Sermon: “Unmasking” (Transfiguration Sunday)

There is a kind of “unmasking” at the heart of this story. 

It is a story about the disciples finally being like “ohhhhhh.”

Those of us who grew up with “Scooby Doo” comics on Saturday morning t.v.. have a kind of framework for this. 

If that sounds unfamiliar to you, personally, what I can tell you is that, in the world of Scooby Doo, who was a Great Dane who sort of talked and had human friends and who…solved…uhhh…mysteries

Suspend your disbelief, friends!

In the world of Scooby Doo comics, which appeared on Saturday mornings on CBS and then, after 1976 on ABC, this all made sense. 

Any Scooby Doo fans out there? 

The way it worked in Scooby Doo was that Scooby and his friends drove more or less around America in this trippy van, called “The Mystery Machine”…and somehow, despite the psychedelic flowers and the sort-of-talking dog, they solved mysteries. 

Situations that seemed paranormal at first turned out to be utterly human—the culprit wasn’t a ghost, but a person bent on manipulation.  A person who decided to use some sort of old legend or creepy location to feather their own nest in some way.  

The episode always ended the same way, right church? 

With a moment of unmasking.  

The villain, caught at last, gets unmasked, usually through some sort of cockamamie trap designed by Fred, which only worked because of a mistake of some kind by the Great Dane, Scooby, who was always scared and did the wrong thing but ended up saving the day because of it.  

I tell you this just to name that if you are almost 52 years old, the notion of unmasking is inexorably a ritual for the guilty

But this is not so with Jesus. 

For Jesus, this moment of unmasking…this moment of revelation…this moment of showing who he really is…is a kind of claiming.  

It’s not a guilt thing. 

It’s a moment when finally, at last, what has always been true can be revealed.  

It’s a moment when God is willing to live out-loud, if only for his friends at first, but knowing…knowing that once they know, there will be no going back. 

There will be no going back for him.  

There will be no going back for them, either, although they may not see that just yet. 

But God “unmasks” before his friends. 

II.

Now, let’s be clear—it’s not as if Jesus was exactly “masked” before. 

When it comes to God’s transforming love, Jesus was on fire.  

But. 

But. 

For all the disciples had seen…for all that they had been a part of…for all the closeness they enjoyed and for all the insider-hood that came with it…for all that… there was this one thing that somehow they had not had the eyes to see: this healer…this teacher…was not just a spiritual master, but God’s own son. 

He wasn’t just a really really spiritual guy.    

He was the actual presence of God. 

That’s what’s at stake.  

That’s the big reveal.

Because for Luke, once you’ve experienced that, everything else falls into place. 

Before the Transfiguration, it’s easy to imagine the disciples talking among themselves, comparing notes after a healing or a particular sermon. 

“What was that?”

“Man, I don’t even know.” 

“Is this a God thing?”

“If it isn’t, I don’t know what is happening.” 

After the Transfiguration, that changes.  Now they know.

They see God at work right in front of them.  

What they’ve been seeing is God at work right in front of them.  

God is healing, bringing people together, seeing past old hurts and old divisions. 

God is offering new life in body, mind and spirit, inviting people to stand on the side of shalom—that Hebrew word that means welcome, peace, and wholeness.  

III.

We’ll come back to this in a moment. 

With all the news in recent days about the Ukraine, you’ve probably heard about concerns that Russia is deploying teams of people on social media to flood platforms like Facebook with disinformation. 

The aim is teach people around the world to distrust their instincts and, if possible, to stoke division and indecision about how the global community ought to respond to the crisis.

Of course, this is only the latest example of how social media shapes our sense of what is real, what’s true and what can be trusted. 

This has been true for a long time.  

When I was still teaching, schools were introducing media literacy into the curriculum, and one of the earliest and most important lessons for kids just beginning to engage on-line was that they needed to understand that being “friends” on Facebook wasn’t the same as being friends in real life.  

Many parents know how hard that can be for young people to understand.  

But it’s not just young people. 

Similarly, in recent years, mental health practitioners report that clients of all ages and backgrounds report significant depression and general distress because as they see it, their own lives just don’t measure up to the lives of the people, the “friends,” they see online.  

There is new language, like the term “humble-bragging” for the particular social contortions that some people use to post good things about themselves without looking like they’re brazenly fishing for compliments. 

And that has an effect.  

It some cases, it makes the contrast between our lives and the lives of the seemingly blessed seem even more acute.  

Whether we realize it or not, we may be taking that to heart. 

IV.

I mention it this morning because I think it helps us understand what is so important about the Transfiguration – this moment on the mountaintop when Jesus is unmasked and shown to be who He really is. 

Because He’s showing us that the truth about us is who we are in the eyes of God.  

What God sees in any one of us is not something humiliating, not some set of flaws to be exposed, but a soul that waits to be bathed in light. 

And the presence of God is known wherever people find the power to take off their masks and live as those who see that light shining over themselves and others.  

There’s a challenge to churches in that, too, truth be told. 

Churches, if we’re not careful, can be a little bit like Facebook—places to practice a certain kind of respectability politics, even to put our masks on.  

If that is true, then the mask mandate that we really need to pay attention to isn’t the one about COVID.  

It’s the unspoken belief that God would ever ask us to live a lie. 

By the same token, a church is no church at all if it is willing to teach its children that lies and deception, whether about themselves or anything else, are ever what righteousness requires. 

God’s community does not practice untruth. The Kingdom of God in its fullness will not.  

With that in mind, I take the story of the Transfiguration to be pointing in a very different direction.  

To me, it is a clear mandate to Christians to be people who practice telling and honoring the truth about ourselves and about the world. 

We are called to find the courage to do it, and to speak it in love when we do. 

But following in the footsteps of the Transfiguration, we are witnesses to the power of unmasking and to the joy of life out loud. 

And so we know that this is the only life there is. 

Amen.

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