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Changed From Image to Likeness The Feast of the Transfiguration

Last Sunday night we came home after spending nine days in the mountains. Eyleen and

I joined some travel companions for our sixth vacation together, always near a national park. It

had been four years since our last sojourn, but we quickly fell into old, familiar habits - these

friends drive, those cook, others clean up. I made the coffee.


This time, it was Yellowstone. In case you don’t know, Yellowstone National Park was

established in 1872. Famous for its wildlife, subalpine forests and geothermal features,

especially the Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone is our largest national park. It’s one of our

country’s great ecological gifts, a gift unlike any other I’ve seen.


For me, it was the mountains! John Muir, Scottish-born author and naturalist who

helped found America’s national parks, once wrote, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

Muir inspired generations of people to think differently about the environment. His was a voice

from a different time, when the biggest threat to the natural habitat was a single dam or a forest

fire, not a full-blown climate crisis.


In addition to our day trips to lakes, canyons, rivers and waterfalls, one day we drove all

the way to the top of the mountains at Yellowstone, more than 11,000 feet above sea level. The

photos I posted on Facebook tell a good bit of the story of our journey through many

mountainous parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.


But photos don’t describe actual experiences, especially those mountaintop ones. And

yet, down through history, few people have actually lived up there, other than Native Americans

and some mountain men and women. Sooner or later, most of us have to come down the

mountains, to live in what most folks would call “the real world.”


There are mountaintop experiences down here, too, in everyday life. In addition to this

vacation, other mountaintop moments, symbolically speaking, have been the births of my

children and my call to be a priest. But whether the moment is a symbolic or a literal one,

sooner or later, we have to come down the mountain.


The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is, among other things, a story about change. Jesus

took three disciples with him up that mountain, to pray. While they were there, the appearance

of Jesus’ face, like the face of Moses in our first lesson, changed. We could even say that in that

mountaintop moment, everything changed, for everyone.


It was a glorious time up there. Peter wanted to spend more time in all that glory, with

those ancient change agents, Moses and Elijah. But Jesus knew his own change meant change

for his disciples. Jesus knew it was time to come down the mountain.


If we read the next eight verses in Luke’s account of the Jesus story, we see that, the very

next day, when Jesus and his friends came down the mountain, “a great crowd met him.” They

brought a boy who’d been possessed with what we now know as mental illness. The disciples

who didn’t go up the mountain had been unable to heal the child.


Jesus loses it, crying out, “How much longer must I be with you and put up with you?”

He heals the boy, then says to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: the Son of Man

is going to be betrayed into human hands” (9:41, 44). The Son of Man, Jesus, is that man. He’ll


become well acquainted with human suffering and grief. Yes, Jesus, Peter, James and John

were not on the mountaintop anymore. Now, nothing looked the same. Everything looked

different. Everything had changed.


Our Collect today contains these words: “Grant that we, being delivered from the

disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the king in his beauty.” Those are words that do

not speak to the world I live in. To be honest, I didn’t really know what the word “disquietude”

meant. It means fear and anxiety. I think “disquietude” is a far more accurate description of

our world than the author of the Collect may have ever known. Our 2023 world is a fearful,

anxious one - a world that has not been delivered from anxiety and fear. I don’t know about

you, but this Collect does not help me pray today.


One reason I chose the hymn we sang before today’s Gospel is that it helps me pray. It

speaks to our own world, in these words from the last verse: Jesus took them down the

mountain to a world of pain and loss. Jesus knew it was time to come down the mountain. His

transfiguration had changed everything, not just how he looked.


God had glorified Jesus. Now, Jesus must have looked more like God than he had ever

looked before. But he was also acting more like God. He knew when to come down and be with

people who were “in a world of pain and loss,” a world of disquietude, a world of fear and

anxiety. He knew all about prayer and care and love.


Last month, I attended a national church gathering called “It’s All About Love.” While

walking through long corridors, where dozens of organizations had tables filled with church

flyers and all kinds of merchandise, one brochure caught my attention. I’d seen it before, but

this time, it seemed to demand a new, long look. “Come and see,” it begins. Then it says, “We’re

becoming a church that looks and acts like Jesus.”


Friends, I believe you and I are called to look and act more like Jesus, to become more

like him. To do that, we, too, will need to be transfigured, to be changed, more and more, from

simply an image of God, which all people are, into something more: A likeness. To be more

Jesus-like. To live more of the kind of life Jesus wants us to live.


For me, that means I need to keep doing more than just seeing how fortunate, how

blessed, how privileged I am. Looking, acting and becoming more like Jesus means realizing

how easily my privilege puts me up - on a pedestal, on a platform, in a pulpit. I need to keep

learning how my platform of privilege, as one wise woman puts it, keeps me from coming down

my mountain and into the world most people inhabit every day.


Today’s Gospel hymn writer, Carolyn Gillette, asks, “How have you experienced Jesus’

presence at the bottom of the mountain, in the midst of human need?” My friends, Jesus is

here, in the midst of all our needs. The question is: How is God calling All Saints’ to become a

church that looks and acts, more and more, like Jesus?


~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg

Vicar

All Saints’ Episcopal Church

1508 S. White Station Road

Memphis,

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