By Rev. Jenn Tafel
This blog is adapted from a sermon preached, February 7, 2016, at St. John’s UCC in Owosso, Michigan. It was in honor of their Women’s Sunday celebration. It was also when the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus appeared in the reading cycle for this congregation.
Identifying as female is dangerous. It disrupts the narrative to which our country has grown accustomed. I mean the headlines are full of examples of this disruption—especially regarding the women who are running for president. What could be more disruptive to the established narrative than a woman in the White House, right?! Don’t worry—I’m not going to get super political. My point is that womanhood is dangerous—in all the best possible ways. It’s powerful. It’s disruptive.
For so long we’ve been referred to as the “fairer sex.” Maybe this is just a propaganda effort by those who feel threatened: the patriarchy. A statement implying that women are soft just doesn’t make sense because deep down we know the opposite is true. The system wants to dismantle who we are in hopes of maintaining power. Yes, there is a system at play—or a narrative and it’s important to realize how we’ve been socialized to accept the status quo (well, some of us have). That isn’t to say we should be let off the hook because of said systemization, but rather it’s important to understand the bigger picture of how belief systems are perpetuated beyond our individuality and as a collective. And maybe, just maybe this isn’t news and hopefully I’m preaching to the choir.
It was just as dangerous to identify as one of Jesus’ followers. The system in those times (Roman Empire) was set up against many and yet people still chose to follow Jesus. In droves. The movement was revolutionary. It was counter cultural then and it’s counter cultural now. And here we are over 2000 years later discussing this ancient movement across the globe. There is something attractive about it.
By the time we get to the story of the transfiguration in the Gospel of Luke, the ministry of Jesus was in full swing. He taught in the temple, read the Torah in synagogues, drove out demons, healed the sick, gave the sermon on the mount, fed the masses, taught parables, was rejected on the home front, and called his disciples and then sent them out to heal and teach. In this Gospel, Jesus is a powerful figure. Who wouldn’t want to be on board with this agent of change?
In this Gospel, the story just before the transfiguration is the confession of Peter—his acknowledgement of who Jesus is. We also hear the words, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”… and, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
This sets the stage for what comes next. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to reveal his true nature (in nothing short of a cosmic show). Why these three? Why not all twelve of his followers? Why not the five thousand he fed or all those he taught?
A commentary from my tradition reads:
…Why is it that this glory is revealed only to these three of the disciples? Did not the rest require this assurance and confirmation of their faith in Jesus? Did they not deserve it? The cause is spiritual. These three disciples represent the three cardinal graces, which, in a manner, include all the others, or to which they all belong. Peter, James, and John represent faith, charity, and good works. It was for this reason that these three were selected by the Lord to accompany him on particular occasions, and as one, and the most important, of these, on the occasion of the Lord’s transfiguration. This teaches us that those who are principled in faith, charity, and works are those who, after their trial in the vale of humiliation, are raised by the Lord into the mountain of his love and holiness, and there enabled to see the Lord in the splendor of his glory, in the divinity of his humanity.
This is an example of how an ancient story can apply to our lives in the 21st century. Let’s take a moment to reflect when we allow our souls to shine. What happens when we celebrate our relationship with the divine by giving of ourselves and helping others? Isn’t that transformative? It is for me. When I can get past the illusion of this world and tap into the feelings of the spiritual world—good things happen. It is a holy moment.
For me, the stories in Gospel that resonate the most are the ones when Jesus is healing and feeding. The ones where he nurtures others and helps them reclaim a sense of wholeness. Now, the Gospel of Luke is the one that reassures the followers of Jesus that they can exist in two kingdoms: that of Caesar’s and that of God’s. It was a real dilemma for many to make the choice to follow Jesus. In the Roman Empire, the people who followed Jesus would only be seen as a tax base, a slave—someone to do manual labor. A citizen of the empire meant you were seen for your earthly body and use for building up the Roman Empire. In God’s realm, a person is seen as a soul and a way to build up other souls—that is how the heavenly realm is built: helping one another. When my soul shines—I will help yours shine.
This is what it’s like when women help each other. As I said before, we are all part of a larger system at play. We, those of us identifying as women, know what it’s like to be shut out of the system, abused, neglected, harassed, and told that we aren’t as valuable as our male counterparts (still earning seventy-nine cents to their dollar). So why must we fight each other? It’s what the patriarchy would have us do—get distracted and participate in in-fighting instead of what our nature calls us to do: lift up each other and reclaim our wholeness and our power. That is the message from Christ today that is still relevant. My mentor said it’s like a swing dance of sorts—when I help you and swing you forward you pull me with you—it’s a form of spiritual evolution—we keep each other swinging forward. And here’s another spoiler alert—we all have this capacity within us whether we express as male, female, or trans. Our Christ-center is what calls us to nurture each other and ourselves. It’s not necessarily revolutionary so much as evolutionary. Let us go forward and help each other shine.
 Bruce, William. COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, 1866