Monday, February 23, 2009

The Altar Ego (abridged)

I think my sermon for Transfiguration sunday turned out pretty well. Here's an abridged version.

I am a comic book guy. Because I could spend the entire day talking about comics, graphic novels and super heros, we need to limit the conversation from the start to the big three. There is a holy trinity of super heros: Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Until recently, with the arrival of the X-Men, there was a rule to super heros; the rule of the alter ego. Superman had Clark Kent, Batman had Bruce Wayne and Spiderman had Peter Parker.

Now, Superman's not my favorite, that's a toss up between Batman and Wolverine from the X-men, but there is something that sets Superman apart from the rest. Peter Parker became Spiderman: it took the bite of a radioactive spider to turn him into the hero. When he went to sleep, he was Peter Parker. He put on a costume to become Spiderman. To an even greater extent, Bruce Wayne, who had no super hero powers, put on a costume to be Batman. When he went to sleep at (k)night and woke up in the morning, be was Bruce Wayne.

Superman was different. Superman was Superman...all the time. When he went to sleep we was Superman, when he woke up he was Superman. Clark Kent was Superman's costume. The blue, red and yellow suit of Superman was the swadling clothes he arrived on Earth in. Unlike the rest, Clark Kent was Superman's costume, was the facade, the mask.

On the mountain top with Peter, James and John, we get a glimpse of what Jesus actually was. The idea of Trinity means that everything God is Jesus is. The God who in the Hebrew Bible said that one look at God's face would cause insanity in the human brain was incarnate in the person of Jesus. So when God, the Word, the Logos, the Christ, became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, he could not appear in his true form. Instead of people responding to his message and leaving house and home to follow him, they would run away scared with melting brains.

Christ is the Superman; Jesus of Nazareth is the Clark Kent.

But, in the transfiguration, a little bit of the fullness of the life of God that was completely present in the person of Jesus shone forth. The man that the disciples ate dinner with and fished with was suddenly bright with divine light and talking with Moses and Elijah.

now, its not a perfect metaphor. We believe that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine; so, Jesus of Nazareth wasn't a perfect alter ego. But, at the heart of the story of the transfiguration is THE ALTAR EGO.

The story ends with the troubling call of Jesus to not tell anyone about the vision on the mountain. How in the world were Peter, James and John expected to not tell what they seen? And why did Jesus want them not to tell?

because Jesus had an altAr ego: Jesus' whole self, whole ministry was devoted and directed at the altar of the crucifixion and resurrection and anything that might get in the way of that mission must be put on hold.

We throw around the term "Christ-like" a lot. We're supposed to be Christ-like in thought and word and deed. It usually means something like the golden rule and the compassion Jesus had for the least, last and lost. But it is so much more than that! What does being Christ-like mean in light of the transfiguration? Through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, humankind and indeed all creation is connected to the full life of the Triune God that was present in Jesus. God's self-pure love, grace, mercy, justice-is inside us all, wanting desperately to get out.

So, to live Christ-like, incarnational transfigurative lives, means in thought and word and deed, our lives shine forth the light and life of God. This is a radical world-transforming kind of discipleship, by which everything we say, do, think, is informed by the question, "How does this let God's light shine through me?"

By living incarnational, transfigurative lives that blaze with the eternal light of the Divine and, to coin a popular phrase from the graphic novels I love, with our powers combined, that light will shine in the darkness and the darkness shall never overcome it.



  1. I preached a sermon about Super Heroes once...People, of course were surprised how much I love Batman. Great message, thanks for sharing!

  2. Good post, Beej. Wish I could have herd the sermon. cb