Transfiguration Moments

We pray in the words of the Psalmist: Let your loving-kindness O Lord be upon us, as we have put our trust in you. Indeed, our heart rejoices in you for in your holy Name we put our trust. Amen.

The Readings

Exodus 34:29-35
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

Luke 9:28-36
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

2 Peter 1:13-21
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon,. . . For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Transfiguration Moments

I have a confession to make.

As we know, confessions run the gamut from embarrassing to terrifying. While the latter would certainly paint a portrait of me as a dramatic and mysterious anti-hero so popular these days, it would also be a false portrait. Sadly, my confession is heavily weighted on the embarrassing side, and therefore embarrassing to confess. However, confession is good for the soul, so I will get this done and over with.

I have a dog with the attention span of a gnat. It doesn’t bother him. It bothers me so I make fun of him. That is not nice. “Oh, Lord. Make my words sweet and tender today because tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Today, I ate my words. At the very beginning of our scripture reading from Luke, I confess that I exhibited the attention span of a gnat. The moment I heard the part about Jesus’s face changing and his clothes turning dazzling white, my mind was off on gnats’ wings, flying in swirling vertical twists and turns in the bright lights of my daughter’s upcoming wedding.

Easily you can understand how this might happen. My little girl will be dressed in a gorgeous white gown on her wedding day and she will be dazzling. As beautiful as her face always is, it will be extraordinarily aglow with happiness. That’s how it is with brides.

That was one confession.

I have another confession, as embarrassing as the first. While my dog and I obviously share the attention span of a gnat flaw, I confess that we share another trait. Once you give us a bone, we will not give it up. Ever since my mind went astray on that Sunday morning closest to Transfiguration Day, I have not been able to let it go. The more I thought about it, the more comparisons I saw between Jesus’s transfiguration and weddings.

For example, transfiguration events are extraordinary in that they change, transform, and elevate everyone and everything involved. Jesus was elevated from friend and miracle worker to Son of God. The bride and groom are elevated from friends and lovers to husband and wife.

Then we have the venue. Luke simply identified it as the mountain. When Peter wrote of the same mountain years later, he called it the Holy Mountain. It was sanctified when it became the destination of a transfiguration. It was made holy. When a couple plans a wedding, they search for the perfect venue. Whether it is a church or a mountain or a coastal garden, it will be their holy place.

Like Jesus, they will invite friends and family to witness their life-changing transformation. Jesus invited Peter, James and John, and his special guests of honor Elijah and Moses who had his own Mount Sinai moment. I imagine Elijah and Moses as Jesus’s groomsmen, discussing what lay ahead for him, – his life, death, life again; the good and the bad; the importance of knowing who he is and the promises he will keep. Words of wisdom and guidance from men who walked that path, they are much like the words young grooms hear from mentors on their wedding day.

Transfiguring events call for preparations to commemorate the time and place they occur, which was what Peter wanted to do that day on the mountain. Our soon to be marrieds can understand Peter’s drive. After they have found their venue, the work begins: caterer, photographer, wedding party, attire, music, invitations, officiant, registries, websites, showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties; in other words, stress, stress, and more stress. And just like Peter was momentarily distracted from what was happening in his presence, young men and women can be transformed by the demands of a wedding into bridezillas and groom-divas, distracted from the significance of the moment.

When Peter, James and John were distracted, God sent a cloud that covered them, separating them from everything they knew or thought they knew, leaving only silence in which to hear God’s voice telling them, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” In that moment, Peter, James, and John were stunned into silence, as they too were transfigured. Their lives would never be the same. They would follow Jesus to the cross, to the grave, and beyond. They would become the cornerstone on which a new church would be built, a church Jesus would claim as his Bride there on the holy mountain with his own Father officiating a heavenly wedding.

When we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus, let us consider the holy moments of transfiguration in our own lives. It was on that mountain long ago that we became the bride of Christ. We were transfigured from people simply living out our lives, into the church victorious. Like his disciples, we too will walk the path to the cross, to the grave, to his resurrection and his coming again. We will walk our own path as well. There will be spectacular moments, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. There will be quiet moments so personal that only we will feel them. Big or small, may they transform us into something higher, something closer to God and to those he has given us to love. We can only trust that in the moment of our final transfiguration, Jesus will not be distracted. His thoughts will not fly away on gnats’ wings in swirling vertical twists and turns in the bright light of his heavenly splendor. No, He will come for us. He will hold us in his arms, name us as his beloved bride, and take us to our home with him.

Indeed, our heart rejoices in you for in your holy Name we put our trust.

Declare Independence!

2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?”
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Declare Independence!

It is clear as the Liberty Bell why we read Commander Naaman’s story on the 4th of July, right? Probably not. I am sure it was simply a coincidence falling as it did this year on a popular secular holiday. The 4th is the weekend we celebrate with fireworks, patriotic music and cookouts the signing of the Declaration of Independence from the government of Great Britain in 1776.

Have you ever wondered about the course of events that led to that day? What happened that it started so well and ended so badly? The political science theorists would say that good government is defined by reciprocal altruism i.e., the government protects and rules its people and the people support their government. I take care of you; you take care of me. Obviously, the people of the thirteen colonies no longer believed that reciprocal altruism existed with the government of England and hence, they declared independence from what they felt was a bad government.

Commander Naaman had no interest in declaring independence from the governance of his king. The King of Aram respected, honored, and rewarded him generously. And Naaman brought to his King military victories, wealth, respect and power. They had a reciprocal altruism that made them a formidable team in the land. Sadly, Naaman also had a bad governor in his life. It did not matter how good, honorable or powerful he was, this evil governor would take it all: his health, wealth, strength, and ultimately his life. Naaman had leprosy.

