Archive for August, 2022

“Shine,” (Transfiguration Sunday 2022)

This Sunday was originally slated to include a baptism at St. Brigid’s, which is why once again we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration in this church calendar year. Unfortunately, the baptism ended up postponed, but it was too late to change the bulletins and readings, so I just rolled with it. It’s a fantastic story; no harm telling it more than once.

I couldn’t stop watching it: a little video, made by a friend, set to music: “Here comes the girl! Hello, girl! Welcome.”

The girl in question was a trans girl, brand new in her journey toward presenting publicly as female in her daily life. Going through my own gender journey, I’d cleaned my closet of my more feminine things that didn’t feel like they really belonged to me anymore, and I thought I could pass some of it on to a trans or nonbinary person. She was modeling a flowered dress from that stash, doing that thing that all girls do when they get a new dress: twirling. Our body types are nothing alike, but I figured her height and proportions would just make the dress hang a bit differently than it did on me, and I was right. It looked amazing. She looked amazing. Her smile was so sweet, so shy. “Here comes the girl! Hello, girl! Welcome.”

She wasn’t on a mountaintop, but she was transfigured.

In the Book of Daniel, in response to four great beasts symbolizing four of the great empires that ran roughshod over Israel, a Holy Ancient One cleanses them with celestial fire, putting an end to the arrogant, hateful, and meaningless words of the last, most fearsome beast. And after that, when oppression has been put to the flame, one like a human being, coming with the clouds of heaven, approaches the Holy Ancient One, and is given full dominion over all things.

One like a human being, but clearly not – one who comes robed in cloud and seems unbothered by the torrents of holy fire that have poured forth from this Ancient One, and yet looks like us. One whose identity cannot be determined by the eyes alone. One whose true power is only made fully manifest when oppression is put to the flame.

One like us.

Jesus goes to the mountaintop. He takes his closest friends, Peter, James, and John. He doesn’t trust just anyone with the secret he is about to reveal.

He has already been about the work of putting systems of oppression to the flame. He has commissioned fishers, labourers, and a tax collector or two, to go out into the world with the power to heal, to exorcise, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He has fed five thousand people with the bread of abundance, given without price or restriction to all who hunger. He has confessed, in an act of radical honesty, that this kind of advocacy comes with a heavy cost – indeed, it usually leads to death – and has encouraged others who want to follow to join him in that work of self-sacrificing love, love totally divorced from any desire for earthly wealth or gain.

And now, his true power, his true identity, is ready to be made manifest, at least for a moment.

On the mountaintop, in a period of deep prayer, accompanied by his closest friends, the ones he brought into the bedroom of Jairus’s daughter to witness her resurrection, he takes on a new form, a true form, a form that leaves nothing to the imagination. He is out and about.

Moses and Elijah, prophets who also led slaves to freedom, fed the hungry without price, and spoke truth to power, are suddenly beside him, placing him firmly, inescapably, in their legacy – in God’s legacy – of putting oppression to the flame.

In a bit of spooky foreshadowing the three companions are weighed down with sleep. In Chapter 22, they will once again be weighed down with sleep, not on a mountain, but in a garden. The Sufi mystic Rumi warns us, “If you want everlasting glory… if you want to burn with love, don’t go back to sleep. You have wasted so many nights; don’t go back to sleep.”

Here, though, on the mountaintop, they manage to stay awake, and witness everlasting glory.

And Peter, ever enthusiastic, ever clueless, tries to bottle the moment, to curate Jesus’s secret that the Liberator will come clothed in our own bodies, to make a monument to it.

And how can we not want to? When we finally see the truth of what Irenaeus was telling us when he wrote “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive,” how could we not want to build a city on that truth?

But this is always our first mistake: believing we can just pluck wisdom off a branch and keep it contained to one body, one story, one message. Believing we can encase God in gold and dance before Them on the mountaintop. Believing that we are one body, one story, one spirit, apart from everyone and everything else, alone. We take a moving intricate infinite and try to freeze it into a solitary static image.

Stay awake, Peter. This moment is too big for a tent or a tabernacle. This is your beloved, and he took you up here to tell you something profound. Listen to him. This moment is manna, heavenly bread. It’s a gift, but you can’t take more than you’re given. We know this, because a cloud comes down, just like it did for Moses and the liberated Israel. It’s terrifying, because this Liberator is not someone that can be manipulated or bullied or shamed, not someone who will inevitably turn on their flock. This Liberator is outside of the corruptibility that comes with human power. This Liberator is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

Stay awake, Peter. Don’t just listen because you’re a student and need to understand. Listen because the moment is fleeting, and it has to last you a while. You’re staring into a rising sun now, but a long night is coming. Your beloved is asking you not to waste that coming night with sleep and despair. He’s trying to tell you, in this one precious moment, that when the night comes, he wants you waiting at the window like the woman in the Song of Songs, ever hopeful that the beloved will bring the sun with him as he crests the treacherous rise of death like a gazelle.

Stay awake, Peter, you’ll want to see this.

This is only the beginning.

Have you ever seen someone transfigured?

Have you ever been invited to a lonely place to be told a monumental secret, and suddenly been struck by awe as the one you thought you knew became something else entirely – something beautiful and profound and unknowable, and yet so close to you, and wanting you closer, wanting you to cradle this incredible secret as though it were an infant star in your hands?

What did you see? What did you feel? What did you do?

Have you ever felt transfigured?

Have you ever made a careful, conscious choice of precious friends, and brought them to the mountain of your solitude to share this secret, not knowing how they would react, not knowing if they would recognize the deep work of prayer it took to bring forth this light of truth, trying to get them to stay awake, trying to get them to see you, to want to see you, to take immeasurable delight in the sight of you as you crest the hill of loneliness or burst forth from the crypt of your secrets?

What did you see? What did you feel? What did you do?

The great beasts of our world are on the loose, but so many angels are too. A thousand thousand are serving the Holy Ancient One in the work of lighting matches to put oppression to the flame. Ten thousand times ten thousand are bearing witness, tending fires already kindled.

Will it be enough?

Who knows? We’re in the cloud. It’s in God’s hands. We can build monuments and stay on the mountaintop, or we can listen, and go back out into the world, with hearts like torches.

The Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski wrote, “To be a dervish is very easy / Fill with love until you’re empty.”

To be transfigured is very easy. Shine.

Sermon begins at 32:17.