Forever Changed

Where is it that you want to be?

A better question: where is it that you hope to be?

Scratch that: where is it that God desires you to be?

Since the beginning of the year, we have been on a journey of faith. Each Sunday, I’ve been encouraging us to build a daily habit of prayer, of five minutes a day that brings each of us more in tune with God’s wavelength. Our new worship series cards outline those five minutes, if you want to take one with you.

So it’s time for our weekly check-in. How is it going? I have to say, my week was a pretty good one, again. That’s two in a row. Knock on wood, but I think I have figured out how to hack my habits so that prayer takes precedence, even over the lovely aroma of my morning dose of caffeine. How about you? Any patterns that you’ve noticed?

What arises for you in your prayers? What gets in the way? Any patterns? What about later in the day: is there anything different about the days you pray?

So where is it that God desires you to be?

I think that’s the ultimate destination of this journey. Praying daily to be stirred and brought to heightened awareness is a process of transformation, piece by piece, bit by bit, as we are brought ever closer to where it is that God calls us each to be.

It’s no accident that our two Scripture lessons speak of journeys this morning, treks up mountains to be in the presence of God. In the lesson from Exodus, the Israelites are in the middle of their extended journey – forty years, to be exact – of desert wandering. It is an extended time of transition, as an entire nation moves from a history of slavery to a future of promise.

Part of the legacy of the Exodus is the moral foundations the people are setting. If we know the whole story, we know that things go terribly awry down the road; but in these early days, it is promise and possibility that run high. What they are doing is building disciplines as they go, learning practices that could serve them well when their rootlessness is over. And now, Moses goes up into the cloud to meet with God and later return with the tablets of law, the central moral anchor, the covenant that binds God to God’s people.

When Moses later descends with the Ten Commandments, those became the focal point for this fledgling community. It will be a long time before they are settled, but these laws mark the beginning of society and an important turning point in their faith by mapping out their relationship with God and with one another.

What is your anchor? What is it that holds you firm in the midst of life’s storms? Are there relationships, people you cling to? Is it a mantra, a prayer that sustains you? Is it an idea, a promise that gives you hope, even in the most hopeless of times?

We could do worse than the Ten Commandments – and there are times when we do. Even the ancient Israelites, who had seen miracle after miracle after miracle, made that mistake. Even though God had delivered them and provided for them and saved them, they made the mistake of making Moses their focal point. So when he disappeared into the clouds of Mount Sinai for more than a month, they were unmoored, panicked, fearful. That’s when Aaron, Moses’ brother, cast a calf of gold for the people, a new god for them to worship.

When uncertainty rises, we are very much like those desert wanderers. We lean into transient, misguided senses of identity. We cast around for something else to give our devotion to. And it may not be as concrete as a golden calf, but when cornered, we can easily fall back into unhealthy, even self-destructive patterns – especially if we come from unhealthy, self-destructive backgrounds. Whether it’s the obvious danger of substance abuse or the quiet retreat of emotional withdrawal, our anchors suddenly become things not that hold us steady, but weigh us down and threaten to drown us.

As I see the headlines this morning, I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of what’s at work in Crimea right now. It certainly feels like Russia is falling back into old Soviet patterns of flexing military muscle. At the same time, as someone who grew up with the Cold War’s threats looming overhead, I can’t help but wonder if our own national instincts will move us forward or back.

In any case, the point in all of this is that we need to build healthy patterns, stable anchors, lasting shelters against life’s storms. And I am convinced, now more than ever, that a habit of prayer can do just that. If prayer becomes the thing that we have to do every day for our days to get on track, then when the going gets tough, it is prayer which will be our go-to, our practice that will hold us to God’s very self.

That desire to lose focus is potent, though. We see it in the ancient Israelites; we even see it in the disciples. They, too, journey up a mountain with Jesus. And they, too, have an encounter with God. Jesus is transformed before their eyes, with Moses and Elijah standing with him. Peter thinks he has found his new anchor, ready to build shrines right there on the mountaintop, stay there forever. That’s when the voice of God interrupts the fractured proceedings, bringing the focus back to Jesus himself: “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.” And then down the mountain they go.

I think the key is right there in the moment that Jesus is changed. It really is more than changed, and our calling this day Transfiguration Sunday is an effort to get at the heart of what really happened.

The Greek word that we translate “transformed” or “transfigured” is better rendered, if clumsily, as “metamorphosed”. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, there is something about being forever changed even while our essence remains the same. Those cells within us, our created essence, are still what God crafted us to be. At the same time, we are called more and more to that holiness that lies within each of us. And it matters! It matters a lot! Even as God’s love is unconditional, our desire to become more and more what God has created us to be sets the tone. It sets the tone for our own lives. It sets the tone for our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our neighbors, our communities. As they see how we are changed forever, they, too, can know that the same possibility exists for them – indeed, for this whole messed up, beloved world!

You see, those words that echo down from the cloud – about Jesus being a beloved Son of God – they apply to us, too. We are God’s beloved children. We are! No matter what you might think about yourself, no matter how high or low that might be, no matter what you may feel you hide, no matter what you might fear is obvious to everyone who sees you, God sees all of this.

And still, God’s voice calls down from the clouds: “This is, you are, my child. I love you dearly! I know you better than anyone. I know what you are capable of, both for good and for ill. And I know what I created you to be. You have my holy spark within you. You are my dearly beloved child. You bring me more pleasure than you know!”

Can you hear these words? Can you believe them? Can you know them? Can you trust them?

It is only in prayer that these words can ring clear. Silence can be a fearsome thing for us. It’s no wonder we fill our lives up with noise. And yet, silence can also be the channel where we are saved from ourselves.

What is that silence calling you to do? Where is it that you want to be? Where is it that you hope to be? Where is it that God desires you to be?

Know this: you are God’s beloved child! And wherever that destination is, God is already there, waiting for you, beckoning you, calling you to a life where you will be forever changed!