Archives: Transfiguration

Why Is God’s Revelation So Unhelpful?

It’s the Last Sunday of Epiphany, which means we read the story of the Transfiguration.

“Transfiguration” is the fancy church word to describe this story of Jesus being transformed before his disciples on the mountaintop, his clothes becoming dazzling white as he talks with Moses and Elijah. The voice of God speaks out of the cloud and proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Why do we always end Epiphany with this story?

We end Epiphany with the Transfiguration, or “The Fig” as it’s affectionately known among preachers, because it is the closest anyone on earth has ever come to seeing the fullness of Christ in his divine nature.

Peter, James, and John get to see the end of the story, Jesus in all his heavenly glory, while they’re still in the middle of the story.

It’s a revelation to them about this man they’ve been following around for the last few years. They’ve seen him do amazing things—heal the sick, feed the thousands, and walk on water—but this surpasses it all.

The season of Epiphany is all about revelation. It’s about the world coming to understand who Jesus is and why he came to earth.

During this season, we read of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple as a baby, of his baptism in the River Jordon, and of his first miracles.

The Transfiguration is the pinnacle, quite literally. It’s a mountaintop experience for the disciples.

But here’s the thing. It’s revelation, but it’s not particularly helpful revelation.

What do we learn about Jesus in this miracle?

What lesson for living an ethical life does it teach us?

How do we come away from seeing Jesus in dazzling white clothes better able to love our neighbors?

I don’t think we particularly do, which is why I hate the Transfiguration.

Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong a word. Let’s just say it’s not among my top ten miracle stories from the Gospels. I moan and groan about having to preach on it every single year.

What I want out of my revelations from God, whatever they are, is something practical.

“What am I supposed to do next?” I ask God. “What’s the right path forward? How do you want me to change?”

Reveal that to me, God, if you’d really like to be helpful.

And that, I realized this year, is precisely my problem. Continue reading

Transfiguring Vocation

Today let’s talk about the nature of call.

When people use the word Vocation, you can practically hear the capital “V.”

There is an all-too-persistent notion in the church the vocation is strictly the realm of the ordained clergy.

That is not true! Why do people think that?

For one thing, it’s the legacy of a clericalism that created and reinforced a false specialness in the clergy and placed them above lay people.

I also suspect that for some folks, denying they have vocation can be a helpful way to escape discerning it.

When we do think about vocation as applying to all people, another trap we fall into is elevating it into some sweeping destiny that encompasses one’s whole life.

It’s a similar phenomenon to the One True Love™ school of thought in which there is One Perfect Person for you who will Make All Your Dreams Come True and you will live Happily Ever After. (This is a damaging and limiting paradigm for so many reasons, but that’s another sermon.)

So when we elevate vocation into a Sweeping Destiny of answering God’s call in a noble, heroic, world-saving way, a task that will remain constant and unchanging for an entire lifetime, we’re setting ourselves up for a lot of problems.

First of all, it ignores the potential for vocation to change and evolve over time.

What you are called to do at eighteen may not be the same thing you’re called to do at eighty.

In fact, in the vast majority of cases, it probably shouldn’t be or we need to start asking if you have really opened yourself up to growth over the last six decades.

Next, the Sweeping Destiny model of vocation puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the individual to get it right.

You’d better make sure you don’t have a headache or aren’t too caught up in speculating on your favorite TV show’s plot on the day you commit to your Vocation.

What if you get it wrong? What if you choose the wrong path? Will the Earth crash into the sun? Continue reading

What to Do When You’re Squeamish About Miracles

The great twentieth century mystic, Thomas Merton, was standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in downtown Louisville when he had a great revelation.

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I have the immense joy of being [human], a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Walking around shining like the sun.

That is apparently what Moses was doing after his encounters with God on the mountain.

And that is what Jesus was like in the Transfiguration.

Jesus put aside his glory because he had a lot of specific work left to do in the world and he couldn’t do it if people were so awestruck by him in his glorious form that they fell on their faces and trembled at the sight of him.

It was hard enough to avoid doing that when he healed people and multiplied loaves and fishes looking like a perfectly ordinary person.

Not twenty minutes after the Transfiguration Jesus was back down in the marketplace healing a young boy with epilepsy and going about his good work.

Jesus didn’t need the appearance of physical glory to get people’s attention. The goodness that flowed out of him nonstop did that all on its own.

But why did Moses hide the evidence of his encounter with God?

Why did he veil himself when his face was shining? Continue reading

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