Kimberly K. Jenne
Transfiguration Sunday (Year B), February 19, 2012
Sermon Title: Truth in Advertising
Words have power.
Words have power. As a lover of words, even as a young person, I soon realized how
powerful language could be. Language could be used to shower affection on a favorite pet. It
could be used to frighten those sitting around a campfire. It could be used to bring tears to the
eyes of little sisters. Language is a powerful and odd phenomenon.
For the better part of ten years I found myself participating in a fairly important part of the
economy, namely that of helping generate demand. I spent my career prior to answering a call to
the ministry in advertising – taking my love of words and shaping them into creative campaigns
that would encourage trial, reconsideration and repeat purchase. The lessons I had learned as a
child – that language was powerful, eliciting emotion – grew into a career selling a variety of
consumer products. I watched simple, yet manipulative tactics work in increasing market share for
brands. The right beer gets you the right girl and the right life. The right iPhone app can “take you
anywhere or be anything.” Advertising works. Carefully crafted words designed to create a
worldview that the brand wants to project. Connect that worldview with a need, and you could
create desire, which turns into demand. Advertising worked. Words contained power.
At the same time, I also taught courses at the university about media literacy. Every time I
would survey new students about the impact of advertising on their lives, they would say that
advertising had no or very little impact on their purchase behavior. “I buy what I like.”
“Advertising doesn’t work on me.” I would laugh to myself because I knew advertising worked
based on the sales numbers I looked at every week. Yet, very few people were willing to admit
that the words and images they consumed every week had power over their lives.
Advertising claims to have power, but it is manipulated power, false power.
On the Sundays after Epiphany we traditionally explore the various signs of Christ’s
manifestation of God. Today marks the Transfiguration, where we focus on the awe and wonder
of Christ’s glory hidden from the eyes of the world, yet revealed to the eyes of the faithful who
know his suffering, death, and resurrection. Traditionally this feast is celebrated on August 6, as
is still the case with Roman Catholic Church and Church of England. As one from the Methodist
tradition, we celebrate the Transfiguration on the last Sunday before Lent since it marks the
transition from Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee to his ministry of sacrifice in
At first glance, it might appear that our Gospel lesson has very little to do with economic
justice, but as Fellow Judith Lieu reminded us just a couple weeks ago, much of the Bible has to
do with socio-political realities. The Transfiguration is no different. Despite its cosmic qualities,
it relates directly to the faith journey and experiences of God’s people right now. In fact, my
claim is that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, as God, is more about our life in the here and
now than our life in the hereafter. This story speaks to a truth that is as relevant to our world
today as it was in the earthly days of Peter, James and John.
In our story, we find the three disciples traveling with Jesus up a mountainside and away
from the crowds that continue to gather around him. This episode comes on the heels of hearing
Jesus tell his disciples what had to have been a disturbing story. The Son of Man must go to
Jerusalem and undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and
be killed, and on the third day rise again. We can only imagine the degree of wonderment and
confusion to which Peter, James and John understood this particular news.
What words in our lives have true power?
According Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “We have moved to talking about efficiency (how to
get what you want) and therapy (how to not feel bad about what you want). What is common to
both is that they have more to do with the mentality of marketing (the stimulation and
satisfaction of desire) than of morality (what ought we desire).”1 While we often are not willing
to admit the power of advertising messages on our lives, it is a false power. Power based on
manipulation and exploitation. And it is a power that limits our vision of the world around us,
furthering the divide between people.
If we are honest with one another, most of us gathered in this room have lived good
lives– what my friend calls – “lives of up and to the right.” You know what I mean, right? If our
lives were charted on a graph, it would indicate a steady projection of up and to the right – that is
not to say there have not been challenges or low points along the way – but, for most of us sitting
here, life has been kind to us. Opportunities have come our way. We have not lacked for clean
water, food, or a bed in which to lay our heads. Our lives have been “up and to the right.” And,
when you think about that graph, as that red line continues to move up and to the right, it may
become easy to forget about those lives that have an altogether different projection. Our
consumerist culture counts on that forgetfulness. SOMETHING, SOMETHING
Yet, as Christians, we cannot claim ignorance. As we read and study and pray, our
gospel, as veiled as it is, becomes more and more clear. In the words of Paul’s epistle to the
Corinthians, the light that shines out of the darkness shines in our hearts and gives the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2
The truth in advertising for the Gospel of Christ is that God cannot be used as an
instrument for power and exploitation. We hear this most clearly when Jesus responds to Pilate
in John’s Gospel: “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify
to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”3
Peter, James and John, together with Jesus, are walking one moment pondering Jesus’
strange warning about the Son of Man rising from the dead after being betrayed, tortured and
killed… And the next moment, Jesus is transfigured before them. His traveling clothes, dusty
and sweaty as they must have been, become dazzling white. And Elijah and Moses appear and
are talking to their Teacher. Peter, James and John are terrified. Peter comes up with a great plan
to build some tents and stay up on the mountaintop as one big, happy family. And. Then. IT.
a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice,
‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
An echo of an earlier experience. But, Peter, James and John hear the voice of God,
naming Jesus as the Son, the Beloved and they know it is true.4 The disciples have been
traveling with Jesus, have witnessed to his healings, his teachings, his bringing justice into
their world. Peter has proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.5 These are words with power, real
power. In this moment, the truth of God’s words becomes apparent.
What does it mean to proclaim that God’s Son is among us?
What does it mean to proclaim God’s Son is among us? What does it mean to proclaim
Jesus as God in the midst of economic justice? WHAT NOW? What does the Transfiguration
say about humanity?
This is why it is important to NOT only associate the story of the Transfiguration with
divinity. Yes, this unveiling of Jesus as the Christ on that mountainside was an experience of the
divine, but it was also most definitely an experience of humanity. It points to a reality that can no
longer be denied. I believe the Transfiguration speaks to the human experience as strongly as it
does to the heavenly realm. The moment of Transfiguration affirms the divinity of Christ – it is,
in the words of one theologian, a Christophany – a manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah6 – but it
does something more. It gives the disciples the eyes to see God’s light in the chaos that is to
come – the death, the grief, the fear, the resurrection, and the difficult work of gathering the
community together to move forward. As our epistle lesson from Paul says, when we proclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord, the light shines out of the darkness giving the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As Christians, when our lives are exemplified by the
teaching of Jesus – fighting for the economic justice – scattering the proud in the thoughts of
their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, lifting up the lowly, and filling the
hungry with good things – then the glory of God is made manifest here and now.7
The Transfiguration happens within us, slowly – bit by bit – here on earth. In the words of
Charles Wesley’s hymn, we sing, “scatter all my unbelief, more and more thyself display.”8 And,
one of the Church’s prayers for the Transfiguration asks God that we might “be changed into his
likeness from glory to glory.” The kingdom of God breaks through here on earth give the light of
the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
In three days time, our foreheads will be marked with ash as a sign of our mortality and
repentance. We will enter the season of Lent following Jesus as he begins the long journey toward
Jerusalem and the cross. We will need the Transfiguration – we will need Christ among us – as we
begin that journey – as badly as the world needs us to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord so that the
light shines out of darkness and the truth of Christ can be manifest on earth. Amen.