I wanted to share the sermon I preached at Church of the Holy Cross in Murfreesboro, TN on Transfiguration Sunday. In very many ways, it expressed my relationship with my faith. What do Bruce Almighty and Transfiguration Sunday have in common? Read on to find out. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!
Before we get started, there is going to be a bowl going around with pieces of paper and a pen. As the bowl comes to you, please write on a piece a paper just the first name of someone outside the church who is having a rough time in their lives right now, someone who could use a little love and support. Fold the paper in fourths and stick it back in the bowl. If you’re the last person to get the bowl, please place it next to the bulletin basket in the back of the church.
Often on Transfiguration Sunday, the focus is on the transfiguration of Jesus, but today I want to focus on the transfiguration of Peter, James, and John, who have witnessed something truly extraordinary. They see Elijah and Moses, a cloud claims Jesus as his son, and Jesus commands them to say nothing until he’s risen from the dead. There are pages and pages of biblical commentary talking about the transfiguration of Jesus, of the passing of the guard from the prophets Elijah and Moses to the savior Jesus, but I find the experience of Peter, James, and John so much more interesting because—like us—they aren’t prophets or saviors; they’re just people.
They’ve had quite a day. Not only have they seen two of the most famous Hebrew prophets who currently reside in Heaven, they have also heard the voice of God and been informed that their friend and teacher is going to die and rise from the dead. That’s a lot to take in for us mere mortals.
When Peter, James, and John are commanded not to say anything until Jesus arises from the dead, I have to wonder if Peter, James, and John are thinking, “Who the heck do you think we’re going to tell? No one would believe us. And what’s this about you rising from the dead?” Have you ever wondered if they asked themselves who was crazier? Is it crazier to hallucinate dead prophets and hear the voice of God, or is it crazier to think you’re going to rise from the dead? If this happened to any one of us today, would we be silent or start looking for a good psychotherapist?
Still… How many of us pray that God will send us a sign? How many of us secretly wish a cloud would guide us as clearly as it guided Peter, James, and John. How many of us wish God would just talk to us and tell us what to do? Sure he left us the Bible and the Church, but sometimes don’t you just want a burning bush?
But maybe that’s not the real question. Maybe the real question, the more important questions is this: Are we listening to him? Are we seeing the signs he sends us?
Peter, James, and John are commanded to listen to Jesus. I’m not one to argue for strict biblical interpretations, but I think that’s it’s important to note that the heavenly voice says, “Listen to him!” “Listen to him!” Not “Hear him” but “Listen to him!” The definitions of “hear,” “listen,” and “listen to” are only slightly difference at first glance, but I think the subtle difference is important in this context. “Hear” means to receive information by the ear. “Listen” means to concentrate on hearing something. When we add “to” the definition changes. “Listen to” means “to pay attention; heed; obey.”
For example, we might turn to our neighbor and say, “Did you hear that siren?” We’re asking if the person received the same sound we received. When we’re talking to our spouses, we might get annoyed and ask, “Are you listening?” We’re asking if our spouse is concentrating on hearing us or concentrating on the TV. When we are particularly aggravated with our children, we might demand “Listen to me!” We aren’t asking them to just receive the noises coming from our mouths; we’re asking them to pay attention, to heed, to obey! Hearing is about passively receiving. Listening is about seeking to receive. Listening to is about taking action as a result of what we’ve heard.
When Peter, James, and John are told to “Listen to him,” God is asking them—and by extension us—to hear Jesus and take action as a result of what he teaches. We are to pay attention, to heed, and to obey.
So I ask again… Are we listening to him? Are we seeing the signs he sends us?
Holy Cross has a big heart. Holy Cross has a welcoming heart. But do we as a community have an active heart? A heart that heeds the calls around us? When I came to Holy Cross, I found a place where I was free to be my truest self, my most godly self and my weakest self. I know many of you found the same freedom and comfort here, but I have to ask… Do we extend that that blessing to those we encounter beyond these four walls? Do we give our hearts away as freely as have been given to us? Do we give our hearts away as freely as to people outside our church as we do to each other here in church?
I don’t know how many of you remember the show West Wing. It starred Martin Sheen as President Bartlett and followed the West Wing staff through two presidential terms. There was a great scene in season four. The President is swearing in his new Deputy Communications Director Will Bailey. He says, “There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?” Will replies, “It’s the only thing that ever has.”
The only thing that has ever changed the world is a small group of thoughtful and committed people who see need and set out to fill that need. The Gospels tell us story after story of small groups of thoughtful and committed people who changed the world, and in today’s Gospel, God commands us to be that small group. He commands us to be a force of transfiguration in the world, to do great works as Jesus himself did.
So I ask, is Holy Cross that kind of thoughtful and committed group? Do we gather together in the world beyond these four walls to spread the Good News in our obedience to His command to heed the teachings of Jesus? It is only when we go beyond the safety of our church that we can open doors to God’s presence in the world, that we can open the world to the transfiguration that can only come to the world through Christ. It is beyond these four walls that we create the bridge to let God heal the sickness and the brokenness in the world around us. Only out there can we become the channel through which divisiveness and hatred can be replaced by the unity and love of God.
One of the favorite movies in our house is Bruce Almighty. How many of you have seen it? For those of you who haven’t, Jim Carry’s character Bruce is feeling beaten up by life and blames God, played by Morgan Freeman. God gives Bruce his powers for a few weeks, during which Bruce learns that being God isn’t as easy as he thought. Jim Carry is absolutely hilarious, but one of the reasons it touches me so much is because of the underlying theme that God has called us to be his hands in the world. God tells Bruce that parting seas is just a magic trick. He says:
A single mom who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says “no” to drugs and “yes” to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. But what they don’t realize is *they* have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.
A miracle isn’t seeing Elijah and Moses on a mountain. A miracle isn’t the risen Christ. A miracle isn’t the parting of the red sea or a burning bush. A miracle is loving our neighbors even when life gets in the way. A teen coming to youth group talking about how stupid it is to get drunk. That’s a miracle. A bus driver making sure every child on his route has a turkey for Thanksgiving. That’s a miracle. A couple opening their home and heart to children that aren’t biologically theirs and giving them all the love and security any child could ever hope for. That’s a miracle.
When we accept salvation, we are transfigured through Christ. Our hearts, minds, and souls are imbibed with the love and gratitude of the living presence of Christ, but it is not a passive gift. While we are not called to save the world, we are called to be God’s agents of change in the world, to live the Good News through our acts of kindness, to share our story through how we live and how we love.
In Advent, we were asked to be aware, to pay attention. In Epiphany, we are asked to listen. But as we step through the door to Lent, we are to heed and to obey, to take action. We will no longer be waiting.
I invite you as you walk through the door today to the rest of your life to see me and take a name from the bowl we filled. Take the name home with you. During Lent, I encourage you to love that person through prayer or fasting or whatever God calls you to do. This person is your neighbor, your neighbor in need. Be the miracle that person needs not by grand acts of generosity, but by the simple act of asking God to help him or her find the grace and peace that we have here.
The presence of Jesus the Christ, the Savior, has transfigured us into agents of change. Today, we are asked to pay attention and to heed, because the call to be the miracle is coming. How will Holy Cross answer? Will we be the miracle?