Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which marks the last Sunday of Epiphany, that time when Gods reveals who Jesus is to his disciples and to the world. Like us, they need to see order to believe. And sometimes, it takes a little bit more than that.
READ Luke 9:28-36 Here.
During the season of Epiphany, we’ve journeyed alongside those who first discovered that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
We stood on the banks of the Jordan as the heavens opened and a voice declared, “This is my Son, the beloved.” We were at a wedding in Cana to witness water become “good wine.”
We went to his parent’s synagogue in Nazareth as Jesus declared, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in me.” And went out into the deep waters with three fishermen who saw something so amazing it would inspire them to drop everything and follow him.
We sat with Jesus, and the disciples, and countless others as Jesus blessed us and taught us how to do unto others as we would have them do to us. In all these ways Jesus revealed not only who he was, but what God’s Kingdom is all about.
Some people got angry. Others found hope. There were many who challenged him. And a few who gave up all they had to be close to him. But everyone who met Jesus would be forever changed.
“How could they not be? How could we not be?” asks Joshua Wood. “To see God is to be changed.” Which almost seems like an understatement. Through Jesus, God doesn’t merely alter or amend life but transforms it completely.
Take it from me, once you see who Jesus is, and what God has done through him, your life will never be the same again. You see yourself in a new light, and others too. After you begin to see all of creation bathing in the glow of God’s glory…nothing will ever be like it was before.
Moses and Elijah are perfect examples.
When Moses first encountered God on a mountain, in a burning bush, the entire direction of his life changed. As did the life of God’s people. After he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Moses met with God again on another mountain, where he received instructions on how to live a God-centered life. When he returned to the camp, he was shining so brightly that they had to cover his face with a veil.
Moses saw God and was changed. Not only in appearance, but his purpose and the core of his being. Elijah encountered God on a mountain as well. Once he realized God was real nothing could stop him from doing what God was calling him to do. Now it’s Peter, James, and John’s turn.
Although they had already witnessed countless miracles, it wasn’t until this particular time and place that their eyes were opened to see God’s truth transfigured before them. And just in case this point wasn’t clear, the voice breaks through the heavens and declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Like Moses and Elijah discovered, when God speaks, you’d better listen.
But sometimes that divine voice is hard to hear. Especially when there is chaos and war all around us. Loud voices barking for our attention. But even in these ugly spaces, Christ has a way of bursting through - disrupting and changing everything.
It took an act of God for the disciples to finally comprehend the importance of this mountain meeting. Even after they saw God’s glory, firsthand, and received the good news directly from the source, “They said nothing to no one.” Did they not comprehend? Were they afraid? What would you do in this situation?
I know firsthand what they are experiencing. Part of them is still trying to process what just happened, what it all means. I also know that what they experienced is just as much terrifying news as it is good news. If what they saw and heard was real, then that means God was real. And if God is real, what does that say about what God is telling them to do? “This is my Chosen Son; listen to him.”
Listen to him. Good advice that is not as easy as we would like it to be.
Lent begins on Wednesday. And for the next seven weeks we will be following Jesus to Jerusalem, where he will suffer rejection, humiliation, torture, a brutal death. Yes, there is a glorious resurrection in the end, but not before the darkness of humanity gets a turn at him.
If we are going to walk with Christ, then we must walk all the way with him…even through the darkest shadows. This means will experience miracles and joy, as well as deviations and grief. Throughout it all, we too become something new, something different.
As terrifying as this seems, God gives us all the instructions we need to navigate this space between before and after. “This is my Chosen Son; listen to him.”
Listen to him. Look at what Jesus does, then go and do the same to one another. Love each other, like he loves you. Pray for one another, as he pleas and intercedes for you. Bless everyone. Give your all, to all. And do so without any strings attached. This is how the glory of God is transfigured in us.
Whenever and wherever God’s glory is seen and felt and known, things change. You can’t unsee or unfeel or unknow love, grace, mercy and kindness. But you can grow and change with it. The way it was done before will always be different after meeting Christ and seeing God’s glory in him.
Years ago, someone asked if I thought Jesus would smoke pot? “After all,” he argued, “didn’t God create it?”
I told him I can see Jesus hanging out with stoners. It wasn’t an uncommon thing for Jesus to do. I imagine everyone is having a good time, laughing, and celebrating, when someone lights a joint and begins to pass it around.
But when the joint gets to Jesus, I imagine he takes it, blesses it, and then passes it to the next person.
When that person receives the blessing, something changes. Instead of smoking, he passes it to the next person, who receives the blessing and does the same. This goes on until the blessing makes its way back to Jesus, who then extinguishes the joint without passing judgment, or shaming anyone there.
