As the Epiphany Season comes to a close, a season that highlights the many ways in people began to recognize who Jesus is, we always conclude with the scene of his Transfiguration. It’s like that scene in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid when Butch and the Kid are being chased by Pinkerton Agents are hiding behind a rock looking back at the cloud of dust relentlessly approaching them and they say, “Who are those guys anyway?” The Transfiguration is meant to be at least one answer to that question about Jesus: who is this guy anyway?
The thirteenth century saint, Richard of Chichester, offers the following prayer:
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
The final three lines are a hymn. As a mentor of mine, The Reverend William Caradine, once observed, Richard offers a very western way of looking at the life of faith: first we must know Jesus clearly, then love him dearly so that we may follow him more nearly.
As Bill would point out, however, that’s just not the way it is in the Gospel accounts. That is, at the outset of his ministry, he does not go down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, hold up the Hebrew Scriptures and say, “OK, boys, read, mark and inwardly digest these stories of our people. Then tomorrow morning I will come back and give you a quiz on all of this. If you do well enough on the quiz I will let you follow me.” No. Instead he simply says, “Follow me,” and they put down their nets, leave their boats and families and follow him!
He never even asks them if they love him until after the resurrection when he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” This he asks three times. Yes, Lord, says Peter. “Then feed my sheep…tend my flock…lead my sheep…” replies Jesus.
And arguably, given the number of books, articles, movies and what-not that fly around especially around Christmas and Easter, we are still trying to know Jesus “more clearly.” If knowing Jesus were the first required step, we would never get around to following Jesus.
A similar sentiment has been making the rounds on Facebook recently from Richard Rohr:
We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on the same path.
We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with Him and everything else.
This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.
And after all, transformation is one way of saying what Transfiguration is all about. Peter, James and John accompany Jesus up a mountain to pray. Suddenly Jesus is radiantly glowing bright white like no white ever seen before. And that’s not all. He is suddenly accompanied by Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets of Israelite religion. He is one of them. They are talking about “his departure” – his “exodos” as the text has it. Like the Hebrew people passing through the sea from bondage to freedom, Jesus will pass through crucifixion and death into New Life. Peter wants to preserve the moment, build some dwellings so they can all camp out for a while, but before he can do anything a cloud covers the mountain and a voice declares, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
We may recall that we have heard this voice once before at his Baptism by John: “You are my Son, my Beloved; I am well pleased with you.” These are the bookends of Epiphany. It is important that we listen to this voice because by water and the Holy Spirit those who are baptized are “fully incorporated into the Body of Christ.” That is, this voice says to each and every one of us, “You are my beloved; I am well pleased with you.”
This is the Good News we hear so much about. This is what God wants all of us to hear and to accept. This is what we are meant to believe. This is who we are. This is who we are called to be – God’s Beloved.
It could have been otherwise. The voice could have said, “If you are very very good I will be pleased with you.” Or, “If you are very very sorry you’re not very very good, I will be pleased with you.” Or, “I am pleased with you. Now get back in line before I change my mind!”
The source of our personal Transfiguration, the basis of our journey toward union with God and everything, the foundation of our personal transformation and the transformation of the world is accepting this Good News. Nothing is as important as hearing this and accepting it. All kinds of messages tell us not to accept this – messages from others, messages we tell ourselves – messages that say God cannot possibly be pleased with us. Hearing this voice is what set Jesus on his journey and mission. Hearing this voice is what inspired him to call us to follow him. Hearing this voice makes us who we are created to be: God’s Beloved community of Faith, Hope and Charity.
In following we will come to love him and know him. And as the gospels portray, there are so many different ways of knowing Jesus. But it all begins with knowing ourselves – our true selves. And our true self is grounded in being God’s Beloved and knowing that no matter what, God is well pleased with us.
As we live out of our belovedness and follow Jesus people will say, “Who are those guys anyway?” and want to join the beloved community of God’s people. Amen.
You are my beloved/I am well pleased with you
I am God’s beloved/God is well pleased with me
I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
I’m gonna love God night and day
You know our love not fade away
Our loves bigger than a Cadillac
God ain’t never gonna take it back
Our love’s bigger than an SUV
No one can take it away from me
If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
Then come on down to Jordan’s stream
Up in the sky what do I see
The Holy Spirit coming down on me