This week we celebrate Jesus’s transfiguration. Put simply, what we’re celebrating today is the revelation that Jesus Christ is God, not a mere prophet, or rabbi/teacher. Jesus is the truth of God’s love for us because he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to heal, restore, reconcile and recreate us in his image so that we can have life now, and eternally, with him. God comes to us in the Son, and by his Spirit, gathers us to the Father. That’s what this transfiguration is all about.
It’s also though, about a moment of recognition of this tremendous revelation by God. It’s a recognition by the disciples who say, ‘this Jesus we’ve been following, he really is God, let us keep him here on this mountain and build him a special dwelling place, sort of like a shrine. Jesus says, ‘nope’ I’m not a shrine to worship. If you want to love me, that is, if you want to worship me, first come to me, but then my friends, you need to go down from this mountain, you need to go out of this church and enact – live out – the love that I have given to you. To worship is to offer yourself to me, to come to know me, so that I can equip you to go and make more disciples by sharing my love with other people. So guess what? You’re going to need to be constantly seeking, and continually open to changing so that you can join me not on this mountain top for right now, but out in your homes, in your neighborhood, in your schools, your hospitals, your senior’s residences, your grocery stores, your friend’s houses. In other words my dear brothers and sisters: you’re going to need to grow from where you are now, so that you can become more like me, if you want to share me with others.
I’m not sure about you, but I do know that for me, and apparently (having read a lot of the literature), growth is about coming to flourish – that is to live into the person you were created to be. As for what would compel me to grow? That’s an easy one: safety, security, being loved, having purpose, mattering to someone. Here’s the thing – as most of us know – if we rely on transient, ever changing things or people (people who come and go, people who might for one reason or another leave our lives) for safety, security, being loved, and having purpose, at the end of the day, we’re not going to have a solid foundation for the seed we are, for our roots to spread, for our leaves to blossom, for us to weather the inevitable storms life throws at us. Why? Because things and people are, well finite, limited, they hurt us, they leave, they move, they get sick, they die. And as important as these relationships are – and they are exceptionally important for us – they are not the bedrock, the foundation, the cornerstone of our very lives. Your best friend, or your spouse – they might be an essential part of your life, of how you think of yourself (a best friend, a life long friend, a spouse, a parent, a teacher, a mentor, an aunt or uncle), but these people did not bring you into existence, they do not define you completely, and they cannot be with you from cradle to grave, more inward to you than your very own self is to you.
What we all are seeking – however we might pursue it or speak of it – is an unbroken endurance of embrace: of physical, mental and emotional protection, of meaning and purpose, of being desirable and desired, of being desired for who we are even when we find ourselves twisted and broken and fragile in our own particular snaggled ways. Here’s the catch though. You often hear – usually in backlash to the sort of judgmentalism and exclusion that has too often been part of everyone’s experience – that we must love people, ‘just as they are.’
But true love, perfect love, cannot actually do this. Only imperfect love, love that is limited, itself fragile, and pulled in multiple directions without knowing fully the purpose for which it was made – only imperfect love can love people ‘just how they are.’ In contrast, perfect love, will embrace you indeed, and move you to the place, in accordance with the purpose for which that love made you. How do you feel about this? Does this make your neck hair stand on end? Does this sound coercive? Does this sound as if your freedom is being somehow suppressed? I have heard this said many times: I must be free to do as I please; if you love me, you will let me do what I want.
But is, ‘being free to do what we want, truly what we want?’ Think for a moment about those times you’ve been really hurt and you want to strike back at that person to get revenge. Have you ever actually done that? How’d that work out for you in the long run? I know several lost friendships, even marriages where someone was free and ‘did just what they wanted.’ The consequence turned out to be harmful to themselves and others. I’ve seen this with people who continue on with drugs and alcohol, or with sleeping around or open marriages. The root problems for why people did these things only ever being addressed when really serious consequences devastated them.
In contrast to freedom, unchecked, I have seen parents financially cut off and institutionalize their children who were addicted to drugs, who had eating disorders, who committed crimes. And in all these cases, wow, have I seen shame. Massive shame, anger, rage, embarrassment, fear, and desire for rebellion. How dare you strip me of my freedom to be me. How dare you judge me. How dare you try to correct me. How dare you try to redirect me. F- you. I want my freedom. Here’s the thing, while our collective human push for freedom has taken many shapes and forms, and our individual lives may have looked like some of these cases, or perhaps in far less drastic ways, one of the things that each one of us shares, are things that – when seen through the lens of perfect love – ought to bring us shame. This, my friends, is sin. Sin takes so many forms that I cannot possibly name the ways it is manifested in our own lives, in our own reasoning, in our relationships with others, in things we do or don’t do, in ways that are unknown to us (that others can often see when we can’t).
The thing is perfect love refuses, actually, to accept us just as we are because doing so would leave us without the capacity to go out and share God’s love with others. If perfect love just left us where we are – we would be left thinking, ‘hey, it’s okay to respond in this really nasty way,’ or, ‘it’s everyone else’s fault that I’m always angry or moody, or irritable,’ or, ‘I’m going to constantly criticize this person, never give them credit because I want them to be just like me and what I want, rather than grow into who they actually are.’ If perfect love did not shine light on the things we do out of fear, anger, bitterness, envy, jealousy, greed, sloth, gluttony, avarice, and lust, we would be left in a degenerate world where our meaning was solely about what power we could wield over ourselves and others.
Our reading today, about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ – God’s revealing his presence, his power, his creation of us, his reconciliation of us, his love for us that reshapes how we even think of the good – this is fundamentally about the truth, not A TRUTH, but THE TRUTH, being unveiled. No longer can you and I live our lives as if the truth of God in Christ has been veiled to us so that we can’t see it. We have been baptized and adopted into God’s family. We are his children through Jesus Christ. In his Holy Spirit, the love he pours out that constitutes his very being, corrects, burns away, chastens, and reforms us into the image of his Son. This is why the disciples bow down in fear: they recognize the truth. God has come and because he is perfection fulfilled in Jesus’s own life, he enables us to see where our words and actions don’t live up to his own way of loving his neighbors and enemies; not always accepting as I said above, but when questioning, or critiquing, or challenging and correcting, doing it in a way that will enable a person to endure it and actually be transformed into Jesus’s own likeness too. AMEN.