Sunday, February 23, 2020

Year A Last Epiphany Transfiguration 2020 Outward and Inward

Year A Last Sunday of Epiphany (Transfiguration Sunday), 23 February 2020
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Outward and Inward”

Collect: O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Good morning. It is good to be back. For those of you who are unaware, I had an outpatient surgery last week, and things are healing up very well. Thank you for your prayers!

One reason things are going as well as they are is that I did what the doctor told me to do. Put on the ointment three times a day. Take your medicine. Sit still and upright, and sleep that way with your head elevated the first few nights. For the first two days, put ice on it for 20 minutes every hour while you are awake. And because of that most of you would never know I had surgery had I not told you, instead of looking like a raccoon which is what I was told to expect. 

And for those of you who know me well, sitting still and quiet for a week is not my first choice. I like to be out and about. I like to do. And in this time of forced reflection and stillness, it struck me that there could not be a better way to prepare for Lent. And here was the paradox, for me to be up and about I had to be still and quiet. As it has been penned, I “[do] not hate the Winter now, for [I know] it is but the Spring asleep.” (Wilde, The Selfish Giant)

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, when we see the turning point for Jesus. Before this he was expanding his ministry, sharing his light, giving people “epiphanies” of who he was. The Wise Men. The crowds. He was outwardly focused, and in this moment we see a change. We see Jesus taking what could have drawn a lot of people to him and to his ministry.

But Jesus was not about a magic show, glowing like Moses did after he had had his private connection time with God receiving the 10 Commandments. Jesus took his closest intimates, and they were allowed to witness this moment of charism, this joy of the Father revelling with the Son wrapped up in the aura of the Spirit. The Trinity before them fully realized. Even more, we see the embodiment of the Law, Moses, coming to see Jesus, and the epitome of the prophets, Elijah, coming as well. The Law and the Prophets both coming to glory in the embodiment of the only thing that trumps both, Grace.

Jesus’ outward focus, this shining of the light into a darkened world, is the first half of Christian mission. Peter was in that mode. He was focused on getting the word out, focused on making a splash. This splendiferous event, where Moses and Elijah both showed up to be present to Jesus, was a singular moment, an unparalleled gathering. Let it be known! Let it be solemnized! Let it be monumented! 

But no.

Just no. 

Jesus knew that this was a singular moment, this was when things changed. He knew that he turning outward time was now complete. His turning was towards Jerusalem. His turning to death began an inward journey that would lead to Golgotha, to the grave, to Hell... and Back. If that does not make you turn inward I cannot imagine what would. And this dear friends, is the other half of Christian mission. It is often the harder one. It is the mission to the Self.

Both/And. Not Either/Or. I have met many who have espoused being at work in the world, who missed this component entirely. Martin Luther said once, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to spend three hours in prayer in order to get it all done.” 

On the other extreme, I have seen people with their eyes so fixed on heaven that they are no earthly good.

Jesus, knew that his time had come. He was secure in who he was (“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”) and he was secure in what was expected of him and his followers (“Get up and do not be afraid.”) This was a moment, not a monument. This was a cruxpoint, not a cairn. 

Jesus turns his mind to Jerusalem, and setting up the confrontation that will enable the prophecies to come true. With that resolute focus of his mind, his steps take his body with equal resolve.

In the journeys of our lives, we must do the same thing. Seemingly contradictory, they are part of the dance of discipleship. 

Remember the swings on the playground? When we were tiny, we had to be pushed. We had someone behind us who would stand at the apogee point, and give a gentle shove to keep us going. But then when we matured, we started to do it for ourselves. We would push back to get off the ground, and then we would swing our legs back to send us back, and swing our legs forward to go forward. And many would stop with that for the swinging of the swings.

But I always wanted more. I wanted to go higher. I wanted to see how high I might possibly go. And then I had to embody a seeming contradiction. To go as high as possible, when my legs swung forward I had to kick my body back. And then when my legs swung back, my body leaned in. It added momentum. It gave me a greater force. I had to do two things at once. Forward legs with a lean back of my body, then back with my legs with a lean forward with my body. Both back and forth to get the most out of it. My spiritual walk is much the same way.

For me to be outward facing in my faith, declaring, celebrating, encouraging, and proclaiming, I have to turn inward and feed my soul. I have to take the time to cultivate and prune the garden of my heart. And to have the richness of my inner life, I have to share what I have found. It could be through service. It could be through sharing. But it cannot be about me. We are blessed to be a blessing, not for our betterment. Vegetables are not made to be looked at, they are made to be eaten. Cultivating them just to be pretty might get you a blue ribbon at a Fair, but it ceases to be what the thing was made to do.

To go out I must go in. To go in I must turn out. 

Jesus told his disciples to NOT speak of this moment until the main thing was accomplished. “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” This is called the Messianic Secret by scholars, Jesus urging folks to not share, yet. To keep it secret, to keep him safe. He knew what his main thing was. He knew what he needed to do to accomplish it.

In our following of him, we need to also be this focused. We need to also do the seemingly contradictory thing. It is how the thing gets done.

In the coming week we turn our faces, with Jesus, to Jerusalem. It is a serious time. It is a time of preparation. We mark ourselves as followers of this Son, the Beloved of God. And we not only follow his steps, but his lead. As he takes up his cross, we take up ours. Knowingly. Unreservedly. Devoutly.

On Wednesday I will say these words:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word.

On Wednesday, I too will have a season of turning inward and turning outward. We are all encouraged and invited on this sacred path. The Season of turning outward is complete, this Season of turning inward begins. And the outcome for Jesus? It was so that he might be “high and lifted up” and so that “all peoples might be drawn unto him.”

What shape will your Season take? Prepare now. Pray about it even. What might draw you closer to God by giving it up? What might draw you closer to God by taking it on?  It is both, my friends. It is both. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock