Rev. Brandon Ouellette
I hope you will allow me, this morning, to begin with a confession. I believe, as I hope you do, that honesty is a very important aspect to have in a pastor and if there’s anything that I can promise to you, it will be that honesty. Just like all of you, I am human and am subject to the same emotional responses that most of us go through on a day to day basis.
Put a simpler way, and if I can invoke my Kentucky speak for a brief moment: "Ya’ll it’s been a hard week." I’m often reminded of the Karl Barth quote that to do theology (and to do ministry) is to read the bible in one hand and to read the newspaper in the other. What makes this challenging is that this *holding up the bible*, arguably doesn’t change, while the newspaper, or t.v. news report, or however you get your news, changes every single day.
My confession however, is not something that I did, sorry for those of you sitting on the edge of your seats, waiting for some big news, you can relax now. But it’s to say that your pastor lost a bit of hope this week. Some of you might be aware of the decisions made by the worldwide United Methodist General Council—about the council’s decision against autonomy and freedom, against expression and acceptance of all peoples, in spite of who they might love. This week has been difficult for so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who simply want to be accepted for who they are.
Needless to say, my hope was made dim by these decisions, but it was amidst the disappointment, amidst the pain felt across this nation, that I began to see beacons of light that instilled in me a new hope for the future. I saw Jeffery Warren give an impassioned speech and in it, saw the face of God reflected in a message of unity and love. I saw colleagues from around the country stand together and trust in the truth… that decisions made by religious organizations and institutions, made by human beings, are not always decisions reflective of Christ. And I sense and hope, that as we soon move into this Lenten season, we will begin to witness transformation like we’ve never seen it before. Because the time is now.
We stand at an important day in the church calendar—Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday. It’s quite the descriptive phrase—transfiguration of the Lord, there’s power in those words and I think we can glean something truly transformative in our own lives, if we simply look a bit deeper at our texts and remember that Christ’s transformative power is alive and well in our world today.
If I were to place a bet, I would wager that just about every Christian Church is reading these texts today. They spark in us a certain fascination because of their fantastic nature, their divine intervention, the epic proportion of such events.
Moses’ descent from Mount Sinai comes at pivotal point within Israel’s history. A point in which the people had to make a decision whether they were going to continue in their old ways, or whether they were going to put their trust in God and move forward towards the promised lands. We read of Moses’ interaction with God, that he stayed on that mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, and when he descended, his very face shone, to the point where the people were afraid and Moses had to don a veil for he had seen and been in the presence of God.
Now we don’t know exactly what the writers here are trying to depict. How much of God did Moses see? Did we not hear God say earlier “for you shall not see my face, for no one shall see my face and live.” What we do see in the story in that Moses’ face was shining, a visible sign of God’s presence on the very person of Moses—it was infectious, it inspired the Israelites to trust and follow him. Moses, in some way, was transfigured, and it was brilliant, and strange, and it was scary, because as we all now, change and transformation can be a little scary at times, but so often leads to a type of growth better than we could have ever imagined.
I think of Peter, John, and James as they were up on that mountain with Jesus. I think of the initial fear they must have felt to wake from drowsiness to see the man you knew, the humble servant, transfigured into a shining light, standing with the patriarchs of your religion—Moses and Elijah. I think of Peter’s awkwardness as he suggested building dwelling places for these powerful figures. But based in that strange question, we see Peter’s humanity shine through. For Peter, staying on that mountain was the most logical thing to do and who could blame him? To be in the presence of such a transfiguration, the very holy of holy’s, the presence of God. Who would want to leave?
But what we see is not the building of dwelling places, not 40 days and 40 nights, we see on the very next day, is Jesus going down and performing a miracle. We see him using his transformative power, not hiding it away, not dwelling on that high mountaintop experience, but coming back down as someone new, someone ready to do great things, someone who had accepted embarking on the final leg of their mission. We see by Jesus’ example that the point of the transformation isn’t to live high up in the air, but to come back down and catch a glimpse of unimaginable possibility—to take what God has given us and to use that for furthering God’s call to us on Earth.
The key to doing this and doing this well, is to always strive to be a beacon of hope and light into this world—to be the reflective, shining face that offers that light to others in their moments of need—just as I so desperately needed it earlier this week. If I may quote Karl Barth one more time, he said: “[God is] the one who makes us radiant. We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them for shining. Looking up to God, our faces shine.” Reflecting God’s grace and love into this world.
I invite you, as we move towards our Ash Wednesday service and begin our journey into Lent, to really reflect on what it means to be transfigured, to be transformed. What can this season of Lent do for you, but perhaps more importantly, what can you do to be more reflective of God’s shining light? Remember, it is not always about what you do specifically, but how you are in tune with the Spirit as it guides you.
Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century German theologian, once said that “We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works that sanctify us, but who sanctifies our works.” These are words we can live by, trusting that God’s work in us and in the world is an ever-transformative process. We may not always get it right, but we have to try, we have to keep seeking to bring the mountaintop experiences down to a world that desperately needs transformation. We must seek Christ as our guide—one who always speaks in the ways of love, justice, and mercy. Lets seek transformation.