February 10, 2013, Transfiguration of Our Lord

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year C, Last Epiphany
February 10, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
          “And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
          How has God changed you?
          Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration, and today we remember that moment when Jesus was fantastically changed, transfigured, by the presence of God. A primary lesson of the Transfiguration is the knowledge that when approaching God, things change.  The changes we undergo are generally not as dramatic as the dazzling whiteness of the Transfiguration, or the radiance of Moses’ face shining from divine exposure on Mt. Sinai. It is usually more as Paul describes it, that the Holy Spirit moves us in our lives “from one degree of glory to another.”  We change incrementally, usually, in a series of plateaus much like evolution trends.  The key though, whether it is dramatic or subtle, encountering God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, things are going to be very different.
How has God changed you?
That is a serious question, because that is what this is all about, church, leaning towards, participating in the life of God.  It is about conversion, about growth, change, maturing in our individual and collective relationships with God in Christ with the Holy Spirit.  As we do that, we are going to change, we are going to be changed.  How does God change us?  What form do these changes take?  Obviously the changes we are talking about are usually not outward and visible changes like in our Scripture today, but rather are usually more inward and spiritual in nature.  Sure, there are the stories about stigmatas, the mysterious appearance of marks of the passion, but that does not happen very often.
How has God changed you?
God changes us in our relationships. Christianity is all about relationship.  The very doctrine of the Trinity in effect prefigures God as a relationship; three distinct persons of the same substance, right?  Distinct personalities each in relationship with each other and with all that was, and is and is to come; with everything. Han Urs von Balthasar, in his Theo-Drama, imagines God as a swirling ball of relationship, (think electron cloud) begetting, preceding, enveloping, participating in God’s self and radiating out into the creation.  We are changed by the cloud of relationships we are immersed in; God changes us in the constant invitation we receive to enter into ever deeper, more complex relationships.  We are called to relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in each Person and as God in toto.  We are called to relationship with each other, with fellow human beings, with the land upon which we live and the other creatures we share time and space with.  We are called to a particular relationship with members of this religious family, as we pray, serve, learn, eat and live together.  God changes us in the constellation of relationships we live within which manifests in the Christian virtues of caritas, the love of humanity, in compassion, generosity and loving-kindness.  This is how God changes us in relationship.
How has God changed you?
God changes us by changing the orientation of our beings.  By this I mean God changes who and what we are most concerned with, and in changing that, we have little choice but to undergo a profound change in our very being.  When our concerns transition from being primarily about ourselves to being primarily about others, we are changed.  When we become more oriented outwardly than inwardly, when move from concern for me to concern for we, when we begin to focus our intention and attention more on Thou than I, we are fundamentally changed.  By changing how our beings are oriented, what we are most concerned with, God cultivates empathetic joy, mindfulness, awareness of the world and our place in it.  God changes us by changing the orientation of our beings.
How has God changed you?
And God changes us through faith.  What is faith?  It is a belief or doctrine based, as Oxford reveals it, “on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”  When we know with confidence that we are not alone, that God is with us, Emmanuel, that in the blessed assurance of Grace our salvation is assured, we are changed.  What social worker, priest or therapist doesn’t dream of a pill that causes trust.  Trust that you are held, that you are important, that the root of creation is desperately concerned with all of you, that not one hair on your head goes uncounted…  Feeling that, knowing that, that changes you.  The whole point of “attachment parenting,” a somewhat progressive parenting philosophy, is the rigorous imprinting of a loving relationship on the child.  Breast feeding is paramount in cultivating the steadfast love of mother and child.  So is baby wearing, co-sleeping, you know, family beds, trying as hard as possible to have one parent home full time.  God changes us in the same way, cultivating faith, trust that God is with us, with you.  The Hebrew language gifts us with the word hesed, steadfast love.  The unwavering love of God, “my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…”  (Ps. 18). God changes us with the gift of faith.
How has God changed you?
So how do we get God to change us?  Well obviously we can’t get God to do anything; there is the whole unmoved mover thing that Aristotle taught us a long time ago.  But while we can’t get God to change us, we can (and we must) create the conditions that put us in a posture to be changed by God.  The technical term is a posture of receptivity.  Like John the Baptist proclaimed, we must prepare the way of the Lord, but here, we must prepare the way for the Lord to enter our beings.  And we do this by participating in the Body of Christ, the church; by practicing our religion; and by praying our hearts out.
Participating in the Body of Christ means simply showing up.  In lending your voice to this Mass, by paying your pledge, volunteering at the breakfast, studying together, in participating in this little slice of the Beloved Community you are making clear a path to and for God.  Showing up is the primary means to invite God to change you, to change your life.  And you all here are showing up, and regularly, and not just on Sundays. Showing up, participating is a pre-requisite because as Christians, particularly as the Anglican variety of Christian, we understand that we cannot, we do not approach God alone.  Participation helps God change us.
Practice makes perfect.  Truly.  And for us, again as Anglicans, practice is paramount.  We practice by gathering at the table, feeding on Christ in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.  We practice our religion in our mindfulness of the calendar: what feast was last Saturday?  (The Presentation) What two religious occasions occur this Wednesday?  (Ash Wednesday and the commemoration of Absalom Jones). What color might be appropriate to wear for the next six weeks at Mass?  (Purple).  We practice by cultivating a system of daily devotions.  Try saying a tiny silent prayer and crossing yourself before eating.  Read the Noonday office, it takes 7ish minutes. Observe Lent this year.  Give up a comfort or take on an ascetic practice for the 40 days we face beginning Wednesday. Make plans with me to make confession during Holy Week.  Practice makes perfect by making room for God in our lives.  Practice helps God change us.
And lastly, pray.  Pray as the Book of Common Prayer indicates.  Or pray ecstatically, with dance, with music or marathons.  Or pray the lists on the back of the bulletin.  Pray rosaries, pray the Jesus Prayer, learn centering prayer or vipassana.  Or use no form at all.  Just thinking about the folks in your life, focusing your consciousness on someone, lifting up intentions about them, that is prayer, it totally counts.  And it works.  Prayer is the tie that binds us to each other, to the church and ultimately, to God.  Prayer helps God change us.
Some of us have been utterly transformed by God.  Some of us are still waiting.  Some of us are just beginning to get a sense of, a glimmer of God in Christ on the periphery of our vision, we are learning that God can change us and how.  We are departing the joy of the Epiphany, the season in which we remember God’s light shining in the world.  On Wednesday, we begin our descent into the dark nights of our year, the 40 days of trudging with Christ to Jerusalem.  Participation.  Practice.  Prayer.  We have the resources.  From here, let us consider not so much how God has changed us, but how God will change us, starting in this very moment, the only place God ever is.  AMEN