Here’s another reading… it’s from Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel; perhaps you’ll find it familiar: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen” (vv. 9:28-36).
Yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Surely you didn’t think I’d allow this major feast of the Church to come and go without offering at least a few words about its significance, and about how it might inform our understanding of today’s Gospel reading. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration takes place after Jesus had raised a little girl from the dead… “Talitha, cumi!… Child, get up!” (vv. 8:54, cf. Mark 5:41), and the sending forth of the twelve apostles to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (v. 9:2), and the feeding of the five thousand (9:10-17). It happened after “Peter’s confession,” when he was asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responded, “The Messiah [the Christ] of God” (9:18-20). And it was after Jesus had told his disciples: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” and that, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:21-27). You remember these stories.
When I get beyond the artificial starts and stops of the Gospel narrative imposed upon us by the lectionary cycle, however, I begin to see a pattern: I see Jesus performing a sign… a miracle if you will, to show his followers what it means to be “at-one” with God. He then says to them, “OK, you go out and try it.” When they experience (often giddy) success, Jesus says, “It’s pretty cool being at-one, or ‘atoned’ with God, isn’t it? Go out and do it some more!” And it seems the Apostles, particularly Peter, began to get an inkling of what was in store for them if they would just give in to God’s movement and purpose in their lives. Glory, glory! But then, Jesus brought them back down to earth: this isn’t going to be all fun and games, folks. The road to atonement “at-one-ment” with God will be marked with ridicule, suffering… and death. It’s going to happen to me and, if you remain faithful, it will happen to you as well. How’s that for a reward? But, man oh man, just you wait until the Kingdom of God breaks over you like a big wave at the beach… like a storm in the desert. That’s the kind of glory I’m talking about. And then God showed Peter, John and our patron James what that looked like—that day on the mountain. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Shazam!
It wasn’t long after the Transfiguration that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” knowing full well what was in store for him when he got there. But he never stopped teaching and performing signs… helping his followers understand, and live into, their vocations as “kingdom bringers.” Where have you heard that term before? Had we not substituted the Scripture readings for the Feast of St. James for the regular lectionary readings last week, we would have heard about the perils of storing up treasures for ourselves, and of not being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). It was a rather stern message but, afterward, Jesus followed up with words of comfort and hope, and told us not to worry about our lives: about what we will eat, or wear, or about bodily ailments. Because life, real life, eternal life, the life we will receive when we are transfigured by being at-one with God is abundant beyond our wildest imaginings. Consider the ravens! Consider the lilies! God looks after them, and God will look after us, as well. When we get too wrapped up in trying to look after ourselves, we lose sight of the purpose for which we were created. “O we of little faith!” (12:22-31, cf. Matthew 6:25-34).
The hour is late. We must redouble our efforts to rid ourselves of all the worry and “stuff” that clutters up our lives and focus instead on what lasts… and what lasts is that which is from God. Jesus shows us, over and over again, throughout the Gospel narrative, what can be accomplished when one is at-one with God. Jesus was at-one with God—perfectly so—and he has called us to go forth and do the best we can to emulate his example. It won’t be easy but remember this: “Nobody gets out of this life, this earthly life, alive, except through God’s redeeming grace. Hold on too tightly to earthly things… and you’ll lose it all. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 34). The good news is that God’s grace is free for the asking. So ask and receive—give yourself over to God’s will for your life—and that day-of-days will come, though none of us knows precisely the date or the hour, when we ourselves will be entirely transfigured by God’s grace and power—changed, in the words of Anglican hymn writer Charles Wesley: “from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
 Love divine, all loves excelling, v. 3, The Hymnal 1982, 657