Nothing will ever be the same

In his commentary on Matthew Eugene Boring writes:

 Moses and Elijah are here paired because they were both prophets who were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God, both were advocates of the covenant and the Torah, both worked miracles, and both were considered by first-century   Judaism to be transcendent figures who did not die but were taken directly to heaven [i]

I am not a miracles worker, I am not a transcendent figure and not likely to be either. However, to so follow God’s will as to be rejected by the people, and to advocate for the covenant, and Torah (at least in its moral and ethical bounds) fall, if not into the realm of likely, then at least into the realm of Gospel calling. There is a much for us to learn about ourselves here as there is for us to learn about Jesus.

For Peter, James and John this is a boundary moment. If they continue to follow Jesus, nothing will ever be the same. The last Sunday after the Epiphany is a boundary moment as we move from reflection in light, to self-examination in sack cloth and ashes. As we go forward we go, knowing nothing will ever be the same.


[i] Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible,  Volume 8, The Gospel of Matthew, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, 

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Transfigured and transformed

A colleague of a colleague asked Why the Transfiguration? Colleague #2 does a wonderful etymological exploration of ‘transfigure’. But he brings to point home by concluding

Something deeply profound happened on top of that mountain, something that didn’t need Peter, James, John, Elijah, Moses, or the cloud to happen.  Jesus was transfigured, changed, shown to be the Son of God. [i]

There is no doubt he is correct. Nonetheless, and it may be my contrarian nature sticking its head out, but I’ve begun to wonder if in focusing so closely on Jesus we are missing something else. Six day ago, maybe more it’s hard to tell, Peter confesses Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God. It is a linchpin moment for Jesus’ ministry, the disciples, at least Peter, understands. On top of the mountain, Peter’s impulse to build three σκηνή, or skēnē [ii] tabernacles (KJV), dwellings (NSRV) or memorials (MSG) reveals that he doesn’t get it yet, he just beginning to understand.

A brief aside, all three translations are nouns. I found it interesting the roots of Vine’s Words: Habitation, and Tabernacle [iii] are verbs implying to stay. Staying put, maintaining the status quo is about as far from Jesus’ intentions as one can get. Peter really is just beginning his journey to understanding.

The second event on the mountain top is the theophany in a cloud, and God’s voice naming Jesus, and instructing the three disciples to listen to him. Jesus’ instructions to them to say nothing is another revelation they don’t yet fully understand, and that their arduous journey to understanding has just begun. Peter, James and John are beginning their own transfiguration, a transformation to being disciples.

A couple of weeks ago David Lose [iv] of Workingpreacher.org invited us to invite our congregations to share with each other when they had seen God in the last week. So I’m wondering when was our first moment of transfiguration, when was our last moment of transfiguration, how far along our journey to understanding, to true discipleship, we might be. On this last Sunday of light, it’s worth pondering.

 


[i] http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4318/
[ii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[iii] ibid
[iv] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org, ttp://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=b7cc0fec827096b2504c5164ecc9831028ee1cfc87caab27e817dcd7c6ba6255

OH! Oh! oh …

I cannot imagine how Peter, James and John feel coming down the mountain. First they witness Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. That’s got to be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln speaking to … a pick the least likely presidential candidate. Then they actually  hear the voice of God, it speaks to them! and they live!!  And now Jesus tells them they can’t tell anyone; at least not until … can’t tell anyone.

A couple of times I’ve been the bearer of great news that I had to keep to myself. Both involved a family member, neither wanted to go to the particular event, and it was my assignment to get them there. With help I did, and they were over whelmed by the events of the evening. But neither of times comes close to the conflicted sense of exuberant joy and utter frustration the disciples must have coming down the mountain .God is on our side, and we can’t tell anyone! Wow.

Well of course, we know why, we know they don’t yet understand, they don’t even comprehend that Jesus will die. That being so, they don’t know what they think they know, which is more dangerous the Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that what you don’t know that you don’t know is the most dangerous.  It is reminiscent of John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus perceives they are about o come and make him king, and Jesus withdraws to the mountain by himself.

There is a time for seasons, there is a time to wait, a time trust, because we may not know what we think we have witnessed.

A sermon for Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

 Please listen to the beginning of 3 minutes and 44 seconds. [count to 30 seconds] Your ears are fine.