What we once thought we needed before is no longer the case after we encounter God’s blessings in Christ. God said, “Listen to him.”
If we are going to thrive in Anamesa, then we need to remain ever present in these holy moments. For it’s in this space, between before and after, God comes bursting into our life and changes everything. We might not get a mountain top experience like this one in Luke’s gospel, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening all around us.
Mother Theresa always said, if you want to see Christ look for him in the other; be it in the face of a stranger, the generosity of a neighbor, or the kindness of a friend.
Every time you interact with others you are given a chance to encounter God. To look at a person and see the Divine Image of God in them will change the way you act and react.
Imagine seeing Jesus on someone you hate. Rage will change into love; war into peace; weapons into plowshares. True transfiguration…from the human way to the Divine will of God.
I don’t know if Bill Murray ever saw people like this, but he realized we all have the power to make changes on a macro-level. Just as he made the decision to step out of his celebrity, we too can join him by stepping into our Christ likeness.
Just as Jesus did before him, Bill Murray changed people’ s lives by simply showing up and listening to them. Helping where he can. Serving where needed. Giving his time, his life, so that God’s glory can be seen in the world. This might not have been Bill Murray’s intentions, but as Christ followers there should be no other way. It’s imperative to make this our intention.
Through Jesus, God speaks to us and invites us to be a mirror of the Christ transfigured…so others can have a life-changing encounter as well.
You know the way. See what Jesus does, listen to what he says, and go and do that to one another.
Adapted from an original message is from March 3, 2019.
Wood, Joshua. "Forever Changed." March 3, 2019 (first accessed on March 1, 2019).
Vaughn Crowe-Tipton relates to this passage like many of us might. He writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cook spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in.”
Even someone who loves Jesus as much as I do can have trouble swallowing these words. Even with the spiritual nourishment I long for, it’s hard for me to take that first bite. These words are difficult to hear, and even more difficult to do. But in ignoring them, I think we miss out on something much bigger.
Jesus isn’t just giving us a list of rules, but a way of life that is grounded in the way of God. Before we look at them, I want to remind us of something Jesus said in John’s gospel.
He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus’ ministry was all about showing us who God is.
Unfortunately, this passage has been weaponized by religious leaders in the past. But I don’t think Jesus wants us to have more religious doctrine. He’s merely telling us…if you want to know the way to God, to know God’s truth, then look at what he does and do it.
Then you will discover what life is really about. Thus, the Apostle Paul kept one consistent message in all of his writings: “Be imitators of Christ.”
Through him we find God. And by mirroring him others might to. This often means entering into those spaces where there are people who disagree with you, despise you, and downright hate you. Enter those spaces between and ask yourself, “What will it take me to be like Jesus in this situation right now?”
This takes us back to Luke’s gospel, where the Message translates it like this. “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then take the initiative and do it for them first. Because the effort you make can inspire others to do the same.”
That’s the one thing I want us all to remember this week: Take the initiative to be like Jesus. Love. Help. Bless. Give. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Not only will you get out what you put in. But sometimes you might get more than you could ever imagine.
Think of it like this: If you want to live in a peace-filled world, then bring your peace in the world. And more peace will follow. But if you pick on someone, expect to be picked on. If you judge, you will be judged. If someone harms you or steals from you, Jesus says don’t retaliate because it will only produce more of the same. But just as violence begets more violence. Generosity begets more generosity.
Again, I don’t think he’s telling us what to do as much as he is inviting us to participate with him in the Kingdom of God. Here in Anamesa, we are given a choice. We can love our enemies, or we can hate them. We know what choice Jesus made.
Here in this sacred space between hate and love, we can pray for those who want to harm us or we can curse them. Jesus didn’t choose the easy way out. Instead of holding on to anger and resentment, he made the harder choice to forgive and show mercy. In all the ways of Jesus we see how God works to redeem the world.
But what will the world see in us? Especially we who take the name of Christ as our identity?
We might not be perfect or even very good at doing these things Jesus asks. Yet he calls us into the world to live out our God-created identity all so others will come to see what they are made of. As followers of Christ, we are to carry the light of Divine love in every nook and cranny of life.
This is imperative now more than ever because it’s in the many spaces of Anamesa, nations and politics threaten the spirit of love. Racism and nationalism are frightening away our spirit of unity. And bigotry and apathy are weakening our spirit of generosity.
That old song was right, there really is a thin line between love and hate. And yet, this is where our Lord has placed us to be who God made us to be. We are God’s beloved. Jesus wants us to start acting as if we believe that is true.
