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To Become More Beautiful: A Sermon on Transfiguration
Rev. Abby VanderBrug

To open up our Chapel today, we will do a Land Acknowledgement, led by Ms. Sparkman, to remind us that we are on Abenaki land. It’s meant as a reminder of our past and also as a call to us to care for the future of this land. Following the land acknowledgment, I will ring the chime to invite us into some holy silence and reflection to honor this space. 


We are currently located in New Hampshire on traditional lands that have a long history as a locus of the Abenaki/Wabanaki people’s residence, livelihood, expression, healing, and exchange.  I offer this note to remind us of our shared obligation to acknowledge and work toward righting the inequities and injustices that have alienated indigenous peoples from the full occupation and utilization of these spaces.

We are part of a society where the lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color continue to be blighted by structural racism, lack of opportunity, health disparities, and direct violence by agents of the state and others. I (and hopefully you as well) hereby reaffirm our commitment, and pledge more fully, to embrace our responsibility and act in solidarity with those who are targets of this violence and inequity.


The story I’m going to tell today is from the Christian scriptures. It’s known as the story of the Transfiguration and usually I tell it because (well, I like it) and usually we are in the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Bretton Woods on Mountain Day. But before I tell you, I wonder if you know what the verb “Transfigure” means.


Definition: Transfigure (verb): To become something more beautiful. 


Keep that definition, “to become something more beautiful,” in your head as I tell the story.  It’s a story from the Gospel, the retelling of the life of Jesus.


Jesus is with three of his best friends – Peter, James, and John – when he decides to go up to a mountain to pray and these friends go with him, basically like going to Outdoor Chapel. So far, pretty normal story, a pretty average day in the life here – Jesus took a lot of time away to pray, so I’m pretty sure he was an introvert. 


So they hike up to the mountain, and at the top the disciples fall asleep while Jesus is praying. Again, so far pretty normal – they are always falling asleep when something important happens. 


All of a sudden they wake up, and Jesus’ face is glowing like the sun and his clothes are dazzling white. This is when the Bible says that he was “transfigured before them.” Then two other characters come on the scene. They appear out of the clouds – Moses and Elijah. These are characters from stories a thousand years ago, who have long been dead. And they start talking to Jesus. And then this huge cloud comes over all of them, and they hear the voice of God in the cloud on the mountain. 


So, kind of weird, a rather unique experience, with the ghosts and talking clouds, and it’s made even more peculiar at the end. Jesus is walking back down the mountain with his friends and he tells them, “When we get back, don’t tell anyone what happened, because they wouldn’t understand.” 


And in a way, I guess we would have to be there. I don’t know what this experience was like for the four people up on that mountain, but I think that in this story it wasn’t just Jesus who was transfigured. I think they all did – that this experience in some way shaped them because of what they experienced on that mountain together. 


Here’s what I think this story offers us: formative, meaningful, authentic stuff happens to us in these mountains. Experiences that shape our spirituality, our hearts, that make us who we are, happen in places like this, and that is a beautiful thing.


So here you are at Holderness, and maybe we’re not all climbing up in the White Mountains today, but here is what I hope that your time at Holderness offers you. 


I hope that (if you want to) you sign up to climb Mount Washington. I hope you go on Out Back – even if you are terrified – and you embrace that experience for everything it is. I hope you take up Mr. Thatcher on an outdoor weekend trip. I hope you try Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing or kayaking one season, just to learn how to do it. I hope that if you don’t love walking up to the Outdoor Chapel, I hope by the end of the year, you at least tolerate it. 


But besides all that, here’s what I really hope. I hope you transfigure.  To Transfigure: to become something more beautiful. Not beautiful in the way that people think is beautiful, but to be beauty-full,  full of beauty. I hope you find yourself walking back to your dorm one night when the stars are just radiant, so many you can’t even begin to count them, and I hope it stops you dead in your tracks. I hope you climb up here to watch the sunrise on Easter morning and it takes your breath away. I hope you come to a rushing river and take your shoes off and that the water on your feet feels like what it feels like to be baptized, to be made new. I hope you have stories from hiking with your friends, that you don’t tell other people, because they wouldn’t understand, you kind of just had to be there. I hope when you get older and you start making your own money, you buy yourself a canoe, go on a vacation to a national park, or give your money to an organization that fights climate change.


I hope you transfigure, to become something more beautiful because your eyes were open to the world around you and you saw it with your heart. 


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