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Matthew 17: 1-9
Becoming Transfigured

 Karen Hollis | February 19, 2023

Becoming Transfigured  

Matthew 17:1-9 (the Message) Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him. Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?” While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus. Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t breathe a word of what you’ve seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk.”  

  I’m reflecting this morning about something around which I do not have direct experience. I do not identify as transgender or queer, though I have several friends who are and more who identify more broadly with the LGBTQ+ community. So my reflection this morning comes out of my love and affirmation of people, however they identify, and my efforts to be a good ally.    

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen          

I met my dear friend Simon in 2007 when I was a youth leader on a church pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona. Simon’s official role in the community was gardener, but we quickly learned that a green thumb was only one of his many gifts. Simon led meaningful sessions with the youth and skillfully led worship services. He is a beautiful musician and his depth of faith in God shines through everything he does.

After a thoroughly enriching week, our group was getting ready to leave Iona and continue on our pilgrimage. Simon approached one of our group leaders and said something like: “I understand that your church is affirming of the LGBTQ community – leader responded in agreement – I wanted to share with you that I’m transgender. When I went through my transition, I made a documentary – I would love to share it with your community.”

In Simon’s documentary, he talks in real time about the changes that happen to him as the person he was on the inside was finally emerging on the outside . . . as he became the person God created him to be. The physical changes that happened to his body, his self-perception, the way he presented himself to the world, his relationships, the things he grieved, the thing he celebrated . . . they informed one another and braided together as he fully became Simon.

From a young age, Simon knew he was male, even if he couldn’t have put exact words on it. Early in his transition some people referred to him as Simon, others still called him Ruth. He had identified as a lesbian with an edge, but with his hormones and eventually surgery, he was physically becoming a man. And if he was a man, was he still a lesbian? Or was he now heterosexual? Before he was a woman who was attracted to women . . . but he was becoming a man who was attracted to women.

As his body began to settle into its maleness, he was faced with what it really means to be male in the world . . . and what it meant for him to be male. He was bullied over the years by males . . . and now he was really becoming one. As a man, what kind of energy does he bring, how does he dress and present himself, how does he behave? What kind of man is he?

At the core of his transition was Simon’s singing voice. The testosterone caused his voice for a time to crack and deepen, making it emotionally painful to sing. The way music moved through him was changing and at the time he didn’t know if that authentic expression would transition with him. Some voices never settle . . . so he had to fully grieve it. I’m happy to tell you he still sings beautifully.

Reflecting on Simon’s transition, I think our identity and spirituality are closely linked . . . but just because we identify in a certain way, it doesn’t necessarily mean we express it outwardly. Parts of ourselves have to sometimes work through our different layers – spiritual, mental, emotional, to find expression in the physical. On the spiritual level, we perceive and acknowledge it. We process it mentally – we think about it, perhaps talk or write – notice it reflected to us in something like a movie, a shape, or a new experience. At some point our emotions get involved . . . they engage at the oddest moments, get our attention . . . they can be teachers . . . they can create for us come-to-Jesus moments where we know there is no turning back. Perhaps not all parts of our identity become fully embodied in us . . . but with embodiment often comes a deep sigh of relief . . . to be seen, to be actualized, and safe.          

Even for Jesus, it is a process for him to become the one God made him to be. In his transfiguration, Jesus fully embodies himself, and in doing so, reveals his full identity to James and John. He shines with the light of God. In the Jewish imagination, appearing with him are Moses and Elijah, the two most important leaders in Judaism. In his fullness, Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery and helps them deconstruct their identity as slaves and prepare for the promised land. Through Moses, God gives the Israelites a new way to live, a new covenantal relationship, and a new identity. Elijah is the most prominent prophet in the Jewish tradition. “On the face of it, Elijah’s story is not unique for a biblical prophet — others also perform miracles, chastise the people, face resistance and retribution and have personal experiences of revelation that bring them closer to God.”[1] Elijah’s ministry comes at a particular time where the people have been led astray, and with God’s help, he leads the Jewish people to right relationship with God once again. Elijah’s story sets him apart from his peers and gives him this unusually prominent place in the Jewish imagination.[2]           The disciples are still getting to know Jesus, his message, his call, his identity. Bringing Jesus into context with Elijah and Moses either brings confusion or clarity or both . . . sounds like they are mostly so overwhelmed with what takes place that they ask to make memorials – make something physical, concrete – to help process their spiritual experience. Still, Moses and Elijah give Jesus legitimacy.          

Even with these Jewish giants standing on either side of him, Jesus is not them . . . there is something special about Jesus, something important about Jesus. In the mystery and intensity of the moment, God somehow reveals to James and John: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.” There is something special about Jesus. He has a message about Love, powerful enough to endure for generations.          

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration stands the test of time. 2000 years later it speaks a fresh word to people who experience a difference between who we are on the inside and how we present ourselves on the outside . . . and those of us who do not feel safe to reveal our true selves. Jesus goes up the mountain, away from his group of disciples, away from the crowds. He doesn’t reveal himself in public, in fact he tells his companions not to tell anyone. He knows there are safe and unsafe places to reveal one’s true self . . . and sometimes revealing is crucial to fulfilling our purpose on earth. The world doesn’t always make it easy . . . We have a common prayer with Jesus and all who seek to live an authentic life . . . God be with us as we try to answer your call . . . God help us to embody Jesus’ teaching so that we may live in the way of Love . . . God shine your light on us today and every day, until the people you made us to be are the people everyone can see. Shine your light on us that with your help, we may transform the world into a place where all of us are safe to live as you created us to be. Thanks be to God!

[1] Feb 18, 2023

[2] Feb 18, 2023