Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Doug Bailey
Memphis, Tennessee
August 6, 2000
Transfiguration of our Lord

The Rev. Dr. Douglass M. Bailey

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

On this great Festival of the Transfiguration, on this anniversary day of the founding of Calvary Church on August 6, 1832, let’s climb a mountain.

Let’s climb a mountain, because it’s on the mountaintop that we will encounter Moses in today’s Hebrew Scripture Lesson. We meet him on top of Mt. Sinai, a traditional spot for the residence of the Holy One. Moses, having climbed the mountain, experiences a God encounter, and the tablets of the Law are given to him. He comes back down that mountain trail with his face beaming. He is greeted by his companions, the people of Israel. They see his face beaming, but he’s unaware of it. The shining face is due to Moses’ God encounter on a mountain.

Now, let’s climb another mountain, the one mentioned in today's Gospel Lesson. There we will have an encounter with Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. So, in your imagination leave the Sinai desert and go due north to the southern part of Galilee, to the Jezreel Valley. Now look down that valley and you will see a strange sight. It looks like a large, upside-down coffee cup. That is Mount Tabor, the traditional site where the transfiguration occurred.

There on that mountaintop, with Jesus and his companions, we witness an amazing and mysterious sight. Jesus is in such deep communion with the Holy One, the Holy God, like Moses before him, it seems as though not only his face, but all of his garments as well, are shining and dazzling.

Jesus is in conversation with two people who have come back from that timeless place of the departed. There is Moses the giver of the Law on one side of him, and Elijah the leader of the great line of prophets on the other. In the center is Jesus on who hangs all the Law of all the prophets. The three are in conversation about Jesus’ coming death and resurrection.

The disciples are heavy with sleep, and not clearly understanding what it is they're witnessing. Peter puts his foot in his mouth and says, "It’s a good thing we’re here to experience this; we’d like to build three tabernacles"(a great Jewish and Christian thing to do), "one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He doesn't get it, anymore than you or I would. The spirituality that this event is pointing towards is not about building physical memorials, be they tabernacles or churches or shrines; rather this event is about the building and shaping of our soul from an encounter with the living God.

A cloud then overshadows them, and the figures of Moses and Elijah depart. Jesus is left standing there--dazzling, glistening, a portrait of the glory of God in their presence. This Jesus is no longer just the great prophet and teacher. He is the Holy One, and a Voice affirms it, "This is My Beloved Son. Listen to him." (Across the generations of faith tradition) "listen to him."

There, on that holy mountain, in this transfiguring, life-changing experience for Jesus, it may well be that the ones most changed, most transfigured, are Peter, James and John. They never recover from that moment. It’s from this moment on in Mark's Gospel, and Luke's Gospel, and Matthew's Gospel, that their faces are set for a journey to another mountain- Mount Moriah, Jerusalem, to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ponder how much the image and the reality of the mountain has played in our faith traditions, in both the Jewish and the Christian tradition. It’s true also in the Hindu tradition, the Shinto tradition, and in the Islamic tradition. The mountains have always been the symbols of the residence of the Sacred Holy Ones.

Let’s go to the mountain. Any of you who are in search of God and a God encounter are spiritually heading to the mountain. I’m convicted that the people of God must always be mountain people- people who know where to journey and search for the hidden one in our midst, the Holy One, the Holy God.

Spirituality has about it this journey to a mountain, either as a metaphor or in reality. Until the past decade, we always put an adjective in front of the word spirituality. Up until about 1990, if you looked up spirituality it would be under Jewish Spirituality, Hindu Spirituality, Medieval Spirituality, or Benedictine Spirituality. It always had a title before it. Now you use the word spirituality and it conjures up the human longing for the mountain. It’s a way of saying, let’s be on the journey for a God encounter.

What is it that brought you here today? Why does a church fill up in downtown Memphis in the middle of the summer? It’s because there are significant numbers of you who are today heading to a mountain, metaphor fashion. You’ve come in search of the Holy One. You are hungry and thirsty for a God encounter.

