Who Embodies God for You
Transfiguration. The word comes from the Greek: Meta meaning: “among, after, accompanied by” and morphoo meaning: “to form.” So when Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration he is meeting with those who have helped form his identity – Moses the representative of the law and Elijah the representative of the prophets. Jesus embodies and is formed by those who have come before him.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration functions on many levels, but the level that I’m interested in is the relational level. And what I want to focus on is the question: “Who has accompanied you or come before you that helped change or form you?” And like the creation of man and woman this story tells us that we were not meant to be alone or were even formed alone.
We come from somebody; we come from others who passed on to us their hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, traditions, beliefs, etc. Now why is this important to be aware of? Well our belief is that God became one of us. So if that’s the case then it follows that I will come to know God through others who have come before me. They set the example for me.
Through my parents, I learned about God for better or worse. I learned things like God is love but not all of the time. I learned that God forgives you your mistakes, but not all of the time. I learned that God was someone you could trust, but not all of the time. I learned this because that’s how I was raised and that’s how you were raised.
Our first experience of God is through our parents and those significant adults in our lives. They literally, by how they are with us, teach us what love is like and therefore what God’s love must be like. They teach us lessons of justice and forgiveness, hope, despair and because they are godlike to us and we come to believe that’s what God must be like.
Now this is an awesome responsibility because adults have the power to define for children so much of what becomes their reality. And because we are not God we cannot perfectly teach about things like unconditional love, because we love conditionally. We cannot teach perfectly about things like forgiveness and justice, because we forgive and offer justice imperfectly.
So what are we to do? First and foremost we are to realize this. We are to admit to others and ourselves especially our children that we are not perfect in anything. We need to be honest about this and this is why during Lent we focus so much on repentance, because it’s the mechanism we use to right our imperfections when we have gone astray. But Lent also reminds us that we are not in this thing alone. We do have a heavenly parent who is working through us and our imperfections to reveal something of what it means to be perfectly human as seen in Jesus.
Jesus said the truth will set you free, and I would add, but first it will make you miserable. The truth about who we really are is something most of us do not want to face. Addicts know this and have a leg up on the rest of us. Why because the minute they go into a room with other addicts they know what they are about, which is growing up from the point where their addictions arrested their development as a human being.
They call themselves addicts or alcoholics, but we could easily substitute the word sinner to get the same result. It’s just that we don’t see our sins. We don’t want to name them and so we repeat them over and over. If only we had twelve rooms for haters, bigots, nationalists, racists, sexists, homophobics, control freaks, bullies, gossipers, slanders, liars, users and abusers. And last but by no means least the rest of us who just don’t have an easy label to apply to our sins say those who never can give up control or never take control of anything. Have I left anyone out?
But it’s precisely when we take ownership for who we are that we can be healed and become a healing presence to others. And it works this way. When we admit our sins, our limitations to others, and ourselves we then point ourselves and others to something that is beyond us and bigger than us.
The reason so many churches are declining is because they are failing to reach out to other people without anything that would attract them to our nice little club. People come to 12 step rooms, because they see their lives and the lives of other sinners around them being transformed. But what about the church?
What do people experience when they come through the doors of this church? Are we more honest? Are we more loving? Are we close with one another? Does our theology differ with or call us to contend with the principalities and powers in or are we more concerned with staying silent and shallow like the Pharisees who looked good on the outside but inward were like whitewashed tombs?
And this understanding means that we must be willing to move away from fixed positions. Why is it that the Bible can be revised, but our theology and mindset about it cannot?
I’ve discovered through my years of reading the Bible that Jesus’ understanding of his mission was different at the end of his ministry then it was at the beginning. In the beginning it was miracle and bedazzlement and then there came a point when he understood that it was suffering, revision, adjustment, movement, growth. At one point he thought his mission was only to the house of Israel. Then along came a Syrophonecian woman who expanded his understanding of divine love to include the gentiles. Jesus grew and learned about his mission as much from others as from God.
And the last thing I want to say is that growth means risking the affections of others. I remember that time in the Gospel when Jesus was speaking, talking about the kingdom, and a messenger came up to him saying: “Your mother and your brothers are here to see you.” And what they meant by that is they’ve come to get you to shut up. You’re not saying things that other rabbi’s are saying and it’s making enemies. And Jesus resisted the strongest bonds of human affection. And he said, “My sister and my mother and my brothers are those who do the will of God.”
So with change we must expect to carry some guilt, as Jesus probably did. We may carry guilt for the things that we suddenly leave behind. We may carry guilt from those who question whether we have forsaken God by our growth. Some of the guilt is helpful, some is not, but there is no way to escape it if we are to grow. New wine, like new growth cannot be housed in the old.
And finally I think that Jesus’ transfiguration is telling us that while we are formed and transformed by our ancestors this formation process is never completed so it can never be enshrined in a booth or a temple or even a tomb. But you have to love Peter for trying to capture the Kodak moment. We do not live this life alone. We live it in a community that prays each week that God’s will not ours be done, which hopefully will result in our being as open to transformation as Jesus was. Amen