Today is transfiguration Sunday. We remember the disciples having a deep glimpse into the Divinity of Jesus, the sacredness of Jesus, the God-infused person of Jesus. But today I am asking us to look a little deeper at what it means for all of us to be made in God’s image. Today’s sermon may leave you with more questions than answers, but that’s okay because I believe, truly, that God is found in the questions, in the journey, rather than in pat answers. With that as an introduction, I invite you to dive in with me.
In our faith, in most Christian churches, in our grounding doctrines we declare that Jesus was “fully human and fully divine.” But what I would like to invite you to do this morning is to think about what that means for you. What does it mean that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? What does that mean for YOU? Do you accept that as true? Do you question part of it and if so, what part? Let’s break it down for a minute. What does it mean for YOU to be fully human? We admit that we are human. And when we say we are human, what does it mean? And then the second part, what does it mean to be fully Divine? What image comes to mind for you? What is the meaning behind that phrase for you?
I want to suggest a couple things that I am inviting you to consider at a deeper level. First, I think that for most of us, these two things: fully human, and fully divine, are at a base level incompatible. When we think of being human, one of the first things that occurs to us is probably that we are flawed, that we make mistakes, that we mess up, that we don’t have the whole picture, we hurt people, we slip. In contrast, when we think of Divinity, I think many of us, if not most or even all of us, think perfection. We think all-knowing, perhaps, all-seeing, perhaps, all-powerful, maybe. Or maybe we just think Divine means all-loving. But even all-loving implies without error, without the ability to harm or hurt. So how do we reconcile these two ideas of what it means for Jesus to be both fully human and fully Divine?
I think that most Christians, not talking about any one of you as individuals, but for most Christians, when they hear that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, that what they actually believe is that Jesus was fully divine, all the time divine, all the time God-incarnate. And that occasionally or in part, or at times, Jesus touched into being human. It’s like he was a divine soul, a perfect soul, but within a human body. Not fully human, or fully divine. But split: a divine soul in a human body. And while his human body had needs, such as sleeping, eating, drinking, and while his human body grew, started as a baby but grew into a man; his mind, or thoughts or soul was God: incapable of making mistakes, of being without strength or power, incapable of failing. I invite you to think about that for a moment. Do you divide the human part out of Jesus? Do you discount the human part of Jesus? Do you ignore the part where we declare that Jesus was FULLY human as well as fully divine? When the church makes that statement, “fully human, fully divine”, it is declaring that the humanity of Jesus was every bit as important, valuable and profound as the divine part. I want you to sit with that.
The humanity piece of Jesus is very important: he takes a nap in the bottom of the boat sometimes. He has had enough of people and retreats to be himself sometimes. He eats with his friends sometimes, rather than always being out teaching or healing. We ask the question, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” and what we mean by it is “What would I do if I were Jesus?” But perhaps the question we should be asking instead is “What would Jesus do if he were me?” It is a subtle difference. But it is an important one. Jesus humanity, despite our fears of it, despite our suspicion or avoidance of it, is not hidden. It is right there in the stories. And while we delight in stories like today in which the divinity is more emphasized, for those who actually knew him, who hung out with him, who spent time with him, those moments of seeing divinity were shocking, disturbing, terrifying.
To experience the truly sacred was terrifying for the disciples. Not just in this story. As we read about in the call stories, as well: when the fishermen’s catch of fish was overflowing, they were terrified, bewildered, overwhelmed by the sacred, by the experience. When they saw Jesus walking on the water, it scared them. And they had a reason to be scared: encountering the divine, the sacred, within life, within nature – wherever we are given the vision to see it, does and will call us into being different. When the disciples first encountered it, as you know, they left everything, left their lives behind to follow Jesus. When they encountered it again on the mountain it called them to be new again. It’s not just about doing things differently, as we discussed a couple weeks ago: it’s about a very change in one’s identity. And that is terrifying: being called to be different, other, new.
