As the Foundry family moves into 2022, we turn our collective face toward the star of Bethlehem, God’s shining guidance that leads us to Jesus. Our Wesleyan spiritual tradition teaches that spiritual practices—both personal and communal—are wise ways to make the journey. We are accompanied on the path by traveling companions with whom we serve, study, share, struggle, and dream. As we seek to draw nearer to Christ Jesus, supporting one another along the way, and with Spirit always nudging and encouraging us, the promise is that our own lives will begin to shine with the love and mercy of our Savior.
You’re a Firework!
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC February 27, 2022, Transfiguration Sunday. The last sermon in our “Shine On!” series.
Text: Luke 9:28-43
It is common on Transfiguration Sunday for preachers to focus on what the disciples experience on the mountaintop—the way Jesus’ face and clothes “dazzlingly” change and the appearance of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about his upcoming “departure.”
But today I want to focus on the next part of the story, what happened when they’d come down from the mountain. Evidently, while Jesus was busy praying and preparing for his exodos (ἔξοδος, Greek for departure or death), a man brought his son to the disciples who’d remained in the valley, desperate that they should save the child. But they couldn’t do it. Jesus was, to put it lightly, disappointed—in a way that may seem harsh. After all, disciples of Jesus aren’t…Jesus. I’ve often heard it’s not fair to say that we are expected to live, love, or serve like Jesus since Jesus had the whole “God-human” thing going for him. But that’s a cop out.
Because Jesus was clear that his disciples were to follow directly in his footsteps. At the beginning of the chapter we read from today you’ll find, “Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Lk 9:1-2) And then, when more than 5,000 people who’d gathered to hear some good news and receive healing got hungry, the disciples wanted to send them away. But Jesus said to the disciples, “you feed them.” And in the chapter following our story today, Jesus appoints 70 more to go out and proclaim the Kin-dom and heal! (Lk 10:1,9)
Recently as part of my spiritual practice for Black History Month, I’ve been drawing inspiration from the wisdom of Marian Wright Edelman, human and children’s rights activist, founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund, and a part of the Foundry family for many years. She says this: “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back—but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.”
In this moment when a new war has broken out, racial, economic, and environmental injustice continues to thrive, divisions grow wider and more fortified, and shadows of helplessness and hopelessness threaten to overtake us—the voice of God speaks from a different kind of shadow, the overshadowing cloud at the mountaintop, and calls us to listen to Jesus! And again and again, in a variety of ways, Jesus says to us: It’s up to you. YOU are called to proclaim in word and deed the good news of God’s Kin-dom and to be an agent of healing grace for bodies and spirits. Jesus knew he was not long for this world. He knew he would be gone. And he started saying it early: it is up to you! You feed them. You heal the suffering children… You proclaim love and justice… You stand up to the bullies and tyrants… You heal, mend, and make gentle this bruised world. Jesus honors disciples through the ages, honors each one of us saying, “I’m going away—don’t wait for me to come down the mountain or wait for me or any other leader to return before you get to the particular work that is yours to do. You are made to reflect the life of God, to embody the love of God, to shine with the courage, peace, and hope of God just like me.”
On this transfiguration Sunday, we see a “dazzling” Jesus on the top of the mountain. The word translated “dazzling” is the Greek exastraptó which means “to flash or gleam like lightning, be radiant.” And all the stories surrounding this mountaintop moment reveal to us a very important truth: Jesus isn’t the only one made to dazzle, to gleam like lightning, to shine.
To reflect the life of God and truly dazzle in the way of Jesus doesn’t just happen. That has been a theme for our reflection since the beginning of January. We began this season of Epiphany focused on the light of the star that shines on our path as we seek the Holy One. I said, “The nearer you are to the beating heart of God’s love and life, the more you will ‘come alive’ (as Howard Thurman says), the more you will shine with God’s love.” We gathered the next week to remember our baptismal covenant, and to celebrate that by the grace of God we are siblings of Jesus, part of the “Beloved” clan, and incorporated into the mighty works of God’s saving love and mercy in the world. And each Sunday following, we have reflected on the practices that make up our covenant with one another in this community: prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We have been reminded that all these practices are ways we grow in grace and in capacity to live, love, and serve like Jesus. We don’t do any of it alone. Spirit empowers and guides us, and we support one another on the way.
I’ve been hearing from some that having been separated from congregational life and the habit of regular worship, things feel strange upon return, the weirdness of what we do and how we do it (compared to everything else in the world) is set in stark relief. I’ve been told that folk find themselves asking whether there’s any point to regular engagement in a spiritual community. What possible difference does it make in a moment of tragedy and madness such as this one? I understand this. And I wonder what I’d be feeling and doing were I not in the role and vocation I inhabit.
But I must say that the Wesleyan way of personal and social holiness and transformation, of disciplined practices with an emphasis on grace, of insistence upon authentic connection with others who share the path—this Way of living faith, hope, and love makes a difference. It can be a life-sustaining resource in moments when we are on the edge, in grief, or suffering. It can form and inform persons who understand that it’s up to us to carry and shine the light of God’s love and justice in our lives and in the world—wherever we are and through whatever means are available to us. It can strengthen us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. I am persuaded that our life together matters, our communal witness matters, our best efforts—even when we aren’t at our best—matter.
I know this may feel exhausting since the realities of the world are so heavy. The disciples didn’t think they could do what they were called to do. They didn’t realize yet that we have all been made to dazzle, to “gleam like lightning.” And as I’ve struggled myself over the past weeks (and months) to hold on to Jesus’ call to be brave, to be hopeful, to be and to share myself fully with and for others, to keep showing up and doing what I can where I can, I’ve drawn energy and encouragement of all of you, from the resources of our shared faith and life…and from a song released by Katy Perry almost 12 years ago but timeless in its message. It feels to me like Gospel:
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind
Wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin
Like a house of cards
One blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep?
Six feet under screams, but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you
You just gotta ignite the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
'Cause, baby, you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go, "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky
Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go, "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe
Jesus calls us and gives us the grace to be a firework, to dazzle. “It’s always been inside of you, you, you. And NOW it’s time to let it through.” The world needs us to shine. And Jesus believes we’re able. So what are you waiting for? Shine on together, my friends, SHINE ON!