Transfiguration is here again. The story brings with it an invitation to follow Jesus up a mountain, sit, pray, and expect God to show up. The trick is that we have to allow God to be God and not comply with what we think is appropriate. Peter, James, and John were likely dumbfounded when Jesus started to glow and two others showed up with him. They might have understood that Jesus was up to something when he invited them to go mountain climbing, but they could not have imagined what they experienced on the top of that mountain. They were so enthralled that they wanted to build tabernacles and stay for a while. Isn’t that what we have done?
We have built tabernacles to our image of church and we have overstayed our usefulness. At one point in time, our buildings were a reflection of where God was in the lives of followers. We had religious and spiritual experiences and we honored those with dwelling places for God Most High. And we have failed to hear Jesus calling us away from the mountain top. It is highly unlikely that God is going to show up in the same way again. Our buildings, our traditions, reveal where we have been. Seeking to maintain them as they are prevents us from seeing where and how God is transfiguring those around us. Our dedication to the past also keeps us on the mountain top where we can ignore those who are in need of healing and inclusion in the Body of Christ.
This week’s vote by the United Methodist Church to deny full inclusion to LGBTQ+ folx is a vote to remain tabernacle on the mountain top, expecting repetition from a God of new life. It’s heartbreaking to see a church divide while holding onto archaic biblical interpretation which leads to excluding people whom God loves. In this case, the small majority of UMC voters failed to hear Jesus call to hike down the mountain and heal those in need of Divine Love. Of course, this stance is not limited to the UMC. Across all denominations there are people who believe the tradition of judgment and exclusion is more important than embracing LGBTQ+ folx with Christian love.
LGBTQ+ folx being welcomed by the church is not the only place where we insist on staying safe in our dwelling places. We have also failed to offer welcome to persons with mental health concerns and persons with physical disabilities. Our biblical understanding has gone unchallenged and has confined us to the past. The tabernacles built by our ancestors were not meant to define the limits of the Body of Christ. Every day we have opportunities to bear witness to the power of transformation, if not transfiguration. Transfiguration, Jesus shining with glory, is present every time the Body of Christ extends genuine welcome to those we have previously excluded.
We can no longer afford to sustain the tradition that tells us that being an LGBTQ+ individual is a sin. Nor can we keep telling ourselves that having a mental illness is a punishment for sin, a sign of a character flaw, or demon possession. So, too, we cannot think of physical disabilities in a similar way. The Bible was written long before science could explain any of these things. It was written at time when people believed that all things were either a sign of God’s blessing or God’s displeasure. Surely we know better now. Surely we know that all human beings are made in the image of God and, at any moment, can shine with Christ’s glory.
It’s time we come down off the mountain and offer healing to all who suffer. After all, my friends, the Body of Christ is queer. The Body of Christ has mental illness. The Body of Christ has disabilities. These are facts. They will not change. Let’s leave our tabernacles where Jesus’ glory has shined in the past and turn our attention toward the valleys of people in need of healing and welcome. We never know where or when or in whom God’s glory will next be revealed. Yet, it isn’t likely that God will return to the mountain top after telling us to hike back down…
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RCL Year C – Transfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)