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Matthew 5:13-20

February 19, 2023

[very serious voice]

 I’d like to open with a poem called Changes.


I’m a little mealworm, short and wiggly.

Here’s my antenna, cute and jiggly.


Actually, I think I might sing it.

I’m a little mealworm, short and wiggly.

Here’s my antenna, cute and jiggly.

Now I am a pupa, squat and white.

How did this happen? I’m a sight.

Now I am a beetle. What is this?

I really hate metamorphosis.


I really feel for the creature in this poem. He’s perfectly happy in his mealworm state, proud of how he looks. And then, for no reason at all as near as he can tell, he’s turned into a pupa. And then a beetle. He is, in fact, unrecognizable from his former self. And he’s not happy about it.

I like you to hang onto that image, the poor beetle who’s so unimpressed by the radical change he has just undergone.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, marking an event that appears in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I’ve always struggled with the meaning of the word “transfiguration,” so I was intrigued when I learned that this is how scholars have translated the Greek word metemorfothe. Metamorphosis.

Today is also Vestry, our annual general meeting, in which we review last year’s finances and consider next year’s budget. And, as is common in church land, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Ministry is flourishing and our income is a bit higher than projected. But 2022 saw the markets make what is sometimes called a “correction,” and the CTF funds available to us as of the end of the year are less that we will need to cover our expenses. Despite our vitality, we are projecting a possible deficit for the coming year.

Now I’d like you to hang onto two images–the angry beetle and our potential deficit—while we consider the story of the Transfiguration.

Here’s the way Matthew tells the story.

Jesus takes three disciples up a mountain. Right in front of them, Jesus is transformed, his face shining like the sun. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear with him, and they’re talking. Peter offers to build three dwellings, but he is interrupted by a bright cloud and a voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples react to this voice by falling to the ground in fear. But Jesus touches them and tells them to get up and not be afraid. When they look around, only Jesus is there.

This passage gives us plenty to reflect on.

First Peter finds the gathering of Jesus, Moses and Elijah so good that he wants to build dwellings, so that they can all remain there. The figure of Moses represents the Law, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Law that has guided the people of Israel for generations and generations. The figure of Elijah represents the Prophets, who over and over again spoke on behalf of God to call the people of God back to a right way of living, back to protecting the community’s vulnerable people. As Micah says, “What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” This scene with the three of them talking signals that Jesus is now the embodiment of the Law and the Prophets. If we want to know what God says to us, we can confidently look to Jesus.

Peter is so entranced with this scene that he wants it to go on forever. A bit like the mealworm in our poem.

But Peter doesn’t get to finish his sentence before he is interrupted by a bright cloud and a voice. In the Bible, a bright cloud and a voice on a mountain top is always God speaking. And God tells them three things. One, Jesus is God’s son (in case we had any doubts). Two, God loves the Son, calling him the Beloved. And three, God wants us to listen to Jesus. To hear him.

The disciples fall to the ground in fear. But Jesus comes over to them and touches them. Jesus reaches out to them. In their terror, Jesus reaches out and touches them. And Jesus says, “Get up.” They have fallen, but Jesus doesn’t let them stay down. He is pretty forceful, ordering them: “Get up.” And also “do not be afraid.”

Jesus is changed and, in response to hearing God, the disciples fall down in fear, but Jesus tells them to get up and not be afraid.

If we put ourselves in the place of the disciples, I wonder what we are afraid of? Thinking about a potential deficit, I can imaging a few things. Being poor stewards of the legacy of previous generations. Risking it all and failing. Losing something we love. Changing beyond all recognition. You can see why I have such sympathy for the beetle, transfigured beyond all recognition by forces outside his control. And upset by it.

Being upset, possibly even angry, is a perfectly normal response to change that is beyond our control. And upset or anger often covers up fear and grief. Think about changes in your own life that were or are beyond your control, and how you feel about it. Mad, sad, and possibly afraid.

But Jesus tells the disciples to not be afraid.

I did a first aid course a few years ago, and the instructor had us thinking about why people might not stop to help someone in medical distress. The answers were all related to fear—fear of disease, fear of making things worse, fear of legal liability. Then he asked us, “what is the opposite of fear?” And good priest that I am, I thought “trust!” But the answer he was looking for was “knowledge.” He was going to give us the knowledge we needed to overcome our fear of helping.

What knowledge do we have, that can help us when we are afraid? God tells the disciples to listen to Jesus, to hear him. And Jesus tells the disciples to get up. I wish our knowledge were a little more concrete. That God or Jesus could tell us one way or another exactly what to do about our finances. But that’s not the kind of knowledge we have. Instead we have the Law and the Prophets. We know that we need to love God and to love our neighbours. And we have a long Christian tradition of ways to discern, ways to listen to ourselves and to each other to help hear where God is calling us.

The poem ends with the beetle expressing his dislike of metamorphosis. But the disciples’ story of metamorphosis and our story of metamorphosis don’t end there. Jesus and the disciples head back down the mountain, back into their journey to Jerusalem, to the cross and to new life for all creation. And we too carry on in our journey, hoping that we will notice when Jesus touches us, and striving to listen, listen to each other and to the new life that Jesus calls us to next.