To Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2018


[RCL]: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9

Today we’re celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration, so we get to hear, again, this familiar story. In fact, since we also hear the same story every year on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, this is probably one of the most frequent Gospel readings in the Church’s calendar. We get it a lot.

As a sort of prelude to the Transfiguration, I want to talk just a bit about hermeneutics—which is just a fancy name for how we go about approaching and interpreting the Bible. It’s important stuff, and we need to have some sense of a decent approach to the Bible, and especially to the Gospels, if we’re going to take them as seriously as they deserve.

Too often these days I keep running into the notion that what matters most about stories from the Bible, especially stories that are unusual—miracles, healings, or just plain peculiar stuff, like the Transfiguration—is that you believe it, that you think it really happened in a 21st century historical way. And that bothers me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it trivializes the faith and the Bible by turning them into a sort of believing contest. Second, it impoverishes these special stories by setting them apart from everything else and pretending that the most important thing about them is that they happened. That just won’t do.

Sure, there are all sorts of interesting textual and historical issues with stories like the Transfiguration—it may have been a post-Resurrection appearance that got misplaced in early manuscripts; it may be a theologically inspired parable that developed in the first century; and so on. But that’s not what matters most. At the same time, there is simply no reasonable doubt that Jesus did amazing things, and that life around him was very interesting and full of surprises. But that’s not what matters most, either. We all know that God can do special stuff.

These perplexing stories are really just exactly like the more ordinary stuff in the Gospels—things like Jesus’ teachings, his sayings about himself and about God and about the Kingdom of God. After all, the most important thing about, say, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is not that Jesus actually said those specific words—after all, Matthew and Luke disagree about what those words are. The most important thing about them is what they mean—what they meant for the people, place, and time where they were said, and what they mean for us in this place and time.

It’s not enough just to believe the Bible (whatever that means); we are called to engage the struggle of trying to understand it—of trying to make it real and present for us in ways that matter to our lives and to our world. After all, the strong conviction that unusual things happened a long time ago in a place far, far away really doesn’t say anything at all about our lives now—no matter how hard we believe it. Such unexamined belief is also an easy way out; it’s a way of dismissing the significance of something by simply saying we believe it and stopping there.

Do keep this in mind when you read and when you hear people talk about the Bible.

On to the Transfiguration. This is a story about who Jesus is, and what it is like to follow Jesus, and mostly, it’s a story about hope, real hope. We know that the Church has taught from the very beginning that Jesus is fully a human being, and at the same time, fully divine. These days, with the safety of distance and, alas, of centuries of sugary art and decades of terrible movies, it is pretty easy to think of Jesus as being divine—but we can have trouble with how that fits in with his being fully human. (So, people worry about silly things like whether Jesus could speak English if he were pressed, or if, the week before the Last Supper, Jesus knew who would win the 2020 presidential election.)

But in his own lifetime, and during the lifetime of the apostles, there was no doubt about Jesus’ humanity. People saw him and talked with him and ate with him and watched him live the life of a man in first century Palestine. And, no, he didn’t glow in the dark or walk around looking all Hollywood goofy and godly. So, the Transfiguration was, in the first century, a story about the divinity of Jesus. It was there to remind people that this man they may have known and may have seen was more than just one more charismatic teacher. He was the beloved of God in a unique and powerful way. The full glory of the Father was part of who Jesus—this guy they knew—actually was. That’s one part of what the story means, a part that was probably more important in the first century than it is today.

Another part of what the story means is that Jesus trumps the Bible. Really. Moses symbolized the Law, the first five books of what we call the Old Testament, which was the only Bible the apostles or the early Church knew, and Elijah symbolized the Prophets, who made up pretty much the rest of that Bible. So, for the Law and the Prophets to be there, but to vanish, and then for the disciples to be told to listen to Jesus alone, this is one way of saying that, if you have to choose between the Law and the Prophets (the Bible of the day) or Jesus, you choose Jesus. There is a clear priority here—and while the point is not to ignore Moses or Elijah, it is to show who has pride of place. As Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century commentator says, “Moses and Elijah appeared beside [Jesus] so that they might know that he was Lord of the Prophets.” We need to remember that, too.

