I had the honor and privilege to preach again at Emmanuel UMC for Transfiguration Sunday, February 27th, 2022. Below you will find video links for the 9 AM and 10:45 AM services. The 9AM service has ASL interpretation.
Spotify Link (coming soon)
9AM Sermon available on Facebook
While I don’t directly preach from a manuscript, I still write one to reference while preaching. That manuscript is available below. The opening prayer and benediction are from Enfleshed.
Throughout the Epiphany Season, we have been paying close attention to Paul’s letter to the Church in Corinthians in our Series “Love Never Ends.” Last week, Rev. Edgardo challenged us to lean into how we live out the resurrection in our present lives. It is here and now that God continues to transform our hearts towards justice. Rev. Edgardo reminded us that we remain open to this transformation by paying close attention to the model of ministry found in Jesus’ life. I know it’s been a while, but you may recall that we began this series with the Baptism of Jesus. And now as the final bookend for this series, we are focusing on the story frequently called the Transfiguration.
Today’s Gospel story is particularly interesting because it can be found in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And the lectionary this year has us focused particularly on this passage within the context of the Gospel of Luke. Full disclosure, Luke is probably my favorite Gospel. In Luke’s account, the author has already positioned Jesus as an influencer that stands in opposition of the Roman empire actively occupying his homeland. And I think this is a critical context to keep in mind. Jesus was keenly aware of what life was like under the oppressive rule of an empire.
Up until chapter 9, Jesus’ ministry was limited close to his home in the region of Galilee but he recently started to get more and more attention. His ministry of healing, resurrection, and liberating love has gotten the attention of Herod, who had already killed John the Baptist by this point in the story. To make matters worse, Jesus’ ministry attracts a crowd of several thousand people, which he then miraculously ensures that they are fed. Through these series of events, Jesus’ ministry is getting harder and harder to hide. Eight days after feeding thousands of people we arrive at our story for today.
Jesus goes away to pray after a particularly event-less 8 days and brings with him his close friends and disciples, Peter, John, and James. Jesus’ face and clothes are changed, shining bright in a similar manner to the radiance of Moses after he speaks face to face with God. Which was the focus of our old testament reading for today. As Jesus’ appearance changes, Moses and Elijah appear speaking to him. Most theologians agree that they are here speaking to Jesus as representatives of the Law and the Prophets, two major components of Jewish scripture and life during the time of Jesus. What I find more interesting is what they are talking about.
Verse 31, states “ They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The word here for departure is actually the same word as exodus. The use of the term exodus here connects Jesus’ ministry to the Exodus story where the people of Israel flee their enslavement in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Jesus had already informed his disciples before this prayer time that he was going to die and now the destination of Jerusalem has been set.
What follows the story of the Transfiguration is equally important. The way Jesus speaks makes it sound like they are going straight to Jerusalem as fast as possible. But, Jesus takes 10 chapters of Luke to arrive at Jerusalem and another 3 chapters to be arrested. In the moment of the Transfiguration, Jesus knows that living out his ministry of healing and liberation will get him killed. He also knows that to not live out his ministry would be to continue to hide a part of himself and limit the Divine presence in his world.
Fr. Shannon Kearns, a Priest in the Old Catholic Church, argues that the transfiguration is Jesus’ coming out story. And that he starts by coming out to his closest friends and then continues to come out over the course of his ministry. While he was already performing many miracles and preaching the liberating love of God’s Kin-dom. He was recently outed by Peter as “the Messiah of God” earlier in this chapter. But Jesus knew that once he fully lived as himself within the larger society, the risk of death was inevitable. Remember that his ministry and love stood in direct opposition of the Roman Empire. He and his disciples knew that his choices were to remain in hiding and live or live as his full authentic self with the risk of death. So in a way, I see this more so as Jesus’ transition story.
