The Rev. Melanie McCarley
In 2002, the actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who was then 43 years old, made the bold (some might say foolhardy) decision to pull back the curtain on airbrushing (the art of touching up photographs). She agreed to be photographed for a magazine spread, but only if the photographer, Andrew Eccles, would also shoot her with no makeup, no manicure, no hair styling, wearing only an exercise bra and underwear.
What resulted was a photograph of a smiling--43 year old woman--who looked--43 years old. Most remarkable of all--she was sporting something of a muffin top above her underwear--can you believe it. Curtis said: “There’s a reality to the way I look without my clothes on….I don’t have great thighs. I have big breasts and a soft, fatty little tummy. And I’ve got back fat. People assume that I’m walking around in little spaghetti-strap dresses. …. Glam Jamie, the Perfect Jamie, the great figure, blah, blah, blah. And I don’t want the unsuspecting forty-year-old women of the world to think that I’ve got it going on. It’s such a fraud.” (Yahoo.com)
And the fashion world was rocked. Praise be to God. Today, Jamie Lee Curtis is 64 years old--and she looks great. She also looks 64--wrinkles, gray hair and all. I mention this, on Transfiguration Sunday, because there are so many people who beseech us insistently to see themselves as more glorious than they really are: Actors, certainly--but also politicians, athletes and CEOs--all sorts of people who want us to know that they are the best at what they do and who they are. On top of this, we now have Influencers and AI to contend with as well. Self-marketing is big business--and, more often than not is about editing--be that photoshopping, plastic surgery, hiring a pr firm, establishing a website, manipulating content, etcetera. It’s so insidious, it’s hard to know what’s real any more. So, when we see a picture that is clearly untouched--well, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s real--it’s authentic.
And that’s what the Transfiguration is about--authenticity--what is truly real. Here comes Jesus, who (in the words of Nancy Rockwell) “never wanted a palace, never wore silks, never got his face engraved on any money, never fell into or out of love, at least not as far as we know…. He told his friends he could teach them about God and their own belovedness. (He spoke about things familiar to everyone--not just the rich and powerful) He talked about fish in nets, about sheep in fields, about the seeds farmers sowed, and yeast in a woman’s hands.”
Jesus touched the blind, lepers, a woman with a sick child and a Roman centurion in despair for his dying daughter. He also associated with a number of prostitutes and a woman with five husbands.
And one day (the day we celebrate today) he climbed to a high mountain with three of his apostles and appeared before them shining in light--resplendent in glory. And Peter, James and John heard the voice of God calling Jesus the Beloved.
Here’s the thing. Jesus wasn’t about the business of promoting himself as someone glorious. And, if this is what you were after in first century Jerusalem, odds were good you’d be more inclined to be posturing yourself at the court of Herod or Caesar, rather than trekking up a high mountain with our Savior. What Our Lord was--was about being who he was, the Son of God. Is glory a part of that? Certainly--as we see in today’s account. But so is suffering, so is the willingness to be present among the people--all of the people, even the lowliest. In fact, of all the things about Jesus, it was the glory that he asked his apostles to keep quiet. This is why Jesus asked them to keep silent about what they had seen--because his ministry (the purpose of his coming) wasn’t so much about the glory as it was about being among the ordinary and even low places in this world. Suffice it to say, Jesus wasn’t about bling--he was about authenticity--he was about being real. What we learn today is that there is glory in this, surely--but a wider view tells us there is also the cross. There is not one without the other.
I find myself thinking about those disciples as they made the trek down the mountain. Sometimes the downward climb is more difficult than the upward trek--hard on the knees, certainly, but also, perhaps, on the spirit. What must Peter, James and John have thought coming down the mountain? Did they perceive not only a call to follow Jesus--but also a call to be more authentically who they were as well?
I like to think so. A reading of the gospels gifts us with the picture of followers who were far from perfect. Some were argumentative, others were proud, some jumped to conclusions, others could be construed as timid. There was a tax collector in their midst, as well as women with questionable backgrounds. Even now, some 2,000 years later, the picture we have of Our Lord’s followers is not that of those who are interested in ghost-writing their biographies and padding their resumes in order to be seen as better than they were. Here, in the gospels their flaws are there for everyone to see--in black and white--and even vivid color (if you have a good imagination). And that, my friends, is a blessing; because it is reality. It is how God works in this world--taking what is imperfect, flawed and damaged and making it resplendent in the glory of God’s reflected light.
What is true of the apostles, is true of ourselves as well. While we are each called to glory--we arrive there not by pursuing our culture’s marks of success--physical perfection, wealth, power and triumph, but by being who we are called to be as followers of Christ. Like the apostles, each one of us is imperfect--deeply flawed, in fact. But this, I believe, is where God works best--taking what is imperfect, and using that to show others where the true hope of the world is to be found. There’s suffering in the calling to follow Christ--no one gets to heaven without passing the cross--but there is beauty as well. Beauty in being who we are called to be. That’s a beauty that doesn’t come from special effects, good lighting, makeup and artifice, but from a quality of the spirit that shines through wrinkles and scars to display a glory that only comes from God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.