February 27, 2022: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Mary Lee Wile
Transfiguration sermon 2022
Ray Charles, the father of soul music, once asked, “What is a soul?” Then he answered his own question: “It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room.”
When I was a little girl, I thought my soul was an internal organ. It was, I was sure, located in my lower abdomen and shaped like a new moon. It held everything else in place, and it glowed with light like the moon. In later years I made simple water color paintings of my soul, the golden crescent sometimes filled with what looked like clear blue water. I thought everyone had a soul like mine.
I thought we all had a hidden, holy source of light inside us. I still do.
Even now, every morning when I light the first candle in front on an icon, my prayer includes, in this dark time, “help me be fire and light,” and as I make my way around prayer beads in the evening, I’ve started using words from the hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God,” which includes the line, “till all this earthly part of me glows with the fire divine.”
So I guess you could say that I agree with Ray Charles, that our souls are a force that can light a room – and with Jesus who insists that we are the light of the world and are supposed to “let [our] light shine….”
Surely that light is what the Israelites saw in Moses when he came down from the mountain. And like Moses, all of us are invited to “let it shine.” (We sing about that a lot at the Family Service, promising “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”)
Now obviously none of this is the same as Jesus’ Transfiguration, but they are reminders that, made in the image and likeness of God, we all do carry that light within us, and that at our best, we “glow with the fire divine.”
During the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah join Jesus, they, too, glow “in glory.” Shortly before the trek up the mountain, Peter acknowledged that Jesus is the Son of God, and this stunning scene affirms his understanding of Jesus’ divinity. Impetuous as always, Peter wants to memorialize the moment. But then God speaks directly to the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” In other words, don’t just look at his transfigured glory – listen to his words, follow where he goes.
Witnessing the Transfiguration helps the disciples understand that whether Jesus appears in radiant light or in ordinary street clothes, that holy fire always glows and guides him. But God is pretty direct in telling them that the words and witness of Jesus are as important as the vision they just saw – perhaps even more important.
That’s why our gospel reading for today doesn’t end with the Transfiguration, but takes us “down from the mountain” into utter chaos. Because this is where life takes place: in sickness, in shouting, in grief and anguish. This is where we are right now: in the third year of a pandemic, surrounded by shouted lies and verbal abuse, witnessing unprecedented loss and grief as a million Americans have now died from Covid, facing the reality of war in Ukraine. Thank God that Jesus doesn’t stay on the mountain, but enters the chaos. Perhaps it is to us as well that he says in exasperation, “You faithless and perverse generation” – but even then, and even now, his longing is to heal, and his desire is to love every one of us, faithless and perverse as we might sometimes be, into wholeness.
And that’s what he desires not only for us, but from us. Sustained by faith in our risen Lord, bearing the light of our own souls, we, too are supposed to enter the unruly chaos of life and be beacons of healing and peace. Like the disciples who failed to cast the demon out of the boy, we, too, will fail at times, but that doesn’t excuse us from trying. Despite international efforts and sustained prayer vigils to stop Russian aggression, the invasion of Ukraine has begun, but the work to restore peace has not stopped. On a more personal level, I want the work of Sacred Ground to make an immediate difference; I want indigenous rights in Maine, fair voting laws, an end to racial violence and systemic discrimination throughout the country. It hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying — which is why I’m currenty one session into my fourth Sacred Ground circle. As followers of Jesus’ words and witness, our call remains to love our neighbors, to care for the vulnerable, to seek peace and pursue it. We are called to light the way with that hidden, holy light we carry, even in the midst of what seems impenetrable darkness.
That divine spark, that God-given soul that glows within us, it never goes away, any more than the Light of Christ ever dims. We might not always recognize it. For a brief time in college, I had a boyfriend who envisioned his soul as a fluorescent light that was located behind his breastbone, but for him it was a light that dimmed every time he sinned (and his rigid Catholic upbringing had given him a profound sense of his own sinfulness). I know that there are all sorts of circumstances besides our upbringing that can obscure the divine light we each carry, but I want to say that the real sin is denying it, failing to use it.
Witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus leaves no doubt in Peter, John, and James that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Witnessing how he not only heals the boy but tenderly gives him “back to his father” shows them that taking care of others– whether in our homes or in the world — is what God’s Son does, and what we are called to do: to shine, and to serve.