Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

Transfiguration moments

A sermon for Epiphany Last – Transfiguration; Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

 

As you may remember, last weekend was The Diocese of Arkansas’ 145th annual Convention. A disadvantage of ending mid afternoon is that it is mid-evening, sometime after 8 pm, when I arrived home. There was no time, and there was no energy, for thoughtful inclusions of the convention’s action in homiletic reflection within the appointed readings. The short sharing of a presentation doesn’t count, no matter enthusiastic it might have been. However, a week to reflect on convention and this week’s Gospel reading of the transfiguration raises such an opportunity.

St. Andrew’s Horseshoe village presented a resolution to close. The bishop had explained the circumstances before the resolution was presented. The resolution included the congregation’s prayerful considerations, thanks to the faithful members, and plans for how they will continue in the body of Christ. St. Andrew’s did close. They did shed themselves of the burden of maintaining things that were consuming too many resources. However, St. Andrew’s did not die. They were transfigured as they became a part of another tradition of the larger continuing body of Christ. It was both a difficult and a glorious action, for the people of St. Andrew’s and for Convention. It was an action that allowed them and convention to let go of what was holding them so they could grasp the future being given them.

St. Stephen’s is in a transfiguration moment. We know what we are, but we sometimes still pretend to be what we were. We know what we are becoming, but we don’t know what that really means. Angie and I are in a similar place, a couple of times.

You know Nugget’s story. That because of sudden illness, he is no longer able to be Angie’s service dog. We know and accept this. And then there are those moments when he is his old self, and we instinctively act like he is until we get to the moment when we realize we can’t, which most often involves getting ready to go somewhere. We know who Nugget is, our pet. But at times, we still act as if he is a service dog.

Last week we acquired Burt, a dog we believe will become Angie’s new service dog. Right now, is he a 120-pound canine toddler. There is name recognition training. There is basic behavior training. There is AKA Good Citizen training. And finally, there is service dog training. We know who Burt is becoming. We know the six-month plan, but we don’t know what that really means.

The other transition place for us is my move to ¼ time about July 1st. There is a general agreement as to what my continuing role with St. Stephen’s will be, but there are lots of details to figure out. There are plans for the other ¾ of my time. But they are not moving as quickly as imagined. There are options, some better than others, all of them have good opportunities, but we really don’t know what that means.

I am sure you have recognized the other ¾ time means there will be changes for St. Stephens. For those things, I’ll no longer be responsible for we must determine what to keep and how, who will be responsible and when. There all sorts of considerations, most every part of our church life is affected. Things like our liturgical life; all the liturgy planning, the scheduling, and the bulletin making. This is important because our worship life informs our mission life. There are ministries like discretionary outreach, our participation in the Ignite backpack and Christmas ministry, our community ministry support; all of these and more will require who, how much, and when decisions. There is also our community life, how are we going to gather, when will we gather, and who will coordinate it. There is the financial aspect of our community life which requires constant thoughtful attention and is both influenced by and influences our liturgy, our mission, and our communal life. And then there all those mundane everyday things like checking the answering machine, checking the mail, checking the email, keeping Facebook up to date, postings to twitter, providing material to our webmaster, and keeping our public google calendar up to date. We know something of what all this will be like, but we don’t know what that really means.

So, in light of St. Andrew’s story and of Matthew’s gospel story of the Transfiguration, I got to wondering, what does the Transfiguration have to teach us about – well – transfiguration – metamorphosis – change?

Let’s begin towards the end. God speaks from the cloud: This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased …. (Matthew 17:5b) God speaks the same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism; only this time everyone hears, well Peter, James, and John hear (Boring). The phrase does end differently as God adds listen to him! Not look at, not admire, not clump together with anything that has come before, but listen to him. ‘Listen’ carries the connotation to obey, to understand or better yet, to live accordingly (Harrelson, Boring). That God tells the disciples, and us, to listen gives us a clue that we are missing something.

The word for Jesus’ transfiguration is metamorphosis. You remember from school this is what happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. Change is important, and the past is still important, even if it is not visible as It no longer is in the butterfly (Lewis). I suspect the divine command to listen is a divine nudge to not get all caught up in the incomprehensible grandeur, which for Peter is the presence of Moses and Elijah, and for many of us is Jesus all aglow. Either way along with Peter we are to beware of distractions and listen to, live as Jesus lives.

While there is respect for the past in the story, there is still that warning to beware. When Moses and Elijah appear, Peter immediately wants to build three dwellings. Again, words point the way. The word skēnai means dwelling or tent, also means tabernacle, the home of the Ark. The Shekinah is the fiery cloud that symbolized the continuing presence of God among Israel, and that was over the ark of the covenant (Boring). As we navigate the changes in our individual lives,  family and as St. Stephen’s we should honor the past for what it is; but, we should beware and not misunderstand it and do as Peter wants to and build something because of some reminder of the past. If we pay attention that after the majesty dissipates, all that glowing goes away, Jesus is alone, and that reveals to us that Jesus is the true tabernacle, the skēnē, the reality of God’s abiding presence with us (Boring). It is also the assurance that you, that we are not alone, never have been, and never will be; we are never alone in the journey into a new and different future. The final thought or vision is that Jesus really is God with us, Jesus was with us yesterday, he is right here right now, he will be with us tomorrow.

