TRANSFIGURATION: JESUS AS MODEL OF LIVING IN A WORLD OF DIVERSITY
(Sermon of the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Tokyo, Japan. 02.10.2013)
Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; 1 Corinthians 12: 27-13:13Luke 9:28-36 (and 1st Kings 18)
We live in a world of diversity. The cities of the world are fast becoming global communities. Peoples of various races, tongues, cultures and religions live as neighbors in a global village. In New York City where I live, there are as many as 200 languages spoken within a three-mile radius. When I ride in the subway train, I am in dialogue with people from races, cultures, religions and ideologies.
Here in Tokyo, there is a clear predominance of Japanese in the subways, but from time to time, I would notice some Europeans and other Asians. Maybe they are expatriates, maybe they are tourists, maybe they are migrant workers. As the city grows into the 21st century, and as migration and tourism continue, Tokyo may also one day become a multiracial and multicultural city. How are we to live together as community? How are we to understand our differences, our uniqueness and be able to embrace our diversity in harmony and peace?
A story is told of an extra-terrestrial bird that came from outer space and landed in Queens, the most diverse district in New York City. The first ones to catch the bird were the Native Americans, and they worshipped the bird. Then it flew to the Anglo-European-Americans, and they studied the bird. Then it flew to the Black or African-Americans and they sang and danced around the bird; then it flew to the Hispanic or Latino-Americans and they celebrated and had a fiesta around the bird. Finally it went to the Asian-Americans and they cooked the bird.
The Gospel this morning, which we often called as the Transfiguration Story, presents to us three personalities: Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Which of them shall become the role model of people living in a world of diversity? Which of them would truly be able to embrace diversity and transcend the boundary of races, cultures and religions?
It is interesting to note that Moses lived to be 120 years old. The story of his life can be divided into three chapters of 40 years. Chapter I: “Moses Thought He Was a Somebody.” He thought he was a prince, son of the queen of Egypt. Chapter II: “Moses Found Out He Was a Nobody.” He found out he was a slave, son of a Hebrew woman. Chapter III: “Moses Realized What God Can Do to a Nobody.” God called him out from the burning bush and gave him the power to liberate his people from their bondage in Egypt. He led his people to cross the Red Sea, gave them the Law, then wandered in the desert of Sinai and finally showed them the Promised Land, the “land of milk and honey.”
The story of Moses, written in the Book of Exodus, is oftentimes used and hailed as a story of liberation of oppressed peoples. The Latin American liberation theology, for instance, is an adaptation of the stories of the struggle of oppressed peoples seeking economic, social and political liberation. But on closer look, the Exodus Story is actually a story of a wandering people in search of a land, which finally, by God’s help they were able to find. The problem is, in the land that God showed them, there were already people living there. So the story of Moses’ liberation which Moses began would find its fulfillment in Joshua who crossed the River Jordan and would conquer the land from the Philistines. In that succeeding story of invasion and conquests, there will be winners and losers. From the perspective of Israelites today, Moses (and Joshua) were heroes; but from the perspective of the Palestinians, Moses (and Joshua) were terrorists and invaders.
This context is similar to the history of the United States: from the perspective of the Puritan pilgrims and the first Anglo-European (cowboys), Exodus is a story of possessing the land. But from the perspective of the Native Americans (Indians), Exodus is a story of losing their lands.
ELIJAH. Elijah is reckoned as a great man of prayer. He was a miracle worker. He was able to multiply bread and olive oil. When he prayed that there would be no rain, the heavens obeyed and withheld the rain. When he prayed that there would be rain, the heavens released the waters. Elijah was a great prophet who could touch the heart of God and could the power of the Almighty by the waving of his cloak and the strength of his faith.
But there was something extreme about Elijah and it was about his overzealousness. On Mount Carmel, Elijah dueled with the false prophets of Baal. Baal was the god of fertility in the land of Canaan. Ahab was the king of Israel who married Jezebel, a wicked woman from the perspective of Elijah. Queen Jezebel persecuted the prophets of God and employed hundreds of Baal prophets. This enraged Elijah, who prophesied against Ahab and Jezebel and challenged Israel for “limping in two opinions.” Finally, he challenged the Baal prophets to a spiritual duel, on who can solve the drought and bring back the rain. In that contest at Mount Carmel, Elijah won.
It would have ended the story but Elijah did not stop there. He ordered Israel to have all the prophets of Baal killed. “Let no one them escape,” he commanded. After that massacre, Elijah ran for his own life because Jezebel promised to retaliate. He hid in the cave, expecting God would come and congratulate him. But there was no applause and there was no patting on the back. God was not in the earthquake, God was not in the wind, and God was not in the fire. Instead, God was in the still small voice. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” This was the same Voice who asked Adam when he sinned, “Adam, where are you?” This was the same Voice who asked Cain when he killed his brother, “Cain, where is thy brother?”
JESUS. Moses and Elijah were great heroes of the faith but they cannot become models for living in a community of diversity. Only Jesus can. The Bible tells us that Jesus achieved reconciliation by way of the Cross. The Cross of Jesus symbolizes two dimensions: the vertical and horizontal. It talks about love of God and love of neighbor. The vertical love of God is penultimate; and the horizontal love of neighbor is unconditional.
The model of living in diverse community is Jesus Christ. He has broken the walls of division that separate us from one another. Man or woman, slave or free, black or white, rich or poor, straight or gay. God in Christ accepted us. As a Sunday School song says, “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world; Black and yellow, brown and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”