That part of the story was very important to the early Church, as it tried to figure out how to handle the Old Testament, and it’s a very important thing for us to remember, too. (By the way, that’s one reason Peter was not to build three booths—doing that would suggest that Jesus was only equal to the Law and the Prophets.)

A third part of what the story means was so obvious to the apostles and the early Church that they hardly noticed it—they knew it all along, down to their very bones. But it may be the most important part for us. This is the reality that who Jesus really is cannot be known from only one picture, from only one experience, no matter how intense and glorious, or from only one perspective. Coming to know Jesus is not an event, it is a journey. You can’t stop with just one “wow” and assume you’ve got it. Jesus left the mountain, still a mystery and a puzzle to the disciples, who were told not to blab about this partial insight into the Lord.

That’s because even the Transfiguration did not give enough light to see Jesus fully. To see him fully required the whole journey; it required walking the road ahead, all of that road. And it is only by making the whole of their journey with Jesus, a journey they did not anticipate and could not have imagined, a journey that led to Golgotha and beyond, it was only by doing this that they came to realize both who Jesus really was, and how confused and incomplete any attempt to pin him down to any one moment would be. They could no more point to the Transfiguration than they could to a sleeping friend or an executed criminal and say, “This is it, this is who he is, I’ve figured it all out.” That’s why the Gospels have lots and lots of stories and sayings. No single story or saying is enough—no single experience is enough—and no one can know the whole of who Jesus is and what he is about until that person has walked all of his or her entire journey with Jesus.

In fact, the whole Church cannot know fully who Jesus is until the whole Church has walked its entire journey with Jesus, a journey we are still walking, a journey that is far from over.

Again, that first generation of Christians knew that, back then. But we need to be especially mindful of this reality today. The one who stands transfigured before us today, and crucified on Good Friday, and raised on Easter, and who is with his Church forever, this one, Jesus himself, is still leading us along the bumpy road down the mountain—patiently putting up with our wrong turns, our stubborn blindness, and our failures to trust enough or to love enough. We cannot stop at any one place and say, “Here it is, we have it all nailed down” (that’s the other reason Peter could not build a dwelling for Jesus). As long as we are in the midst of the journey, Jesus has not set up a permanent address among us. We don’t know it all, and we pretend to do so at our peril.

The journey of faith, the journey of discovery, the journey of our lives and of the life and ministry of Jesus, these continue. And on that journey, Jesus is both our companion on the way, gradually revealing to us and to our generation who he is and who he will have us be, and at the same time, to use Peter’s words, he is for us “a lamp shining in a dark place,” in our dark places, and in the darkness of the world.

That is where our hope lies; that light will never fail us. No darkness will ever fully overcome us: and this journey of ours, a journey we share with all who are Christ’s, this journey will, at the end of the day, lead us safely home. To believe in the Transfiguration is not merely to talk about history—to believe in the Transfiguration is to dare our own journey with Jesus, and it is to embrace this hope.

The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as Rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Download the sermon for the Transfiguration.

Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2017

[RCL] Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

We should be observing the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost today, but this year, there is a break in the pattern. Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, which always falls on August 6th, and this Feast outranks Pentecost 9. In fact, there are only a handful of feast days so important that they take precedence over a Sunday, and all of them are feasts related to Jesus himself. Today we commemorate how Jesus was transfigured before his closest disciples, Peter, John, and James— how his glory was revealed in dazzling white light, and how God’s voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, my Chosen: listen to him!”

“Transfigure” is not a word often used in conversation nowadays. We might use “transform” or “alter” instead, or even “change.” There is an interesting question with the Feast of the Transfiguration: who is it that’s really being changed in this story? Jesus appears to be changed. Luke writes “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” But the truth is, Jesus only looks different to his disciples. It is Peter, John, and James who are really transfigured, their eyes now open to see Jesus as he really is, clothed in light and revealed as the Son of God. And the disciples’ lives are changed too, after this experience of God’s presence: before, they thought they were following a remarkable teacher; after, they know their lives are being woven into God’s plan for the transfiguration of the world.

