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Who Are You Wearing?

Who Are You Wearing?
A sermon preached the last Sunday of Epiphany (March 2, 2014)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector, 
The Falls Church Episcopal

Today is a transition Sunday, with the season of Lent beginning this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday and next Sunday being the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a season that can be a real gift from the church, because it invites us to use it as a season of reflection, a season to step back and take a long loving honest look at ourselves.

Today is also the night of the Academy Awards, the night the Oscars are awarded, and the reason I mention that is a question that is sometimes asked on the red carpet as all those actors and actresses arrive. The question is “who are you wearing?” Have you heard that question before? Who are you wearing.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit of an English grammar and vocabulary nerd (I love language!), but I’m fascinated by that question. “Who are you wearing?” Not “what are you wearing?” or “who’s your designer, who designed what you’re wearing?” but who are you wearing?

Think about it: it’s an absurd question if you take it literally: You can’t really wear a person. So what’s it saying? What is that question really asking?
Isn’t it something like

“who – what famous designer -- did you choose to not only put on tonight, but by putting them on, choose to identify with?”

“What famous designer are you choosing to clothe yourself with, identify with?”

(This is probably why I’m not invited to many Oscar watching parties. "John, you overthink things. Just watch the show omg is that Kate Blanchett? Oh thank goodness Matthew McConaughey put his weight back.”)

But bear with me…if that is that is the question being asked, then what a great question.

For Lent. For us.

“What famous(!) Designer are you choosing to clothe yourself with, identify with?”

In today’s lesson, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Jesus’ When Jesus and his disciples came down the mountain, they had not a new series of laws or rules (symbolized by Moses) or a new prophetic inspiration (symbolized by Elijah)  but a person – and not instructions on how to worship, but a person TO worship: Jesus.

God's message in Exodus was “love me by obeying these commandments.”

God’s message in the Transfiguration was, “This is my Son, whom I love: listen to him!”

Being in relationship with Jesus changes us. Changes the way we interpret the law and prophets.

We’ve seen over the past few weeks that Jesus changes the way we follow each of the ten commandments: Obvious examples are from a few weeks ago when Jesus focused on the root cause of murder (anger) and the root cause of adultery (lust), thereby pulling the rug out from under all of us and removing any ability for us to judge others.

But Jesus also radicalized (rooted) Sabbath observance, honoring one’s parents, and stealing, not to mention the commandment against having another god or making idols.

The point?

Despite what you may have heard all your life, our call as Christians is not primarily to follow rules, but to be in relationship with – to be in love with – Jesus. 

You’ve heard me argue a lot that it was “rule-followers” who a) drove Jesus up the wall while he was alive, and b) finally had him killed when they realized how subversive, original, and un-controllable he (as Love, incarnate) was. And the dynamic remains the same today.

As Frederick Buechner writes, “principles are what people have instead of God.”  As Peter, James’ and John found out that first Transfiguration day, and as we are reminded today, God does not want something “from” you – even your obedience. God wants YOU.

Jesus’ appearance changes on the top of that mountain – “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white” is (in the old fashioned language of the RSV) “the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.”

In other words, his countenance changed – the appearance of his face changed.

Countenance: not just the appearance of one’s face,
not just one’s facial features,
but one’s expression,
one’s bearing,
one’s demeanor….“the way one holds oneself together.”

So – with the season of Lent starting this Wednesday and running the next forty six days, there you have it: an ambitious, but pretty good goal for Lent.  To change countenance, our bearing, the way we hold ourselves together.

Paul says in Second Corinthians… “And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

As it’s paraphrased in The Message: “when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”

Wow: "...our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” 

In other words, Paul says, what happened to Jesus on that mountaintop can happen to us, too. Our lives can be transfigured, we can radiate and reflect the glory of God.

When Lent is over, how will you and I know if it has been successful? – how will you and I know if we’ve had a “good” Lent?

If we resolve to pray or read scripture faithfully every day, that would be good. If we resolve to give up some bad habit and manage to make it all the way to the other end without slipping up even once, that would be good.

But Lent is about more than rules, or even new inspiration. In the light of the Transfiguration, your Lent and my Lent will be a success, if by the end of it, our faces glow: our countenances change.

That comes from spending more time in the loving, “do not be afraid” presence of God...more time spent in prayer, worship, and serving. Time spent marinating, not just glazing ourselves in God’s love, so that our countenance changes...

…so that we act different, look different because we ARE different,
not just temporarily “outwardly clothed” in better habits, but – as we choose to identify with, and be transfigured by our designer more and more, we are changed, not just outwardly or temporarily, but permanently, from the outside in, and from the inside out…

…so people know who we are wearing!



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