Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Transfiguration Sunday
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – March 3, 2019
In the movie “Shrek” about the ogre of the same name, Princess Fiona, is a beautiful woman who has a secret. As she reveals to Donkey when he sees her at night as an ogress: “By night one way, by day another, this shall be the norm, until you find true love’s first kiss, then take love’s true form.” A witch had cursed her as a child, causing her to transform each night into, as she puts it, a “horrible ugly beast!” She thinks she has to marry and kiss Lord Farquaad in order to be permanently transformed into a beautiful woman, but as she continues on, she finds out something much different. Shrek comes to rescue her on her wedding day and they realize their feelings for each other. As they kiss for the first time, she is lifted up in the air in an awesome parody of “Beauty and the Beast” and transformed with brilliant, blinding light that knocks out all the windows of the church. The result of the transformation? She’s an ogress. When Shrek goes over to see if she is ok, she says, “Yes, but I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be beautiful.” Shrek smiles as she looks disappointed and confused and says, “But you are beautiful.” Finally, everyone can see who she has always been: a beautiful ogress.
Jesus transfiguration on the mountaintop showed the disciples who he really was in all of his glory. “…while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” His appearance changed, and his clothes were oxy-cleaned bright white, but who he was – God’s Son, God’s Chosen one in human form – was the same. It’s tempting to hear this and think that it just shows God’s glory, but what comes before and after give us a much fuller picture.
Before going up on the mountaintop, Jesus has predicted his suffering and death and outlined for his disciples what following him will look like: “‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” Now Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ closest disciples, are up on the mountain with him, spending time in prayer. Drifting off, these three witness Jesus’ face changed before them and see him talking to Moses and Elijah about his “exodus.” In other words, Jesus is meeting with two of the most well-known and powerful figures in Judaism talking about his death, resurrection, and ascension in Jerusalem. Peter, in an attempt to do something productive, suggests making huts for each of them, but God redirects him, John, and James, telling them instead to listen to Jesus.
But it’s what happens after this that really sheds light on understanding the Transfiguration. Jesus and the disciples descend the mountain the next day and are met by a huge crowd including a father in desperate need. This man shouts out to Jesus, calling for help and asking him to take notice of his suffering son. We hear that this boy was continually seized by a spirit, shrieking, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth. In modern terms, it sounds like a seizure. And we learn even more – apparently, Jesus’ other nine disciples had not been able to heal him. They were powerless. Now, just a few verses earlier, these disciples had been given “power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,” and had been sent out with great success “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” If it’s a performance review, it looks like the disciples have just failed big time. No wonder Jesus is frustrated with them! “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”
The mountaintop experience is the experience we’re always looking for. It’s what we’d expect of a God, “holy and mighty, holy and immortal.” We want uplifting and beautiful experiences of God. And there is nothing wrong with that. But sometimes I think we’re blinded to where God is showing up. Looking at what comes before and after this event reminds us that God’s reign looks much different. That it’s Mary’s song of the lowly being raise up, the hungry fed, and the rich and proud being brought low. It’s the blessing of the struggles and the brokenness we heard in the beatitudes. It’s hope and healing for the outcast and marginalized. It’s freedom and new life found in forgiveness and healing. It’s the cross.
That’s why Jesus comes down off the mountain. He must continue journeying toward the cross. He descends only to collide smack dab into chaos, disruption, and desperate need. But he doesn’t run from it or avoid it because he is too holy. Instead, he is holy because he enters into the suffering completely on behalf of this world he loves. He comes down and heals a boy whose life is literally interrupted and disrupted by his illness. He brings peace and relief to a father who wants his son to be able to live, play, grow, and function without being hindered by the spirit that causes him to seize. Jesus turns from a heavenly, glory-filled, divine interruption and, in love, interrupts the suffering of a family.
I think sometimes we want our faith or our experience of God to be all about the glory and awe-inspiring moments. But in doing so, we run the risk of missing God’s presence interrupting and filling our everyday lives. We miss it in the chaos, anxiety, brokenness, and pain of the world we encounter head on everyday. So often, we, too, are weighed down by sleep, inattentive to God around us, and unwilling to trust the power we have been given for the help and healing of the world. We would rather be in the safety of the mountaintop than in the up close and personal valleys of everyday life.
But this story is about a God who invites us to be alert, and therefore, surprised and delighted at how God is interrupting our daily lives with both the sublime and the simple. To pay attention to the little ways we are being transformed and transfigured through our relationship with God. And we will not be transformed overnight either. As St. Francis said, “True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.”
Growing in Christ takes time and patience. It takes forgiving ourselves and others. And trying again. Because it’s the struggle that helps us learn. Just as a caterpillar needs the struggle of breaking free of its cocoon to become a butterfly. We, too, are challenged as we seek to trust Christ in our journeys and believe that he has called and empowered us with his Spirit to bring love and healing to the world. Because we, too, are to interrupt the suffering of others in the name of Jesus. We, too, have been sent out by him “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” And to receive healing in his name. Surprisingly, it is there that we see him in his glory. Like those who witnessed his healing of this boy, when we catch a glimpse of God at work in the world and in our own wounds, we find ourselves astounded at the greatness of God. In the ordinary and in practicing everyday faithfulness to our calling as disciples we see God at work, not only in us, but in those around us.
It is a beautiful and blessed thing to have a holy, breathtaking encounter with God – a mountaintop experience. But I cannot tell you how many times I’ve witnessed the glory of God in simpler things – listening to others’ stories, helping a neighbor, sitting vigil with a family accompanying a loved one on their final journey, seeing a child’s face light up with curiosity and delight, or hearing a piece of moving music. Like Princess Fiona and her transformation, we may think life or an encounter with God is supposed to look a certain way. But everyday life is already shining with God’s glory all around us. It’s also shining out through each and every one of you. May we, like Peter, James, and John, listen to Christ and trust that in Christ we have been empowered with his Spirit to interrupt the suffering around us in his name. Amen.