The Face of Change

August 6, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Feast of the Transfiguration
Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

Listen here, or read below:

This past Monday my parents and I visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. [Check that off my Atlanta bucket list!] It’s interesting to see what’s chosen to depict someone’s life. In the childhood section, among other household items, one display box held a pair of crystal salt and pepper shakers. This seemed an odd contrast to the images, on the opposite wall, of little Jimmy’s playmates, the African American children of peanut-farm workers.

An exhibit highlighting the Camp David Peace Accords revealed the careful and persistent mediation Carter provided to guide the unlikely peace agreement between the leaders of Egypt and Israel. I wondered if he didn’t first develop these negotiation skills at his family dinner table. You see, his father was a staunch segregationist, while his mother, a trained nurse, didn’t hesitate to cross segregation lines in the 1920s to provide health care counseling to poor African American women. Navigating the complexity of diverse views, even within our own families, continues still. So, while Carter inherited the infamous peanut farm from his father, he undoubtedly adopted the social consciousness of his mother. 

Another significant influence was a deep-rooted Christian faith. As such, when faced with difficult decisions he surely went off to a quiet place to pray. In that time of prayer, I imagine he would draw on the inspiration and influence of those who had gone before him.

Today’s gospel lesson shows Jesus doing much the same thing. Just before today’s text, Jesus shared with his disciples that:

the Son of Man will undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Lk 9:22)  

It’s sinking in that change is afoot. It’s unavoidable. It’s imminent.

And what does Jesus do?

He went to a secluded place, up a mountain. We’re told that he took a few of his disciples with him – Peter, James, and John. These are the three often named as going with Jesus when he needs to get away. We heard the familiar story of the Transfiguration, the feast day we celebrate each year on August 6th. And what better time for this remembering as we, too, are in a time of transition.

It’s sinking in that change is afoot. It’s unavoidable. It’s imminent.

This transfiguration story is in three of the gospels, yet only Luke’s version makes explicit that Jesus is going up the mountain to pray. Then it says:

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Then Elijah and Moses appear and are talking with Jesus. Again, Luke’s gospel is the only one that tells us what they’re talking about:

They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

So in this time of preparation, this time of transition, facing something that will be difficult, Jesus calls on those who have gone before. Moses, the commandment-giver, who guided Jesus’ path as a faithful Jew. And Elijah, the prophet. Who, calling out to God in his own time of need, said:

I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away. (1 Kg 19:10)

So Elijah has felt what it is to be alone, facing the threat of others because of his faithfulness to God. These two – Moses and Elijah – become the counsel Jesus seeks in his time of preparation for what’s next. It’s an important lesson to remember – that even Jesus doesn’t try to figure it all out on his own. Instead, he discerns in prayer, and calls on those influencers that formed his way of understanding God and his purpose in life.’

As I reflected on this, I wondered who my “mountaintop consultants” are. Certainly, Jesus is one – my teacher and commandment-giver: Love God, Love Neighbor. And who is my prophetic inspiration? I’d have to say Martin Luther King, Jr. Though I was a very young child when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, his example has impacted my life. He spoke for those who didn’t have a voice – I’ve been one without a voice, depending on others to be an advocate. And even when his community warned him of the danger, he went beyond what was comfortable and safe, speaking up for all marginalized people, seeking equity for all.

Most assuredly King had his own “mountaintop consultants,” too. Most likely one would’ve been Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi instilled the importance of passive, non-violent resistance which was integral to King’s method and legacy. At times that commitment to non-violence would’ve been difficult to keep, yet King drew from Gandhi’s inspiration and persevered.

And while these mountaintop consultants are essential to guiding us on our way, especially as we embark on times of transition, that isn’t where the transfiguration story ends. We’re told that even though Peter, James, and John were tired, they stayed awake. Because they stayed awake, they saw this amazing sight! Jesus all lit-up and he’s talking with Moses and Elijah!  And Peter, in his true Peter-esque style, says:

Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah

Now, in most gospel accounts, Peter is that lovable, enthusiastic disciple. He’s the one who dares to step out of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus, but then gets scared and distracted by the wind and begins to sink. He’s the one who swears he’ll never deny Jesus, and then does it three times. He’s that guy! We all know that guy, right. Some of us ARE that guy!

