At first glance, one might be tempted to think: âWhat do the readings from Exodus, Psalm 99, Second Corinthians and Luke â the readings for this Transfiguration Sunday â have to do with World Mission Sunday?â
The linked readings focusing on Mosesâ intimate relationship with God and his shining face in Exodus and Second Corinthians, the psalmistâs praise to God for Godâs mighty acts in history, and Lukeâs story of the Transfiguration seem to have little bearing on the celebration of World Mission Sunday, let alone this yearâs theme âWorld Mission and the Environment.â Yet, as with most of the most important things in our lives, we must delve below the surface to apprehend the depth of the meaning.
Instead of beginning directly with todayâs lections, letâs begin with the portion of scripture that has been selected to underscore this yearâs theme. The first and second verses of Psalm 24 read: âThe earth is the Lordâs and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.â
These verses remind us that everything that we see â and donât see â in Creation, is Godâs: plants, animals, people, planet, even bacteria and viruses. By extension, if all is the Lordâs, and we understand God to be a loving, caring deity, then we can begin to see where the connections might be.
Hold the words of Psalm 24 in your mind, and hear now the words of Psalm 99, verses 4 and 5:
ââO mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.â Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God and fall down before his footstool; he is the Holy One.â
If all of our relationships draw from the understanding of God as a lover of justice and establisher of equity, then we are led to the conclusion that the just and equitable act is the one that is closest to the heart of God. And if all of the earth is the Lordâs, then we are, or should be, compelled to act as just and equitable stewards of the earth, on behalf of the Lord.
We all witnessed the discussions and debate of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Coppenhagen in December of last year. We heard the pleas of poor countries that stand to lose the most if we do not find a way to move from âpurely national perspectives to global leadershipâ as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said. This is of vital importance to our world, and yet, we must understand it in the context of our faith, our ministry, our call, our mission.
We, as followers of Christ, send out missionaries to the ends of the globe, seeking to bring the light and love of Christ to those who need to see Christâs effect on and through us. We move into poor parts of the developing world seeking to meet the needs of the people in many wonderful ways. Yet if we are about being just and equitable, if we are about the business of establishing networks and systems that remind all of the gift that we have in this world and in one another, if our mission and our missions are to be fully reflective of the glory of God, then we must be about transformation.
But before we go too far down the road of âtransformation,â it might be good for us to deal with the reality of this Sundayâs celebration of the Transfiguration.
We are reminded of the otherworldly event that took place on a mountaintop while Jesus was praying and Peter, James, and John slept. In Lukeâs account we are told that Jesusâ appearance is changed, his clothes become dazzling white and Elijah and Moses appear with him to discuss what is to happen in Jerusalem â his passion and death. Instructive for us in Lukeâs account are Godâs words to Peter, James and John: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" In other words, pay attention to what he says and does.
It is interesting that transfiguration and transformation come from the same Middle English root meaning âto change shape.â Transformation, linguistically, can mean âthe process by which deep structures are converted into surface structures.â
Well, that fits now, doesnât it? The depth of who Jesus is, is brought to the surface during the Transfiguration â his face, appearance, and clothes are transformed. Jesusâ face shines, and in Lukeâs words, âThey saw his glory.â Jesus is transfigured, that is, transformed showing the truth of who he is with a heavenly voice underscoring the visible evidence that Jesus is Godâs son and that we are to listen to him.
It might be that you are still saying, âThatâs all well and good for Transfiguration Sunday, but what does any of that have to do with World Mission?â
The connection comes in the transformational aspect of what our mission work can and does accomplish. We send faithful servants of the gospel into areas of the world where needs are high and hope is in short supply. When our efforts are successful, the mission partnership grows and becomes self-sustaining; communities and lives are transformed, and we are a part helping others â and ourselves â to more fully reflect Godâs glory.
We are being called into new mission endeavors where our effective ministry will be in partnership with those whom we are sent to serve. We are being called into partnerships that seek to establish sustainable relationships, out of which can grow new possibilities that can transform and transfigure local situations that can have global impact. We are being called into transformational ministries that are modeled after the best of relationships â expecting that each member has something of worth to offer the other.
By understanding the give and take of relationships, we can see the connection between our lives and how we must find ways to focus our resources on those things that, not only speak to the immediate need, but also take into account how the environment is affected and how the communities in which we are called to serve can sustain the benefits that are achieved.
In todayâs reading from Second Corinthians, Paul reminds us of the transformational character of our lives in Christ:
âAnd all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.â
We know that we are called to be stewards of this earth. We know that we are called to serve others, especially the poor and oppressed. We know that we are to seek right relationships: with God, with each other, and with our earth. We know that we are to follow Jesus and imitate his attitude and actions: loving God completely and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We know these things, regardless of our particular political or religious positions. And if we know these things, then we are expected to act on them.
Friends, we are to be agents of transformation in a world that seems, in some corridors, to be resistant to transformation. Our current and future mission work just might need to include focused and intentional work to improve environmental conditions in those places where we are called to serve. We might also look to transform how we understand our call to mission, creating domestic mission teams who work to aid our foreign mission teams in terms of policy reform, and who make connections and build relationships that work locally, but think globally.
The wonderful thing about being called into the ministry and mission of Christ is that we have the chance to become those people that speak life and wholeness in a broken world, confident that our Lord â who made and sustains all life â is smiling on our efforts to be agents of transformation who shine with the light of Christ.
As we celebrate this World Mission Sunday and think of the Transfiguration of Jesus, let our hearts be full of wonder and our souls be full of praise. As our worship today lifts us to the height of heaven, why donât we come down with faces unveiled and through our actions demonstrate that we have been with the Lord?