“When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” - 2 Corinthians 3:16-17
Transfiguration Sunday is this Sunday.
It’s a stand alone day in the church calendar between Epiphany and Lent when we read stories in the Bible about transformation. Stories where people like Jesus, Moses, and the disciples receive visions or experience the power of God in a way that completely changes things for the better.
Usually themselves… and eventually, those around them.
In our worship series Practicing Compassion: From the Inside Out, we have said that to become more compassionate people toward others, we have to start with ourselves. When we are disconnected from ourselves and don’t know how our past experiences shape us, we don’t know how those experiences shape our responses to others in difficult moments. Step 1 is to turn inward to observe our reactions, our histories, the stories that make us who we are – and offer ourselves compassion. When we face who we are on the inside, it can be hard to treat ourselves with compassion. Instead, we either hide our real selves or we treat them with harsh judgment. Which brings me to Step 2: the need to turn to God. Like Jesus and Moses in the transfiguration stories, as we do the hard work of step 1, we must be reminded regularly that we serve a God who calls us good from the start and there isn’t anything you can do to change that.
When we practice Steps 1 and 2… Step 3: Turning outward in compassion toward others… becomes far more feasible – even in the places where it felt impossible before.
But in our transfiguration texts, it is clear that an encounter with God didn’t necessarily bring Moses or Jesus closer to people right away. Sometimes, this transformation created distance for a while. When Moses came down from the mountain after his encounter with God, people didn’t understand what had happened up there – they couldn’t even look Moses in the face. And when Jesus did the same thing, people didn’t understand him either.
When we practice steps 1 and 2 – when we go back to ourselves, and go back to God as a regular part of being in relationship with others – people don’t always understand right away. They don’t always curb their own behavior or change in the ways we want them to. They don’t always see the effort we’ve made, or the work we’ve done.
But the beauty of transfiguration – of our own process of transformation in God – is that they actually don’t have to because our objective becomes less focused on changing them. In working steps 1 and 2, we learn that another person’s behavior – good or bad – does not necessarily have to dictate or control our own.
Even when they are struggling with their responses toward us,
We can choose compassion
We can choose forgiveness
We can even choose graceful confrontation
Rather than being consumed by uncontrollable anger, hatred, retaliation, or resentment.
And I think that’s the kind of freedom that the writer of 2 Corinthians is getting at when he says: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
It’s the freedom to choose a different way of being in the world.
It’s the freedom to choose responses that are grounded in self-knowledge and empathy and healing, rather than being driven by our emotional instincts and our fight and flight response.
It’s the freedom to choose to hold ourselves and others to new, more grace-laden expectations.
The freedom to choose compassion.
Friends – as you seek the transformation and transfiguration of God in your own life – I hope you find moments of freedom like this. You and this world will be better for it.