Epiphany Last/Transfiguration C, 2019
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
The Rev. Dr. Kathy Dunagan
O. M. G!
I’m sure you have heard that phrase a lot. I’ve been listening and watching the evolution of this phrase for about 20 years. I am fascinated with the way that we use this particular acronym in our culture. So I want to bend your ears for a moment on what exactly we mean when we say, “Oh. My. God.”
When I first heard Kate begin to throw the phrase around, she was about 6 years old and usually used it with a squeal, sing-songy tone for overemphasis of drama, she was 6. I asked her nicely, “Honey, don’t say that.” I told her that it was taking the Lord’s name in vain and that her excuse of, “everybody does it, mom” was not good enough. She tried to not say it around me, after that but she really didn’t change her ways. Why should she? She’s right. It is in the vernacular and it does not offend most people. Perhaps it should offend though. Perhaps we should fight that cause more fervently than I did. But, too, perhaps that would be a loosing battle at this point in time and there are more important battles to fight than to die in that ditch. Maybe. Maybe not.
Today’s Gospel lesson is the story of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is a strange story and difficult to understand. Most preachers would rather explain the Trinity to you than this. Jesus took three of his disciples one day, Peter, James and John, and hiked up a mountain. Then he was transformed before them. Most interpretations of this are that his body changed in some way it is clear that his garments were extremely white. The greek word used (in the original Markan version) is Metamorph, which literally means, “to change (something) into a completely different appearance.”
Why did Jesus do this? - and more importantly, why was it that only these three of his disciples were allowed to see it and why were they told to tell no one? Why bother with such a glorious miracle if you’re only going to keep it a secret?
Maybe it was too much for the others at the time and would have overwhelmed the rest of the community too for them to tell about it. Maybe it would rush the ending of the story by freaking out those who wanted to kill him to and they might have jumped ahead to the crucifixion before the chance for some more healings, exorcisms and a last supper. Maybe he still had some work to do before the cross. There are 12 more chapters of teaching and miracles in Luke. Maybe he couldn't help it, you know, like trying to hide a late term pregnancy or a significant weight loss. Sometimes you just can’t help but glow!
But the disciples did tell, eventually, after the resurrection, as instructed. And they wrote it down, and to this day we are baffled a bit by this image of Jesus becoming transfigured and glowing more white than any could create with earthly efforts.
So, we are left to imagine what it might have felt like to climb that particular holy mountain that particular holy day and see that particular holy event and as I have imagined this this week, I think that if I had been there I would very likely have dropped my jaw and only been able to utter one phrase.
Oh. My. God.
It’s funny to me how much we use that phrase and how easily our culture has moved away from thinking it an abomination. I ask myself times when I have said it aloud, or even thought it, and recall that I most likely said OMG when seeing footage of catastrophes like hurricane Katrina, Tsunamis, or the huge earth quake in Haiti ten years ago. It was all that would come to mind when realizing such devastation.
I also said these words, which honestly, I still try not to say, but I have said them at times when I head the news of violent catastrophes like mass shootings, terroristic bombings or jumbo jets being flown into tall buildings.
Many times I did not say “oh my god.” I did not say it when I held my baby for the first time. I did not say it when I have enjoyed the beauty of a sunset or full moon or the flight of a bird.
I have said “oh my god” when excited about some new possession like a new car, house or cute outfit.
The point of not saying “oh my god” in such flippant ways as are usually used in text messaging is that it is, or was at one time, considered blasphemous, a breaking of the third commandment.
“Thou shalt not use the Lord’s name in vain.”
When I was a kid we were told that to use the Lord’s name in vain was the unforgivable sin. This never really made sense to me for several reasons. One is that, maybe after a slip and saying something like “oh my god,” lightening did not strike. Life went on. And, since God doesn’t really have a name anyway what name are we supposedly using in vain? For that matter, what is vain treatment of a name? I mean, we don’t go around saying curse YHWH, or down with Jehovah or darn that Elohim, or threaten Adonai (literally "my lords”) nor do we swear against the one who is called “I Am.” These are all words and phrases that were made up by the early Hebrew people in order to avoid calling our God by any particular name because of the belief that God deserves such reverence that even calling God by any name at all would be risky business.
