A sermon preached on Last Epiphany to celebrate the Transfiguration on February 11, 2018 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Click here to read the scripture.
Click on the play button below to listen along.
In today’s collect we ask for God to change us “into his likeness from glory to glory.” I think sometimes we forget that the Transfiguration is for us. That it is a map for us.
Jesus, upon that mountain with Peter, James, and John offered them a vision of what is possible. I think it’s easier to believe that only Jesus could be transfigured, because that lets us off the hook. But here we are, praying for ourselves to “be changed into his likeness.”
This vision that Peter, James, and John saw was fantastical. It was unbelievable. This kind of transformation, this kind of revelation belongs with the top echelon of Hebrew prophets – with Moses and Elijah. Moses who brought Israel out of slavery and Elijah who defended the worship of YHWH over the more popular god Ba’al. This is the who’s who of prophetic Jewish leaders.
This mountaintop theophany (or direct encounter with God) is used throughout Hebrew scripture. Moses receiving the 10 commandments in the book of Exodus on top of a mountain. Elijah receiving instructions about who to anoint as the leaders of Israel in the first book of Kings on top of a mountain. And here, Jesus shows us that God’s dream for us is more than rules to follow and more than rulers to bear power.
In this theophany isn’t Jesus receiving anything.
This is Jesus becoming something.
This is Jesus becoming Christ in full form.
And this is what is possible, not just for Jesus, but for us.
We had our Vestry Retreat yesterday at the Rectory. The leadership of St. John’s all met to spend time in each other’s presence to offer ourselves to one another. And as these amazing leaders talked about how we will work together as a group, the first thing they brought up wasn’t about emails or timekeeping or reports.
The first thing they talked about was the importance of listening to one another. And they were clear, we’re not talking about listening to wait for our turn to speak so that we can make a point. We’re talking about a listening that is focused on attending to one another. Listening with an open mind and an open heart so that we might be willing to be changed by what we hear.
A theorist named Otto Scharmer talks about 4 levels of listening:
He says the first level of listening is when we listen from our habits. We listen for what we already believe. And the result is that we confirm our opinions and judgments.
If we’re honest, this is what Facebook and Twitter is largely used for. Echo chambers where we feel better because we’ve gotten plenty of likes for the things that we already think and believe.
The second level of listening is when we listen with an open mind so that we are listening, not to confirm what we believe, but to take note of new or different things. It’s scientific observation. The result is that we learn and discover new things and we may learn to apply those things. This is good.
The third level is called empathic listening, listening with an open heart that enables us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine what life might be like for them. We listen from somewhere other than our own locus. Or we connect to a part of ourselves that may remember a similar experience in our own life. We put our self in someone’s shoes. Like a Wounded Healer, which we talked about 2 weeks ago.
The result is that we connect with someone in a real and authentic way and we are able to offer a healing presence and be healed.
The fourth level is called generative listening, which is listening with an open will.
This is a place of surrender, a willingness to be truly changed by what we hear. The result is that we become a new creation and because we become a new creation, the person to whom we are listening also becomes transfigured before our very eyes.
This happens because we see Christ, we see what is possible is becoming what already is. We see the Kingdom of God before us.
This doesn’t happen when we keep the world at arm’s length. It cannot. It may feel safer to keep the world at arm’s length. Our opinions and our fears usually rule over us and we only listen for that which confirms what we already believe.
But when we welcome others into our world, not only are we likely to learn something new, we are likely to experience deeper connections and we are likely to become changed by the experience. It all depends on our willingness to surrender to what’s in front of us.
This kind of welcome is exactly what we are asked to do in our Baptismal Covenant that we said together at the beginning of the Epiphany: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our self.
Can we do it all the time? No. We’re human.
Some days we have bad days when the world is too much with us and we’re tied up in knots because we don’t know how we’re going to pay our bills or we don’t like what someone said to us or our physical health has deteriorated of we’re sick or we feel bad about something we did or we’re hurt because someone doesn’t love us the way we would like them to.
On these days, it’s hard to get past level one, quite frankly.
But we practice. Because Jesus has given us this image of Transfiguration, we practice. And we have 40 days of Lent given to us as a gift in which we practice.
We practice opening our mind and maybe we realize that learning new things may feel a bit chaotic, but it increases our capacity and gives us new insights. And so that might inspires us to go a little bit deeper.
We practice opening our heart and perhaps we realize that connecting with another person may feel a little risky, but it, ultimately brings joy to our lives as we share ourselves with friends. And so we might go even a little bit deeper.
And we practice surrendering our will so that we might be reconciled with God, transfigured, “changed into Christ’s likeness from glory to glory.”
This Reconciliation happens because, having bent our own will, having arrived on bended knee before the manger just like the magi who followed the star and found themselves in a smelly barn full of animals and poverty and filth at the Epiphany, we are changed.
And what we see before us, isn’t the dirt of the world, but it is Christ.
This person standing before us is Christ.
And, just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, we ask, “How may I serve you today?”
In this moment, we realize that the world is just the world with its laws and its power and that we will find no salvation in those worldly means. But the true revelation is that God is with us, in this person transfigured before us. Christ in dazzling white.
Coming in Lent we have some opportunities for listening.
- 1. Centering Prayer 5:45 every Wednesday, a new practice for us as we learn to listen to God in the silence.
- 2. Lenten Soup Supper Learning Series: Understanding the Sanctuary Movement 6:45 every Wednesday. We’ll listen to guests and to one another. See the flyer in your bulletin.
It’s just listening. Not making decisions. Just learning to employ the 4 levels of listening.
Today as we celebrate with the final Alleluias before we begin our journey of Lent, may we know that this Transfiguration is, not only possible, but this vision that Jesus gives us is our birthright as children of God. To welcome another, not hoping that they will be like us and agree with us, but to welcome another in the hope that we might surrender and be changed.
My friends, may we be changed by our Lenten journey into Christ’s likeness… from glory to glory.