As we head into Lenten reflection, and the process of our own metamorphosis, our own change, let us envision ourselves rowing a boat – looking at the shore that is opposite of where we are going to find the vision that grounds us in where we were and trust, that even though we cannot see it our future is secure. Let us envision who we might be changing into as Peter, James, and John saw glimpses of the glory to come. We can see glimpses of how God continues to be present to us, we can see glimpses of how God will be present through us, as heirs of Jesus, so that the presence of the Kingdom of God will continue to be proclaimed.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 17:19. 26 2 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Helmer, Ben. “Transformation, Last Sunday after Epiphany (A).” 26 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. Last Epiphany A – Matthew 17:1-9. 26 2 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Change Matters. 26 2 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

There are other readings this week than the Gospel according to John. As compelling as it is these readings also deserve contemplation. As I reviewed my first reading notes, I was drawn to one by verse 9 of psalm 95; actually verses 8 & 9.

8 Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
   at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.

9 They put me to the test, *
    though they had seen my works.

My note reads: what works have you/we seen / heard? I am sure it comes from a challenge David Lose of Working Preacher issued a couple of weeks ago to invite our congregations to share where they have seen God in the past week.  I passed on the direct method, though I have inserted the question in an intervening sermon or two, and have used it in bible studies prior to committee meetings and so on.  The question is, without a doubt, an underlying dimension in the reading Exodus, which tells the tale the psalm  refers to. After all, the Hebrews have experienced, first-hand, God’s liberating power, an expression of God’s abundant love. And yet only a little time later, the memory of God’s love fades; the memory of God’s power diminishes to the point of non-consideration. Why?

Today, psychologist, nuero-scientist, and others who explore human behavior might well point to how our brain is wired, and how overpowering fear is, in part because of where in the brain, the more primitive parts, fear is processed. But that’s the point isn’t it. To recognize our fear, stop ourselves, our family, friends and neighbors, from reacting out of primitive animalistic perceptions, and make use of the higher functioning parts of our brain (pun intended) to see or heard God’s active presence, and then prayerfully discern what to do. My wife is fond of saying that life happens to everyone; the question is: are you going to allow life’s events to define you, or are you going to turn to God’s presence for the wherewithal to determine how to respond.

Part of being a faith community is to coach each other turn to God. Perhaps part of the psalm’s purpose is to serve as a prayerful or liturgical reminder to turn to God. Part of Lent’s intent is to rehearse turning to God, so as to change the very nature of our bodies’ natural reaction; much like athletes retrain their bodies’ reaction to the challenges of their sport.

It all begins with realizing that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves (collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent). It continues by looking for and listening for God’s presence and actions. It goes on by helping others to do likewise. And while we can change our response, at least some of the time, we can not all the time, so it all ends in gracious judgment of our savior Jesus Christ.

Where have you seen or heard God’s active presence this week?

A sermon for Advent 2

Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

The stump, the brood of vipers, unity, and repentance.

Isaiah opens with the image of a stump. Until today I’ve always seen the stump from the illustration in The Giving Tree, cleanly cut. No longer, the stump is what’s left after the tree has fallen because it rotted from the inside out, and could no longer stand. It’s fallen so long ago, the stump is all that’s left. It’s desolate. It’s an image of death. And yet, for Isaiah, for Judah there is more, there is hope, there is a shoot, tiny, fragile, but green, full of new life, full of hope [i] for a future as grand as a perfect image of its predecessor.

For John the Baptist, it’s a brood of vipers. Until today, it’s been a like the scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusades with all the snakes slithering around all over the floor of the hidden chamber. Now it’s a vision of the common room of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, whose members put all their trust in “pure blood heritage.” [ii] It’s ego centric, exclusive, it could not see what may be for its focus on what was.

For Paul it’s unity. Until today it has been a utopian image, of all kinds of folks, who all agree on everything, who walk in perfect harmony, enjoying a magnificent banquet, where one eats all the fatty salty food imaginable, with no health consequences. Now, it’s a group of very different people, where no one is quite comfortable, where everyone is at risk, while everyone shares a diverse but common faith in Jesus’ promise of life in the glory, the presence of God. [iii] 

For the Psalmist, well it’s a psalm, perhaps a poem, perhaps a song, perhaps a liturgical setting. Until today it’s been a crucible expressing the values of days past. Psalm 72 enthrones a king; not very relevant to democracy, we elect leaders; not very relevant to Christians, Christ is King. Now it’s repentance, it’s a change in how we envision political, elected leadership, and what we expect of them. Now we ask God to deliver justice and righteousness to the world through our secular elected representative leaders. [iv] 

