Sermon for August 6, 2023 | The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
On this day in 1945, an American B-29 airplane dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in southwestern Japan, an action authorized by President Harry Truman. Survivors of the bombardment said that they saw a dazzling white light, heard a loud sound from the heavens, and witnessed the formation of cloud, looking like a mushroom. Sixteen hours later, the Truman administration announced the bombing to the American people, noting that Hiroshima was a primarily a military target. Soon thereafter, the same administration indicated that there was little if any radiation detected on the ground. What the president failed to mention was a Japanese appeal, through diplomatic channels, for a peaceful surrender prior to August 6. What the president failed to mention was that Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur and Admirals Leahy and Halsey opposed the use of this weapon of mass destruction, as did many of the scientists who worked on the creation of the bomb thinking that it would be exploded away from the Japanese people in order to demonstrate its devastating power without loss of human life. What the American people did not know was that Hiroshima was primarily a civilian center and that radiation poisoning had killed 60,000 Japanese civilians in addition to the 70,000 who were vaporized from the bomb’s explosion. And then there is this: some years later, President Truman said that the real reason for dropping the atomic bomb and doing so twice was to intimidate the Russians and declare American prominence in the new world order that was emerging at the conclusion of the war.
On this beautiful summer morning, you might wonder – and wonder rightly – why we should begin with this lamentable story of death and destruction. Consider, then, that we encounter in the gospel another dazzling light, a cloud, and a loud sound from the heavens. And while the light and the cloud appeared to startle the disciples, “terrify them,” says Luke, please note that it did not bring death and destruction. Two dazzling lights then, two clouds, and two sounds from the heavens: one bringing devastation and untold suffering; the other revealing life, health, and wholeness for humankind, indeed, for the whole creation.
What might just peak our interest are the words spoken by the voice from the heavens: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” Listen to him. Kindly note, dear friends, that the voice did not say, “Listen to Herod Antipas,” the ruler of the Galilee, the homeland of Jesus. The voice did not say, “Listen to Pontius Pilate,” the Roman governor of Judea who ordered the execution of Jesus. Nor did the voice say, “Listen to the emperor,” the supreme political officer of Israel and all other lands conquered by Rome with brutal and devastating force. No, the voice simply said: “Listen to my Chosen one.” Listen to the One who brings you light and thus life.
What we do not hear in today’s gospel is what happens next. Jesus descends Mount Tabor and encounters a father desperate for his company. The father’s son is tormented by what the father thinks is a spirit that causes the young boy to convulse, hurt himself, and foam at the mouth. Imagine if you were the parent of this tormented child. “Bring you son here,” Jesus says to the distraught man, and then, writes Luke, he rebukes the spirit, heals the boy, and gives him back to his father. With this One who is clothed in dazzling light, there is only healing, not atomic burning; only life restored, not ended; only mercy, not destruction.
Of course, the voice from heaven speaks to you and to me: “Listen to my Chosen one. Listen to Jesus.” Follow this Light first. Let his life, his actions, his words shape your life, actions, and words. But that is no easy thing to do, is it? For we are surrounded by and subject to a torrent of voices who seek a hearing in our hearts and minds each and every day. And in the midst of this torrent of voices, there is always the possibility that they will attempt to deceive us by withholding the full truth from us or by lying to us in order to gain our trust, our vote, our cash, our loyalty. Let me say, it is no easy thing to live as a Christian who listens first to the voice of Jesus. For this One invites us to the strangest, the most challenging of practices.
Love your enemies … Do good to those who hate you … Give to those who ask you, expecting no repayment … Seek forgiveness, not revenge … Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.
It is one thing to commend ourselves for being a friendly parish and a welcoming people who aspire to a greater inclusivity. All that is good and needed, though let me point out that colleges, brew pubs, city offices, and the Rotarians make the very same claim about themselves. It is something different, dear friends, something different to live into an ethic that is not heard among the many voices who ask for a hearing in our hearts and minds: an ethic that welcomes the Spirit of peace to find a welcome home in our hearts and minds and thus in our work for peace. Amen.