Creation-Life-Light

Creation-Life-Light

A Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; Exodus 34: 29-35, Psalm 99,
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

If you ever go to Rome, to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to visit Pope Julius II tomb and take in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, be ready. Michelangelo uses today’s reading from Exodus as a model for Moses. No, you will not be blinded by the light, but ~ you will see two horns protruding from either side of Moses’ head. No, Michelangelo did not make an error. In fact, there are several paintings of Moses from the Renaissance that show Moses with horns (Wikipedia). The Hebrew word actually means both horn and shine. Translations of the Old Testament made around 200 BCE use ‘horns’, which may imply some touch of divinity. In ancient languages of surrounding cultures, the kindred word is used to combine horn and light, so we get a phrase like horns of light. Imagine Moses’ head back-lit creating a halo-like effect, and the artist uses lines to represent the vision (Keener and Walton). It is also interesting to note the word also implies power (Epperly).

Chasing the point much further will just distract us from the lesson of the reading. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God. Moses comes down the mountain changed, whether its horns, or a shining, or some other expression of divine power doesn’t matter, Moses is now different than he was before. God changed Moses, and that is what has the Israelites frightened (Epperly). Frightened enough to ask him to cover his face, who knows, this divine presence thing could be contagious. They whisper to each other “Do you to be changed by God like that?”

The Gospel story for today also involves a shining, Jesus’ transfiguration. His face is changed (notice we are not told how) and his clothes become dazzling white. We have another word note here. Jesus is with Moses and Elijah and they are speaking of his departure (Luke 9:31). A commentary points out they are literally speaking about his exodus (Lewis). ‘Exodus’ sounds so different in our ears. It just may remind us of Israel’s Exodus, a transformative event, the divine revelation that forges the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel (Carey). Moses and Elijah (the personification of the continuing divine revelation in the Law and the Prophets) know something of exodus journeys. We are not privy to their conversation; one commentator postulates Jesus may be just a bit apprehensive and they are providing him a little encouragement to continue down the path that leads to salvation for all creation (Hoezee). Broadly speaking we can see that: like Moses, Jesus is changed in the presence of God, like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain, and like Moses Jesus immediately faces a challenge.

At the bottom of the mountain, there is a crowd, in the midst of whom is a father who begs him to look at his son. Immediately a demonic spirit takes hold of the boy and causes him to convulse. Quickly Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his father. Everyone is astounded. This not the first time in Luke Jesus has faced a demon, nor the first time he has healed. However, when reading such a story with Jesus’ transfiguration, along with horned/shinning face Moses coming down the mountain fresh in our memories it is easier to notice how everything is being changed by the presence of God, just as Moses and Jesus were. Not only are Moses, Jesus, the boy physically changed, the way they interact with others changes; and, the way others interact with them changes. Everything changes.

The vastness of the change is seen when we notice that it is not just the boy’s father who is amazed, but everyone is amazed. In all the stories about Jesus, some are amazed, some are angered, some find hope, but one way or another everyone is forever changed (Woods).

There is one more phrase to look at. After rebuking the spirit, and healing the boy, Jesus gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:42). It is easy to overlook because it is such a natural next thing to do. However, it is not the next thing. Giving the boy back to his father is continuing the act of healing begun in rebuking the demon. The boy is not the only one harmed by the demon-spirit; the father is harmed, the family is harmed, their home village is harmed, everyone in that family’s social circle is harmed. Returning the boy to his father continues the healing, by extending healing to the father, and through the father the family, and through the family the village and through the village on until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.

Here at the end of Epiphany, a season of Light, with the horned shinning face of Moses, the brilliant transfiguration of Jesus, all this light reminds me of John 1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:3-4).

The brilliant light of Jesus is the fullest expression of the life-light God has given each and every one of you. That initial creation light immediately is in darkness, and it shines, and most significantly ~ the darkness does not overcome the light. Moses comes down the mountain to face darkness, Jesus comes down the mountains to face the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.