The speaker on my tablet is fine. John Cage’s composition is written for any instrument, or group of instruments, not to be played. Cage believed any sound is music. Since we are enveloped by sound all the time, we are surrounded by music all the time. Much of ambient sound/music that surrounds us we unconsciously block out unless forced to hear. I learned about Cage and 3 Minutes and 44 Seconds in an interview by Terry Gross of Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer. [i] Cox also mentions that when we really are in absolute silence, we can hear our brain working, perhaps trying to hear. Interesting.  Among the other intriguing things I heard, was the sound of a starter’s pistol fired in a huge WWII era oil storage tank. The loud BANG echoed for 30 seconds. Next was the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reverberations; it sounds like [quite] “putt”. The contrast in sounds demonstrates how context changes how we hear. It gets better. There are such things as whispering galleries; in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, you can whisper into the wall, the sound travels around the dome and your friend on the other side can hear the wall whisper to them. Cox went on; most cathedrals are built like reverberating caverns, sound echoes a lot; therefore most people tend to speak quietly; which he believes contributes to our sense of reverence when we are in cathedrals. [ii] Once again, interesting.

It is Cox’s observation about cathedrals that got my attention; because cathedrals are like Temples, and Paul writes to the church in Corinth that they are God’s temple that God’s Spirit dwells in them. The connection goes: cathedrals affect how people perceive sound in them; cathedrals are like temples, we are temples, how do we affect how people perceive God’s Spirit in us? When God whispers to us, do those on the other side hear God’s voice? When we speak, or act, or fail to speak out or act, do people see, or hear, or not, God’s voice, God’s presence? Are we a reverberating cavern? a whispering wall? or an anechoic chamber?

Although differing in specifics, in concept this is a very old question. You may know Leviticus is cited in arguments about sexuality. You may not know much more, and it doesn’t help that this is the only time we read from Leviticus in our 3 year Lectionary cycle. So, briefly, Leviticus describes worship, records the founding history of Priests, and defines ordinances and sacrifices about maintaining and restoring purity. [iii] In short Leviticus attempts to teach people to affect the way others perceive God’s presence. Or as Scott Hoezee puts it:

If God lives at the center of your life, what difference does that make? What does God’s presence affect?

His answer: from Leviticus is everything! [iv] We do believe God is present in us, why else are we here? In Genesis, scripture also tells us God is present to everyone. [v] Leviticus reminds us … that simply affects everything, starting with the dignity of every person we meet and our solemn privilege as God’s children to affirm that dignity in all we do. [vi]

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues its similar message. This morning we heard the last two of Jesus’ thesis-antithesis arguments. He tells us to love our enemies, after all God’s causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil on the righteous and unrighteous; God makes no distinction, neither should we. Jesus also says we are to be perfect like God is perfect. That’s a bit much, especially for me; so I was glad to read ‘perfect’ from teleos refers to something that has grownup, that is mature, is ripe. [vii] [viii] We are to have fully mature relationships with each other, making no distinction between ourselves or others.

You may agree with all this and still wonder what the real world applications are. Friday’s New York Times columnist David Brook’s opinion column was on Arthur Brooks. [ix] A. Brooks is a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, probably the most important think tank on the American right. [x] D. Brooks hooked me with [He is an] … ardent defender[s] of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

I’m deducing that A. Brooks would agree with using the teachings of Leviticus and Matthew, of all scripture, as morals terms from which public policy is developed. I’ve said it before and it bears saying again, our Constitution bars the state from establishing a church, it does not bar people from using scriptural morality as grounds for decision and policy making.

Let’s apply all this to Arkansas. If you’ve been reading the papers you will know the Arkansas Legislature has been debating whether or not to continue funding the Public Option Insurance plan they adopted last year. According to Leviticus, Matthew, Jesus and A. Brooks, this is not a debate based on polls; it is not an economic question, though it has economic components, it is not an issue of political ideology, big government or little government, it is a temple question, how does this decision as silence, whisper or echo reflect the presence of God we know to dwell in us? And just to fill out the scriptural influence, in Romans [xi] Paul writes governments are established by God, whether they know it or not, for the benefit of God’s people. As to the argument that the public sector can and should address such social problems, A. Brooks notes:

… if you took the entire $40 billion that Americans donate to human service organizations annually, it would be enough money to give each person who receives federal food assistance only $847 per year. [xii]

It doesn’t take much math to figure out, that will not get the job done.

