute, the divorced, the lesbian and gay, the convicted felon be if they could go to the mountaintop—if only for a moment–and see themselves as God sees them: full of divine power, full of goodness, full of transfigured glory?
The future of this congregation is something I pray about, wondering where this path will take us. This city is full of people who hunger for the kind of real, caring community that exists here. What is our obligation to them? How do we honor our Catholic tradition while being completely open to the possibility of being transfigured? The answer is simple: we must never overlook the reason we are a parish in the first place. We are here to support each other in conversion to Christ, to assist and challenge each other to grow in Christ. I have come to see clearly that as we continue as individuals to commit to Christ more fully, the issues relating to the congregation will take care of themselves.
As we move into the wilderness of this Lenten season, I invite you to look within honestly and consider ways to increase your faith and commitment to Christ, and your own ongoing transfiguration in Christ. Each of us has come here because we have heard the call of Christ to be more than we ever dreamed we could be on our own. We believe, but sometimes we doubt. We trust, even though we are occasionally fearful. We are all on the same path, after all, the path that leads from the limitations of our own egos right into the transfigured heart of Christ.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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