We live in troublesome times, in a time of darkness. Last Sunday the preacher said our society is tearing itself apart. He is correct enough I would not be surprised if more than one person does not attempt to cover that bit of enlightened divine truth with a vale. There are many stresses all around us. Some are international like Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear weapons, escalating towards direct armed conflict. The escalating war of intolerant words over abortion, Trump, Brexit, Palestine and Israel, race relations, gun control, medical care, drug prices, climate change, school lunches and so on creates such a well of darkness I wish all social media would fail in the hope that if we slowed down maybe we would calm down, and being a bit calmer, we might just hear the truth the other is sharing. In the fear-driven vitriol, the hate, in all these varied disagreements we are losing our ability to talk about those things we disagree about; even with our loved ones. Information that is crystal clear to one side is fake to the other; find another issue and it is the other way around. Take for example climate change and the southern border emergency. It is a dangerous time; a dark time, a time one might wonder if creation light may flicker from time to time. I am sure there were similar disagreements among the Hebrews in Exodus, for example, will God find water, and meat for us in the wilderness. I am sure there were similar disagreements among Jesus’ earlier followers, I don’t know, maybe the question of what is the right thing to do with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. I am sure there were similar disagreements in the early church, we would not have any letters from Paul if there had not been such disagreements. That we are here at all is a testament to the eternal power of creation light.

We stand at the edge of Epiphany, and though this season is closing the time of light is not over. Yes, beginning next Wednesday we will follow Jesus on his exodus to Jerusalem, and those tragic events. It was a dark journey. No one took time to slow down or time to listen; it was them or us. Following the journey will be dark. It is a part of season’s function to be a time to raise the hiding-vale and take a look at our darkness, said, or unsaid, done, or undone. But it gives me some courage to begin that exodus remembrance journey to know there is light. There is the life-light of creation in each of us. There is the horned light of Moses in each of us. There is the transfigured light of Jesus in each of us. There is light in you. There is light in me. There is light in the other. And that light will go with you and with me as you and I, together and on our own, work the work God has given each to work (John 9:4), each lighting way for the other. That that light has not yet been overcome is a testament that it never will be overcome. By that light we are being healed and so and bring healing to the family, to the village, to the tribe, to the nation, to the world God made us to be a part of until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.


 

References

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 3 3 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019, Exodus 34:29-35. 3 3 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/theperipateticpreacher/2019/02/transfiguration-sunday-march-3-2019-exodus->.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel – Luke 9:28-36. 3 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/last-epiphany-c-2>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Liberating Glory. 3 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wikipedia. Moses (Michelangelo). n.d. 3 3 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_(Michelangelo)&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Forever Changed, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C).” 3 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/forever-changed-last-sunday-epiphany-c-march-3-2019>.

 

 

Emmanuel Grace

A Sermon for the Last Sunday in Epiphany: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a], Psalm 99

For my last quarter as a senior in college, I went with a group to England. While there, I took a side trip to Stonehenge. At the time, the public could still walk among the stones. You could feel them, not just their tactile sense, but their mystical sense. Stonehenge feels different. Even though I cannot describe it, I will remember it forever. Fast forward to sometime in the future, when Angie and I take a longed for trip to Scotland, and Italy, the lands of our respective heritages. While there we want to see the art. I’d like to see Michelangelo’s Moses with its horns. Look at the next to last page of your orders, and you will find a picture. It’s not bad, you get a sense of the statue’s grandeur; maybe even its size. But I want to be there. I wonder if being in its presence evokes a similar sense of mystery as Stonehenge did. I wonder what those horns evoke.

'Moses'_by_Michelangelo

And no, Michelangelo did not make a mistake. The Hebrew verb ‘shone’ is derived from the noun ‘horn.’ Ancient eastern icons often show gods with horns. Pharaohs of some Egyptian dynasties are regularly shown wearing a ram’s horn on their face. At the same time, the translators are right, ancient eastern gods were believed to have glowing faces (Gavenat and Petersen). Maybe it is just possible to carve a horn and not so much to carve radiance. However, what has my attention this morning is not so much why Moses’ face glows, or Jesus’ for that matter, but the response of those around them.

Moses comes down the mountain for the second time, yep, this is after the whole golden calf debacle, and his face is glowing. The people are afraid, and they work out a deal; when Moses isn’t doing his prophet thing, he will cover his face. It is a little strange because it is possible that Moses’ radiant face just may be the reflection of grace extended by God for Israel’s idolatrous ramp with a calf (Hoezee, Exodus). Then again grace can be scary because it is also a reminder of your sinful and evil behaviors (Hoezee, Luke). Some think that by having Moses veil his face the Israelites are trying to prevent another profane act. I wonder if they are trying to keep it from being too close. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but just not too close.