What experiences in your life frame the way you see and understand the world? Much of the way we experience the world is fixed by circumstances beyond our control: who our parents are, where we are from, the language we speak. But sometimes we have moments of clarity which allow us to see the world in a new light, from a bird’s-eye view. These are moments when it seems we can see beyond ourselves and our limitations, into the heart of reality. When you have this kind of experience, you can be fairly certain it’s because you have been in the presence of God. Transfiguration is a natural consequence of being in God’s presence.

Jesus took his disciples up on the mountain hoping to find God there. They were on a quest, actively seeking God’s presence. Like Peter and John and James, God is calling all of us to climb the mountain with Jesus. Jesus leads his disciples up there because he knows that’s where God lives. The same is true for Moses in the reading from Exodus — God is found on the mountaintop, where your vision is clear and all the noise of everyday life subsides.

But even though it is easier to find God on the mountaintop, that is not the only place God can be found. All of us came to church this morning, hoping to find something of God here. And God feels especially close in the beauty of the natural world: stars shining in the sky, waves falling on the ocean shore. Poets and visionaries can attest that these are places you can find God. When you’re lost or lonely or wondering what’s next, find a church to pray in, or a mountain to climb, or a forest to walk in — remember those places you have felt God’s presence before and go seek God there again.

Of course, there’s always a temptation to stay put on top of the mountain — to use that sacred space as a place to hide from the problems of the world. Peter — bumbling Peter, as usual —gives into this temptation when he asks Jesus if they can build dwellings on top of the mountain and just bask in God’s glorious presence forever, content, but removed from all the trouble brewing down on the ground below. The answer is no. God needs us to go down from the mountain and out into the world, and take some of God’s transformative love with us to share.

Truthfully, it isn’t only in those beautiful and set-apart places that we can find God. The whole world is filled with the glory of God, if we only have eyes to see. John Neafsey, in his book A Sacred Voice is Calling, writes that the most important place we can hear God’s voice is in the cry of the poor. Neafsey means that eventually, we have to go where we know God is. And we know that God is always alive in the struggle for justice. We know that God lives among the marginalized, that God fights for the poor and upholds the weak. This is another place to seek God’s presence, and to hear God’s voice in the story they tell. And from listening, to learn how best we can share God’s love with one another, and see unity where we thought there was division.

There is no place on earth that God’s love does not go. If we open our hearts to God’s Spirit and go looking for God, we will begin to see God’s presence all around us. Our transfiguration comes as our eyes are opened and our hearts changed. And the people who seemed so different from us before — the poor and the marginalized — we will see them as they really are: made in God’s image, just as we are; we will see how Jesus’ life was spent for them, just as it was for us.

Open your eyes and see the world as it is— beloved by God. Let your heart be transfigured by God’s love. Take that love down from this mountain and use it to bring more love into the world.

Amen.

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row.

 

Download the sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Who is Jesus to us?, The Transfiguration (A,B,C) – 2014

August 6, 2014

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Each year, we hear the story of the Transfiguration twice – once on the Last Sunday After Epiphany and again on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is a narrative common to all three synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. Moses and Elijah, long-deceased prophets of Israel, appear on a mountain with Jesus, whose appearance has radically changed. All in front of the disciples, who don’t seem to know quite what to make of all this, with a voice that comes from a cloud proclaiming Jesus as the Beloved Son and a command to listen to him. Admittedly, it is a strange story – especially to our modern, enlightened, scientific culture. Rather than seek a rational understanding of the spectacular details in this story, it might be more helpful to consider why it is told rather than what is said.

The Transfiguration in Luke follows on the heels of four vignettes that frame the repeated question of Jesus’ identity. First, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples and gave them “power and authority” over all demons and to cure diseases. As Christians who know the rest of the story, we might never stop to think about the audacity of this act. Who does Jesus think he is to grant mere mortals the power and authority over demons and to cure disease? Luke’s original audience might have asked this question at this point in the story. Who does Jesus think he is? He tells them to take nothing for their journey – in other words, rely on God alone for the provision of your needs. The disciples do as Jesus commands them, and we hear they bring the good news throughout the villages and cure diseases everywhere.

