Some of you may remember the comic strip called Calvin and Hobbes, which follows a young boy named Calvin and his talking tiger, named Hobbes. In a series of strips, the creator of the comic, Bill Watterson, plays with the idea of a transmogrifier, which starts out with Calvin coming up to Hobbes and asking him if he wants to see his transmogrifier. Hobbes, getting off the swing he was sitting on, follows Calvin and says, “I didn’t even know you had a transmogrifier,” to which Calvin responds, “I just got it.” When they get to the device, Calvin explains that “You step into this chamber, set the appropriate dials, and it turns you into whatever you’d like to be,” while pointing at the device. Hobbes, a little less than impressed, responds, “It’s amazing what they do with corrugated cardboard these days.” And Calvin responds, “Isn’t it?”
For a few episodes after that, Calvin is turning himself into whatever he wants. At one point, he’s a tiger, at another a dinosaur, and at one point, Hobbes makes a mistake with the dials and turns Calvin into a frog.
For those of you who’ve spent any length of time in liturgical churches, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, doesn’t the Last Sunday in the Epiphany always deal with the TransFIGURATION of Christ? I think Mike has his words mixed up.”
And you would be right – at least about the Last Sunday in the Epiphany always dealing with the Transfiguration of Christ.
The Gospel today tells us that Jesus took Peter, John and James with him as he went up to the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face change and his clothes became dazzling white. Then Moses and Elijah came and talked to him about what he would accomplish in Jerusalem in the coming days. The three disciples were confused, and Peter even said they could build some dwellings for the three men without really knowing what he was saying.
As he’s saying this, a cloud descended <arm movements> from heaven and overshadowed them, and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Despite this display of God’s glory to the disciples, we see that they didn’t fully understand what they had seen, and kept quiet about it.
Why would they do that? Keep quiet about such a display of God’s Glory?
We get our answer from Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, which you can find in your bulletin.
It’s fairly obvious from this passage that Paul can sometimes be confusing. He uses imagery and metaphors that at first glance don’t seem to make much sense, and this passage isn’t any different.
When Paul talks about a veil, he is telling us that people’s hearts and minds are kept from understanding God’s glory and understanding Christ as the Son of God. They have a mental block that keeps them from seeing God’s glory in it’s fullness. What’s more, Paul shifts gears and suddenly starts talking about how even though we – as Christians – do not have that veil or mental block – we still only see God’s glory in part. He does this by invoking the image of a mirror.
In Paul’s time, a mirror would not be like what we have today, instead, it would have been a highly polished piece of metal, either bronze or silver, and the image that was reflected would be less than fully clear.
In this, Paul is making two points. One is that we ourselves do not fully understand God’s revelation, and that is why we sometimes don’t understand all of what God intends for this world and for us. The second is that we ourselves are being “transformed into the same image [of Christ] from one degree of glory to another.” And what he means by that is that we ourselves are being transformed into the reflection of Christ in this world. Or, more to the point, we are to be the reflection of Christ to the world around us; and we can only do that when God reveals Himself to us and removes any veil of misunderstanding that might block us from fully understanding His Glory.
It also means that our lack of understanding of God can provide a poor reflection of Christ to the world around us.
<Lift up the mirror with all veils covering it.>
When people look at us, do they see the reflection of Christ? Or do they see an image of God veiled by our own agendas, our own lack of understanding of God’s grace, or our own decisions as to who can fully participate in God’s plans in His ministry to and in the world around us?
Let’s jump back to Calvin and Hobbs for a moment. Wouldn’t a Transmogrifier be nice? To transform into something new by stepping into a device and turning the appropriate dials to become what we wish to become? I for one, would really like a Transmogrifier.
But Paul tells us this is not how it works. Instead, we are transformed from one degree of Glory to another. As God reveals Himself to us, the veil is lifted from our lack of understanding and we are transformed into a more perfect reflection of Christ.
Transmogrification is simply the act or process of being transformed from one form to another, and while Calvin had a cardboard box that turned him into whatever he wanted to turn himself into, Paul talks about how we are transformed from glory to glory, into what God wants us to be.
Let’s look at a few examples of transformation from scripture.