What might all this look like? Think back to the early 1990’s, recall South Africa, ruled by an oppressive minority by the principles of apartheid. Apartheid is Afrikaans meaning being apart. It is a corrupt racist political philosophy. It was a stump, morally deficient, it was dead. It had its supporters, a brood of vipers, pure bread of Slytherin house, in South Africa, and in the United States. But from that rotted stump there was a shoot, actually many, one we remember today is Nelson Mandela. Born in 1918 to a royal tribal family, he actively fought Apartheid, until his arrest, conviction and sentence to life in prison in 1962. He was granted release in 1990, elected President of South Africa in 1994, and unlike other  African revolutionary leaders served only one term. [v] Think back to the 1990’s to the brood of vipers, dedicated to true blood heritage. There were voices from around the world crying in the wilderness for repentance, for a change of behavior; naming South Africa’s leaders for what they were, ego centric, exclusive, oppressive leaders of a stump. All heard, some listened, at least one caught a vision of what can be nothing less than Christ centered unity, at least one repented, truly repented, changed his ways, and lead his people to justice and righteousness in rejecting apartheid and accepting a more democratic system of governance. F.W. de Klerk was president of South Africa when Mandela was released. He engaged with Mandela in negotiations for peaceful transition to freely democratic elections. In 1993 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela. [vi] 

A stump, a brood of vipers, a vision of unity, true repentance.

We live in a world of stumps; in a world full of institutions that because of their own actions, or inaction, that because of rapidly changing context are rotting away, are failing are dead. It’s easy to be depressed. Today’s scripture readings call us, to see and name the stump, and then, to see and nurture the shoot, the possibility for new life.

 

We are surrounded by broods of vipers, with Slytherin House commitment to pure blood, to true ideology, of all stripes. They are cleaver, speaking in language of security, and prosperity; in truth, they are egotistic, self-centered oppressive thinkers. And we to one degree or another are in their midst. We hear the prophetic voice, and we cringe at its biting truth. Today’s scripture readings offer us the hope they offer the invitation to repent, to change; and we know, the one who calls us, will walk with us through all the challenges that journey will bring.

 

We are surrounded by clusters of common identity, racial, political, economic philosophy, religious, you name it there’s a group claiming to be the [quote] true believers. They all promise acceptance, security, and a whole host of worldly values, if we look like, think like, worship like, act like, the group’s definitions. Today’s scripture calls us to unity in Christ, while feely acknowledging that to truly invite others in, or to accept another’s invitation into requires us to risk, because we will be changed. That is the truth with our now very different neighbor; it’s the truth with Jesus.

It is Advent; we are surrounded with the language of repentance. We’d shake our heads in agreement, and leave church headed to the nearest special sale, so we can check off one more box on our pre-Christmas to do list. It is Advent, we are surrounded with the invitation to change, how we see the world, shoots not stumps, neighbors not others hope not despair, a divine presence here and now not out there some day. It’s a vision that can change the world, that begins with one new shoot that begins with one transformed person, that begins in our common bond in the incarnate God, whose dynamic presence is continually emerging.

 


[vi] ibid

______  

Center for Excellence in Preaching cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary, Abingdon Press, 2010
Walter Harrison, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 2003

Change is coming

It is Advent; we are preparing the greatest change since creation, God becoming incarnate in humanity; we are preparing for the greatest change since Jesus’ ascension, Christ’s return. Change is coming. Isaiah prophesizes about change, John calls the people of Jerusalem and Judah to change, and Paul calls the Gentiles in Rome to change. I believe those who observe Advent, as best we can in a Christmas obsessed land, realize Advent is about change. However, I am concerned we’re focusing on the wrong sorts of change.

For those who are drawn to the feast of the incarnation, I suspect our efforts are to more or less be the misplaced Kings bearing gifts, and through some sort of gift giving, to family and friends, those in need in our community, or perhaps through a charity like Episcopal Relief and Development or Heifer Project, or one of the many good charitable organizations around the world.  For those draw to the return of Christ, it’s a bit more Lent like, and the focus is attaining a status of purity, of which similar generosity would be considered a sign. But it’s a phrase from Paul and a chance story that catches my attention.

Paul writes a prayerful petition to live in harmony with one another. [i] It is Paul’s belief God wants us, indeed empowers us to live in harmony with each other, and gives us the gifts to do so.

Thanksgiving is thought of as a family time; though some families do not gather because they are divided. There is a family that has been divided for some nine or ten years. Members have not even spoken to one another. Facebook cracked the shell of separation. But this thanksgiving, disparate family members, of differing faith traditions, took a common teaching of their faith, God wants to reconcile broken relationships, seriously, and their division was healed. Thanks be to God.

At the heart of the family’s healing is a change of behavior, on everyone’s part. That change is what repentance is all about. The healing such change brings about is what repentance is all about. Healing of broken human relationship is the greatest gift one can offer God. There can be no purity if there are any broken relationships.

 

[i] Romans 15:5