In all of this, Jesus is reminding us of our high calling. As the people of God, we are called to be perfect in our love of God and neighbor.
Many who heard Jesus preaching doubtless found it all very inspiring. Many who hear it today probably do too. Certainly Jesus is giving us a worthy goal, one that is worth living and dying for.
But I suspect that many people find this part of the Sermon on the Mount a little discouraging. In my own worst moments, I think to myself, “I could never actually be that good, so why bother to try?”
Our gospel reading for this morning answers that question by reminding us who Jesus is, and, by extension, who we are.
Jesus takes Peter and James and John up a mountain, where Jesus is transfigured so that his face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. For a moment, Jesus’ truly divine nature shines out. For a moment, Peter and James and John are able to see Jesus in all his glory, shining with the divine light of God.
And what Jesus shows us, in that moment, when he is revealed as true God, is our own destiny. Jesus shows us who we really are, deep down, underneath it all.
We may be sinners. But sin does not define who we are. God defines who we are. We are created in the very image and likeness of God. We are God’s beloved children. That is who we are, even if sin is how we often act.
A few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say we are the light of the world. When our Bishop was with us, he pointed out that Jesus does not say that we will be the light of the world, or that we might be the light of the world, or that we could be the light of the world. Jesus says, we are the light of the world. As God’s beloved children, as people created in God’s image and likeness, as people redeemed by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are filled with God’s light.
Of course, God’s light does not always shine out of us. But God’s light was not always shining out of Jesus either. That’s why our gospel story is so important. The transfiguration is a moment when God’s light does shine, and with a clarity that it does not always have, not even in Jesus himself.
In our lives, sin is the problem. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness, to pay attention to the obstructions that prevent God’s light from shining in us, and in Lent we will.
But it is good to conclude Epiphany with a story about who Christ is, and to be reminded who we are: God’s beloved children, filled to the brim with God’s light.
And someday what was true of Jesus that day on the mountain will be true of us, too, if to a lesser degree. Someday all the divine light in us will shine out in glory.
First John puts this beautifully. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.... Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-3).
In this passage, the elder is saying two important things, both of which show how the story of the transfiguration is relevant to us. First, like Christ, we are God’s beloved children, even now. And, second, we are in a process of becoming more Christ-like. We are in a process of being transfigured, just as Jesus was transfigured in our gospel reading, and some day, that process will be complete.
The main difference between Jesus’ transfiguration and ours is that his happens in an instant, and ours happens over a lifetime. Our transfiguration happens so slowly that most of the time we do not even notice it happening, and we doubt that it is real. And yet the changes are real.
We all know about slow change. But here are two examples from my life.
When I entered high school, I was literally a 98 pound weakling. I wrestled in the 98 pound class, and even the other 98 pounders were stronger than I was.
And then, one day, I realized I had gotten stronger. By the next season, I was still only 112 pounds, and I was still pretty weak. But I was a lot stronger than I had been.
I didn’t notice anything happening to my body. But over time, real change was happening, and I could see the changes when I looked back at where I had come from.
That was a good change. But not all changes are good. I still remember the first time I returned from a backpacking trip with a sun-burned head. I had not noticed my hair thinning. But thinning had happened, and suddenly, unexpectedly, unfortunately, I had to start wearing hats all the time.
Now when I look at old photographs of myself, I think nostalgically about the full head of hair I used to have, and I wonder when so much of it went away.
Here is the point: something similar happens to our souls as we live our lives. Over time, our souls can atrophy, or they can grow strong.
If we ignore God and neglect our neighbor, God’s light in us thins out just like my hair did.
But Christ shows us a better way. If we are willing to cooperate with the grace of God in our lives, we can work at increasing God’s light in us. We can worship, and pray, and study, and try to love and forgive and help other people.
And mostly we won’t notice, but if we do those things, God’s light is us will grow stronger just like my puny 98 pound muscles did. We will grow a little closer to God. We will grow a little better at loving our neighbor. We will take a step forward in the process of becoming more Christ-like, in the process of being transfigured, slowly but surely.
And one day, maybe not in this lifetime, God’s light in us will shine perfectly because that is who we are, God’s beloved children, created in God’s image and likeness, and shining with God’s love.
But we don’t have to wait until then to see change in our lives. Hopefully we can look back at the people we were, and see that God’s light shines in us a little more brightly now. Certainly we have God’s promise that we can look forward to God’s light growing brighter in us.
And so, on this Transfiguration Sunday, this last Sunday before Lent, I give thanks to God for the reminder that we are God’s beloved children filled with God’s light. I give thanks to God for working away in us, helping us to shine with God’s light, gradually transfiguring us into the people God created us to be. And I pray that God will help us to do our part to let our light shine out.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the light of the world who shines in us. Amen.