Five years ago this week, we began our ministry together on Transfiguration Sunday. Happy anniversary to us! And while the celebration of the transfiguration of Christ may not have been the very first thought on many of our minds this morning, I am particularly mindful of its significance as we recognize an anniversary. I hope we can enjoy today as a happy celebration before we begin the serious work of the program year.
Three of our scripture lessons today illustrate the meaning of transfiguration. Moses’ face shines when he comes down the mountain after conversing with God. In a letter to members of the early Church community dealing with internal divisions, the voice of St Peter refers to the Transfiguration as he urges them to remember that everything they do now is connected with the divine origin of Jesus. The Gospel teaches us that everything about Jesus shines when he is in deep prayer.
Most of us are inclined to think of transfiguration as a change, because the appearance of Moses and Jesus seems to change. But really, who changes? Are Moses and Jesus suddenly different people? Or do the witnesses change, as they peer through an opened spiritual door and witness God’s glory manifest through them, coming to understand themselves differently? The way we frame transfiguration can speak a truth to us. I think that it is quite possible that transfiguration is not primarily about individual transformation. Transfiguration can be a sign that a community has come into a deeper understanding of its identity. What does it mean to be people of God? The transfiguration of Jesus Christ manifests itself in the response of the witnesses.
Transfiguration is all about the great power of God and the way in which we who witness these things are invited to respond to moments of grace.
Transfiguration as a realization of true corporate identity is an especially good metaphor in times of transition. Personal luminescence is never the goal. The challenge of a transitional time is not that we need to be radically changed. The challenge is to be more faithful to who we really are, in relationship with our God and our community, and to let go of those things which do not reflect that identity. If we are going to move forward in our lives, personally, professionally, or as a spiritual community, we must be firmly grounded in our present reality. We cannot invite others into relationship until we know who we really are.
The question as we move into a time after pandemic disruption is not how are we going to change and shine? St Stephen’s already does a whole lot of sparkly ministry.
The question is: How can we live into God’s mission and our cathedral identity more faithfully? This is not a time to sit back and say “we are done.”
Peter’s willingness to build shrines to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus is well-intentioned but misdirected. We do not need to construct shines to what has happened in our history. Jesus needs us to go out into the world and share the good news of what we have witnessed!
The challenge before us is how to accomplish that sharing:
– In what ways can we use the Episcopal tradition as a tool to grow closer to God, so that we are filled with such grace that we are able and willing to act with great boldness in the city and diocese?
– How shall we deepen our connections across this city and this diocese, so that we can build up the love and justice of God in this corner of the world?
– How shall we come to know our neighbors and invite them into this wonderful relationship of transfiguration – peering through that heavenly door and living into who we really are – with God and all of God’s people?
A parish community is an organic organism, more like God’s garden than like a building. The way we maintain the garden, working together and drawing in our newer members, actually matters. Even if we do not perceive it, we are always growing and changing. St Stephen’s is different from the way you were ten or even five years ago. We have an active and growing ministry with young adults of the Hbg community; we have an art gallery that is recognized as a significant venue in the city; we are a resource for our needy and unhoused neighbors; our school is growing; our second flagpole advertises our willingness to be an open community. And that is good and holy. My lovely ambition for this place continues to be quite simple. I pray that we shall be our best and most genuine selves, and that we may be filled with the joy of God’s love along our journey.