The major lectionary theme of the last Sunday of the Epiphany season is the Christological mystery of the Transfiguration. While the connection to World Mission Sunday may not seem obvious, in fact the Standing Commission on World Mission deliberately chose this Sunday because of the connections they saw. What follows are some hermeneutical notes which may be of use in preparing a sermon on World Mission on this occasion. By the way, if there are any of you out there who were in seminary when critics thought the story of the Transfiguration was a misplaced post-resurrection appearance, most now do not see it that way. The fact that Mark (and Matthew and Luke follow him in this) carefully dates the event after the Confession of Peter clearly indicates he viewed the event as historical and located at precisely this point in Jesus' ministry.
First, we should note the symbolic references to the Older Covenant in the Transfiguration story: the presence of Moses, the beginning of the Covenant, and of Elijah, its greatest prophet and the symbol of its eschatological fulfillment. Both are present to testify to Jesus as the fulfillment (not the abrogation) of the Law and the Prophets. The connection is even clearer if Michael Ramsey is correct that the Mount of the Transfiguration is more likely Horeb than Tabor, as identified in later tradition. The reading from Exodus, Moses' ascent of Mount Sinai, underlines this connection, as does the theme of Transfiguration as being manifestly illuminated by the light of divine glory common to both stories. First point: the great Missio Dei, the mission of the Trinitarian God, overflowing the inner Trinitarian life into Creation and Covenant, finds its climax or crux in Jesus. This is fully underlined by the voice of God, declaring that "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." The Missio Dei or Mission of God reaches its peak in the Missio Christi, the mission of Christ as the chosen mediator of the new Covenant, which shall be with all people.
Second, in all three accounts of the Transfiguration, three disciples are present to be witnesses, again a mission theme. Peter wants to build three booths, which, far from being stupid, is the absolutely correct religious response, given the symbolic overtones of the Feast of Booths in the event. But this is not to be. Mission may require a glorious Gospel vision of God's glory and salvation at its heart, but we are not allowed to remain in contemplation on the mountain. In the valley are an epileptic boy who needs healing and a father (not to say a crowd of disciples) who need to have their faith strengthened. Here we see the fulfillment of the Missio Christi in a union of service and evangelism.
The theme for this year's World Mission Sunday is "Treasuring the Communion." Perhaps the Epistle reading from Philippians 3 is especially appropriate this year. The Apostle reminds us that all our living is to be in response to "rejoice in the Lord." Our giving of time, talent and treasure is not dictated primarily by duty, but by thanksgiving for the grace and mercy already shown, and for the glory and perfection of the resurrection still to come. In that light, all worldly concerns that might hinder our giving are put in proper perspective and dwarfed by "the supreme worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." In his excellent book for the Stewardship office of the Church, Soul and Money, the late W. Taylor Stevenson of Seabury-Western (a few copies are still available from Episcopal Parish Services reminded us that in a modern economy, money can be an efficient way to "store" time, energy and work. Not all of us can volunteer for full time mission. Not all of us have the exact talents needed to respond to the needs of our sisters and brothers in the Communion, of which we are most keenly aware during the aftermath of the great tsunami of 2004. In many cases, it is both more efficient and more productive long term to acquire goods and services locally. So we can store our time and energy in money and then give it where it is most needed, as long as we give with the generosity suggested by "rejoice in the Lord." Especially at times such as these, our people need reminding that giving through Episcopal Relief and Development, United Thank Offering, or the Communion Partnership programs, can be one of the most efficient (in terms of overhead) and meaningful (in terms of personal involvement) ways to participate.
Money is also a way for the "communion of saints" to go on giving after their deaths. This might be a good Sunday to fulfill part of the obligation to instruct our people on the making of wills (BCP, p. 445.) One very helpful way to do this is through through planned gift options (bequest, pooled income fund, charitable gift annuity or charitable trusts) available through the Episcopal Church Foundation. This allows us prudently to save for retirement income while eventually giving a significant principal that can be earmarked for any Church purpose, including ERD or World Mission. The Episcopal Church has always been generous in sharing our great material resources with our Anglican Communion partners, who bring us so many other kinds of gifts in return. Love of God and love of neighbor are not merely linked; in scriptural terms, they participate in one another by nature to the point of virtual identity. Sharing our treasure, our stored time and energy, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, is one profound way of expressing "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord," whose glory was revealed on the Mount of the Transfiguration as the destiny in which we all hope and share.