The second vignette cuts to Herod the Tetrarch hearing about “all that had taken place,” and we hear he is perplexed about the identity of Jesus. The buzz in the street is that Elijah had appeared or one of the prophets of old had been raised from the dead. Herod knows this cannot be John the Baptist – he ordered John beheaded. Luke tells us Herod tried to see Jesus, but there is no indication he was ever able to arrange the meeting.

This perplexity of Herod and the introduction of the idea that Jesus might be Elijah returned sets the stage for the third vignette: the feeding of the 5,000. Here we have Jesus feeding the 5,000 with the meager offering of five loaves of bread and two fish. This feeding miracle is not directly linked to Elijah, but to his successor prophet Elisha, who, as recorded in the Second Book of Kings, fed 100 men with 20 loaves of bread. This feeding miracle, preceded by the raising of the son of the Widow of Nain in Luke 7, is linking Jesus to these great prophets of ancient Israel. Could Jesus be one of these great prophets?

Now Jesus puts the question clearly to the disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”

Who the crowds say that Jesus is has been set up by Luke’s narrative – he’s John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the ancient prophets arisen. But it is Peter who speaks the deeper reality: “You are the Christ of God.” While Peter says this, it is not clear that he or the disciples understand the full ramifications of what it means. Jesus continues on and tells them the Christ of God, the anointed one, must suffer and die at the hands of the very religious experts who claim to speak for God! This teaching just doesn’t make any sense to a first-century Jew – surely it perplexed the disciples.

It is after all of this that Luke tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke does not tell us that Jesus’ appearance was “transfigured” or, in Greek, “metamorphosed.” Instead, he says the appearance of Jesus’ face “changed,” which in Greek reads “became other.” Jesus’ face became different, and his clothing became dazzling white. This change in the appearance of Jesus’ face is reminiscent of the change in appearance of Moses’ face as he came down from Sinai, which continues the theme of Jesus being one of these ancient prophets. It is at this point our idea that Jesus is either Moses or Elijah is shattered when both of these ancient prophets appear with Jesus and begin to speak of Jesus’ departure – or, in Greek, “exodus” – which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. All three appear in glory as they speak of another exodus – an exodus through the suffering of the cross. Suddenly, the meaning of what it is to be the Christ of God is revealed as the veil is lifted for the disciples to see.

As Moses and Elijah depart, Peter, not really knowing what he was saying, blurts out his offer to build three booths: one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. While Peter’s thinking was lacking clarity – cloudy, if you will – a cloud descends on the disciples and they enter the cloud filled with terror. They hear a voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” This voice interrupts Peter’s babblings about booths and brings clarity to all of the disciples: Jesus is no ordinary prophet. He is not just another great teacher. Jesus is the Son of God, the Chosen one, and this is why we are to listen to him.

The story of the Transfiguration is one that grounds the identity of Jesus as Son of God, but through the experience of suffering, death and resurrection. Luke’s narrative hints at the glory of the empty tomb, but only after Jesus says it will come through the darkness of suffering and death. The earthly trappings of glory – power, riches and fame – are not the same as the glory of God brought to us through the cross.

The Transfiguration is a story that calls us to face our understanding of Jesus’ identity: “Who is Jesus to me?” and “Who is Jesus to us?” And although we hear this story over and over, we still have trouble accepting a Christ of God whose glory comes through suffering and death.

After 2,000 years, we still resist this message! Our cultural trappings around Christianity have distorted his glory as being grounded in something other than his suffering, death and resurrection. We are tempted to wrap Jesus in all kinds of false messages, because glory through suffering still makes no sense. We see evidence of this when we hear Jesus wrapped in nationalism by those who claim we are a “Christian nation” and attempt to enshrine biblical interpretation in secular law. We see it in the claims of prosperity from theologians who claim that all God wants to do is to bless you with more wealth and privilege, and imply that if you do not receive these blessings, it is because you are not “right with the Lord.” All of these false messages of glory through something other than the cross are false teachings. But they are persistent because God’s glory revealed through death and resurrection just does not make rational sense.

But just because something is not rational does not mean it is not real.

We may, like the disciples, see only brief glimpses of God’s glory in this life, while other worldly claims seem more prevalent. But our call as Christians is to see through false claims of earthly glory. We are to face the cross, its suffering and death, trusting that a resurrected life in God lies beyond.

