Sunday, February 26, 2017
Transfiguration of Our Lord / Last Sunday after Epiphany
Today’s festival is a bridge between the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle that comes to a close today and the Lent-Easter cycle that begins in several days. On the mount of transfiguration Jesus is revealed as God’s beloved Son, echoing the words at his baptism. This vision of glory sustains us as Jesus faces his impending death in Jerusalem.
We turn this week to Ash Wednesday and our yearly baptismal journey from Lent to Easter. Some churches put aside the alleluia at the conclusion of today’s liturgy. This word of joy will be omitted during the penitential season of Lent and will be sung again at Easter.
Prayer of the Day
O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice from the bright cloud declaring Jesus your beloved Son, you foreshadowed our adoption as your children. Make us heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalms
Exodus 24:12-18 Moses enters the cloud of God’s glory on Mount Sinai
2 Peter 1:16-21 The apostle’s message confirmed on the mount of transfiguration
Matthew 17:1-9 Revelation of Christ as God’s beloved Son
Sermon: We are All Trans
As we have seen in these eight Sundays that have followed the Epiphany of our Lord, the learning curve of a disciple is quite severe. Spending most of the time listening to segments of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have learned of the counter-cultural ways of God’s justice that define the eternal Kingdom. We have heard that we need to unlearn old ways – anger, revenge, victimhood – and learn the ways of Jesus the Christ who comes making all things new – especially us, his disciples. And we have learned that we have new identities – salt and light – and with those identities, new roles to play in the world.
And today, if that learning curve wasn’t steep enough, this morning we are on another mountain top to learn that this man is more than a great and wise teacher. In the event that we call the Transfiguration, the disciples of Jesus – then and now – learn this teacher, this healer, this miracle worker, this small town guy from “nowheresville” is truly the one sent from God and we are to listen to him, to pay attention, to follow in his way.
On that mountaintop, we see that Jesus is connected to the eternal kingdom that is ordered by the law that was given to Moses, a law that tells us God cares about our relationship with God, cares about our relationships with one another. Those commandments tell us that God considers our lives, our lively-hoods, and our reputations important and worthy of protection.
And in the presence of Elijah, we are reminded of a long history of God speaking to the people through the prophets. God who is always playing the parent chasing after the rebellious child, always playing the husband pursuing the wayward wife. The Elijah and the prophets were the mouthpiece for the God of love and mercy who never stopped seeking to promise the people into a future of hope and peace.
On that mountaintop, the disciples learned and were confirmed into seeing that Jesus was the true fulfillment of the law and the prophets. And so with this mountaintop connection to the past and the future, the radical welcome of Jesus that they had witnessed in the present taught them that the law was not to exclude, but to reach out and include all. That the relationship of God and people was not to be exclusive to one tribe or one nation, but was to be extended and cultivated for and in all people.
But they were not to speak of this latest epiphany, until the ultimate confirmation was delivered on the bright Sunday morning as they stood before an empty tomb and began the world-changing proclamation that the Lord is risen indeed. We see this witness in this morning’s reading from the second letter of Peter.
And now joined to Christ’s resurrection though the waters of baptism, we can see that we, too, are on that mountain of transfiguration, not just as witnesses to a transfigured Jesus the Christ, but we stand in the grace and glory of God transfigured ourselves. In those baptismal waters, God also said to us: “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Dripping wet we are transfigured from sinful humans to cherished children of God. Transfigured from dust (as we will be reminded that we are this week as we begin our Lenten journey with Ash Wednesday) from dust that has no life to inheritors of eternal life. We are transfigured from refugees, exiles and slaves to full citizens of the kingdom of God.
And we are called to continue not just contemplating this witness of transfiguration – both Jesus’ and our own, but to proclaim and live this witness as the epiphanies continue to draw us up in joy to bright mountaintops and challenge us with walks in dark valleys. As we learn and discover, as we doubt and question. The learning curve continues to be our way as disciples of Jesus the Christ.
Upon coming to St. John’s I have been challenged by steep learning curves in a variety of areas. But there is one I wish to highlight and bring before you today – part because of this feast day of the Transfiguration, part because of what is happening in our country. Before being called to be a part of this ministry, I had little experience with people who identified as transgender. In my time here I have had the privilege to witness faith-filled people of a trans experience become members of our diverse faith community, I have witnessed testimonies of faith at our Saturday night Gospel Nights and at other events, I have heard stories of lives well lived at memorial services that happen here because the friends of the one who died were not allowed by the family to participate in the funeral, I have seen leaders in the trans community speak out boldly for justice and equality, and, most importantly, I have heard the stories of people whose journey to understand themselves has had a much steeper learning curve than many. For many it is not an easy journey: filled with confusion, beset by rejection and ridicule, attacked by discriminatory policies and physical violence, challenged by limited employment and housing options. My journey on this learning curve has cultivated deep compassion, tremendous respect, and outright admiration for those who have reached any kind of mountaintop of self-understanding.
Perhaps on this day of mountaintop epiphanies where true selves are revealed through transfiguration: Jesus – the Beloved Son of God and ourselves as baptized children of God – it is good, wise and oh, so very right to make room on the transfiguration mountaintop for those who experience this life as transgendered children of God. We stand together in the light of the Christ that we follow. We do as God is commanding from the cloud and we listen to this Jesus who came telling us to love one another, even those we do not fully understand, or whose life’s journey and whose learning curve is so different from our own. We are to listen to Jesus who calls us to stand with and care for those who society has beaten down, forgotten, and deemed less than. We listen to Jesus who tells us that we are salt and light for the sake of the world.
This day, on that holy mountain of God, we are all trans.
The Rev. Mark Erson,