You read the story how in a raid on the land of Israel, Naaman’s troops kidnapped a young Hebrew girl who came to live in Naaman’s home as his wife’s maidservant. Rather than hating the man who stole her away from her family, she approached her mistress with concern for his wellbeing and suggested he go to the man of god to be healed.

Naaman takes the message to King Aram who sends him to Israel with a letter of introduction and a treasure lode of gold, silver, and expensive garments. Naaman travels with his servants and the king’s gifts to a country where lepers are considered unclean and shunned. When Naaman arrives at the Israeli King’s court, he is not greeted in gracious fashion. Not equipped to heal Naaman, the king suspects a plot to justify an attack. News of the king’s distress spreads through the land to Samaria, Elisha’s home. The man of God sent word to have Naaman come to him.

Naaman arrives at Elisha’s home where once again, he is not greeted in gracious fashion. Elisha does not open his door to the man or shake his hand or invite him in for food or drink, a violation of all the rules of hospitality of that time. Instead, Elisha stays in his house and sends his servant to give instructions. I wonder if he didn’t greet the commander himself because Naaman had leprosy and he didn’t want to risk catching it himself. We are not told; I just wonder.

And then there are the directions. Go wash yourself in the Jordan seven times. “Really?” Naaman must have thought. He was offended; felt disrespected; and was obviously disappointed. He’d hoped for a magic show complete with waving of hands, incantations, maybe even some fireworks, patriotic music and a cookout. It is the 4th of July, right; but he got none of that, and left in a huff.

His servants gave him time to cool off and then offered a reasonable observation. You know, sir, if the man of god had asked you to do something hard, you’d have done it. This is easy. Let’s just go do it. And of course Naaman, an intelligent guy agreed and did as Elisha instructed. He went to the Jordan River and bathed himself seven times.

Have you ever wondered about the bathing seven times thing? Why seven? Because it is a magic mystical number, the symbol of completeness? God created the earth in seven days? God rested on the seventh day and declared it the Sabbath? Maybe Elisha was just testing Naaman’s patience? Or maybe Elisha knew all along that God’s ability to cure this honorable man of leprosy did not require an afternoon in the Jordan. Instead, let us consider. Elisha knew leprosy to be an evil governor, yes. He also knew of other governors equally destructive who threaten Naaman and the rest of humankind from the inside out. These bad governors could destroy Naaman as efficiently as could leprosy, governors described as the seven deadly sins.

Pride ~ the sin from which all other sins arise, an inflated sense of grandness, entitlement and disdain for others. It comes across as arrogance, a lack of respect and criticality in relationships. It interferes with the recognition that we need God and we need others. It is also known as Vanity.
Envy ~ the desire for what others possess: status, abilities, life situation. It is manifested in repeated comparing of self to others that leaves one feeling unhappy, desolate, cheated and dissatisfied with what they have and who they are.
Gluttony ~ an irrational desire to consume more than one requires, whether it is food or wealth or possessions. It is about excessive consumption.
Lust ~ also Cravings or Addiction, a most deadly sin affecting people across all social, economic and cultural lines.
Anger ~ also Wrath, which is particularly malignant when adding a cause as in righteous anger or righteous indignation. With a seething internal attitude of anger, people turn away from love and forgiveness to rage, alienation, and violence. It is the foundation for road rage, hate crimes and terrorism.
Greed ~ the excessive desire for material wealth while ignoring the needs of the community, never “giving back” of one’s time and money; also called Avarice
Sloth ~ also known as Laziness, it is the avoidance of physical, emotional or spiritual work. There’s nothing like “lazy in love” to take the zing out of relationships, whether at home, workplace, or church. When Sundays become the day to sleep in, it is just a matter of time before the relationship with God becomes an afterthought.

I’d like to think that each time Naaman bathed, he washed away one and then another and another deadly governor so that when he stepped out of the Jordan, he was wholly healed and free from all evil governance. He could return to his land with but one earthly king and one heavenly king on whom he would rely for good governance.

What if you had been celebrating a summer holiday with Naaman that day and it was your turn to get wet in the Jordan. Once in the water, what would you wash away? Would it be fear or grief or loneliness? Or would it be one of those seven deadly sins? Which one is your favorite?

Do you pride yourself for holding on to grudges, never forgetting the misdeeds done you? Do you find yourself with a list of secret resentments against a loved one, keeping count until you feel justified to walk away leaving behind the carnage of another relationship that failed to meet expectations? Do you constantly compare yourself to others, always feeling you came out on the short end of the stick? Do you lament your craving for sweets and the extra weight that threatens your health tipping you ever closer to diabetes? Has addiction destroyed the quality of your relationships, or credibility on the job or financial stability? Do you resent the church asking you to contribute some of your hard earned money just when you were saving up for another vacation this year? Which one? Or are there others that disturb your peace of mind and the tranquility of your relationships?

Well, I don’t plan to be on the shore of the Jordan this summer, but after looking at the list of deadly sins, I am feeling a bit sweaty and grimy. Just to be on the safe side, I’m thinking an afternoon of seven dips into the cold central Texas Comal River doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I want to feel as clean as Naaman felt when he stepped out of the Jordan, as clean as a freshly scrubbed child. Besides I like the idea of declaring independence from bad governors in my life. I plan to place my vote for the one governor on whom I can count for reciprocal altruism: the God of Elisha, please and thank you!

We pray with David,
I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. O LORD my God, I cried out to you and you restored me to health. (Psalm 30:1-2)

Happy Independence Day!