Updated: Mar 1, 2018
St Matthew Trinity, Hoboken
Bishop Tracie Bartholomew, preaching
To quote today’s gospel reading – It’s good to be here today. Thank you for the invitation to be with you to proclaim God’s word and stand with you and your Pastor at a significant milestone in both of your lives. On behalf of the other 166 congregations that make up the NJ Synod, I bring you greetings and thanksgiving. Thank you for the partnership we share throughout our state to serve God’s people and to surprise them with grace unbounded.
Let us pray….
Here we are on Transfiguration Sunday – a day when we bask in the mystery of who God is revealed in Jesus Christ. A day when preachers across the church will do theological gymnastics to try and coherently explain exactly what today is all about. A festival in our church year when we get a glimpse of the depth of the relationship between God and God’s beloved, divine child, Jesus. A day when we acknowledge again that mountaintop experiences are not all we have in the life of faith.
You are one of the few congregations to have a window that portrays one artist’s understanding of how Jesus was transfigured before his disciples – glowing white robes, angelic look of divinity on his face, halo surrounding his head, with Elijah and Moses beside him – or are those figures supposed to be his disciples? It’s a rather serene-looking experience for something I picture as much more shocking.
But the artist who crafted your window is not alone in thinking this event is not so exciting. One of my friends who serves a church in Chicago posted about her young daughter’s reaction to reading about the Transfiguration in her children’s bible -- "Oh. Transfiguration. I've read that story like a million times. It's so boring. It's not even like there are flames on their heads or anything."
Regardless of what you think of or how you would portray the events portrayed in our Gospel reading, we have before us a story of acceptance and affirmation, mystery and awe, confusion and uncertainty, understanding and obedience. God’s Holy Spirit confirms for all of us the divinity of Jesus while immediately sending this Divine One down off the mountain and into the valley of everyday life, to be with all of God’s people; loving and healing, and welcoming, and teaching.
Down off the mountain to be among those who will embrace and listen to him, as well as to be with those who will reject him and twist his words for their own purposes. The divine and holy child of God is sent back into the real world, a world which will bring him to his death on a cross.
So what does the Transfiguration have to do with us, today, in this place? Where is the good news of Jesus Christ for you and me in this story?
First – this story of God’s laying claim to Jesus as the beloved and holy one, is for you who have ever questioned your worth or your status. Here on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration is a reminder that all whom God has created, God also blesses and calls beloved. There are fancy theological ways to talk about this but the bottom line is that in our baptisms we are claimed by God and called beloved – we, too, hear the voice of God claiming us and telling the world that we are treasured and cherished children of the Creator.
When serving a congregation in Lexington, Virginia, I had a weekly conversation with an exchange student who was learning about Christianity from his host family. He could not fathom how Jesus was God’s only-begotten Son and yet he, too, was a child of God. It made no sense to him and he would argue with me until we both left exasperated! It may not make sense, but it is still true – you are claimed and loved by God for Christ’s sake. Period.
You are holy and precious because of God’s actions in Jesus Christ – before you can prove your worth, before you have a say in it, and before you earn it. When you are baptized, you are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. There are no asterisks on your baptismal certificate – no opt out clause on God’s part, once claimed, always claimed.
Second – the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that while we might have times of mountaintop bliss and experience highlight reels of faith, we don’t live in those places. We are called to engage in the every day, real life of faith which takes us down into places we’d rather not always go. Listening to Jesus means following where he leads and being with those he puts into our lives.
Our daily life of faith means we are pushed out of our comfort zones and into the lives of those whom Jesus loves. It means looking at the barriers and boundaries we put up for ourselves and realizing that Jesus might well be on the other side. Living in the valley takes us on journeys we never signed up for and teaches us lessons in love we never knew we needed. There is deep joy walking with Jesus everyday – but make no mistake, there is also pain and sorrow and sadness for the ways we continue to hurt each other.
Today we are reassured that we are called not to go it alone. Jesus comes down from the mountain of transfiguration and leads us through all the ups and downs of this life. Together, we are a community that accompanies one another in Jesus’ name.
And finally – the good news of Jesus Christ for us today is seen in the acceptance and affirmation that you, St Matthew-Trinity, have for your pastor as he is re-named and lives more fully into the beloved and holy child God has created him to be. You give witness to the reality of what it means to break down barriers in order to share the gracious and extravagant love of Jesus. Led by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are walking together to bear witness to the God who says – you are mine, yesterday, today, and forever.
This is not a new way for you to be the church Christ has called you to be, rather, it is part of who you are – in the everyday, real life of discipleship. Every day you welcome and affirm God’s holy people as you feed them in the lunchtime ministry. Every day you advocate for more just policies that will eliminate the need for feeding programs. Every day your faith leads you to stand with those who are marginalized – those living in poverty, those who identify as LGBTQ, those incarcerated, those enslaved by their own lack of worth. Every day you pass on the faith to new generations. Every day you bear with to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ in parks and on piers and in the streets of Hoboken. Every day – in very real ways, you listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit that leads you to step out of these doors to proclaim the love of God to everyone Jesus puts in your path.
So today, while it is a significant and important day in the life of your pastor and for you, it is also a day very much like every other day – one in which you boldly and joyfully gaze upon the holy face of God and then follow that same God down off the mountain and into the world in order to share the amaz
ing grace of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
The Rev. Tracie L. Bartholomew, Bishop