Final, Year A;FB; The Transfiguration, 8.6.2023
Some of you know my dog, Dory. Many of us here at St. Paul’s knew Dory when she was the late Caroline Russell’s dog. I was pleased to offer Dory my home after Caroline died. I’ve always perceived Dory to be an ungainly, lumbering kind of dog. She would kind of lope into the parish office when Caroline brought her for a visit. Physically, I likened her to a muscular old-fashioned washerwoman.
I hate to say this, but Dory never seemed as intelligent as other dogs I’d had. But she is sweet. After Dory joined me, I sent a photo of her to my sisters, Amy and Marilyn, who fell in love with her right away. They urged me to call her “Darling Dory” instead of, forgive me, “Dumb Dory.”
Last week Dory and I went on our usual walk around the neighborhood. As we walked up Boody Street, we encountered my neighbor walking toward us. My neighbor is a retired art museum director with a lovely sense of color and beauty. She stopped to say “hello.” Dory wandered over to her and sniffed around her ankles.
I introduced my neighbor to Dory. Dory looked up at her. She looked down at Dory and said, “Well, Dory, you are a noble dog.” I looked at my neighbor, momentarily speechless. “NobIe?” I had never perceived Dory as “noble.” Instantly, my eyes saw a different dog, a noble dog. Not a dumb, muscular dog. But a noble, muscular dog. With just one word, my perception of Dory was jolted and changed forever. “Noble Dory!”
You can just see her gaze in this close-up of how noble she is!
This is an icon of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Today, we are celebrating this glorious and mysterious occasion of the Church when Peter, John, and James go with Jesus up a mountain, and Jesus is transfigured into great grandeur right in front of them.
A huge word, TRANSFIGURATION – it really means that God breaks in to show us the holiness and majesty of Jesus. We could call the Transfiguration a “Divine Jolt” to the sleepy disciples, whose perception of Jesus was forever changed on that mountaintop.
We heard in the reading from Luke’s gospel that after they all arrived on the mountain, Peter, John, and James fell asleep. But they were awakened to find Jesus being lifted up in a bright cloud. There he was above them, talking with two giants of the Jewish faith; Moses, the receiver of God’s Law, and Elijah, the receiver of God’s prophetic voice. They stood on that mountain talking with Jesus, who was shining with grandeur. The sight so profoundly moved Peter that he immediately offered to build three dwellings to house them as if to capture all three of them forever.
The disciples then drop down in terror. You can see them in this picture – not standing, but facing away, lying down. A bright cloud comes over Jesus and obscures him. They can hear a voice that really scares them. The voice says, “This is my Son. My Chosen. Listen to him!” That terrifying, awesome sight and sound changed their perception of Jesus. It woke them up to ask, “Could Jesus really be God’s Son? What does it mean for us to be following God’s Son?”
Michael Fitzpatrick, a bible scholar, writing on the Transfiguration in the journal, “Journey With Jesus,” introduces us to the Transfiguration as “Transfiguring the Senses to Perceive Christ’s Majesty.” He writes, “What if…the Transfiguration was not an alteration to Jesus, but rather a change in the three disciples who were there watching? After months of living with Jesus and serving in his company, their eyes finally became refined enough to see Jesus in his majesty.”
They fell asleep, eyes closed to what Jesus was about to reveal. But then, the brightness of the cloud and the appearance of Jesus with the two most important ancestors of their Jewish faith “jolted” them to see more than the teacher, healer, and leader Jesus. Their eyes were literally opened to perceive divine light in Jesus. They woke up from sleep and saw in their friend and teacher the majesty of God.
It’s easy to get locked into our preconceived ideas and images that accompany us day by day. We don’t see the holy things offered to us each day. We don’t hear the voice of God which sometimes is just a simple prompt to us. With all the distractions we face, the bad news constantly ringing in our ears and our own preconceived notions, are we surprised that we don’t regularly see God’s majesty and hear God’s voice?
Our patron St. Paul knew about all the distractions and preconceptions that the Christian Church in Corinth was facing. They liked to outdo each other in wealth, good looks, intelligent speech, and even in their newfound Christian piety. “I’m holier than you!” Paul had to write letters to teach them the holy way of the gospel. Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians that, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The Corinthian community needed a “perception correction” to see the glory of Christ. The people of this age do, too!
“When we do see the glory of Christ, it is the work of the Spirit, who makes ‘light shine in our hearts…’” The story of the Transfiguration opens us all to the work of the Spirit. It gives us a perception change in order to see the glory of God in Christ and the glory in God’s creation that is all around us.
Yesterday, I had a “perception correction” when I took a trip to Brunswick’s town dump. I had a carload of yard and tree debris, electronics and metal posts to dump there. I arrived, stopped the car at the little hut and called to the attendant. He turned around and offered a smile revealing two missing teeth. He said he had just been assigned this new job after 30 years with the town of Brunswick downtown. Then, he asked me what I was bringing to the dump and gave me the price, $15.
He turned around, faced the computer screen, and poked around on the keyboard. Sweetly, he said, “I just got trained on this yesterday, and I’m not good with computers.” As he started over again and again after doing it wrong each time, cars were lining up behind my car. Yet, he was patient, and he persevered. Finally, he came up with the wrong price on the receipt. But he said, “That’s the best I can do. I’ll notify my supervisor that I gave you the wrong amount on the receipt. But you still owe $15, not the $10 on the receipt.” He was so nice and patient that it didn’t matter to me at all that the receipt was wrong.
I perceived that he was a man who had not looked after his teeth for some time. He had not looked after his weight and was working on a beautiful Saturday. It would have been easy for me to judge him as just a worker and dismiss him.
But as I exited the town dump and looked around at the piles of demolition debris, yard waste, and electronic waste, the Spirit seemed to say to me, “God consecrates this ground and this waste just as God consecrates the worker.” The town dump and the worker were holy, and that brought me to tears.
What if we see the glory of God shining not only in Christ but in the least likely places of our lives?