Luke 9:28-43 (New Revised Standard Version)28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
If I’ve ever had a conversation with you about television or movies, there is something you will find out very quickly about me in the course of our discussion.
I cannot do violent movies.
I don’t mean action movies, where there is stylized violence and explosions and fight scenes - like what you would find in the Marvelverse or Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings.
I’m talking the gory stuff - the gratuitous stuff - the over-the-top-was-it-really-necessary-to-the-plot-to-show-that stuff. It’s the reason I will never watch Game of Thrones even though I read most of the books. Whenever Ben and I sit down in a rare moment to watch television, especially if it’s something that Ben has watched before and I haven’t, I close my eyes and make him tell me when it’s ok to open them again.
Because for me, once I see something like that, it gets burned into my brain. I don’t want to get desensitized to that kind of violence. It’s not something that’s easy to unsee. I’ve been watching this with Michael as well, as he watches movies with his friends; he’s extremely sensitive to scenes of peril - even scenes that as an adult I might label as innocuous. But he’s got a vivid imagination and even the assurance that it all works out in the end doesn’t bring him comfort in the moment.
Once you see something, it becomes really hard to unsee it, no matter how hard you try.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the past two years of the pandemic, and just how much it has revealed about our society. Almost two years ago, when the world stopped, it felt like the entire planet, from the wildlife creeping into cities to humans in their homes to the very sky itself, was catching a breath as we witnessed the terrible unfolding of this novel coronavirus creep into our consciousnesses. We saw hospitals fill up (several times over these two years, with waves and surges striking throughout our country). We saw millions of people on unemployment. We talked about the “new normal” with varying degrees of horror and uncertainty, wondering if this will ever end, and what life on the other side would look like.
There were moments of incredible beauty in this season as we witnessed the resilience of the human spirit - watching as Italian neighbors sang to each other in the midst of lockdown across their balconies. We saw people finding ways to connect with their loved ones, through new technology and hand-written letters and plastic sleeves designed for sanitized hugs. We saw meals cooked for sick friends, for healthcare workers, and parades for birthdays and graduations. We practiced gratitude, we started taking mental health seriously, we found meaningful ways to give and receive hope - and in the midst of the space - this great pause - some of us may even have caught a vision for what life might be like if we didn’t have the relentless hustle and pressure to perform…to succeed…to make ends meet…to feel like we’re just getting by.
Layer on to all of this what we’ve witnessed when it comes to racial tensions in our country - the brutal violence inflicted upon Black bodies and Asian-Americans that we just don’t hear about but can actually witness with cell phone camera footage. Or the continual silencing of Indigenous voices. Or the deep economic disparity between those who have enormous wealth - like how the top 1% wealthiest individuals in the US hold nearly a third of all wealth in the US - and those who work two jobs and are still unable to afford housing. Or how we are at a tipping point globally with how we address climate devastation - a crisis that impacts every single human being living on this planet.
There are things that we’ve seen this year that we cannot unsee; truths that we cannot unknow. And yet, we - as a society - are still desperately trying to get back to normal - back to our lives, back to business-as-usual, back to the daily grind, because at a systemic level, we want to forget how much these past couple years revealed about both the brokenness of our society and how much potential we have for something greater. I think many of us feel that pressure and are finding it difficult to implement the lessons we’ve learned about ourselves and the world during the pandemic as we get drawn back into the rhythm of unchecked progress.
I see this tension reflected so much in our Gospel text for this morning - a story known as the Transfiguration - where Jesus takes his closest disciples up the mountain to pray and before their very eyes, Jesus changes, dazzling white light, Moses and Elijah show up, they talk about what’s going to happen in Jerusalem - spoiler alert, it’s the crucifixion, and the disciples want to set up camp. A cloud descends, which terrifies the disciples, and a voice booms out “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” They all walk down the mountain, tell no one what happened, watch Jesus get frustrated when a man asks him to cast a spirit out of his son and mentions that Jesus’ disciples were unable to do it, see Jesus heal the child in the midst of one of his episodes, and “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
This happens a little more than a week after Peter realizes who Jesus is as the Messiah and after the disciples hear Jesus himself talking about his suffering, rejection, death before he rises again.
That’s some pretty spectacular stuff - yes, we have some hard truths about what will happen to Jesus - and we also have legends out of Jewish history appearing out of thin air, demons exorcized right in the midst of the crowds, and God’s literal voice echoing off the mountain - and still….the disciples miss the mark. They check out…they disengage…they see the fullness of who Jesus is before them and they struggle to make sense of what that means.
The rush back to the familiar is seductive, and although once you’ve seen something - really, truly, seen it - it’s hard to unsee….it’s far easier to pretend it never happened - to not speak of it, to not think of it, to not mention it, and pretend instead that everything is normal.
(If I had seen Encanto, I might at this point make reference to the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” but I haven’t, so I won’t).
Our Epiphany season started with Jesus proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, and that what was foretold from Isaiah - release to the captives, the freedom of prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind - had been fulfilled with his presence. The season ends with this dazzling transfiguration and divine revelation, with the foreshadowing of the cross drawing nearer on the horizon.
We talk about mountaintop experiences - times that have changed our lives or moments of divine clarity and presence where we understand ourselves in who we are and all our belovedness and worth - and yet how many of us struggle putting those moments of clarity into practice in the midst of the mundane? How many of us get lured back into the comfort of familiar patterns of behavior and ways of being even when we know they aren’t healthy for us or good for the earth or what we ultimately yearn for - why is transformation so hard?
We live in that complex tension between the systems of the world - and our desire for their transformation - and how we carry ourselves and live the values of God’s reign in on own hearts as we, too, as creatures ever being transformed into the likeness of divine love incarnate - Christlike in our own uniquely formed ways. We, too, when confronted with the reality of our world - in all its harshness and all its beauty - when we have that clarity of vision it can be tempting to feel overwhelmed and fall back on familiar patterns of knowing and behaving - like the disciples - in order to avoid the pain, in order to avoid engagement, in order to avoid transformation.
Yet once the curtain is pulled back, once what was hidden becomes revealed, once we see - we cannot unsee - and we have a choice to live a life in light of that truth or pull back into one of falsehood.
It’s scary and daunting, because change is hard. It involves renegotiating priorities in our lives, it means dying to things in our lives that aren’t aligned with God’s hopes and dreams, it means shifting patterns of behavior and reevaluating relationships and changing our spending habits or our working habits. It means our own embracing the cross and staying present to our suffering - not in a gratuitous or abusive way - and to the suffering of others and of the world.
In the transfiguration, we see God’s glory and fullness - a vision of light and hope that dazzles our imaginations - and we also see the nearness and presence and accessibility of God in Christ. We see how close God draws near to humankind and all our suffering, which allows us to encounter God anew and empowers us to do likewise. We open ourselves to our own transfiguration, knowing that the change is slow, that it’s a journey where we companion each other along, and which gives us strength as we engage with the suffering we see, as we engage with the potential there is to be, as we enter into the transformation of our hearts and of our world.
We’ve seen a lot over the past couple of years. We can’t unsee it. We can’t unlearn the lessons we’ve discovered about ourselves, the world, the depth and meaning of human connection, the hope so many have of a world made new. We read the signs of the world around us and engage with it as Christ leads us, for we know he goes with us both on the mountaintop and in the valley, and may we keep our eyes open and choose the work of transformation, both in our lives and in our world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.