The Power to Change
Many people look back at their days in high school with great fondness, others with great sadness, and others would actually like to remember what happened. For me, it was a mixed bag, some good, some bad, some I can’t quite place even after nearly thirty years. My senior year was momentous for many reasons – the beginning of the gulf war, launch of the Hubble Telescope, the end of the Soviet Union – but more for a certain change that happened over Christmas break between December 22, 1990 and January 7, 1991.
During that two week break there were a number of my fellow classmates who underwent a momentous change, a reinvention if you will. This reinvention started though, some 2,600 miles away on the opposite side of the country, when those students were in middle school. A man named Bruce Pavitt founded the record label Sub Pop in 1985, named after his music fanzine called Subterranean Pop. He would go on to sign a stable of Seattle music artists that would eventually change not only the music world but shape the culture of the early nineties.
I got a first hand look at this the first day back from winter break. There were a couple of kids that were like me, on the periphery of social life, that came back very different. Apparently, their Christmas lists must have included the Sub Pop music collection which they not only listened to but adopted as a way of life. It wasn’t just their clothes that changed, it was their attitude, their mannerisms, their entire personas. They were not the people I had gone to school with for the previous twelve years. They had reinvented themselves and were hardly recognizable from what they had been.
As we look at this week’s scripture, we see a change in Jesus that shows Peter, James, and John a side of Jesus they had not truly known of seen until that moment. As we have read, Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray with Peter, James, and John. Dorothy Lee puts it this way,
In the transfiguration story, images of light and glory, shining clothes and face, transformation and revelation, all point to God’s future kingdom. Its occurrence takes place on the mountain, the boundary between heaven and earth, “the outskirts of heaven”.
As in other great moments of prayer with Jesus, the disciples begin to get sleepy and I imagine them stumbling over their prayers while trying to keep their heads up. And just as it seems they will give in to a nap, something wakes them up, something mysterious. As human beings, we long for the mysterious; we sense, feel it, know it when we come into its vicinity. The disciples fight back their sleep and find themselves staring up the mountain to see Jesus “the appearance of his face changed,” and “his clothes became dazzling white”. But that’s not all. To the left and right of Jesus are Moses, the one entrusted with Israel’s laws, and Elijah, the greatest of all Israel’s prophets, both shining with the same glory as Jesus and speaking to Jesus about his future journey to Jerusalem.
The Jesus they have known is not the Jesus they know now. They have seen his glory. And this glory is unlike anything they know. “The glory of God is the paradoxical opposite of all human glory: light revealed in darkness, triumph through defeat, greatness expressed in lowliness, freedom expressed in obedience, life through death.” And these disciples have seen it, the glory of God surrounding the giver of the law, the greatest of the prophets, and the one who unites law and word as the Word, the living embodiment of God in the person of Jesus the Christ.
This glory is not unheard of in the story of Luke. If we read the entire gospel, it happens three times: the baptism of Jesus (3:21-22), the Transfiguration (9:28-35), and finally, in the Resurrection (24:1-12). In each case, Jesus is changed, altered by God for the next phase of his mission. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus to empower him for the ministry he will do over the next few years. In the Transfiguration, Jesus is prepared for the mission of the cross, a preparation to endure the complete agony of body, soul, and spirit suspended between heaven and earth. “Jesus entered the way of suffering, and exactly in that way he entered, expressed, revealed the heart, the glory of the self-giving God.” Finally, there is the glory of the resurrection. “Two men in dazzling clothes” appear before “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” who have gone to check on the body of Jesus. They say that the Jesus the women are looking for “is not here, but has risen,” and is now with God the father in eternal glory. Now, with God, Jesus acts as high priest and intercessor on our behalf, “the mediator of a new covenant,” “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”
As God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, changed Jesus throughout his life for each part of his ministry, so God changes us, emotionally and spiritually, to prepare us for the ministry he has for us. “The consequence of Jesus’ metamorphosis [his change] is the transformation of believers.” We who have answered God’s call to be disciples are constantly begin changed even in the minutest of ways through our prayers, our study, our experiences, our reason, our every waking moment and interaction with God and all that he has created. Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We become disciples to become agents of change, disciples who live into the change that God has made, is making, and will make in our lives so that others may see the work of God in us and seek to become disciples themselves. Our bishop, Johnathan Holston, recently said, “The church was not created for our pleasure; it was created for God’s purpose. And for United Methodists, that means remaining steadfast in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That transformation, transfiguring, changing, whatever word you want to use to describe the process by which we are being made into the image of Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, is the process that grows the church.
When the news came down from general conference that the traditional plan had been adopted, many people were elated; others were saddened. Yet one thing remains true no matter what side of the issue you find yourself on: we are all called to a life of transformation into the likeness of Jesus that we may become and make disciples for the greater Church of Jesus the Christ. Believe the change. Become the change. Be agents of change.
Conzelmann, Hans. The Theology of St. Luke. Translated by Geoffrey Buswell. New York: Harper Row Publishing, 1961.
Craddock, Fred B. Luke – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Kang, S. Steve, and Michael Feldman. “Transformed by the Transfiguration: reflections on a biblical understanding of transformation and its implications for Christian education.” Christian Education Journal 10, no. 2 (2013): 365-377.
Lee, Dorothy A. “On the holy mountain: the transfiguration in scripture and theology.” Colloquium 36, no. 2 (2004): 143-159.
Luther, Donald J. “The Mystery of the Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-36 (37-43).” Word & World 21, no. 1 (2001): 92-102.
Talley, David L. The Transfiguration Is Amazing…But What Can We Learn From It? 06 08, 2015. https://www.biola.edu/blogs/good-book-blog/2015/the-transfiguration-is-amazing-but-what-can-we-learn-from-it (accessed 02 27, 2019).
 (Lee 2004, p.150-151)
 (Luther 2001, p.94)
 Luke 9:29
 (Luther 2001, p.95)
 (Luther 2001, p.96)
 (Luther 2001, p.96)
 Luke 24:4
 Luke 24:10
 Luke 24:5
 Hebrews 9:15
 Hebrews 9:24
 (Lee 2004, p.154)
 Romans 12:1-2
 L. Johnathan Holston, Bishop, South Carolina Conference UMC | https://www.umcsc.org/bishop-holstons-statement-following-2019-general-conference/?fbclid=IwAR0EhXT4gAmXGCAtq4dsUfm01uao8yLHS41t1c63FOENETzgJ0A1patmYQc