CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Transformed for Mission
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now 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. Just 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. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When 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.
- Luke 9:28-36
One of my favorite quotations attributed to Mahatma Ghandi is “[b]e the change you want to see in the world." His actual words were “[w]e but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body.”
The two are related, though not exactly the same. But they both shed some light on the story from our gospel for the last Sunday after the Epiphany: the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.
And this story has all the elements of a great drama, including special effects. Jesus is on a mountain praying. It should be noted that there is nothing unusual about how this story starts out. Jesus was always going off to pray. But his time he invites Peter, James and John. They are about to drop off to sleep when things begin to get more interesting.
Jesus’ clothes become white as a flash of lightening, and he is joined on the mountain by Moses and Elijah. The three of them are engaged in conversation. When Moses and Elijah turn to leave, Peter speaks up, though he really doesn’t know what he is talking about. He suggests a way to commemorate this event by building three booths. He is trying to capture a moment that cannot be captured. Were Peter alive today, he would have probably been asking for a selfie with Jesus and Moses and Elijah.
Instead the clouds descend, there is a roll of thunder and the disciples hear a voice saying, “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to him.” Next thing they know they are alone with Jesus. And they say nothing to anyone about what has just happened until much later.
When I was living in Massachusetts, one of my favorite retreat places was Emery House in West Newbery. Emery House is a converted farm run by the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. There is a chapel attached to the farmhouse, and just to the right of the door to the chapel is an icon of the transfiguration that hangs above the stoup (which contained the water for blessing oneself as you entered). I remember I would always say a silent prayer that, in the service, I would be transformed by the prayer that we shared in that sacred space.
Over time, I noticed that there was a Greek word written on the icon. The word was metamorpho, from which we get the word metamorphosis.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration points to the power of God to bring about dramatic change--in Jesus, in us, in the church and in the world. For some, the transfiguration is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection. It is clear from the context of Luke’s version of the story that he and Moses and Elijah are discussing his “departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” There is a sense that this story is intimately connected to Jesus' death on the cross and that his resurrection, which follows, might be seen as the ultimate transfiguration.
But what does that mean for us, here and now? Transfiguration and resurrection are connected to what we call transformation. And transformation is at the heart of our journey of faith. We are always on a path that, as disciples who follow Jesus, leads to change.
Of course, the corollary here is we don’t like change. We resist it. Here on the cusp of Lent, our Gospel lesson reminds us that change is coming. The whole season of Lent is dedicated to repentance and amendment of life, to the opportunity and gift of redirection, of second chances, of transformation. But our nature is to resist.
Of course, the reality is our resistance to change does not serve us well, at all. In nature, change and adaptation are the ways that living things survive and thrive. And we are no different. We are made in such a way that without change, we stagnate and perish. Change is, in fact, our path to life, health and wholeness.
The deeper promise of the transfiguration is that this sea of change is not just for individuals. The transformation that is signaled by Jesus transfiguration is for the church and for the world. And it is very much connected to our identity in the church, as the body of Christ.
Jesus’ transfiguration shows that we are made for change. It is in our DNA. The call of God will take us to places we never would have asked to go or imagined we might be called. This is a gift. And we need to receive it, freely and fully, just as Jesus did. We need to listen to him and to follow his example.
For the church in the late first quarter of the 21st century, as we hopefully are beginning to emerge from a devastating pandemic, this means reimaging our mission. The transformation we are being called into means change is our friend. And we need to open ourselves to the grace of God to transfigure us into the change the world needs to see in us.
So what does that look like exactly? It means we need to reckon with the toxicity of racial discrimination and racism. It means we need to focus on what our congregations need in order to serve the communities around them. It means opening ourselves to the new communities the Holy Spirit is raising up to balance our worship life with our missional call to the people we serve. To paraphrase a well-known quotation: It means formation, formation, formation. And it means caring for the earth because, if we don’t care for this planet, it will be transfigured, by our reckless abuse, into a wasteland that cannot sustain us.
If this sounds familiar to those of us in North Carolina, this is by intention. Our mission strategy is our attempt and intention to live into the call of Jesus to be transfigured, to let the Holy Spirit guide us into the church we are called to become: the beloved community that is our ecclesiastical DNA.
Jesus’ transfiguration is the touchstone and the template for our 21st-century church. It is the missional call we are invited to embody, not for the sake of the church but for the sake of the world that we have been sent to serve. “Being the change” is our identity, our mission and our destiny.
The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman is the XII bishop diocesan of the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus