In You I Am Well Pleased
The Rev. Bob Pierson
Scripture: Luke 9:28-36
“This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” These words from God are addressed to Peter, James, and John, and I find it very interesting that while this story of the Transfiguration appears in all 3 Synoptic Gospels, in Matthew and Mark God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” The title “the Beloved” also appears in each of the Synoptic accounts of the baptism of Jesus, where God says the same thing, except he addresses Jesus himself: “You are my Son, the Beloved,” and then adds “with you I am well pleased.”
In both the Transfiguration and the Baptism of Jesus, God intervenes in a dramatic way to assure Jesus of his identity as God's beloved Son, preparing him for what lies ahead. In his baptism, God is preparing Jesus for his earthly ministry, with all its trials and tribulations. In the Transfiguration, God is preparing Jesus, in Luke's words, for “his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” in other words, his suffering at the hands of religious leaders and his death on the cross.
The words “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased” have been important for me personally, because when I first heard those words directed at me, I was also being prepared for a trial I knew nothing about. Please allow me a little room here for some autobiography, so you can understand why these words are so important to me.
In February of 2000, I was diagnosed with major clinical depression, and spent six months in a mental health treatment facility for priests and religious. An important part of my healing was coming to terms with my sexuality as a gay man. Growing up gay in the Roman Catholic Church had taught me to feel ashamed of myself at a very deep level. That shame almost killed me, until one day in prayer I heard God say to me, “You, Bob, are my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Thank God I was able to hear and believe those words, and that truth has set me free.
Though I didn't know it at the time, I was being prepared for a trial I could never have imagined. As I began to live in a more authentic way, first as an LGBT ally and eventually as an out, gay priest, I got in trouble with members of the Catholic hierarchy. It all came to a head in June 2012, when I gave a talk to about 200 Catholics on why they “could” vote against the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. The Catholic bishops of Minnesota were sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution, defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” The bishops made it sound like the only moral choice was to vote for the amendment. In my talk, I reminded people, using quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a quote from Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, that Christians are obliged to follow their consciences when making moral choices. No one, not even the Pope, can take that obligation away from us. I didn't realize that a video recording of my talk was being posted on YouTube, and after over 60.000 views later, we defeated the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, and I was told that my talk had an impact on that outcome.
Well, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota were furious, and the archbishop of St. Paul/ Minneapolis banned me from ministry. Around the same time, August 2012, Pope Benedict said anyone who didn't support the church's teachings on women's ordination or homosexuality were like Judas, and that they should leave the Catholic Church. So I prayed, asking God to show me if these words were meant for me. Two months later, on Halloween, I was given a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, telling me that a member of my Catholic, Benedictine community had reported me to the Vatican. I thanked God for such a clear sign, and I approached the Order of the Holy Cross, a Benedictine community of men in the Episcopal Church. In March 2014 I was accepted into the Episcopal Church, and in May 2016 I was received as an Episcopal priest. I have had the privilege of serving as the Priest In Charge of two small Episcopal churches in West Park and Marlboro, NY, from 2018 to 2021, when I resigned that ministry to move to Gresham to begin life with my new partner, Rocky Pe Benito.
I don't want to end my homily with the impression that this story is all about me. Rather it is a concrete example of how God empowers any of us with the knowledge that we are God's beloved children and as God's children, in the words of 2 Corinthians which we heard a few minutes ago, “we act with great boldness.”
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us..., are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart....by the open statement of the truth, we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
As we begin the season of Lent this week, we are reminded that we are ALL God's beloved children and we are called to live in that truth, and to let God transform us, too, in our observance of Lent.