The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on Luke 9:28-43a.
On Tuesday fourteen people – some of us from Trinity and some of us extra-parish friends – will leave from the Charlottesville airport to fly to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. From that airport we will board a bus that will take us on a four-hour drive up into the mountains to Copan Ruinas, where we will spend a week working on a church building and doing crafts and lessons with students in a primary and secondary school. The church we’re working on is in a barrio called San Pedrito – Little St Peter – and it is literally on the top of a mountain way above the main city below. And the school in San Rafael is up another mountain near a coffee plantation. We’re going to be climbing a lot of mountains! And I have every expectation that when we get to those mountaintops, we will see the light of Jesus shining forth from those faces every bit as much as Peter and James and John saw it when they went up the mountain with Jesus.
This story of heavenly light shining forth from the human face of Jesus on the mountaintop is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels – and it makes me think of a saying from the second-century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and the life of human beings is the vision of God.”
That saying helps me understand the Transfiguration, because it says to me that what happens in the Transfiguration is that Jesus in his human life – in his fully human life – Jesus is so fully alive, Jesus is so vibrant and vital and awake and in tune, that the very glory of God shines forth from him, that his humanity itself is the very thing that glorifies God. The Transfiguration is not a kind of supernatural interruption of the human life of Jesus; the Transfiguration is the revealing of what is at the core, what is at the center, what is at the heart of the human life of Jesus. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
“And the life of human beings is the vision of God.” What makes Jesus so fully alive in his Transfiguration, what makes him so vital that life fairly radiates from him, is his vision of God, his vision of what God is calling and empowering and enlivening him to do. Luke makes it clear in his story that Jesus is transfigured while he is praying, and Luke makes it clear that what he is praying about is his “departure” – literally, his exodus – “which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” What Jesus is praying about is his Crucifixion: how he will go to Jerusalem, how he will confront the religious leaders in the Temple and the political leaders in the Roman governorship, Jesus is praying about how he will be condemned by the leaders and rejected by the people, Jesus is praying about how he will be abandoned by his disciples and betrayed by one of those closest to him, Jesus is praying about how he will be tortured and humiliated and eventually killed – and Jesus is praying about how God has promised that on the third day he will be raised up again. It is that whole process that Jesus is holding in his vision as he prays about his departure, his exodus, which he is to accomplish at Jerusalem.
And at the heart of that process, at the center of that vision, the motivating power is love.
It may seem strange to say that the motivating power of the Crucifixion is love – what can such a bloody, brutal, violent act have to do with love? But for Jesus, I think love is at the heart of it.
Jesus has been traveling and teaching and preaching. Jesus has seen the people: how they are scattered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd; how they are needy and hungry for good news, for righteousness, for justice, for the good that will nourish the body and nourish the soul; how they are oppressed by evil and need so desperately to hear that the reign of God is coming to proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the blind and healing to those who hurt and new life for all.
Jesus has seen that the people need love, the people need to know how to give and receive with generosity and grace – and because they don’t know how to love, because they don’t give and receive freely, they end up taking, they end up hoarding, they end up trying to manipulate and control, they end up alienated from each other, they end up trapped in ways that hurt and harm and destroy, ways that cause suffering and sorrow and pain.
Jesus knows the people need God’s love to set them free – but Jesus also knows that just talking about God’s love isn’t enough. Jesus must show them God’s love; Jesus must act out the power of God’s loving even where the power of hurt and harm and destruction are at their worst; Jesus must stand with people, even in the depths of suffering and sorrow and pain, and even there show them that God’s love can take the worst of human suffering and transform it, God’s love can take the worst of human pain and open up through it a way that leads to greater life, God’s love can take the worst we can do to each other and create from that the possibility of hope. That’s why Jesus goes to his Cross – not to pay some sort of bloody price to get us off the hook for sin, but to bear witness in his body to the creatively transforming power of God’s love.
And it is that power of God’s love that fills Jesus’ vision as he prays on the mount of the Transfiguration; it is that vision that gives Jesus life; and Jesus is so fully alive that he radiates the glory of God’s love. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and the life of human beings is the vision of God.”
And it is that same power of God’s love that fills Jesus when he comes down from the mountain the next day and immediately, immediately, heals a young boy who is oppressed by an unclean spirit. The vision and the healing are one and the same, two sides of one coin, as the wholeness of love brings forth wholeness of spirit.
And the really remarkable thing about all of this, is that Jesus invites us to share in that vision and that life and that glory and that healing, as well. Jesus invites us to share that love – and when we love, we become more fully alive; and when we become more fully alive, we become more the glory of God. And when we become more the glory of God, then we can help bring forth healing and wholeness and love in all the places where we go.
That is what we are going up the mountain to Copan to do. I have every expectation we will see the light of Jesus shining from many faces. But I expect that we will be the light also, and that love that we share with our friends and builders and students and sisters and brothers in Christ will not only make us feel good, but will bring genuine healing. The work we do on that church building will not only serve the church, but will help provide a focal point where an entire community can gather, will help with a solidarity among the people that is a kind of social healing. The work we do in the school will not only serve the school, but will help give hope to families, help open a way out of poverty, help provide learning and meaning for many people that is a kind of economic and and worklife healing. For us following Jesus on the way up the mountain, the vision and the healing are one and the same, two sides of one coin, as the wholeness of love brings forth wholeness of spirit.
And I invite you to consider now what mountain Jesus will call you to climb up this week. Where might you see the light of Jesus shining from the faces around you? How might you feel the power of love moving you to give and receive with freedom and generosity in the name of Christ? In what ways might you be part of healing – social healing, economic healing, physical healing, soul healing – in what ways might you be part of healing for someone near you, as you follow Jesus this week? “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and the life of human beings is the vision of God.” And the Transfiguration gospel today promises us the vision, and calls us to be more fully alive.
May Jesus make his epiphany of love in us, on this mountaintop, and everywhere. Amen.