Who do we say Jesus is? He is the crucified one with whom we are joined in baptism in a life where suffering and death happen, but are not the last word.

 

— The Rev. Anjel Scarborough is priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Md. She and her husband are the parents of two teenage daughters. She can be followed on Twitter @ReverendMom and blogs at innumerablebenefits.blogspot.com.

Those who give back, The Transfiguration (A.B,C) – 2013

August 6, 2013

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Immediately leading into this story of the Transfiguration is Peter’s confession, followed by Jesus telling the disciples he is going to Jerusalem where he will die, and an important teaching on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: Pick up your cross and follow me.

If we were watching a movie of Luke’s gospel, directed by Luke the evangelist himself, he might come up behind us, tap us on the shoulder and say, “Now pay attention to this next scene! This is the heart of the matter.”

Indeed, this episode on a mountaintop is at the very dividing line of Luke’s gospel. It is nearly dead center. Up until now there has been activity in and around Galilee. From here on, it is a march to the scaffold: the journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

What we find on this mountaintop is a massive appeal to our corporate memory as a people of God. Moses went up to a mountaintop to receive direction and instructions from God and even to argue with God. When he would return to the people, his face would be shining brightly, so brightly he would have to veil it. Elijah hid in a crevice on a mountaintop, withstanding wind, fire and earthquake until he heard the “still, small voice” of God. Whereupon he immediately covered his face as he came out of the crevice to face the Lord, the God of Israel.

So as Jesus heads up a mountain to pray, we are already remembering what goes on up in these regions closer to the heavens, what some refer to as “the thin places”: places where people encounter the Holy and listen to God. And just in case our corporate memory is failing us, Luke paints the picture more precisely by putting Moses and Elijah there with Jesus, all three dazzling in glory, dazzling white, shining like the sun.

If you were Peter, James or John, I suspect at the very least there would be an audible gasp. If up to this point there has been any question at all about who this fellow Jesus is, imagine what is going through their minds now! It is like a return to the 40 years in the wilderness, the defining period of what it means to be a people of God – days of wandering; living in tents; living on manna, bread that is given daily.

It is like a return to the age of prophets such as Elijah who regularly challenged the domestic and foreign policies of the politicians and religious authorities. Elijah, who lived in the wilderness, at the margins of society, who mingled with foreigners and resident aliens, living in tents, booths, accepting the hospitality of total strangers, living on bread that is given daily.

Once a year, every year, for the eight-day Feast of the Tabernacles, Peter and his people would build booths and sleep in them for eight nights to remember the years of tenting on the land. To remember the days of Moses and Elijah. No wonder he wants to build some booths. No wonder he feels the need to do something to celebrate their corporate memory among such revered guests.

Quickly, however, the one in charge of the narrative speaks from off stage to remind one and all that this is not a story about Peter, James and John, and it is not about us or our experiences of the Holy. “This is My Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”

It is about the Son. The Chosen. And about listening: listening to God’s Son.

It is worth pondering that when the one in charge of the story speaks and names the dazzling one, we do not hear the words, “Jesus,” “Christ,” “messiah,” “rabbi,” “master” or even “lord.” The primary name given to the dazzling one is “Son.” More specifically, “My Son.”

We are told to listen to “My Son.” My Son says, “Bear your cross and follow me.” And as we follow him down into the valley, what do we find? Another man’s son. The father is bereft. The son is possessed. The son convulses and foams at the mouth. The disciples have been of no use at all.

My Son says, “Bring your son here.” The demon makes one last attempt to conquer the boy, throwing him down on the ground. My Son puts an end to the demon. The boy is restored to his father. The text says that My Son “gave him back to his father.” The demon had taken the boy. Then My Son gave him back. Demons take. My Son gives back.

The crowd is astounded. All were astounded;  there was not one person who was not astounded “at the greatness of God.” Do we allow ourselves to be astounded? Astonished? Amazed?

Note how subtly My Son becomes God. One could almost miss it altogether for sake of being so astounded and all. It would take several hundred years for the church to wrestle with this insight.

