Sermon for Sunday, February 26, 2017 || last Epiphany A || Matthew 17:1-9
We have reached the final week of our Epiphany sermon series, in which we have been imaging our way into God’s point of view. God sees, names, and celebrates us as beloved, befriended, gifted, blessed, enlightened, unfinished, and finished. This brings us to our final word of the sermon series: God names us “transformed.” The more we practice seeing ourselves and others the way God sees us, the more we participate in our own transformation.
I saved this word for today because I knew we would be reading the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. He goes up the mountain with Peter, James, and John and there the Gospel tells us, “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Despite what the text says, I’ve never thought that Jesus himself was changing in any way. This story has always been for me a window into God’s point of view. On the mountaintop, God gives Peter, James, and John a gift. God gives them the gift of seeing Jesus as God sees him, a luminous being awash in God’s love and grace. And I’ve always wondered if the disciples had turned and looked at each other, would they have seen each other similarly transfigured?
You see, when we adjust our eyes to see from God’s point of view, everything is transformed. We notice God’s presence on the mountaintop; that is, in the most joyful moments of life – the accepted marriage proposal, the birth of a child, the satisfaction of a job well done, the partnership in mission that brings new life and opportunity to those in need. We also notice God’s presence as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death – God’s heart breaking along with ours after senseless tragedy, God absorbing our anger and grief when we lose someone we love, God whispering peace to our souls when we are lost in the maelstrom of despair.
When we adjust our eyes to see from God’s point of view, everything is transformed – and not just the highs and lows. Everything is transformed. The simple dailyness of life is transformed. This is why monastics down through the ages have considered scrubbing floors and digging up potatoes as forms of prayer. Indeed, folding laundry becomes a moment to thank God for warmth and to remember those who are cold all the time. Washing dishes becomes a moment to thank God for food and to remember those who are hungry all the time. Getting coffee with a friend becomes a moment to thank God for meaningful relationships and to remember those who are lonely all the time.
And this remembering the cold and the hungry and the lonely is true re-membering. Not just keeping in mind, but stitching back together, members again one to another. For when we see with God’s eyes, we will know the truth that everything is bound up in everything else, a web of relationships so complicated and beautiful, and so sorrowful when the web is torn. Indeed, when someone else is cold or hungry or lonely, then we can never be truly warm or sated or connected.
Our transformation into the beings God yearns for us to be happens when we take seriously God’s point of view; when we see one another as luminous beings awash in God’s love and grace; when we live into the truth that everyone is connected to one another and all to God. Our transformation happens when we accept the truth that our liberation, our freedom, is bound up in that of others; that our joy cannot be complete until joy is attainable by all; that the promises of God are not just for a select few but for the entirety of creation.
Thus our transformation is a process of expansion out from ourselves: away from pettiness and self-centeredness and towards embrace of the other, who we will be surprised to realize is no other, no other than Christ our Lord.
Yes, our transformation expands us until we own the truth that our bodies don’t end at our fingertips and that our goals don’t end at our own self-interest. I believe God designed humanity to move like those great flocks of birds you see on nature documentaries: millions upon millions of flying creatures swirling and diving and rising and soaring with each other in an aerial dance of breathtaking beauty. We got it wrong along the way and started bumping into each other and dropping from the sky. But the more we participate in our own transformation, the more we see as God sees, the more we expand our sight, then the better we become at soaring together again.
More than anything else in this sermon series, I have been discovering for myself and relating to you this notion of expansion. Working backward through the series, let’s see where such expansion takes us. Last week, we expanded our view to attempt to see the totality of space and time as God sees it; the reason we did so was to remind ourselves that God is present in what we call the past, the present, and the future. Where we are going, God has already been, is there now, and thus we are finished in a way, at least as God sees us.
But we are also unfinished because our transformation is still underway. Our unfinished transformation can cause pain when we don’t fully live into our expanded lives, and yet that should not cause us to give up; remember God is waiting for us in the future that we are helping to build.
We build that future together with God by expanding our light, bringing the light of the world to the all the places that are still lost in darkness. Or as we said today, those places where people are cold and hungry and lonely, those places still in need of liberation from all that shackles us – all of us, whether we feel the chains or not. Such service is a blessing; such service is why God blesses us in the first place. We are blessed to expand our own blessings out in this world..
We use our giftedness to be such blessings. God gives us gifts not to separate us or elevate us, but so that we can use them to serve God and transform creation. God invites us into friendship with God so that we have the opportunity to choose such service as partners and thus begin participating in our own transformation in the first place.
And that first place is belovedness, where we began and also where we end. “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased” said God at Jesus’ baptism in the river. And again today on the mountaintop: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Thus our part in our own transformation is wrapped up in our claiming our fundamental identity as God’s Beloved. And then expanding such an identity out from ourselves until the whole of Creation can once again claim its original status: that which God called “very good.”