When pressed about his name, God told Moses, just call me “I Am.” Elijah called God Yahweh. Elijah’s name itself means literally, “My God is Yahweh.” So, he also had a name that meant in essence, “no name.”
To use the name of God in any promise, oath, or vow was, until relatively recently considered an unbreakable vow. That is to say, if you broke an oath including reference to God, your life as you knew it would end. Perhaps, at least, you would get a bad reputation for being untrustworthy.
Oaths in antiquity were considered equal with conjuring and blaspheming. You either swore to those who could hear you and record your oath that you are or will be truthful or you used similar use of naming the divine to call forth spirits, magical spells or you just cursed it all.
Until the 18th century people were still executed in Christian cultures for committing blasphemy.
My great, great grandfather, David Xavier Junkin, a presbyterian minister who lived in Pennsylvania before the Civil War, published a book on the importance of the oath. In Rev. Junkin’s day, a man would stake his life on his word. Rev. Junkin’s book was titled: The Oath a Divine Ordinance and an Element of the Social Constitution. I doubt anyone cares about that any more, though some historical group decided both of his books were worth a reprint and that is how I came to own a recent copy.
We have had some strange weather lately but we enjoyed a couple of sunny days this week. On one of them, while walking Prancer around the church property, I felt that my eyes were suddenly opened to the coming of Spring! It wasn’t just the sun shine, but I saw crocuses, daffodils and even tulips coming up and I even saw a flock of Robins scrounging for worms in our neighbor’s yard.
I was shocked and upset. I wanted to shout “Oh, my god!” but didn’t. Still, I fear winter is far from over and snow will come soon and kill my favorite flowers. I wanted to tell them to go back under ground, to stop growing! “You’ll get killed out here! It’s not safe!”
Don’t worry. I didn’t yell at the flowers. No one will call you complaining about your crazy priest.
But, unlike most of us, I am not ready for Spring yet. And I worry that our seasons have gotten too off kilter. But I had an epiphany at that moment. As I watched those Robins and Tulips coming up I realized that I should be shouting - but not to stop Spring. These are the times we should shout Oh, my God!” - when S;pring comes early, when babies are born, when wars end, when relationships are reconciled, when the hungry are fed, the fearful comforted, the weak encouraged, the sick healed. The list goes on and on. These are the times we should shout “Oh my God!” because these are the moments in life when the glory of God is seen just as clearly as those three disciples saw the very face of God glowing that day at the Transfiguration.
The glory of God shines all around us, all the time. We didn’t miss the Transfiguration and there is no need to keep it a secret. The glory of God shines in the faces of everyone, all the time, all around us. It just takes some mindfulness to notice.
Seeing the glory of God in the face of everyone. Yes. That is what I just said. But that’s impossible, right? I mean, to see the glory of God in the innocent and beautiful face of a baby, or a child or a graduate or a winner of some honor, that’s doable. But to see the glory of God in the faces of our enemies, or those we see as evil, that’s not possible, right? Did the faces of Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Manson or Saddam Hussein glow with the glory of God? How far do we take the commandment to love our enemies?
Jesus says, all the way. Jesus calls us to seek the glory of God in the glowing faces all around us. If we can seek Christ in all persons, if we can respect the dignity of every human being, if we can love, forgive, and hope for all persons, then we can see that glory. We just have to take off our blinders.
Jesus changed the law by revealing in the world the light of love. That Peter, James and John saw him transfigured is not so weird when you realize that all of this love that Jesus bestows on us is glowing, glowing in the light of love. We know this. We know that we are changed by this love and we know about glowing too, we all have felt that glow in our Christian journeys. All we are called to do, my friends, is to share that love. We are not expected to light up like stadium lights, like Jesus did on the mountain that day. We are only expected to keep the light, this little light of mine, this little light of yours, this light of love that shines through us from our encounter with the glory of God in Jesus.
Then, through this sharing, our eyes will be opened to the glory of God in all places, and faces, and all of life.