We cannot even begin to know who Jesus is if we separate these stories out. What happens on the mountaintop is important, and does have meaning. But that meaning is inextricably bound to both the question Jesus puts to the disciples before going up the mountain, “Who do you say that I am?”  and to what happens down in the valley.

Jesus will not be known any other way. Not through any clever novelization or cinematic inventiveness. Not through reading and discussing books about him. Not through watching movies and debating the merits of the movies about him. He will be known in our listening to him and following him. And in the breaking of bread that is given.

That’s why we are here. To listen to him, to follow him, and to eat our daily bread, so we might complete his work in the valley of this world. To be those people who do not take, but those who give back. How often do we take the time to be still, be silent, and listen to him?

Perhaps this is what Transfiguration means: listening to him and following him so that we may be transfigured, so that those around us may be transfigured, so that the whole world might one day be transfigured just like God’s Son.

We do this by becoming those people who do not take. We are to become those who give – those who give back.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

By the very power of God, The Transfiguration (A,B,C) – 2006

August 6, 2006

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the Transfiguration. Six months from now we will hear this same lesson on the last Sunday of Epiphany, just as six month’s ago we heard the parallel story from the Gospel of Mark. The transfiguration event is retold every year on the Sunday before Lent. We use it today because this year August 6 falls on a Sunday – and August 6 is the time honored Feast of the Transfiguration.

August 6, 2006 reminds us that sixty-one years ago flyers of the U.S. Army Air Corps dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan – a profoundly dramatic event that forever changed the world. This cataclysm released such energy that a blue sky was transfigured into a blinding white light of an intensity never before witnessed.

To some, it seemed that hell itself had intersected with the earth that day. Fifty to seventy thousand people were instantly killed and countless other maimed and fatally injured.

For more than six decades we have lived with the reality that humans have the capacity to destroy every lifeform God so lovingly created.

This is an extreme, dramatic example of how we on earth can treat on another, how fearful we can become when we are threatened, how easily we can forget why we were created, despite what God desires and longs for us to become. It illustrates how easy it is for us to pervert the energies God has created.

Though the bombing of Hiroshima has been repeated only once, its memory keeps vividly alive the threat brought by the existence of such weapons. For a season we might forget, but its sobering reality is never far from home. Our world is now embroiled in the fear and frustration and agony attached to the intentions of Korea and Iran to develop the capability of employing nuclear weaponry.

Maybe there is nothing new about this. Maybe this is just one more example of a history-long tendency to misuse technology. Still, on this sixth day of August, 2006, the existence in our world of enough nuclear weapons to kill all humans many times over makes us wonder whether scientific development has reached a point whereby we can literally negate God’s purposes.

Today’s gospel, however, reminds us of a deeper reality – that God insists always on having the last word. The dazzling, blinding white light cast on the mountain declares that God insists on transfiguring hell into heaven. God will not let the hell of Hiroshima that we speak of be the last word. God will not let the selfishness and inhumanity of nuclear annihilation win out.

The power of God can transfigure the events of August 6, 1945 into a level of restraint in the way nations settle differences. Wearied and bewildered world leaders in our small global community are fully awakened by powers bigger than all of them and the people they represent. The power of humanity to destroy and dehumanize one another is ever before them.

People of faith know that lying beside the power to destroy is the power of God – a force that will rise in human consciousness, intersecting our human ways, and unleashing the dazzling white power of love that can transfigure us.

As we remember August 6, 1945, always the image of the mushroom-shaped cloud comes to consciousness. But Christians who remember that August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration know, too, that another cloud overshadows the mushroom-shaped one. It is the cloud of the mountain from which the voice of God reminds us that Jesus is God’s chosen one to whom we must listen.

By the very power of God, we can be changed into the likeness of Christ – restored to unity with God and one another, united in God’s love. By the transforming, transfiguring power of God, humanity can turn its back on the intersection of blazing white hell on earth that we know as Hiroshima. By the power of God, in all its dazzling whiteness of love, we can face a future of heaven on earth, listening to God’s chosen one and following him into the way of life.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Seminary of the Southwest, 2005) and current member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, lives in semi-retirement with his wife Toni in Bastrop, Texas, a small town near Austin.