Transfigured Life: A Different Way Is Here

Good morning Reservoir friends! 

To those of you that I haven’t had the honor and privilege of meeting yet, my name is Howard Kim. I have been working with Reservoir since March as the Social Justice Intern. Shoutout to the Rev. Lydia Shiu for making a place for me here, thank you so much for everything. 

Because I haven’t had a chance to meet with all of you, I figured I would break the ice a little by introducing myself! I’m from the Greater Los Angeles Area, the ancestral land of the Tongva: born in Anaheim, raised in Claremont, found myself in Los Angeles, and now I reside in Providence, RI, the ancestral land of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) & the Nahaganset. But home will always be Koreatown Los Angeles. I am a proud child of Korean immigrant parents & a community college enthusiast. I’m married to the love of my life. I deeply love food, Korean ballads, and seeing the look on people’s faces when they discover the holiness of Korean Fried Chicken for the first time! 

Thank you again for having me. Let’s jump into the passage. 

Today, we’ll be sitting with the words from-

Luke 9:28-36: 

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, [Jesus] took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.

29 As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed and [Jesus] clothes flashed white like lightning.

30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with [Jesus].

31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which [Jesus] would achieve in Jerusalem.

32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw [Jesus’] glory as well as the two men with [Jesus]. 

33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to [Jesus], “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying.

34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.

35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”

36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen. 

This is the word of God, for us, the people of God. Thanks be to God. 

Can I pray for us? 

I know that you are here with us God. May your presence fill this place, fill our hearts, minds, souls, and flesh to receive what you have for us today. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be like a fragrant offering that brings a smile upon your face. Amen. 

Some Context 

This passage is often referred to as the “Transfiguration of Jesus.” Transfiguration, at its core, is just a fancy word that means ‘transformation.’ Throughout Christian history, people (and by people, I mean cis-het White men) have been debating about the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Questions like:

“What does the transfiguration reveal about Jesus’ nature?”

or

“Is Jesus just a human, just God, half & half, fully both?”

Church leaders of the ancient era literally held council after council, continuously arguing over these questions, and there still isn’t a real consensus around those questions. But can I just be honest for a second and say that…I’m not really interested in that conversation. To be frank, I don’t really care because I’m not really invested in the conversation. Now, I’m not saying that that conversation isn’t important, because the result of those conversations ultimately set the theological foundation of Christianity as we know it…but…as I was meditating on this passage, I found myself fixated on something else:

What were Jesus, Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus’ people experiencing during that time that would warrant Jesus’ transformation? 

During the time of the passage, roughly late 20 CE, Jesus and Jesus’ people were deeply oppressed. They were colonized by the Roman Empire…paying heavy taxes to Rome and dealing with inflation…deep military presence in the streets…rights were being taken from them…maybe this sounds or feels familiar to us today, maybe even too familiar.

I imagine that the air was constantly thick. Thick with tension, thick with uncertainty, thick with fear…it makes so much sense to me now why Jesus’ disciples would leave their families and professions to follow Jesus because they were longing for something different. And this Rabbi from the sticks had something different, was someone different, and it felt like if anyone could cut the tension and bring about something new, it was Jesus. And so Peter, James, John, and us in this room find ourselves up in the mountains, trying to stay awake, and we find Jesus transfigured. 

The Lesson 

I used to find it profoundly annoying that in the midst of great political turmoil, of deep poverty, of uncertainty, of fear and tension, that Jesus would get a holy makeover and a brand new fit! I mean,

“Jesus?! You know what’s going on in the world right? Why aren’t you doing something about all this? Why aren’t you swooping in and saving the day?!”

Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that I’m against rest or treating yourself, I’m all about that! I’m just trying to be honest and admit that I still fall victim to this capitalistic way of thinking. What I’m also feeling at the same time is that I’m finding myself in deep, deep awe of Jesus. 

Jesus could have sent legions of angels and/or amassed an army of freedom fighters to take out the Roman Empire, restore the Davidic monarchy, and bring peace to Middle Earth, but instead…Jesus transfigures, transforming into Jesus’ full self, in full splendor, in full glory, to the point that his closest friends and chosen family couldn’t recognize Jesus, at least initially. I wonder why Jesus did this, during that time & in that context, choosing to be their full self versus a warrior king… 

I believe that Jesus did this, this holy drag show, this transformational coming out, this unapologetic refusal of binaries and incarcerative adjectives because there’s something beautiful and holy when someone comes into their full self, shedding away closets and breathing the air of freedom. And what’s beautiful about all this is that when this transfigured, transformed, trans Jesus showed up as their full self…God in heaven not only fully affirms this Jesus, but also celebrates this Jesus, and invites us all to follow this transfigured, this transformed, this trans Jesus. 

About nine years ago, I was a student leader for a major evangelical campus ministry. At the time, I was on my journey of challenging the conservative and fundamentalist theology I grew up with and was receiving from the ministry. I was really trying to find the theological language to justify why I was breaking away from all that I knew, from all that formed me. So during the end of the year conference, at an island off the coast of Southern California, a dear friend of mine, who was leading an LGBTQIA+ affirming ministry within the campus ministry, asked me to pray for a student of hers that was considering undergoing gender-affirming procedures.

When I was praying for them, I got this image of a sword in a stone, kind of like King Arthur’s Excalibur, but instead of a stone, the sword was lodged into a neo-gothic spire. I then saw the phrases, “You are my son” & “You are my daughter” falling from the sky into the sword.

And then, the words stopped falling, and when the last phrase went into the sword, the sword transformed into pure light and the neo-gothic spire crumbled away, leaving the sword in its true form. At the time, I didn’t really know what it meant. It wasn’t until a year later during some private prayer time, that sword of light image returned to me and I heard a voice say to me:

“I am doing something new. Are you in or are you out?” 

Return to Home Base 

We live in a world where we’re constantly being told to not be who we are, and those in power literally strip away rights and access to resources and care to make sure that the lie of the gender-binary, the lie of racial supremacy, the lie of capitalism and wealth, the lie of the powers and principalities are upheld. And y’all, I know I’m preaching to the choir at this point but the forcing of the incarcerative boxes is killing us! 

Jesus transfigured because the world needed to know that a different way is not only possible, but it’s on its way! 

Jesus transformed because showing up as your full self shakes the foundations of those in power and breathes new possibilities into the world! God affirmed our trans Jesus and invites us to follow them because God is doing a new thing, and we are being invited to bear witness to the new work that God is doing in the universe. 

My friends, the time for us to not only be our full selves, but to bear witness to the full selves of those around is here. There are a lot of ways to bear witness and a lot of ways to show up, but the one I invite you into is the one that God models for us in this passage:

Let us fully affirm and fully celebrate the beauty of the transfigured Jesus’ around you, and bear witness to the beautiful work they bring into this broken world. 

Let the people of God say, Amen.