Conveniently I just recently heard the story of Lynn Conway, so I’d like to share her transition story with you all to help illustrate this idea. While Lynn Conway is known today mostly for her trans activism, she started off her professional life working for IBM in the 60s. Her work at IBM was foundational for modern computing, developing a way for computer processors to process commands out of order. Without her work, we wouldn’t have much of our modern computers, smartphones, and more. While working at IBM, she found out about modern medical gender affirmation surgery and wanted to attempt to transition for a second time. She was hoping to complete her transition while working for IBM, but they fired her for being trans to avoid public embarrassment. With the trans-phobic laws at the time, Conway was denied access to her children and was divorced by her wife despite early support before the termination of her IBM career. Lynn Conway knew that within the transphobic society, she would have to risk it all to live as her true self.
She then completed her transition and began a new life as Lynn Conway and hid her identity as a transgender woman throughout the rest of her tech career. She had to rebuild her recognition within the tech community as a brand new person, unable to connect her identity to her early work without outing herself. Towards retirement, a journalist was investigating her early work at IBM so she realized that to receive recognition for her work, she would have to come out publicly as a transgender woman. In a Forbes interview Conway stated that in the 70s through the 90s, she was breaking the gender barrier it was in 2000 that she began to break the transgender barrier. Conway’s intentional decision to come out publicly allowed her the place to challenge transphobia within the tech industry and the larger society.
So looking at the Transfiguration story and Lynn Conway’s story side by side. I see that both of them had tough choices to make. They both had to decide to live publicly as their full and true selves while being fully aware of the very real risks of living within oppressive contexts. It was only after living fully as themselves, that their lived messages could become messages of liberation and hope for others.
Now I don’t know about you all, but this week I have cussed. A lot. Specifically, much of that cussing has shown up in my prayers with God. At times this week, it has been really hard for me to see the hope and love of God. This week alone we have seen a new Florida law trying to limit the teaching of LGBTQIA people and histories. They even had attempted to add an amendment that tried to make it mandatory for teachers to out LGBTQIA children to their parents. Then in Texas, governor Abbot increased his attacks on Transgender children by ordering the Texas Family and Protective Services to investigate and prosecute the parents of trans children for “child abuse.” And not even a day later, Russian began to invade Ukraine. You don’t have to go far in the news this week to see people that are actively living in opposition to oppressive forces. Much like Jesus was doing.
The weight of this week feels terrifying so I can easily see how Peter wants to make tents and stay in the place where he felt the Divine. He had experienced the Divine presence in a new way and did not want to continue the journey that would lead to Jesus’ death. But the decision to stay in that place would have hindered the reign of God’s love. Instead, they are met with an overshadowing cloud with a voice proclaiming “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Now many people interpret this as the voice of God, which provides an interesting theological issue. How is God speaking to Godself and existing as one God? I think that the beauty of the Trinity is that God exists eternally as a community of Love. Even God is never alone. So, this voice coming from a cloud draws our attention back to Jesus’ Baptism where the voice first spoke of Jesus’ beloved-ness. Here as Jesus is about to transition publicly and take his message of liberation all the way to his death. In this critical moment in front of close friends, the voice of God shows up and reminds them that Jesus is beloved. God makes their presence fully known at the beginning of the long journey. God remains with them as Jesus and his disciples’ journey to Jerusalem.
It is with this same confidence that we can move forward living out the ongoing revelation of God’s kin-dom of Love because we do not journey alone. God shows up with us in the tough moments where we are challenged to live fully as ourselves. God not only shows up but reminds us of our beloved-ness.
So looking back at this week, this is where I have found the hope of God.
I found the hope of God in the organized resistance against the “Don’t say Gay bill”. I found the hope of God in the twitch streamer raising $25K for Equality Texas. I found the hope of God with the activists advising parents of trans Children to get their documentation organized demonstrating their excellent parenting. I found the hope of God with the multiple district attorneys in Texas refusing to comply with Abbot’s order. I found the hope of God in the 80-year-old man who signed up for the Ukraine military so that his grandchildren can have a better future. I found the hope of God in the 38-year-old Ukrainian father who left his children with a stranger. I found the hope of God in that stranger ensuring that those children are reunited with their mother.
God is not some controlling force pulling the strings from a Heavenly throne. The cloud at the transfiguration shows us that it is here in the mess of things that God resides.