August 6, 2017

 Transfiguration

 

Transfiguration Sunday - Year A

 

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger on August 6, 2017


 My oldest sister, who lives in Western Nebraska, wrote my sermon for me this week. She told me about the increase in bomb shelters that are being built. She had read that bomb shelters are being built at the same rate as they were in WW2. I did a little digging and found out that, indeed, there is an increase in the building of bomb shelters. The articles I found focused on luxury bomb shelters that cost as much as houses here in San Luis Obispo, but the article did reference the frenzy of activity around building bomb shelters in general. The main reason for the increase in bomb shelters is the threat of nuclear bombs from North Korea, and another reason cited was the political divisions across the country.


My sister posits that we should build
peace shelters instead of
bomb shelters.


I inserted into the conversation that the churches should be those peace shelters, and Shawn replied that our bodies should be the peace shelters. This profound philosophical idea comes from someone who has not been a churchgoer since high school and is re-examining the Christian faith in her late 50s. Forgive me for appearing uncharitable, but she lives in a part of the country where the typical Christian would find a biblical reason to continue to build bomb shelters and assert that war leads to peace. Her ideal of shifting from building bomb shelters to becoming peace shelters would not be welcomed by many of those around her.


As we commemorate Christ’s Transfiguration on the mountain, we think of ways that we as Christians, as humanity can be transfigured to be more like Christ. Whether the stories of The Transfiguration of Moses and of Jesus happened in history or not, they speak to us theologically about how we are to strive toward the holiness that is within us, imparted at our Baptism. Transfiguring our bodies to be peace shelters is a bold step in the right direction of the theology of The Transfiguration.


August 6 is the day of the
Transfiguration, but it is also
Hiroshima Day.


On August 6, 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Together, they killed up to 220,000 people. The never-before-seen destruction of the bombs effectively ended World War II, peace being declared only 24 days later. The War was over, and the world was now at peace.


There couldn’t be a better day to think about transfiguring our bomb shelter culture into a peace shelter culture. The irony of using the world’s deadliest bomb in order to bring peace is staggering, as much as the irony of dubbing WW1 “The war to end all wars”. The number of armed conflicts around the world since August 6, 1945 are too many to number. It may have stopped World War II, but it didn’t transform the world for peace.


A couple of months before the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United Nations charter was signed on March 1, 1945, expressing, among other ideals, a determination:

 

  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.


High ideals, indeed. And our Prayers of the People include, by reference, the work of the United Nations in their effort to strive for peace. As much as I highly value the United Nations, I sometimes smirk at the oxymoron of “UN Peace-keeping Forces”.


You know that I have a curious fascination with the drafters of the Sunday Lectionary. I wouldn’t want their job. However, I would consider the possibility of including either Isaiah 2:4 or Micah 4:3 alongside these Transfiguration stories. The two verses are almost identical:


He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


Both prophets are looking toward a time when God’s people move to a place of peace among all of God’s people – a time when we are transfigured from bomb shelters into peace shelters. This is a very powerful vision. Among the United Nations Art Collection is a piece entitled “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares”, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich. It was a gift from the Soviet Union and shows the figure of a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.


War and peace interestingly relate to the history of the Commemoration of The Transfiguration. It was formalized in the Eastern Church before 1000AD. In the Western Church, The Transfiguration wasn’t introduced for quite some time later. The celebration was formalized in 1457…and here’s the interesting bit. Callistus III, born Alfons de Borja – which may indicate his significance for those of you who know your history of Spain – was Pope for 3 years. He was the one who ordered the universal celebration of The Transfiguration. He chose the date because of a battle in which the Turks at Belgrade were overthrown on July 22, 1456, briefly staving off the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The news reached Rome on August 6. We also remember The Transfiguration on the Last Sunday of Epiphany. But August 6 is the universal date because of that battle in 1456.


The Transfiguration and
Hiroshima Day is a good day to
contemplate my sister’s assertion
that we should be peace shelters
instead of bomb shelters.


In the Gospel, we realize that the 3 disciples witness the glorification of Jesus. They then go forth from that experience strengthened to follow Jesus to His Crucifixion and to His glorification in the Resurrection and Ascension. We can follow Jesus to His proclamations of peace and love of all humanity.


Like our journey toward peace, The Transfiguration was not the fulfilment of a particular promise; it was establishing the anticipation of something greater that would come through Jesus’ Death, Resurrection and Ascension, and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. The life of Jesus as is illustrated to us in the Gospels draws us into the anticipation of the Kingdom of Heaven, in which there is infinite love and infinite peace, which Isaiah 2.4 and Micah 4.3 also point toward. As we consider being transfigured to be more like Jesus, we should consider how we transfigure our world from a bomb shelter culture to a peace shelter culture. The church should be one form of peace shelter, and we ourselves, our bodies another form of peace shelter. As we say in one of the Eucharistic Prayers, we ourselves are a living sacrifice – it is meant as the sacrifice of the offerings to God for the remission of sins, and can be easily interpreted as peace shelters.


My sister’s idea is not new, but it is profound. To change from building bomb shelters – real ones or metaphorical ones – into being peace shelters requires a transfiguration. It requires the shedding of old ways of being and thinking and adopting a new frame of reference.


As I said at the beginning, Shawn wrote my sermon for me. She concluded our conversation by boldly claiming,


“If everyone had a peace shelter
we wouldn't need bomb shelters.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace; God
is Love; everything else is just politics.”

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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