Through Christ, we have been given God’s Spirit …our holy wingman that pushes us out of our comfort zone and nudges us into loving, caring, blessing, and giving – with no strings attached. This is the way, to the truth and life of God’s love that has been given to us, and to all.
It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, where you were born or who you love. It doesn’t matter what politic or religious affiliation you embrace. The Holy Spirit weaves us all together in the space between all our differences because God has made us all one together no matter where or who we are.
Scripture tells us that we are all made in God’s divine image. The same image as Jesus. Like him, we were filled with the same breath of God, to reflect God’s love in the flesh.
Desmond TuTu wrote, “We are each a God-carrier, a tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by God the holy and most blessed Trinity. To treat one such as less than this is not just wrong, it is veritably blasphemous and sacrilegious.” This is what makes it possible to love those who hate us.
The way I see it, the world doesn’t need more religion. It needs more love. Because love is the way that leads us to God. The more we put in, the more we get out. We know how much God was willing to give. God went all in. And so did Jesus. Now it’s up to us. We know what to do because we know what Jesus did.
In closing I want to share a little text exchange I had with Rev Dawn on Friday while I was working on this message. It was a simple question: “What are you up to?” And my answer was simply “Trying to keep busy so I didn’t fall behind.”
In her infamous wisdom she shot back, “Aren’t we always behind?” While I know she was talking about our workload, it got me thinking about something else Jesus said.
Again, the Message translation says this. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. Follow me and I will show you how.” This is what faith is all about. Falling behind and following the one who leads us home into God’s heart.
Loving. Caring. Blessing. Giving. These are the footsteps of Christ we are called to step into. It might sound difficult, but the reason for this is simple. You might be the person who needs those things one day. The measure we give…will be given back in life-giving ways that only God is capable of producing.
Jesus has called us to be a new community where God’s unconditional love is the standard by which all things are measured. This is true in the space between you and me, just as it is between us and them.
I would challenge you to set an intention this week to practice living into your divine best. Start each morning by praying, “Lord help me love like you today.” Then go out and live it as if you mean it.
Jesus said, if you do this… “your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.”
"Jesus doesn’t distinguish between rich or poor, hungry or well fed. He just tells us to do it towards everyone. He tells us God is fair. And there is equality in God’s kingdom. Jesus came down to the level plain where God has leveled the playing field."
You don’t have to be a Christian to know life is a mixture of blessings and woes. Those who choose to follow Jesus know that we are called to live with the tension in between the two.
The beatitudes is a fairly well-known passage. Luke’s version, however, is different than the longer one found in the gospel of Matthew. To be honest, it’s not my favorite.
Luke’s rhetorical balance between these four blessings and four woes forces me to look deeper at my faith than I sometimes want to. Moreover, the conditions to be blessed don’t really seem like blessings. In fact, I lean more towards the woeful situations. Even if being rich comes with a warning, it still has to be better than poverty or persecution. And does it really count if I make myself weep or go hungry to earn a blessing?
If we choose to follow Jesus, then we have to hold the tension between these two worlds where we are blessed when we are comforted by God’s grace and love in our times of hardship and pain. But we are warned not to confuse our good fortune for faithful discipleship.
If you want to see God or know what God is up to…well this is it.
As the story goes, Jesus comes down from the mountain to the level plains, where people from all walks of life have gathered.
It’s here, between the mountain top and the streets below, Jesus meets people who are sick and who haven’t eaten in a while. Some are possessed or suffering a mental disorder. While others have come simply because they’ve heard about this rabbi whose new interpretation of scripture was turning everything upside down.
With all eyes on him, he begins to speak. “Blessed are you...you who are poor...you who are hungry...you who weep and are persecuted.” And the people were stunned.
“Hearing this,” wrote Barbara Brown Taylor, “was like drinking from a glass of what looked like lemonade and finding out that it’s bug spray instead.” That’s because people like these folks were not used to receiving tender attention, muchless a divine blessing.
But like I said, Jesus often shocks us, because sometimes that’s what it takes to open our eyes to see God among us. With these words, Jesus tells those who society has deemed unfit or unimportant that they matter to God. People like you and me, God considers blessed!
With open eyes, Jesus wants us to look into the heart of God and discover all the possibilities that come from it. When our eyes are open to how God blesses us, it should be easier to see how we can bless and care for each other - especially those in need.
Thus, it’s here, between blessings and woes, we must make a choice. Jesus isn’t telling us what to do. He’s not saying ‘thou shalt be poor and persecuted’.