From Paul’s own life, we see that he had been persecuting Christians, and seeking them out to have them killed. Then, as he was traveling to Damascus, Christ appeared to him in his glory telling him that it was Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. Paul was struck blind. After three days Ananias came to Paul – even though Ananias didn’t really want to – and told him that Jesus had sent him to Paul that Paul might be filled with the Holy Spirit. At that moment, something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. And Paul realized “I am accepted. I am loved, despite what I might have done before.”
Do we realize this amazing gift? The joy that comes from that alone should turn us into a more clear reflection of Christ. And by accepting that we more clearly reflect Christ’s Love for all the world. Through God’s revelation to him, a veil that clouded Paul’s understanding was removed and he more fully reflected God’s glory to the world.
From the life of Peter, we know that Peter had a dream of animals that were unclean for Jews to eat, and God told him that what he had declared clean, no one should declare unclean. Shortly thereafter, Peter was called to Caesarea by a man named Cornelius, a gentile. Peter told Cornelius that Jewish law forbade Jews to associate with Gentiles, but that God had revealed to him that no one should be called impure or unclean. After telling the gentiles gathered at Cornelius’ house about Jesus’s death and resurrection, the gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and Peter realized that God’s love was not just for the Jews, but for all people.
While for Peter the distinction might have been between Jews and Gentiles, for us in our time, the distinction might be between Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats, United Methodists and Episcopalians.
Our job is clearly defined: Love God, and love your neighbor.
And our neighbor is everyone.
You may disagree with your neighbor, you may even argue with them and try to convince them that your understanding of God is the correct one. But never forget that God loves you, and God also loves that irritating neighbor of yours who just can’t seem to get it through their thick head that you are right. God loves them even if you think that their reflection of Christ is a poor one, obscured by several layers of veils and misunderstandings.
Remember also that Peter had been on the mountain with Jesus and seen his transfiguration, and it still took this vision for him to understand that God’s gift is for everyone, not just the Jews, and that God loves everyone. When this veil was lifted from Peter’s mind, he more clearly reflected Christ’s love in this world.
<Lift veil two.>
Finally, we see the followers of Jesus holed up in an upstairs apartment in Jerusalem after his crucifixion. We are told that they were up there for fear of the Jews – <pause> – if a wonderful and powerful teacher like Jesus could be crucified by the authorities, then what would happen to someone like them, who merely followed his teachings? We know that Christ gave them the Holy Spirit, and because of that the Apostles went out into the world to share the news of Christ to all they met, so that even we could hear about it all these centuries later.
And remember that among these disciples hidden away in that upstairs room were James, John, and Peter, who had seen Christ transfigured before them. It took yet another revelation of God to remove the veil of misunderstanding from their eyes and allow them to move beyond their fear and act upon what God revealed to them that day. And when God did so, they more fully reflected God’s glory to the world around them.
<Lift veil three>
Now, definitely, these transformations are incredible revelations of God. We are unlikely to experience such mighty acts of revelation in our own lives today.
But they still happen, they just happen on a smaller scale. And only if we are open to the possibility.
On your bulletins today, you will see the words “Experience God, transform the world.” I can tell you two things that are true. The first truth is that this church has multiple avenues for you to experience God, from Bible Studies, to Fr. Fred’s forum, to volunteering for one of our many ministries. Each of these opportunities allows God to reveal Himself to you more fully. And the second truth is that it is entirely impossible to transform the world if we do not take the revelation we have received of God’s glory out into the world around us.
We are entering into Lent, and often we use Lent to as a means to deny ourselves some simple pleasures, or to stick to a diet or exercise plan.
As we enter into this Lenten season, I urge you to consider using these 40 days of Lent as your virtual Transmogrifier not to adjust some dials and turn yourself into something that you wish to become, but that you ask God to reveal His glory to you in some new way, so that He can transform you into what He wants you to be.
I guarantee that God will answer that prayer.
He will provide the revelations that will transform each of us into what He wants for us: a transformation into his likeness, which is the reflection of His Love, His Love for all people.
What do people see when they look at us?
Is it a clear reflection of Love?
<Put all three veils back.>
Or is it something else?[This sermon was delivered at Christ the King Episcopal Church in Tucson, AZ on March 3, 2019. Listen Here.]