I do not know what the political, economic and actuarial answer to providing health care for all Arkansans is. I do know God does not make any distinctions between us, and neither should we. I do know that as the temple of God it is our calling as a whispering wall or echoing chasm, to demand our leaders make public policy from the mature moral ground revealed to us in Leviticus, Mathew and Paul. If we don’t, our presence is silent, ‘putt’ if we do, it will echo through all the nations.

 


[i] Terry Gross,  npr.org http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/one-mans-quest-to-find-the-sonic-wonders-of-the-world, Fresh Air, One Man’s Quest To Find The ‘Sonic Wonders Of The World’
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew George Easton, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iv] Scott Hoezee,  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Genesis 1:27
[vi] Hoezee, ibid
[vii] Hoezee, Matthew 5:38-48, ibid
[viii] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org – Craft of Preaching, The Revolution Starts Here, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
[ix] David Brooks, Capitalism for the Masses, New York Times, 2/21/2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
[x] ibid
[xi] Romans 13: ff
[xii] D. Brooks, ibid

Brooks on Brooks

In his column this morning David Brooks wrote about Arthur Brooks. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) A. Brooks is now a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute.  D. Brooks hooked me with … ardent defenders of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

Sunday’s Gospel is the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; the reading from Leviticus might easily be the moral base for economics. Both are examples of leaders trying to get the people back to the basis of their relationships with each other as God defines it. It is hard for us to hear, because English isn’t always clear about singular and plural forms of pronouns, and living in post reformation times, we are heavily tilted to individual salvation. Leviticus, Jesus and Mathew are speaking directly to our community responsibility to the community without regard to any individual’s standing what so ever.

I find it perplexing that many legislators seem to be so ardent about following Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 and so completely ignoring Leviticus 19 (and other inconvenient bit like Leviticus 11:ff which prohibits eating shrimp, oysters etc.). At the same time I understand because I also ignore some verses, and focus on others. And I do not think getting into verse throwing opposing monologues is helpful either. What I believe  Sunday’s lessons call us to do is let go of details long enough to rediscover the fundamentals of human relationship and divine relationship which for me begins in Genesis 1:27   And God created אָדָם‎ (adam) in God’s image; in the image of God God prepared אָדָם‎ male and female God prepared them. All of us are made in the image of God, all of us reflect the image of God, Paul goes far to say all of us are temples, homes, for the Spirit of God. All relationships begin here. All the rules are, or should, help us live into the fullness of our being. I long for the day when we need less because we are all more.

 

The sound of

Yesterday on one of various journeys I listened to Terry Gross interview Trevor cox author of  The Sound Book. (Here’s the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/o ne-mans-quest-to -find-the-sonic-wonders-o f-the-world).  It begins with the sound of a starter pistol fired in an old oil tank; it was loud, reverberating for 30 seconds. That was followed by the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber (which absorbs sounds prevents echoes) and it is literally a quite lip “put.”

Later Cox’s speaks about the acoustics of cathedrals. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a whispering gallery; you can whisper into the wall and it travels around the dome to a person on the other side who hears it coming out of the wall. In other’s the structure echoes so well we are inclined to whisper, which he think contribute to our felling of reverence in them. What came to me is how the environment changes the way we perceive what is going on around us.

Paul refers to us as God’s temple a dwelling place of God. So I wonder what kind of temple are we, whispering like St Paul’s, echoing like many, reverberating like the oil tank, or absorbing like the anechoic chamber. I wonder how we, as individuals and a faith community, effect the way those around us perceive the presence of God?

 

Shadows of truth

While running on the tread mill yesterday, yes a real tread mill not the metaphor, I was listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air.” The interview was with Robert Caro who has been writing Lyndon Johnson’s biography for the past 30 years. Near the end of the interview the host (not Terry Gross) asked Caro if he thought power was different or used differently today than in Johnson’s day. Caro noted he couldn’t say. He believes we can only see shadows of what’s actually happening. It’s only when confidential notes and records etc. are released that we can see reality. I immediately thought of Plato’s (Socrates’) shadows on a cave wall, in which he postulates all we can see is a shadow of reality.  We are still looking at shadows believing them to be the truth.

Of course we could teach ourselves to turn around and seek out reality as it is. Difficult at best, more so when what we seek is actively hidden.

Probably because I am still messing around with photographs of recent ice storms, and exploring the light effects, I wondered what we could learn by from the light which casts the shadows and which also plays on the wall of the cave? I have no idea what the implications are. Nonetheless I find it intriguing, especially as we prepare for the last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light. How can the awareness of divine light enable our journey through eh shadow time of Lent?