6 March 2011
Last Sunday after Epiphany
Last Epiphany A (RCL)
2 Peter 1:16-21
It’s too bad we’re not reading a passage a little earlier in 2 Peter. 2 Peter 1:3-7 reads, “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.”
The author suggests that we come to share in the divine nature: we become by grace what Christ is by nature. So, the transfiguration is for us. We are changed into his likeness from glory to glory, says Paul. You are my child the beloved, in whom I am well pleased, we hear at our baptism. It is also the goal, or end or purpose to which we direct our lives. What does it mean to be transfigured, to become divine?
I think the ascending “ladder” the author of 2 Peter gives us is a real help. Supplement your faith with virtue. Faith is the relationship that brings us into community, our baptism, as it were. We add virtue to that, a pattern of life. Supplement that pattern of life with knowledge, so that it becomes more than just following the rules — why do we live this way? Supplement knowledge with self-control, so that we interiorize the pattern of life, and the reasons why we live it. Supplement self-control with endurance, letting that self-control seep into every aspect of our lives. Supplement endurance with devotion. When we go about that pattern of life in every aspect of our lives, let it be a moment of worship of God. Supplement devotion with mutual affection — let that devotion of God bring us closer to all the people around us. Supplement mutual affection with love — learn to see people and the world from the divine perspective, love them as God loves them. This is transfiguring.
Let’s take an example. Some people give up sweets for Lent. The corruption in the world due to evil desire might be our over-enjoyment of sugar, and all the damage it causes. So supplement faith with virtue — withhold from sweets. But it doesn’t stop there — that’s just following the rules. Supplement virtue with knowledge. Learn about diabetes, about the social pattern of eating sweets, about where our sugar comes from. Supplement knowledge with self-control. Let it change your pattern of living. Don’t just give up sweets for Lent, change your diet toward health. Supplement self-control with endurance: let it saturate your life, changing your pattern of living, even when it’s difficult (out to dinner with friends, when dessert is always a part of the fun). Supplement endurance with devotion. Let it not just be about forgoing dessert, but loving God, giving God thanks for good nutrition. Supplement devotion with mutual affection — let your eating with your friends bring you closer to them (don’t judge them for eating dessert, but enjoy their company). Supplement mutual affection with love. Learn to see yourself, and the world through God’s eyes — God’s desire for good nutrition and health, and joy for all.
Jesus takes with him Peter and James and John to the top of the mountain, once a place only reserved for Moses (or the Holy of holies for the high priest once a year — the Temple and the mountain share a geography — see Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature). The cloud covers them just as it screens the high priest (incense) from the direct vision of God. Then they hear the divine voice, just as Moses did, but they are left with Jesus alone. And come down the mountain. After the crucifixion, the curtain in the Temple is torn — everyone now has access to the Holy of holies, to the mountain top (Jesus meets his disciples on the mountain top after his resurrection), so all are transfigured.
Through our transfiguration we become windows into the divine nature for ourselves and others, or mirrors of the divine nature — as we gaze in wonder and love at God, we reflect that wonder to others. 2 Peter gives us the pattern to follow.