And yet, what is the whole point of these stories? And of the transfiguration? I would challenge you to see that perhaps the whole point is that everythingis sacred. That new identity that we are called to claim is an identity as a child of God, as a reflection of God, as one created in the image of God: as a spiritual being on a physical journey, as a sacred being on a human journey. As one who, like Jesus, is both human and sacred. And that, my friends, includes YOU.
Again, it’s all sacred. And that includes YOU.
It’s like we didn’t get it. We never get it. We are told that we are made in the very image of God. In the very IMAGE of God. What does that mean? It means that we have that sacred, divine spark within us. We are called to see the sacred within everything. It is like the Hindu phrase “namaste.” Translated, Namaste means, “the divine in me greets the Divine in you.” Namaste is a recognition of the divine spark within each of us. To put it in more Christian terms, it is like when we take communion – the normal, human, mundane elements are transformed simply through our sight, through our vision of being able to recognize the sacred within them. I have a friend who ends her communion service with these words: “We give you thanks, O God, that when we take these ordinary elements and dedicate them to your purpose – they become holy. Help us, your ordinary people, also be dedicated to your purpose that we too might experience your holiness.” We are made in the image of God, which means we are infused with the sacred. But we didn’t get it. We don’t get it.
Jesus coming? God said, “you are made in my image” and we didn’t understand. So then God said, “okay, fine. If you will not see that I made you in MY image, then I will remake myself in YOUR image.” I want you to think about that. Jesus is God remaking Godself in OUR image. And what does that mean for us? Our scriptures use a phrase to refer to Jesus that is sometimes translated “son of man” and sometimes translated “the human one” depending on which translation you are reading. But both communicate the same thing. What it is to be fully human, what it is to be FULLY human is to be what Jesus is: infused with the sacred. Jesus is the human one, the one that we are called to be as humans, the one that we strive to be as humans: the product of humanity, the “son of man”, the fully human one. To be fully human, is to be infused with the sacred.
God wants us to see the sacred within everything. God declares that we have been made in God’s image. But we deny this. We insist that we are “only human” and so God comes as Jesus: remaking Godself in OUR image. Do we then get it? Well, as you know, we still don’t. It scared us so much that we killed Jesus. We couldn’t face it. And we killed him.
We are being called to shine. We have it in scriptures such Matthew 5:13-16: You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”
I read you this quote recently, but it applies here again and I want you to really hear it. Marianne Williamson said, ““Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
We too, then, are both human and sacred. But as much as we emphasize Jesus’ divinity and forget his humanity, to the same degree, we emphasize our humanity and forget that the spirit of God is within us too. We focus on Jesus’ divinity and we neglect the divine within us. We create a dichotomy here: we separate these out into two things. But they aren’t two things. God is infused within everything. The sacred is part of everything because God created it all and whatever God touches is made sacred by its very nature. We talk about “thin places”. “Thin places” are mountain top experiences like in this story. “Thin places” are places where it is easy to experience the divine, where it feels like the Sacred is touching down in a much more concrete observable way. Tahoe is described as a “thin place” as is Iona in Scotland, and Sedona in AZ. These are places where people regularly experience God.
But this dualism we create is damaging to us all. There isn’t anything that is only mundane or profane. All is infused with God.
Richard Rohr said: There is no authentic God experience that does not situate you in the world in a very different way. After an encounter with True Presence you see things quite differently, and it gives you freedom from your usual loyalties and low-level payoffs–the system that gave you your security, your status, your economics, and your very identity. Your screen of life expands exponentially. This transformation has costly consequences. Moses had to leave Pharaoh’s palace to ask new questions and become the liberator of his people.”
We are called to embrace those encounters with the divine: to see with the eyes that witnessed the transfiguration. To see it now, to see it in each other, to see it within ourselves.
I come back to my starting questions: what does it mean that Jesus is fully human and fully divine? And what does it mean that you are created in the image of God? Stay with those questions. And look for that image within yourselves. Amen.