Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh
St. Luke’s, Portland
February 12, 2018; Last Epiphany B: 2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Just be yourself. Has anyone ever given you that advice? It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I remember towards the end of my first year in seminary when I applied for a position in a summer hospital chaplaincy program. I went to a job interview in a black pinstripe suit with a white shirt and tie, and did what I could to look old and mature, full with a 22 year old’s sense that I knew how the world worked. I will never forget when at the end of the program, my supervisor said to me “I like you much more now than I did in that interview.” Somehow during our ten weeks together, he had gotten to know the real me. The thing is many of us are accustomed to hiding our real selves. Some people the develop public personas they think others want to see. Others protect themselves behind defensive – and sometimes prickly – shells. Sometimes cultural or professional expectations require certain roles. The problem with personas is that we get so used to them, we run the risk of losing touch with the person inside. On the bookshelf in my office is a stuffed lion. This is Mufasa, the old king and father of Simba from the Disney movie The Lion King. It was given to me by a friend who reminded me of the scene in the movie when the Simba was going through a difficult time and his Mufasa carried him through by saying “Remember who you are.”
This, I think, is what happened to Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration. In the past, I have thought of this as a moment of mountaintop clarity was for Jesus’ followers. I think now that it was for Jesus himself. The transfiguration was there to remind Jesus that as great as the prophet Elijah was, he was the new Elijah. As meaningful as Moses and the 10 commandments were, he was the new Moses who brought an even better law. Worn down by the demands of caring for others, Jesus was tired, depleted, and in danger of losing touch with the bigger picture of who he was inside. Using the message given at Jesus’ baptism, God was telling him “Remember who you are.” “You are my beloved son.” When Jesus heard those words, he was transfigured. Perhaps for the first time, the disciples saw the real Jesus shining through. After that experience, Jesus was able to go down off the mountain, set his face toward Jerusalem. Knowing who he was, Jesus had the strength to make it through all that was to come: his trial, his crucifixion, resurrection, and more. The lectionary puts this gospel reading the last Sunday before Lent so that the same thing can happen to us.
As I said a few minutes ago, this isn’t easy. Just this week, I had lunch with a minister who talked about her upcoming retirement and how she is looking forward to finally being free to say what she actually thinks. Though her enthusiasm was electric, I wondered if she would actually be able to do that. She had always seemed to be a bit guarded, distant, or a little aloof. I wondered if that behavior was so practiced, such a habit, that the real her would have difficulties breaking through. I wondered if in the 12 years I have known her, I had ever seen who she was inside. I wondered if she had either. The tragedy of that is that the real person inside her was pretty cool. Like Elisha, she had received a double portion of God’s love. Imagine how much more happy her life and her ministry might have been if she knew in her heart that was true… and let some of that light shine through. She would have been transfigured… and her congregation would have been as well. They didn’t want perfection, they wanted authenticity. They wanted her to be real… and permission to be real themselves.
Being ourselves, by the way, doesn’t mean that everyone will like us. The authentic Jesus was so threatening that people hated him and had him killed. The amazing thing is that because he knew who he was, Jesus was able to transform an act of hate into love and of death into life. Being in touch with ourselves does not mean being selfish or self-absorbed. Because Jesus knew who he was, he was able to truly help others, transforming them, and the universe, forever.
The story of Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration is an intentional parallel with the story of Moses on Mount Sinai. Do you remember how, after Moses went up on Mount Sinai, his face shown? Like the water coming through the rock in the desert, the light of God that was in him flowed out in the most amazing of ways. The same thing can happen to you. God’s light is in you, waiting to break through. You don’t need to hide it under a bushel or a protective covering anymore. Remember who you are. Repeat after me. “I am a child of God.” “God is well pleased with me.” “God loves me, the real me, inside.” “Because of this, I can love others.” Isn’t that great? Knowing these things, you can make it through anything and even change suffering and death into life. Knowing this, you can be transfigured, the real you can be revealed, and the people and world around you can be transformed as well. Knowing this, you can shine.