And in this story, Peter often gets labeled as the one who stepped in it again. He offers to build huts for the Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. To capture the moment so it doesn’t fade away. But, seriously, what’s so wrong about that? He sees that Jesus gains strength and comfort from being in the midst of his counselors. Peter, James, and John and the guys who want to help Jesus succeed. If building a few huts will help, they’re all in!

Perhaps this is precisely why Peter is the one Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to, and why Peter is designated as the rock on which the church will be founded. He’s got the willingness to jump in and try something new! He’s the one who doesn’t run away just because he falls short sometimes. He keeps trying, keeps learning, and stays with it. He believes in Jesus whole-heartedly, and inspires others to do the same. I don’t know about you, but I want Peter on my team! We all need Peters in our life if we’re going to reach our dreams.

At the Carter library there was a video that talked about the unbelievability of Carter’s presidential campaign. They even thought so. Remember their slogan “Jimmy Who?” Even as Carter was serving as Governor of Georgia, the headline of the Atlanta Journal Constitution said, “Carter’s Running for What?” Yet, to make it work, his family all jumped in. They campaigned far and wide, and the unbelievable happened. They were the Peter, James, and John that believed, and helped make the dream a reality.

It’s now time for me to embark on the next dreamed-of chapter in my life. There has been and will continue to be much mountaintop consulting to do. Jesus will guide me and Martin Luther King, Jr. will challenge me, I have no doubt. A good start!

I’ve also been so fortunate to have a whole team of dream-makers on the ground making it possible. Alice has been an invaluable part of my journey, and continues to provide support in so many ways – not the least of which is providing candid feedback on my sermons. My family, like Jimmy Carter’s, are always all-in! And I’m thankful to so many of you who have provided support to me through the years, and let me share your life events. You’ve let me walk with you as your priest, your teacher, your pastor, and your friend. I am honored and grateful.

I especially want to thank Ceci. She has been a guide in my priestly formation, beginning almost 7 years ago as I entered seminary, and continuing after my ordination. When I faced moments of unsureness – yes, there have been many of these – she was there to guide me through. And when I wanted my inner Martin Luther King to shout out from the pulpit, as a trusted advisor, Ceci helped me understand that while the prophetic message is one part of our gospel work, it’s best received when tempered with a healthy measure of care and compassion.

Photo by: Bruce Halliburton

Over the past year, Ceci has also been my cheerleader as I discerned the next stop in my ministry journey. Most notably, during Holy Week – for priests, this is the equivalent of “tax-season” for accountants – she spent the better part of a day sharing feedback about me with the Church of the Servant search committee. To which they replied: “Great, now we have a lot more questions to ask Jody.” And when I told her a few weeks ago that I’d accepted the call to be their new rector, Ceci, with Peter-like exuberance, said “Welcome to the deep end of the swimming pool!” So, thank you Ceci, and thanks to all who have been part of my dream-making team. Because of your encouragement and care, it’s time for me to take off my floaties, and move into deeper waters. Pray for me!

Christ Church is at its own precipice. You’re at an exciting, yet unsure, crossroad. This is a time when the whole congregation is invited into a transfiguration of your own. Rest in the assurance that this thing we call Church has never been a one-man show – not even for Jesus. So, under Ceci’s leadership, with prayerful mountaintop consulting and dream-making enthusiasm, you all will discern and create what’s next for Christ Church. While transitions can be difficult, if you all are part of the undertaking, there’s no doubt it will be fruitful.

Keep living into who you are as a faithful community – one that lives into the work and commitment to be and bring God’s presence into the world.

There’s no time like the present… it’s time to dive in!

Gospel Text:

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Lk 9:28-36)

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