Transformed

a sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

When Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John, he was transfigured in radiant light.  But it was his disciples who were transformed.

 

Once upon a time, there was this quiet, mild-mannered, conservative man who decided he wanted a pet. So he goes down to the pet shop and find a beautiful parrot in a big cage, and a sign that says, “Sale – $5.00.” The man asks the store owner what the story is, and he tells him that the parrot used to be owned by a sailor who had been deployed. The bird was fine, but the sale was final.

So the man buys the bird and takes him home. And he asks, “Polly want a cracker?” Suddenly, this parrot start cussing like a sailor. He swore for five minutes straight without stopping. The next day, the man tried again. “Polly want a cracker?” And again the bird is swearing up a blue streak, even longer and louder than before. This went on for several days until finally, the guy had had it – and he tells the bird, “listen, if you don’t stop that cussing and swearing, I’m going to lock you in that closet.” The bird just laughed at him and started calling him every name in the book.

So the guy grabbed the bird locked it in a kitchen cabinet. This only aggravated the parrot even more, and he clawed and scratched while he cursed even louder than before with a stream of swearing that would make a sailor blush.

At this point the guy became so mad that he threw the parrot into the freezer!

For the first few seconds the bird continued swearing at the top of his lungs. He kicked and clawed and thrashed all about the place. Then suddenly it became VERY quiet.

At first the guy just waited. Then after a couple of minutes of silence, he became so worried that he opened the freezer door. The bird is just sitting there shivering.

“Have you learned your lesson?” the man asked. “Y-y-y-y-yes,” the bird replied.
“Are you going to ever speak that way again?”  “N-n-n-n-no, Sir.” the bird replied.

Calmly, the bird climbed on to the man’s out-stretched arm and said, “I sincerely apologize and shall do my best to improve my vocabulary from now on.”

The man was astounded. He couldn’t understand the transformation that had come over the parrot. After a few minutes, the parrot asked, “By the way, w-w-w-what did the ch-ch-ch-chicken do?”

 

We hear a lot of talk about transformation these days. There are all kinds of shows on TV that talk about it, usually after some kind of superficial event. A person happens in to a lot of money; or they have some kind of makeover – new clothes, new makeup and hair; or they remodel their kitchen and bam! Instant transformation.

Of course real transformation, the kind that really changes a person’s life, is usually more dramatic than that. Ask anyone who has served in the military and has been deployed in an active war zone. They return transformed, with greater appreciation for their lives and the lives of those around them. Or anyone who have lost someone they love. They are forever changed. They grieve, and they heal. But they a changed by the hole in their soul that never goes away.

Today’s gospel story is called “The Transfiguration of Jesus,” and it refers to this mountain top event when Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John, is transformed. His clothes become a dazzling white. His face shines. And he is suddenly joined by Moses and Elijah. And the voice of God speaks, just as it did when he was baptized saying, “this is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.”

koder-transfiguration

The Transfiguration by Sieger Koder.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from this story about Jesus. His transfiguration on that day and on that mountain was a turning point in his earthly ministry. Immediately before this story, Jesus told his disciples that his destiny was to suffer, die and after three days be raised from the dead. Immediately after this mountain top event, Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem. His transfiguration ties his earthly ministry with his divine identity and confirms for the disciples, once and for all, that he is the Son of God.

But I believe that no matter how much he was transfigured, the disciples were the ones who were really transformed. They were the ones who witnessed the whole event. They were the ones who were dazed and confused, who trembled in fear, who fell to the ground in terror. They were that Jesus touched and said, “Get up; don’t be afraid.”

Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

These are the instructions the disciples received that day on the mountain top. These are the words they heard from God and from his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

All of us have experienced times just like Peter when we were dazed and confused – when things simply didn’t make any sense. A time when everything we thought we knew about the world suddenly changed. Maybe it was the time when our children where born. Maybe it was when your father died. Maybe it was when you lost your job, or learned you were sick, or any of a hundred other things that challenged how you saw the world and your place in it. In times like these, we become overwhelmed and we begin to panic.

Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

The world we live in today is a very confusing place. Some people are overjoyed about what they see as a new and exciting time in this country. Other people are afraid about all the divisive rhetoric and what these changes might mean for themselves or their families.

Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

First of all, listen. We live in very noisy times. There are more different voices and more different sources of information than at any point of human history. Now, more than ever, we need to come together and spend more time listening to Jesus. Not because we will all hear the same message – that has never been the goal of the Church – but so that we can all practice living in community together. We are a community – “with unity” – not some kind of monolithic group-think collective. We have different needs and different points of view. Still, as Christians we agree that the only way we will ever understand God is to listen, listen not to the endless noise and chatter around us, but to Jesus Christ. Listen to him.

Second, get up. Actually, the word Jesus used was more like be raised up… by someone else. Be raised as Jesus was raised at the resurrection. Jesus commands us to get up to do the hard work of building the kingdom of God. Get up by the power of One who said at our baptisms, “you are my children, my beloved.” Jesus commands, “Get up, children of God, you have work to do buidling God’s kingdom.”

Finally, don’t be afraid. All of us are afraid of something. Maybe we’re afraid for our personal health and safety. Maybe we’re afraid for our family. Maybe we’re afraid for our future way of life. Maybe we’re afraid is that things are changing too fast, or changing too slowly. Maybe we’re afraid of terrorism, or immigrants, or the powers that be. But in the face of our deepest fears, Jesus promises us that no matter what, God is with us. The God who raised Jesus from the dead, who has remained steadfast in his love for us all will not abandon us now or ever. Don’t be afraid.

Jesus did not stay up on that mountain top, where it was peaceful and quiet. He roused his disciples and told them they had work to do. They had work to do to heal the sick, to feed the homeless and the hungry, to demonstrate by word and example that the kingdom of God is at hand. And he told them that someday, soon, they would have to do it on their own, just as we have to do it today. On our own, but never alone because God is faithful, and loving, and sure.

Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid.

Thanks be to God.

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