Sermon on the Transfiguration and How Seminary is Like Hogwarts

Transfiguration sermon 2-19-12 <—-click to listen along!

My friends joke about how useless a Masters of Divinity is outside the church.  How having a degree from seminary is basically like having a degree from Hogwarts.  Knowing all about the magic is just not that useful outside the “wizarding world”.

This was confirmed for me this week as I prepared a sermon for this, the Feast of the Transfiguration since most of the Western world only associates Transfiguration with of Professor McGonagal.  Again,  Hogwarts more useful than seminary.

The popularity of the Harry Potter books is totally understandable. Since, as Charles Taylor says, we now seem to live in a world without magic. The history of humanity was full of magic – throughout the ages the transcendent and mysterious was woven all around the mundane and certain.  Until a few hundred years ago that is, with the dawn of the enlightenment.   When we discovered the scientific method we no longer needed superstition and the supernatural because we had human reason.  We now could look from our little sliver of history back to all the millennia that went before us and sneer at their ignorance and superstition.

It seemed in Western thought that we had arrived.  There was finally nothing that Newtonian Physics and basic Chemistry could not explain.  We had what humanity always needed and that was answers.

Incidentally this was when Biblical fundamentalism came about as well.  Since science was the most reliable way of knowing truth then everything in the Bible also must be scientific fact.

For quite some time after we discovered science we lived in what was called the age of progress.  We looked only forward and never back.  That which was old was suspect.   And we could improve our world and our lives through our own reason and cleverness.

I get this. But I also get that my own reason and cleverness only gets me so far in life. I need a story bigger than the story of me.  I need a reality bigger than the one I can understand.  I need some transfiguration.

So in our Gospel story for today,  Jesus is transfigured before Peter James and John…his clothes bleached blindingly white and suddenly he’s talking to Elijah and Moses – and for those of you not keeping track…those guys had been dead for centuries well Moses had Elijah kind of never died but was taken into heaven on a fiery chariot  – but that’s it’s own freaky Bible story. For our purposes we’ll stick with this one.

It feels magical, this story of Jesus transfigured on a Mountain talking to Moses and Elijah.  It’s as though time ceased to be a neat, straight line pulled taut with the present in it’s appropriate distance from the past and the future.  Instead it’s like on the mount of Transfiguration that the line of time was all crumpled up with past present and future all touching for a moment.

Then a cloud overcomes them and God says this is my beloved son…listen to him.

It’s all kind of hard to comprehend.

So Peter says it’s good to be here….he didn’t know what else to say … he was terrified.

In the face of the holy and unexplainable what else is there for us to do?

That’s the thing about God.  The more we know, the less we know.  The more God reveals God’s self to us, the less certainty we have.

So it is good for us to be here.  Not so that we can get answers.  Answers are too easy and sometimes can bring with them a blinding arrogance . . .  meaning that certainty can sometime obscure mystery. Easy answers are easy.  What takes time is to have the story of Christ lived out in a community of saints and sinners transfigure you slowly like water forming a rock.  It is good to be here.

I want to be a people who are re-enchanted.  Not ignorant.  Not gullible.  Not superstitious.  But re-enchanted.  I want some magic, don’t you?  Why else would you be here?  I mean anyone who’s been here more than once has surely caught on that this isn’t a place you come to learn how to be a better person.  We don’t do a whole lot of moral instruction.  But what you do get is to hear stories of miracles and healings and forgiveness and we get to remember one night a couple millennia ago when Jesus had his last meal and we get to gather around a table to share that same meal and remember the promise that God is with us.  And for a moment the past present and future are all tangled up and Newtonian physics doesn’t explain any of it.

That is not to say that science and religion are so very separate. Because while we came here and touch the mystery of God at the same time we get to celebrate the miracle of modern anesthesia and the magic of Bob’s successful brain surgery this week.  And if there is anything in this world that is worthy to be enchanted by is it not how we now know that in Julie Miller’s womb is a boy child of God and in Maria Ashley’s womb is a ­­girl child of God.  We live in a world worthy of being enchanted by.  That’s the crazy thing about being part of a religion that is so unapologetically physical is that mystery and grace is found in things like bread and water and wine.  And I know for myself, I’m somehow much more comforted by mystery than by certainty.

I want to be speechless and a little terrified and to not know what else to do but say it’s good to be here and listen to Jesus.

You deserve some magic.  And while you could dress up and go to Harry Potter’s Wizzarding World at Universal Studios in Orlando and feel enchanted for the cost of an $85 ticket. There is something about this story, This story of heaven touching earth on a mountain 2000 years ago which promises something no other story can.  There’s something about this table around which we gather every week that promises to be true in a way that myth and legend and fairy tale never can.  This thing…this Jesus thing is real.  The Gospel is real. Heaven touching earth is real. The body and blood of Christ is real.  And only this kind of realness can re-enchant the world again and again.  It is good for us to be here.




About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at

  • Dixie

    It is good that God didn’t tell us everything. What amazing surprises are in store.

  • Dixie Richardson

    It is good that God didn’t tell us everything. What awesome surprises are in store!

  • Anne Emry

    Hi Nadia, learned about your blog from Michelle M. Great work! Blessings, Anne+

  • Pr. S. Blake Duncan

    What a wonderful sermon. Thank you for posting it. I have to say that I must have missed out – when I was at seminary we didn’t have a Quiddich team. Blessings on your ministry….

  • John Golden

    Great stuff. I’ve been teaching Elijah to middle schoolers, struggling with the magic, which makes them feel like it’s not real. But what really struck me is how this is true in science as well. I’m a mathematician, and there are more open questions now than there ever have been. The more we know, the more we don’t know. And you think about Newton… that was the last moment the physicists felt secure in knowing all the answers.

    How can we as Jesus followers share that magic with people in need of it?

  • Betsy

    As a time-challenged person I have never understood time. People laugh when I say that time is not concrete, mostly because they think I am trying to be funny in justifying my ignorance of time. But there really is an ebb and flow to time that is not always rhythmic. When I try and explain that with God there is no time and that time was created for earth…well, usually I just shut up. In God there is no time, but to try and imagine the past, present, and future as happening all at once is mind-boggling and maybe a bit scary, too. Thank you for pointing out the element of timelessness in this story; suddenly the story makes so much more sense to me.

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  • George Waite

    For those who enjoy ignorance and being treated like children, religion must seem like wish fulfillment.
    For those who want to grow up, not so much.