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The Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Changing our Perceptions

Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6;
2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

During the season of Epiphany we have explored our unique relationship to God. With the magi we followed the star to its rising searching for meaning in our existence. Like Samuel, we listened for the call of God. We explored how God can be both loving and powerful. We explored our call to ministry. We experienced God’s healing touch. As we complete this season and prepare ourselves for a holy Lent we encounter God on the mountaintop. On the mountaintop, we look to God to transform our lives and transfigure our perceptions.

It is part of our human nature that we almost always seem to grasp the truth about a person long after we should. We are especially blind to the greatness of people we know well. Blindness to their gifts can come about through peer pressure. It can happen through our own ambition or from our lack of willingness to see who they really are. That was the very human relationship that the disciples had with Jesus. They simply didn’t understand who he was.

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain. So many things happen on the mountain, mountaintop experiences that affirm that God is with us. There on the mountaintop, Jesus is transfigured, changed. He appears before them in dazzling white, a sign of God’s presence. They witness Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus.

When they see him transfigured, brighter than the brightest star, pure light before them, they see more than his future and risen life. Jesus shows them who they are becoming. He shows them the glory and destiny of all of humanity.

It is a watershed moment in their lives and ours. Once again we hear the voice from Heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” It takes us back to the moment of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. God is present in the cloud. Jesus is revealed to be the very Child of God.

The vision ends as quickly as it began, like a bursting bubble. The disciples are quickly transported back to the valley. It is in the valley that they are called to serve lovingly and faithfully. It is in the difficult arenas of the world that their ministry will unfold. But they will carry their mountaintop experience with them. Later when they look back on what has happened it will help them to face the difficult days, days of loss and confusion.

Unfortunately we live most of our lives in the lowlands and valleys. There our vision is limited. It is when we are in the mountains that we know that we are called to great heights, to take wings. If we really wish to see Jesus as he is, we must ascend the mountain with him. Discipleship is an invitation to do just that. It is an invitation to be transformed into new people. Jesus’ transfiguration is a sign of the change we all undergo as we live out our faith as disciples of Jesus. It is a sign of great hope that the death experiences we all face in our daily lives will be followed by resurrection experiences.

Does it happen for us? Frederick Buechner, an American Theologian, says yes. "Even with us something like that happens once in a while. The face of a man walking with his child in the park, of a woman baking bread, of sometimes even the unlikeliest person listening to a concert, say, or standing barefoot in the sand watching the waves roll in, or just having a beer at a Saturday baseball game in July. Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it's almost beyond bearing."

How do we allow the mountaintop experiences to transform the drudgery of life? Moses came down from the mountain with such a vision of freedom that he was able to lead the people of Israel out of bondage. Elijah had such a vision of God that he brought fulfillment and hope to a nation in exile. Elisha learned to accept God’s grace at work in his life. He knew that the mantle had passed on to him. He knew that God had great things in store for his life. It transformed his prophetic ministry.

God’s grace can transform us. It begins with changing our perception of ourselves. We need to see ourselves as beloved children. God loves you. If you never hear anything else in a sermon that I preach, hear that. God loves you. It is so important to take that in, to really know it. To be as sure of it as we have been of anything in our lives.

Is it easy? No! Life has a way of putting us down, of making us feel unworthy. If we can begin to change our perception of ourselves, then we will be able to change our perception of others. Believe me when I say it works. I have seen it work.

I can remember many difficult children from my teaching days. One of the most troubled was a little girl in a grade five class. She was the most unlikable child I have ever met. Looking back I cannot remember any particular reason for not liking her. I was not alone in my perception. People instinctively took a dislike to her. The children in the class would walk by her desk and give her a poke. I heard complaints about her from other teachers. I found it very difficult to be civil to her. I realized I had to do something about it. I decided to find something positive to say to her each day. I knew it needed to be genuine. I remember my relief as she walked into the classroom that morning wearing a rather nice pink dress. I complimented her on how pretty she looked. It was as if she couldn’t believe it. Her face lit up. I don’t remember when the change in the classroom took place. It was gradual. But I do know that the children eventually began to treat her differently. The teasing and poking stopped. We all began to see her in a different light. I like to think I made a big change in that child’s life. I certainly learned something about myself, and my capacity to change a situation.

What transformation needs to take place in the life of this congregation? No doubt many of you feel disheartened. You have been without an Incumbent for almost a year. There is no sense of stability. How does it become a place on fire with enthusiasm? How do we begin to see signs of God at work in our lives? How do we change our perceptions?

It begins with looking around you. This is a wonderful Christian community. You care for one another; you see yourselves as a family. There are committed people who participate actively in so many ways, lectors, servers, choristers, lay readers, wardens. Can we allow God’s grace to change our perceptions so that we will become all that God wants us to be? Can we see the potential in this parish and support it with our time, talents and treasure? Can we take up the challenge and see this place transformed.

What transformation needs to take place in our world? Economic instability! Fear of people! Threat of war! How do we begin to change our perceptions? We need to pray for peace in our world. We need to pray knowing that God can transform the world.

Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a spiritual journey, which can bring about transformation in our lives. It is said that forty days is the optimal time in which to bring about change. Let us use it wisely as a time of spiritual renewal and transformation in our lives. Begin by coming to one of the services on Wednesday. Let the ashes remind you of your need to allow God’s grace to transform your life. Then each day in Lent let yourself remember those times when you have been most aware of God’s grace.

Our Lenten study based on the movie, Chocolat, will focus on the process of change, on transformation, through giving up, giving out, getting wise, getting real and finally on growing up. If you cannot come to the Lenten study, then find a study for yourself. There are many resources on line that can help you to focus.

May God’s divine illumination shining on us allow us to see the glory that is God!
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