Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene, Rocester, NY, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany: 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
We did not follow cleverly devised myths…we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Reading the piece from the Second Letter of Peter, I am cognizant of the fact that many people (many, many people) do in fact think that we are following “cleverly devised myths.” Sometimes we ourselves wonder about this as well.
If we do not follow cleverly devised myths, than how, like Peter, are we witnesses of transfiguration? That is my question for this morning.
The Transfiguration could have been the end of the story, and, in some ways that would have made sense. Jesus’ glory is revealed on the mountain, including the confirmation of his status as “Son of God.” Peter thought it was the end of the story, so much that he wanted to set up camp on the mountain.
Back down the mountain, however, they go, and, notice, not to tell people what had happened in an “end of the story” kind of way. Jesus actually tells them not to say anything about what they have seen “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Peter, James, and John must have thought this request to be completely illogical. You can almost hear their “but.” But we just saw Moses and Elijah! We just heard the voice of God! You are God’s Son and the message is now that you are to be listened to! Why then don’t you want anyone to listen?
The truth is—and Jesus clearly knew this—that as nice a moment as the Transfiguration was, it was not the end of the story. It is such a moment in itself that could easily be discounted as one of those “cleverly devised myths.” In truth it has no meaning without what is about to take place in Jerusalem. The voice from heaven means nothing without the cross and the resurrection.
And it makes sense, if you’re going to tell the story of Jesus to a non-believer, you don’t want to start with this story of the Transfiguration. This story only means something after the whole story is told. It can only be understood in retrospect.
Yet we are witnesses of Transfiguration and we are called to make that witness known, not to keep it a secret. But how?
First of all, we are witnesses because each one of us has already had our moment of transfiguration. “What?” you say, “I must have missed it.” No, you didn’t.
The moment of transfiguration for each one of us is our baptism. It is the moment when it is said of us, you are my son, my daughter, the beloved, with you I am well pleased. “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” And week by week we renew our transfiguration in the Eucharist. Why would God feed you his own life, his own self, if he were not pleased with you, if he did not think of you as a daughter or a son, his heir along with Jesus?
And yet I can hear some of you say, “How can I be sure God is actually pleased with me? I’m not even sure most weeks I am pleased with me!” The answer is you can’t, you can’t be “sure” that God is pleased with you. You can only have faith, faith in the reality of grace, God’s unconditional love and acceptance.
All of this truth about ourselves means that we, too, are witnesses of these things, our own belovedness in our lives united with the Beloved One. And we are witnesses of the belovedness of others, no matter what the world thinks of them or, sometimes, even what they think of themselves.
Yet even our own belovedness makes no sense—is itself a “cleverly devised myth” without the cross and the resurrection, the dying and rising of Christ, and our own dying and rising in union with him.
Our witness to grace—the belovedness of all—must be grounded in our own experience of Jerusalem—the reality of our real lives, which are not all transfigured hunky-dory. Our own suffering and our witness to the suffering of the world is absolutely essential to dispel the notion that we follow “cleverly devised myths.” And our experience that in spite of these things we believe God is present, loving and graceful, and that we are called to be as well.
Our witness to these things is our faith that we are God’s beloved in spite of all signs to the contrary. That’s real. It was real for Jesus. It is real for us.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be witnesses of these things, even eyewitnesses, able to say, “I have seen the love of God. I have experienced the grace of God. It’s as real as the suffering of this world, and it calls me to care and to act to relieve as much suffering as I can.”
That’s our witness. That is what will draw at least some to faith. We must be people, like Jesus, who keep it real, but who also can say with conviction, that reality is not the last word. Faith is.