There was obviously something remarkable about Jesus. Jesus could speak just a few words to someone and that person would drop everything to follow him. Jesus could hold the attention of enormous crowds without the help of modern technology. Wherever Jesus went, strange and wonderful things happened.
But, particularly in the early days of his ministry, Jesus could also get lost in the crowd if he so chose. That means Jesus probably looked more or less like everyone else in his time and place.
The ordinariness of Jesus’ appearance was clearly a challenge to Jesus’ disciples. They struggled to recognize Jesus for who he was. Even after watching Jesus calm a storm with just a word, the disciples asked each other, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25).
But that uncertainty is not a problem in our gospel reading for this morning. Jesus’ face changes, his clothes become dazzlingly white, long-dead heroes appear talking to him, and his glory shines forth so that even his disciples can see it. This is Jesus’ divinity on full display, and, not surprisingly, the disciples have a hard time taking it all in.
But, and this is important, what the disciples are seeing in the Transfiguration is not something new to Jesus. Jesus himself is not changed in our reading. Jesus’ appearance is what changes. And the change in Jesus’ appearance helps the disciples to see more clearly who Jesus has always been, to see more clearly the divinity that they have already glimpsed in Jesus alongside his humanity but sometimes hidden by his humanity.
Whatever else it is, the Transfiguration of Jesus is a miracle of sight, a miracle which enables the disciples to see what has always been right there before their eyes but which they have not always been able to see.
Now bring this forward two thousand years. As we look around at our world, it can sometimes seem pretty bleak. I have talked to lots of people who feel like they have to insulate themselves from the news every once in a while because the news gets too depressing. I have had to do that, too.
In those times, it can be hard to remember that our world is God’s creation, that God is at work in the world all around us, that the people we see on the news are created in the image and likeness of God. It is as if sin and evil and suffering and death have covered over God’s presence in our world.
In those times, we are like the disciples before the Transfiguration. Jesus was right in front of them, but they could not consistently see past his ordinary appearance to his divinity. We see God’s creation and God’s people right in front of us, but we cannot consistently see past the problems of our world to God’s presence in our midst.
And then, every once in a while, our world is transfigured. God’s glory shines forth, and we can see it.
Our world does not change in those transfiguration moments. It is the same world that we have always seen. But suddenly we see it differently. We see through the surface of creation to the God who stands behind it all. We see more clearly that God is the deepest reality of our world. It is our miracle of seeing.
I think we all have transfiguration moments. I hope you will take a few minutes this week to think about yours.
As in our reading, my own most dramatic transfiguration moment came on a mountaintop. I had hiked alone in Virginia through what seemed like endless days of endless rain. I was beaten down. By my last day, I just wanted the trip to end. As I was heading up my final peak, the sky opened up once again. I dashed to a shelter to wait out the storm, thinking to myself that this was truly a fitting end to a miserable trip.
When the storm paused, I hurried up the peak, and the view shocked me out of my misery. It was a Transfiguration moment in every sense of the term. God’s glory was laid out before me, and not even I could miss it right then.
The same thing can happen when we are with other people. This is a description of a transfiguration moment by Thomas Merton, the most famous American monk of the twentieth century.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs…. It was like waking from a dream of separateness.… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…” Merton went on to say that everyone he saw was “walking around shining like the sun.”
Without even knowing it, Merton’s neighbors were transfigured. In that transfiguration moment, Merton was able to see his neighbors as they really were, as beloved children of God. In that transfiguration moment, Merton was able to love his neighbors as God invites us to love all people.
Unfortunately, none of us can stay on the mountaintop for long. In our reading, Jesus and the disciples go back down the mountain, and the disciples “kept silent and told no one any of the things they had seen.” In my own case, while I was enjoying the view on the mountaintop, it started raining again, and I had to run for my car. I am sure that Merton was not able to sustain his love for all the people of Louisville.
But that is not the end of the story. When the world around us is transfigured, the world itself does not change. What changes is how the world appears to us. But that can change us, not just how we look, but how we see, how we are.
Here is what Merton says immediately after his transfiguration moment. “I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are.” Even if he could not fully sustain that exaltation, my guess is that after his transfiguration moment, Merton lived a little more like the beloved child of God that he was.
We cannot live in a transfigured world all the time. Not even the disciples could do that while they walked with Jesus. But we can celebrate our transfiguration moments. And we can carry forward their transforming lesson: that God really is at work in the world about us, that all of creation shines with God’s glory even when we cannot see it, that even we shine with a little bit of God’s glory.
And so on this morning, I give thanks to God for the gift of transfiguration moments. And I pray that we can all glimpse a little more clearly the divine glory that surrounds us all the time so that we can experience the transformation that comes with seeing God.
In the name of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and God’s chosen. Amen.
 This quotation comes from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. I found it on a website called “Spiritual Travels” at http://www.spiritualtravels.info/articles-2/north-america/kentucky-a-thomas-merton-tour/thomas-mertons-mystical-vision-in-louisville/.