Sunday, February 26, 2017

Year A Last Sunday of Epiphany 2017 "Lamp for a Dark Road"

Year A Last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration, 26 February 2017
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA
“A Lamp for a Dark Road”

One of the interesting things about growing up and having kids is that I have learned where I stand in the world. When my mom comes to visit, she hugs and kisses my girls first, and somewhere along the way she says hi to me.

It may sound like a complaint, but yet, it’s not. There are my precious ones, my beloveds, and when my mom showers them with love, and affection, and too often presents, it warms my heart. I love them more than myself. It makes me glad when those I love adore the same ones I adore.

And today we look at our beloved Jesus. The Beloved. Ho Agapetos. The word used here in the Transfiguration is the same word we hear from God at Jesus’ baptism. The Beloved.

And we know from where the story goes that we are the Beloved of Jesus, so much so that he gladly gave his life for any of us, for all of us.

This story is told in three of the four Gospels. The synoptic Gospels, the three from the “same view.” Matthew, Mark and Luke. They follow the similar structure. Jesus asks his apostles, “Who do they say that I am?” And Peter, the loudmouth that speaks first and acts later declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Soon after this event, we reach the pinnacle of Jesus’ adoration, when he is recognized by God as being his Son, the Messiah, THE Beloved.

Jesus took his intimates, Peter, James and John with him up the mountain to pray.  And notice, when he prays, God shows up. (Side note: I believe when any of us pray, God shows up. We just may not be attuned to what that looks like.) The Transfiguration is one of my favorite stories. It is a favorite for many reasons. It lifts up Jesus. He is more than a prophet; he is more than a Rabbi (teacher); he is more than a commentator on the Law (someone who does Midrash). He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One, the Beloved. In all of time and history it is abundantly clear that this is the pinnacle of what being a human can be. The title “the Son of Man” is exactly that, the Quintessential Human, the capital-H capital-O Human One as the Contemporary English Bible translates that title “Son of Man.” And as we prayed today, it was on this mount that we have his glory revealed.

Now I am going to get a little science-y here for a minute, so stay with me if you would like. Or if you don’t want to get a little cross-eyed, check out for about thirty seconds, well to be honest,  two minutes. One thing that I hold onto, is that as we learn more and more about the nature of time in Physics, the Transfiguration makes more and more sense. Time is not a string, going from the beginning to the end, pulled taut and we are trapped in this tube that only travels in one direction. More and more in advanced physics we see that time is just another dimension just like height, width and depth, our normal 3. Time is the fourth dimension, and if we could see it, it is less like a taut string than it is bowl of spaghetti consisting of one REALLY LONG noodle.

When I read this story, I like to think that Jesus went up to pray, and God shows up. And Moses shows up. And Elijah shows up. Now if we read it in a traditional sense, Moses and Elijah come back from heaven to celebrate and uphold the Son. Symbolically this works well. Moses is the embodiment of the LAW, the Law Incarnate. And Elijah is the quintessential prophet, boldly declaring God’s word no matter the cost. And Jesus came to fulfill both the LAW and the PROPHETS, he even said as much. (Matthew 5:17) And from all of my sermons, especially last week, you know how I see Jesus, the embodiment of GRACE. Only Grace can fulfill both the Law and the Prophets. That is our traditional view. And I am fine with that view, too!

But what if we filter the Transfiguration through a different view. What if Jesus is praying and Moses and Elijah show up? And what if Moses was praying and Elijah and Jesus showed up? And what if Elijah was praying and Moses and Jesus showed up? In fact, we are given details about profound times of prayer of Moses on Sinai and Elijah on Horeb. But they did not have witnesses to give the details. What if in these intense moments of prayer they were given a vision, Moses of the future of his people he helped deliver, how they would rebel, but that through them the whole world would be redeemed. Or Elijah, while fleeing Ahab and Jezebel, while hiding in the cave the still small voice pointed to where they came from, and though the times seem dark at the moment, where they will go. And Jesus, he gets to see the path of God from Law through Prophets to Grace, and was comforted and affirmed especially before he turns his face to Jerusalem and his imminent persecution, death, and resurrection. In fact, in the synoptics Gospels, it is after this that he begins the predictions of his passion.

If that was too science-fiction-y, I apologize, but I have always been fascinated by this story and its implications. But maybe I watched too much Star Trek growing up.

From our Epistle, we have the words of an eye witness to Christ’s glory, Peter.
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
You see, even Peter, holds this time close, especially when the days are dark. He has seen and heard and knows deep down the rest of the story. When we know the rest of the story we can be brave in the scary parts. When we know the rest of the story, we can be a comfort to those overwhelmed in the moment.

Sometimes I will show my daughters a movie that would be too much for them to watch on their own. I will say to them, there are some parts of this story that will be scary for you, but trust me. I would not show you anything that is not worth watching, and I would not show you more than you can handle. And they do. They may snuggle close on the sofa, or hold my hand, or ask me if I am sure it is okay. That is normal and healthy to question, when their senses and what they know to be true is being threatened. But they also know they can trust me. Jesus, the Beloved, was given this affirmation before he had to face what was to come. Peter, James and John were as well.  They were sworn to secrecy until the fulfillment of the resurrection came to pass, but in that way they could affirm that what was said was true. As Peter put it,
“You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Remember this as we, like Christ, turn our faces to Jerusalem. The road before us, this Holy Lent, is not an easy one.

Lent begins this Wednesday, and we use it as a time of reflection and repentance in preparation of Easter. It is not accidental that the lectionary has Transfiguration as the final Sunday before Lent begins. We have this reminder, this “lamp” as Peter called it. I have spoken before about going caving in my younger days, and when you go into those dark places, we do so always looking back to remember where the light is, and so we know we are on the right path, and our way home when the time comes.

I started today talking about how I know where I stand when my mom comes over to visit. After Peter’s Confession that Jesus is the Messiah, what if that was the trigger? “Okay, they have this. They are ready.” So Jesus took his leaders away to retreat, as we would call it. And they prayed. And Jesus got a reminder of where he stood in the world. Jesus got a reminder of who he was. He was the God’s own, “the Son, the Beloved.” And that is when he turned his face to die. Let us not mince words, for that is what Jerusalem was. Death. He repeatedly told his disciples along the way. The Son of Man, the quintessential Human, had one purpose. To love us all so much, even to the point of death.

When my mom comes over she loves me by loving my kids. When Christ came, he showed God how much he loved him by loving us so much and God shows how much love God has by sending the Beloved. John puts it this way:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You see, this event, the Transfiguration, was the turning point where the Teacher becomes the Martyr, the Son becomes the Savior. We are given this “lamp” so that we can see where Jesus stands in the world, where we stand in this dark, dark world. Let this light shine. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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Blessings, Rock