Last Sunday after the Epiphany by The Rev. Richard Toll

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9



Today we have the Transfiguration of Jesus.  The event is remembered  on a beautiful mountain top at Mt. Tabor between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.  There is a beautiful view of the valley below and a beautiful church with magnificent art.

Who are the people, such as Peter, Andrew in today’s story.  As well as all the people in the Gospels?  They are Jewish followers of Jesus who have been raised with the stories of Moses and the Law.

What we have in the Gospel of Matthew is a very special attempt to address that Jewish audience Jesus spoke to with the interpretation that Jesus is the new Moses.  If you read Matthew as a 1st century Jew, you will hear all the ways that Matthew attempts to tell you that Jesus is the new Moses.  Jesus is the Messiah they have been expecting.  Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel takes on the role of a new Moses.

Matthew opens his Gospel with a reference to the generations that takes us back to Abraham as he speaks of Jesus’ birth.  And the birth of Jesus including Joseph, the dreamer of dreams, who can be compared to Joseph in the Old Testament who is also a dreamer of dreams and Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt so that he like Moses can come out of Egypt.  Moses came out of Egypt and so does Jesus.

Matthew has the wonderful story of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days, tempted as the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.

Those Jewish readers of Matthew in the 1st century would see the connection.  And then the Sermon on the Mount.  Similar to Moses bringing the 10 Commandments and the law from Mt. Sinai.  Just as Moses gives the law from Sinai.  Jesus gives the new law with the Sermon on the Mount.

                   You have heard it said by men of old

                    But I say to you

                   12 Disciples

                   12 Tribes of Israel

Symbols of the past bearing fruit as to the future generations.  This is my son “listen to him”.

Transfiguration – from the old ways to the new ways.  Jesus was a transforming person in the 1st century – listen to him.  And after his death and resurrection something of a religious revolution occurred that we are sorting it out even today.

Transfiguration – what does it mean?  What did it mean?

For the Jewish culture of the 1st century it was a confusing moment.  Was Jesus authentic as a reflection of the living God or was he a fake?

Paul was to be the instrument of God, who after trying to wipe out the early Christians, found his conversion on the way to Damascus and realized out of that conversion that the message of Jesus was not only for Jews but for all people.  Talk about transforming.  And turning into a new way of thinking and being.  The Church was born in turmoil.

I would like to relate the Transfiguration in a way that is quite different from our traditional western theology.  In fact, I would like to challenge it.

In 1967, I was the Curate here at Grace Memorial.  Duane Alvord was the Rector.  I was also City Missioner for the Diocese of Oregon which meant that I went in all directions at the Bishop’s bidding and whatever was happening ecumenically.  I found a need that was not being addressed by any of the churches.  It was the urban Indian population in Portland and I felt called on to enter into ministry with them because of not only our lack of knowledge of their culture but their lack of knowledge of our culture.

I had been raised in West Texas and New Mexico and became acquainted with how the Roman Catholic Church had come to our region well before the Pilgrims and those who founded Jamestown.  In fact, there is an article this month in Archeology Today that talks about the 1st American Revolution happening in the 1580’s when the Pueblo Indians in Arizona and New Mexico rose up against the Spaniards and forced the military and the church to leave the area for 10 years.  Why?

Because of the oppression, and lack of being able to work with another culture.  Christianity was forced upon them.  There was an arrogance and cruelty built into the system of converting the Indian population to Christianity.  They were literally slaves for purposes of their Spanish masters.

“This is my son.  Listen to him” was turned into a mockery.  What about the Indian people and their own relationship to God, to the sacred land?

The transfiguration did not include the Pueblo Indians in their rich history as a people including their own rich religious heritage.  We are only now beginning to recognize what has been lost in our inability to listen and learn from others and hear their voices as part of listening to the voice of Jesus in another time and culture.

As City Missioner from 1967-1970, based here at Grace Memorial, our National Church helped in the funding of two important American Indian programs.  One was the American Indian Action Center, which at the time was located near Good Samaritan Hospital.  The other was the Native American Rehabilitation Association for Indians suffering from alcohol abuse.  It is still in existence.

When I left Grace Memorial in 1970, I was honored here on a Sunday worship.  I wore an Indian headdress and celebrated communion.  I was given a Sioux name of Spotted Eagle.  The Peace Pipe was offered to the 4 Winds by Chief White Buffalo Man, Grandson of Sitting Bull.  He also gave the sermon.  I have the entire sermon but here is an excerpt.  The title of his sermon was “How it feels to be an Indian in a White man’s world.”  In the old days the Indians taught that we must love each other.  Our belief is that this love was established here on earth by the Great Spirit.  This brought us unity, and unity brought us brotherhood.  We didn’t know what a dollar was.  But we knew there was a God.  And we kept this sacred.  My father said, “This is sacred – keep it such.”  We became Christians.  The Indian religion and the Christian religion fit together.  We wanted to keep some of our old ceremonies.  When we pray we don’t read from a book.  We don’t read prayers.  It comes from our hearts.  But the government outlawed some of our old worship.  Like the Sun Dance.  So we had to do our ceremonies secretly back in the hills where we wouldn’t be caught.  That made us feel bad.  It was like the early Christians who had to worship secretly.  So I used to live two lives.  One, Indian religion and one, as a Christian…..In our church, behind the altar, we have the tepee design.  In our Christian ceremonials we use the pipe.  We see there is no clash.  After all these years it comes together.  Now I live only one way.  I can be free in what I tell and what I do.  And that is the way it is.”  I believe that the voice of Jesus, the presents of God is heard in the words of Chief White Buffalo Man.  The words of many cultures, religions and languages are reflected in his words.  The Church throughout the world reflects that voice. 

So much of our history as a nation has been one of broken treaties and not honoring those who were here when we came here as immigrants.

It was almost comical if it wasn’t so tragic that in the Malheur takeover last year the people who did that had no understanding of the land as to where it came from.  The American Indian was not a part of their thinking and the issues of the Standing Rock Reservation represent another chapter in the long history of taking advantage of Indian treaties.

We have a long history in Christianity of being very much the opposite of what Jesus’ teaching and witness was in the 1st century. 

But guess what, we receive the word of God as it comes to each of us and we have the opportunity to respond “yes” or “no”.

Our transformation is one of unique individuality because each of us is an unique human being.

We are transformed in our own time just as the disciples of the 1st century were transformed for the purposes of God.

     Not as it has been defined in the past

     But as the voice of Jesus is revealed NOW.

     And we ourselves have the opportunity

     To hear and receive the Good News

     “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”     


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