Let’s go to the mountain, and let's notice what happens. Think back to when you were about seven or eight years of age and somebody dared you to stare into the sun on a bright, clear, sunny day. Remember that moment? You looked into the sun with your bare eyes and its brilliant glare pierced your cornea and etched a spot in your eye. You turned away, blinked, rubbed your eyes, and still you had that outline of what’s called a sunspot.

I believe that’s what happened spiritually to the disciples up on the mountaintop. They were struck by a S-o-n spot. They experienced a sacred God spot there, and they never got over it. It carried them through the pain and loss of the death of Jesus. It affirmed them through the both fearful and glorious moment of Resurrection. It helped them establish the church after the Resurrection. You and I are here because of the Son spots of the disciples.

Now, think about all of the God spots in your life— books you’ve read, stories you have heard, moments in prayer, certain people in your life, a crisis time, a resurrection time. Think of people who have so struck you with something of the Holy One that there was a kind of scorching of the cornea of your soul with the face of the Holy One. You’re different because of it. You’re transfigured because of it.

We’re here in Calvary Church because on Aug. 6, 1832, twelve Episcopal "apostles" met and celebrated the Eucharist with The Rev. Thomas Wright, an itinerant Episcopal priest from North Carolina. Afterwards, on that hot and muggy day, they established Calvary Episcopal Church. Those twelve "apostles" started the Episcopal movement in Memphis.

They were struck with a God spot, and in a sense I trust the city of Memphis has never quite recovered. Calvary Church, in its history and in its heritage, went on to establish five other Episcopal congregations: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Grace Church and Saint Luke’s Church (who later combined to form Grace-St. Luke’s), the Church of the Holy Communion (celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year), and St. Paul’s of Frayser.

I wonder what our calling is in Calvary right now in the year 2000? What mountain is God calling us to climb? Are we being called to leave behind other things and seek a new God encounter? To become more transfigured as a people of God in the heart of the city in order to change the city? Change our dioceses, change our world? Because I’m convinced that it’s only changed people, transfigured people, who change the world.

I close with a story that is special to me. In a strange way, it was years ago and yet only yesterday, that I journeyed to Wake Forest University. There I encountered a shining face. He was a student-athlete, a fellow basketball player. His name was Wayne Calloway. Wayne was not the most gifted basketball player, but he was awarded a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest because he was so fast, he was so good on defense, and he worked so very hard. He grew up poor in Winston-Salem, N.C., living literally on the "other side of the tracks," near a fabric plant where his Dad was employed as a laborer. The only way he would have been able to afford college was to be an athletic scholar, and he was always so grateful to Wake Forest University. He worked hard through his college years in both academics and basketball. He never started, he never was a star, but everybody knew Wayne Calloway. He glowed with hard work and deep faith.

After he finished college, he went to work for Pepsi-Cola Corporation at a low entry level. Slowly he began to work his way up, and everywhere he went he took his faith tradition with him. Just like in his college years, every encounter he had with people he gave them something of the shining nature of God. Eventually he worked his way up to the highest position, CEO of Pepsico Corporation International. It is an amazing story.

Along the way Wayne Calloway never forgot his heritage. He gave millions of dollars to Wake Forest University. When we had an athletic reunion some years ago I asked him, "Wayne, what is it that’s been behind your huge contributions to Wake Forest?" He replied, "Doug, everything I am and everything I have today is due to a college that took a chance on giving a scholarship to a small runt of a guy in a big basketball world. I can never give enough to Wake Forest University." Wayne died last year from cancer. But the cancer couldn't touch his soul. He will always be a shining moment in Wake Forest University, but mostly he shines in those of us who were touched and changed by his life.

Wayne Calloway climbed his mountains and he had his God encounters and he was changed, and others knew it. How about you? How about me? How about your Calvary Church? Friends, let’s climb mountains. Let’s work to develop some God spots; and then let’s go out and change the world, for God’s sake.

Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-- not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. NRSV

[back to top]




Copyright ©1999-2006