When Jesus commands us, you know it. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
Jesus doesn’t distinguish between rich or poor, hungry or well fed. He just tells us to do it towards everyone. He tells us God is fair. And there is equality in God’s kingdom. Jesus came down to the level plain where God has leveled the playing field.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it like riding on a Ferris wheel. She says, “The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world's lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom. While those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars.”
It’s in this space between the stars and the sawdust Jesus removes any barriers to seeing God's image reflected in our lives.
What does that image look like?
Like our friend who is a single mom, runs her own business, and struggles to keep her head above water – financially and mentally. And to her Jesus says, “You are blessed.”
But it also looks like someone I know who was given a second chance at life and became successful in business and achieved great wealth. Jesus tells him, “You are blessed.”
Yet, to both, he also says, “Whoa!” As in, don’t let your good comfort or your bad situation be your priority. Put your faith in God. Not some of it. But all of it.
As followers of Jesus, we stand between receiving God's grace and comfort in times of suffering knowing we also contribute to both the hardships and blessings of others. We must make a choice. To live into our blessedness. Or not.
Here, in Anamesa, in the space between, Jesus gives us a holy pause, a time to set our priorities and make room for God “who loves everyone on that Ferris wheel.” You. Me. And even the most despised person you can think of. This is who God is. And how it works in God’s kingdom.
As he moves through his ministry, Jesus will go on to show us how our true worth and value does not depend on anyone, or anything, other than God. If you know Jesus, then you know how far God is willing to go to bless us and love us. A love given freely to us with the intention that we will freely give it away to one another.
It’s ours to choose. To borrow from Rev Dawn who reminded me in her sermon this morning, “God trusts our choice.”
So, as we stand here today, in the tension between our blessings and woes, I invite you to imagine Jesus next to you telling you, “You are blessed because you are a person worth being loved and to give love.”
“You are blessed because you are created out of love and live in the embrace of a God who didn’t hesitate to send his only son to die for you.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus believes you and I are worth everything God has to offer. And he will empty himself of everything he has so that we might know it. For those of us who refuse to see our worth in God’s eyes, Jesus tells us there will be woes ahead.
Eugene Peterson wrote it like this, “If you are only satisfied with yourself, and what you can do, your self will not satisfy you for long.”
The good news here is that Jesus opens our eyes to see God. And gives the beatitudes as a map to God’s heart so we can see who we really are: God's Beloved, made in the Divine image of everlasting love.
When we realize this truth, perhaps we will be better at doing what Jesus actually does commands us to do: to share, to love, to pray; to forgive those who, in their own brokenness, have also received God’s blessings.
As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “No one gets to stay at the top of the Ferris wheel forever. What goes around, comes around. That is not advice. That is not judgment. That is God's own truth. It is the pure blessedness for those on the bottom, who never really expect to get off the ground.”
For those who are on top today, Jesus calls you down to be a part of the Kingdom of God. For those of you at the bottom, Jesus lifts you up so you can bathe in the richness of God’s everlasting light. It’s in our going up and coming down we see all the things that make us laugh, and cry, and hunger for all God has to offer. It’s in this holy space our hearts our open to receive a gift greater than anything money or talent could buy.
To make that choice easier, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and no way to repay God for such redemptive grace. All we can do is accept it.
Once we accept that we are absolutely, unconditionally loved by God, once that shocking knowledge of God’s goodness penetrates our hearts then and only then can fully embrace and live, laugh and love like Jesus did.
When we follow Jesus, living in Christ like love, only then can we truly love one another, truly forgive each other, and truly live side-by-side in peace.
It’s in that holy moment we see how truly blessed we really are.
BartLett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 1. Westminster John Knox, 2009.
Peterson, Eugene. The Message. Navipress, 1995
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
As the guys are washing up, Jesus climbs into their boat and calls to Simon to push him out a little from the shore. Up to this point, we know very little about Simon. Yes, he will go on to become the Apostle Peter, but right now he’s just a tired, and unsuccessful fisherman. The only reason Jesus calls him is because Simon has something Jesus needs...a boat.
This tells me that Jesus doesn’t call us because we are special or extraordinary. It doesn’t matter if we are successful or failures. Jesus calls out to us all because we all have something he needs.
As Simon is about to find out, Jesus doesn’t just need a pulpit to preach from. He needs a crew. So, he calls on this fisherman once again and asks for another favor.
He says, “Take me out into the deep water and get your nets dirty again.” This is a ask. First of all, those nets had just been cleaned and put away. The guys want to go home, go to bed and forget about the night. Still, they answer Jesus’ call.
