On the stage, a white drape hung, silent, empty. Then, right before our eyes shadows appeared, moving and dancing behind the drape, until an image appeared and transformed into another image, and another image, until the final image raised our spirits to the skies with hope and joy.
Such is the act of the performance group Silhouettes. Thirty or so dancers of all ages work together to transform a plain white drape into the magic and glory of God’s creation, of patriotic enthusiasm, of the joy of sharing love.
On the mountain, the disciples see the glory of Jesus. They make connections with the super-size heroes of the past, Moses and Elijah, who were both filled with God’s spirit as they led the people of God. They are symbols of the covenant promise between God and God’s people, and of the hope of a glorious future. Jesus is more than a supersized hero of the past, more than Moses and Elijah; he is present with them in that moment and revealed to be human, and far more than human.
Jesus shines with God’s glory, and the disciples are excited to be witnesses of it. “Perhaps this is the time,” Peter thinks. They hear God’s words, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” There was a tradition that the ‘End Times’ would occur during the Feast of Booths, so Peter wants to do his part to help make that happen. He suggests building booths. But they don’t need booths; they won’t stay on the mountain long enough to use them. Jesus has work to do in the valley and on the plain.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul includes a hymn in which Jesus is described as having emptied himself of his divine glory and become human. In this moment on the mountain, Jesus momentarily resumes his divine glory, to show his divine nature to the disciples. But it is only for this brief time.
Peter wants to get ready for whatever will happen next. But what happens next is the glory of Jesus disappears, Moses and Elijah disappear, and Jesus leads the puzzled disciples back down the mountain. Jesus re-enters the muck of the real world.
In Jesus’ time, the people suffered from illness, broken bones, depression, oppression by those with more power and more money, and a belief that poverty meant they or their ancestors had displeased God. The muck of being human in Jesus’ time is not so different from the muck of being human in our time, no matter how much we try to think it’s different.
Jesus healed illnesses, restored broken bones, lightened hearts, and challenged the wealthy and powerful to share their wealth and power with all. He did this first himself, and then empowered the disciples to share in his ministry. Together, they transfigured the world. We are the followers of Jesus as much as were the first apostles, and we are also empowered through Jesus to transfigure our world today.
The quilts we send to Lutheran World relief transfigure lives in Pailan, India, where the tuberculosis hospital offers beds to very ill patients, and gives follow-up treatments to recovering patients who walk many miles between their home and the hospital to receive the lengthy series of follow-up treatments.
All patients at the hospital receive Mission Quilts from LWR. One woman said that when she received her quilt, she realized “someone was thinking about us, and it gave me immense joy.” Another woman said she came to the hospital from a very poor family. “During the winter, I wrapped my whole family” in the quilt, she said.
In places like Joplin, MO, Tuscaloosa, AL, and Nashville, TN, Lutheran Domestic Disaster Relief provides emotional and spiritual assistance, as well as help in rebuilding destroyed churches, houses and businesses. Pastor William Pape lost his vestments, books, and Bibles in the tornado. Seminary classmates called and offered to help replace the lost items and gave words of encouragement as the congregation seeks to rebuild more than just its building. Lives are being transfigured in Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and Nashville because of the love and gifts shared by us and people around the country.
In our own neighborhood, people come to us and ask for assistance with gas or food, or utilities or rent. Last year, members of this congregation gave $4,000 toward helping such folks. Part of that was a large donation, but most of it was in small amounts offered with love by you, the members of Hope. Some of it is given away in small amounts, $5 or $10 for food or gas. Larger amounts are shared as needed with our two adopted families. We have made it possible for them to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and gas in their cars. Christmas gifts were under their trees last year, because of our ministry. As a congregation, we have transfigured the lives of our adopted families and people in our community and shown them Jesus’ glory and love.
In small ways every day, we transfigure lives, too. We share a laugh, a story, a card, a hug, a meal. The other day, I visited a parishioner in the hospital. As I was getting ready to leave, I said, as I often do when I make a visit, “Let me give you a hug.” “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t get many hugs these days.”
Jesus also transfigures us. The challenges and temptations and successes we experience all work to shape us. When we allow God to be part of the process, we are transfigured to be more like Jesus. We become more loving, more forgiving, more generous, more faithful.
Jesus is present in the muck of human lives in our world, in our country, in our community, and among family and friends. He is there through our service, our generosity, and our love. With Jesus, we are able to transfigure the lives of people in need at home and far away. Through Jesus, we are transfigured as well.
How is God transfiguring your lives? Whose lives are you transfiguring? This week, I invite you to look back and see how God has shaped your life, and how you resisted being reshaped. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a wonderful day in which to recognize the ways in which we resist being shaped by Jesus. Take time to give God thanks for loving you enough to reshape you, to transfigure you.
Please pray with me. Jesus, you were transfigured on the mountain to reveal your divine nature, held within your human one. But you chose to leave behind the glory of your divinity to enter the muck of humanity and transfigure all of creation. Be patient with us, even as you reshape us, transfigure us to conform to your will. Lead us to help transfigure the world around us. Amen