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February 19th 2023

Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse

How often do we meet people from our past – an old school friend, perhaps, or a work colleague, and we say to them, “You haven’t changed!” We mean it as a compliment, that the years have been easy on them, that they look the same. But of course, sometimes you only have to meet that un-changed person for coffee and hear how the years have gone, and you realize that underneath it all, they have been very much changed. This morning, we hear the story of the Transfiguration, the moment in our gospel when God put the stamp, so to speak, firmly on Jesus. Three disciples have gone with Jesus up the mountain for some time away. While they are there, they suddenly see Jesus - his face shining like the sun, his clothes dazzling. Moses and Elijah appear talking to him, a sign of his special place. And then, the story goes, they hear the voice of God, announcing: “This is my Son, my Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” In that moment, the disciples are humbled, they fall to their knees, but Jesus asks them to stand. Don’t tell anyone, he says. But of course it is too late: they have seen Jesus now in a new light. In that moment, he is not just a man they are following, a special leader with unusual healing powers. He has been named by God. The timing of the transfiguration is important: only a short time later, the disciples and Jesus will make the Palm Sunday march into Jerusalem, toward the darkest of roads. Why tell the story now? It is not just a way to remind the followers of the gospel that Jesus is the Son of God, like placing a billboard of lights above his head. It is a recognition that the way he has been conducting his ministry – and the path down which he will soon go – is the right way, and the worthy one. Other people might want to announce that endorsement, in the same way that politicians jockey for the kudos of other famous names to win voters over to them. But based on that example, we can understand immediately why Jesus is so quick to tell the disciples not to say anything – to “tell no one.” Jesus does not want his message to be lost in the rush of celebrity, by people seeking him out, not for what they might accomplish in the name of the gospel, but by currying favour for what Jesus’s divine connections might do for them. All through the gospel, we have examples of Jesus telling the disciples to keep the miracles and healings quiet, not to boast about them to people who had not seen them. Jesus understood that belief was much more powerful when it originated inside a person, rather than from outside pressure to join the popular club. So that is the first lesson we learn about the transfiguration: it is for each one of us to uncover for ourselves. Yes, we can read the story now, and hear about the events on the mountain – and it is a truly powerful tale. But how we view and see the transfiguration of Christ – how he appears to us as the Son of God, as the incarnation of that voice on the mountaintop – is not for us to be told. It is for us to seek and keep seeking our entire lives. The transfiguration is not one moment of light – one instance of realization dawning upon us. Every time we see something, or someone, in “a new light,” we have experienced a form of transfiguration. That’s another lesson of this day: even when you think you know someone, even when you think you have learned enough, there is always more to find. The disciples were the closest friends Jesus had, they spent every day together, they travelled beside one another. And yet in that moment, the disciples were in awe of the Jesus that had been revealed to them. Too often, I think, we set in stone the stories we tell about ourselves and one another, we decide this is how it is, and it will always be so. But many times in my life, I have met people who I thought were one way, and as I came to know them, I realized I had been completely wrong. Sometimes, it was someone I had discounted who stood by me when others didn’t. Or someone I thought was arrogant, who was really just shy. Someone who seemed self-absorbed but whose life, in fact, was full of quiet generosity. In each case, those people were transfigured for me – they shone brighter to me. But that just didn’t happen; it came about because, like the disciples, I took the time to listen and learn, and pay attention. But in the end, what we learn from how Jesus reacted is that it is not the moment of transfiguration that matters – the instant in which you are declared a winner or named a star – it is what happens next. Jesus, as we know, came down from the mountain – despite the entreaties of the disciples to stay there – and carried on, just as he had planned before. It is not to win recognition, to receive an award or trophy, because that moment fades quickly. The danger is that we become too proud when the gospel calls us to be humble servants. Jesus didn’t need to have the title Son of God – stamped on his business card. He believed in what he was doing and the lessons he was imparting. Jesus wanted his deeds to be his best evidence. And indeed, aren’t we drawn to those humble servants, the people who even after the fact reveal something truly wonderful about themselves that nobody knew about? There is something special about doing good without asking for attention. For instance, recently I read the story of a farmer named Hodi Childress in Alabama. Every month, he brought a small wad of cash to the local drug store, and handed it over quietly, telling the pharmacists to keep it secret. It was meant to be used to cover drugs for those in dire need who couldn’t afford it. But Mr. Childress didn’t want anyone to know; and he told no one. His generosity was only discovered after he died. Word of his gift spread and now Hody Childress funds have started up in drug stores across the US. If that’s not an example of transfiguration, I don’t know what is. So ultimately, that is our lesson too: that what we do, and how we act, is our transfiguring moment. God has already shone the light upon us and given each one of us a ringing endorsement. The question now is how will we respond? Amen

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