+ A sermon preached for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year C) at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on February 7, 2016 +
Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“The sin of hiding.” That’s what theologian Susan Nelson Dunfee calls it. She says that while many consider pride to be sinful and humility a virtue, too often people try to be so humble that they can compromise their own personal self worth for the sake of those around them. Dunfee believes that this phenomenon is especially prevalent among women, though some claim that it is common among many marginalized groups of people and others believe it’s a something we all experience. By hiding, people sacrifice the importance of their own identity and self-interest trying to not offend those around them. Because each person is created in God’s own image and possesses inherent value through that identity, Dunfee argues that the patriarchal tendency to discount women’s identities as unique spiritual beings discounts the gift of their creation as full children of God.
Similarly, after Pastor Franklin Graham recently reiterated his belief that homosexuality is inherently sinful, another Christian blogger said that there was indeed sin in homosexuality. But the sin, she argued, was not being gay, but hiding in the closet and society’s expectation for others to remain in the closet. She says that denying who you are as a created child of God builds up dividers separating yourself from your neighbors and from God. Denying who you are is denying yourself the opportunity to truly love yourself. It’s creating a veil of shame where God created beauty. It’s not being gay that’s sinful, but denying the dignity and beauty of the person that God created. The sin of homosexuality, then, is the denial that a gay person is a beautiful child of God just how they are.
And that’s what these sins boil down to – the denial of the beauty and uniqueness of the divine image imprinted upon each individual child of God. The belief that being who you truly are may offend those around you and so it’s best to be passive or hide that divine image.
All three of today’s scriptural lessons deal with this theme of the divine image in some way. In today’s first reading, Moses had just spent time in prayer and conversation with God on Mount Sinai. Moses’ time with God caused his face to radiate God’s glory. But when he came down from the mountain, the people were scared of what they saw that they begged Moses to cover his face with a veil, so he did. The Israelites were afraid of the divine image glowing through Moses’ face. And since Moses didn’t want to offend the people around him who were uncomfortable, he hid his face from them and showed it only to God.
Today’s gospel reading shows the transfiguration of Jesus where his disciples saw his face shine and his clothes become dazzling white. For the first time in his ministry, Jesus shows a glimpse of the divine glory hidden inside of him. For the first time, Peter, James, and John see Jesus for who he really is. And like the Israelites with Moses, the disciples are scared and don’t know how to react. But in the midst of their confusion and fear, they hear the voice of God proclaim, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” This is the one whom I made and whom I love, look at him and see me through my beautiful creation!
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he says that through Christ, each one of us is transfigured to show the divine image glowing in our faces. Hear again his words, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord.” Through our Lord Jesus Christ, each of us have permanent access to God our Creator. Like Moses on Sinai and Jesus at the Transfiguration, our very selves radiate with the beautiful and unique image that God created for us. And through the liberation we have in Christ, we no longer have to be ashamed or hide it. We can show the world the beautiful person God has created us to be. No matter our gender, sexual orientation, perceived disability, or whatever our unique God-given identity, we can take off the veil and show the world the beautiful image of God shining through our faces.
In the recent movie called “52 Tuesdays,” we watch as Jane, an Australian mother, transitions and becomes James. When one of the characters asks James when he started to realize his identity as a Trans Man, James said it happened years before after finally realizing he wasn’t truly comfortable in his body. “One night I dressed up,” he said, “I just decided to do it. I put on men’s clothes, drew a beard, and there I was. In the mirror I finally recognized myself and I was a beautiful man…it was so liberating, but I was really scared…so I made a decision that I’d just shelve it.” It took years for James to come out to his daughter and begin his transition, and when he does those around him initially don’t understand and are hesitant. But as the film progresses, we start to see the beautiful man that James glimpsed in the mirror so many years before and his joy with this new found freedom radiates from his face.
Each time we gather at this table Christ unveils himself again through the bread and the wine; and as we commune, we are again transfigured “into the same image” of Christ radiating God’s glory in the world. This morning, six of our second grade siblings will witness Christ in this way for the first time as they take their first communion. Christ will reveal himself to them and they will be changed. God will proclaim, “These are ones
whom I have made, whom I love! Look at them and see me through my beautiful creation!” Their faces may not literally radiate light or their clothes turn dazzling white, but the Eucharist will transform them, as it transforms each of us, into closer images of Christ’s own divine glory. Through these simple elements, Christ will work in us and through us and transfigure us more and more into his own image. And just as Jesus went down from the mountain after his transfiguration and resumed his healing ministry, we too will go from this place after we are changed, to serve those around us. We will not build dwellings and remain here, but we will go back into the world, better equipped for ministry. We will go forth and show our divine image to the world and without fear or need of a veil. We will go to be Christ’s image and presence in the world.
And now, in the words God gave to Moses to bless the Israelites, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy; the Lord look upon you with favor, and give you peace.”