Reading something by Amy Ziettlow, I learned their ancient nets were handmade out of flax or linen, two kinds of material which could tear easily. They were fragile and required careful handling to properly maintain them. Second to the boat, a net was vital to the fisherman’s livelihood.
The crew had just finished cleaning their nets and carefully rolled them up for the day when Jesus calls, asking them to take on the risk of damaging them. Simon could have easily refused. James and John could have taken their empty buckets and tired butt’s home. But they don’t. Jesus calls them and for some reason they acquiesce.
Take a moment to think about the times Jesus has called out to you. How did you respond? Think about the times you’ve walked past someone in need and ignored their plea for help. How many times have you pretended not to hear when someone is being mistreated?
Like I said, this is a big ask. You see Jesus isn’t asking these guys to keep the boat steady a few feet from shore. He’s asking them to go with him out into the deep – the last place most of us want to be. And they go.
It’s out there, in the deep unknown, Jesus opens their eyes. As Rice notes, “What was once the place of frustration and futility becomes a place of abundance, discovery, and sustenance.” Jesus called them to act, and they did. And the result is overwhelming.
When they realize the magnitude of this discovery, they begin to sink. You don’t have to be a sailor to know that sinking is never a good sign – especially far away from shore. Simon and company find themselves in deep water, figuratively and actually.
Metaphorically speaking, Jesus is asking these guys to risk their lives by leaving the shallow shoreline, and make a great sacrifice, to cast their old way of doing things out in the deep waters for a new way of life… one of abundance.
Yet in reality they had to figure out whether or not to drop their nets, and the safety and security that is in them, to do what Jesus is asking. This scares Simon, who is able to see the face of God in Jesus.
This terrifies him because he believes he is not worthy of such a gift. Like the prophet Isaiah who sees God and shouts, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips!” Or Paul who proclaims, “I am unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church.” Just as Jesus called him worthy, so too has Jesus called Simon, James and John worthy.
Our Lord tells his terrified crew, “Do not be afraid.” Four words we should cling to today. Because here’s the thing to remember:
Your worth is not based on what you’ve done, but on what Jesus has done for you and me.
Jesus knows who you are, warts and all. He knows what it’s like to be human and carry the pain and struggles of life. He knows what people are capable of - both good and bad. And still, Jesus calls us because we have something he needs.
This should make us all a little afraid, if only because Jesus is calling us out into the depths of our faith and asking us to truly follow him - the living word of God.
It doesn’t matter if you think you’re worthy enough or good enough or strong enough Jesus is calling and offering you all the abundance of grace and love that God has to give. What matters is how you answer. Will you acquiesce when he tells you to “Let your nets go because from now on you’ll be catching people”?
What Jesus needs is not a boat, bravery, or bravado. Jesus needs hands that can help. Hearts that can heal. And I believe that is something we all have to give.
On those days when I am ready to call it quits, I am reminded that Jesus is not calling me to be perfect. He is simply calling me to be present, so that his presence can be seen.
Jesus needs people like you and me, people who are willing to go out into the deep unknown and live our faith out in the world so that others might benefit from it.
When Simon and the Zebedee brothers got their boat to shore, Luke said, “they left everything and followed him.” Jesus called and they answered – leaving everything that defined who they once were – their nets, their boat, their old fears, and concerns. They left their old way of life for a new life with Jesus. A decision that must have seemed futile to many.
Because the disciples answered his call, we are here this morning as the church, the very holy and sacred body of Christ. As the visible presence of his sacred body, we are called to take him into Anamesa. Because it’s in that space between his call and our answer where we find people who are suffering.
It’s in that space out there in the deep unknown where wars and threats of war continue. Out there is famine, poverty and children who are suffering. There are widows still all alone in their pain. Prisoners trapped in their past. Folks who are lost, frustrated, angry, and in need of any kind of miracle in their life.
Jesus is calling us to be that miracle.
You see, fishing for people is not just about God’s abundant provision; it’s about bringing Christ into magnificent beauty and unimaginable ugliness that makes us want to give up.
Three tired and disheartened people met Jesus and found abundant life. They heard his call. And answered it.
And their world, and even our world, changed for the better. Imagine what we can do in Anamesa, if we don’t give up, throw in the towel, and call it a day. But instead answer the call of Christ to be his hands and heart in our homes and communities.
For it’s in those sacred spaces we not only hear Jesus calling but we see him in our midst and find our true worth.
Rice, Whitney. The Deep Water. January 31, 2022 (accessed on February 4, 2022)
Ziettlow, Amy. Living By The Word. Christian Century, January 26, 2022.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”