We also know Jesus’ transfiguration is connected to Moses shining face. Jesus, Peter, James and John go up the mountain. Jesus is praying, his face changes, his clothes glow and suddenly he is talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure. We all know ever impetuous Peter wants to build a three booths, for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. It sounds like a fine idea; it is a great way to honor all three. However, eight days ago, Peter acknowledged Jesus is God’s Messiah. Eight days ago, Jesus shared with his disciples about his future: suffering, betrayal, and death. And as Scott Hoezee points out, since then nothing! Not one word (Hoezee, Luke). I kind of get the feeling this whole messiah thing is not what Peter or any of the disciples was thinking. Jesus speaking about his future carries a pall of sin and evil; it is dark. I think that the whole booths thing, while impetuous, is a pretty clever way of getting Emmanuel back in the box. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but suffering, betrayal, and death is not exactly what anyone expects, or what they want.

A common theme to these stories is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” In Exodus, the people want to cover it up. In Luke, the disciples want to box it in. I got to wondering. When we come across Emmanuel, are we as welcoming, as we are to everyone else? Or are we more like our biblical forbearers and try to find a way to be welcoming, at a safe distance?

But here is the thing about Emmanuel and grace, they are not safe. They always remind us of our complicity in sin and evil. Because, only then, can they always remind us that we, and everyone else, are forgiven and that all creation is being healed.

It has been my experience that Emmanuel grace is generally not so much in your face (Hoezee, Luke). You know you’ve encountered Emmanuel grace by NSP, non-sensory perception; you feel it, you see it, not in a tactile or sensory way; you just know it’s presence. And, in faith, as we risk a closer encounter, we begin to glean how as each of us is made in the image of God, each of us reflects Emmanuel grace to the other, and in doing so, each strengthens the other. And the more we share, the more we trust that we can venture into the shadows of the world; because we all know, each of us have our own shadows, that are forgiven in the light of Christ (Carvalhaes).

Emmanuel grace, the grace of God, who is with us, is very much the Kingdom of God. Right here, right now, is where ever, whenever any of us happen to be. From highest mountain top to broadest plain, Emmanuel grace is ours to share anywhere anytime; from highest mountain top to broadest plain Emmanuel grace is ours to receive anywhere anytime. May we all be strengthened from glory to glory.

 


 

References

Carvalhaes, Cláudio. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 7 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 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.

Hoezee, Scott. Exodus 34:29-35. 7 2 2016.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 9:28-36. 7 2 2016.

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

Yarchin, William. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 34:2935.” 7 2 2016. Working Preacher.

 

The next big thing

A sermon for Epiphany Last

2 Kings 2:112, Psalm 50:16, 2 Corinthians 4:36, Mark 9:29

Friday morning, as is my daily custom, I was reading the New York Times, the Technology section. An article about Google’s future caught my attention. The author posits, that like Digital Equipment and Wang of years past; and like Hewlett Packard and Microsoft today Google’s dominance is fading. Googles current finances are fine, $14 billion in profits, up 19 percent over last year, are enviable. However, a look behind the numbers reveals concerns. Farhad Manjoo builds an articulate case that Google’s future is less clear than its present; however, that is another discussion for another context. What caught my attention is that like Digital Equipment, Wang, Hewett Packard and Microsoft, Google’s “dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing.”  (Manjoo)

I immediately wondered how the theorem that current dominance precludes dominating the big thing might explain:  the muddle:  in the Middle East for the US; or in the Ukraine for the US and Europe; or the financial commotion for the Euro; or Russia’s behavior in general.

Then I got to thinking about Israel, who was not a big thing in the first century, if ever. And then that within Judaism’s messianic movement, nothing short of a Davidic successor could possibly be the next big thing. It seems the theorem holds on the large stage.

And then I got to thinking about Jesus’ transformation; which, to be honest, makes little sense in the midst of Mark’s messianic secrete. But here it is. So how can the theorem of dominance and next big thing help us to glean what is going on.

You know the story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, where Jesus is transformed. Elijah and Moses appear with him. Peter interrupts their casual conversation, he wants to make three dwelling, or tents, or booths, for them, because the whole thing ~ well it’s just inconceivable and he is trying to put it within the dominate vision’s boundaries. It doesn’t fit. We know this because suddenly the whole mountain top is enshrouded in a cloud, from which God’s voice proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!”

Observations of the scene from the theorem’s perspective. 1. Moses, manifesting the law, is a dominate thing. 2. Elijah, manifesting the prophets, is a dominate thing. Peter, in spite of his recent confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29) can only see Jesus in the dominate vision of Law and Prophets, and the attendant understanding of the messiah. At this point God shows up, and we have a theophany, think and Cecil B DeMille or Ridley Scott. The first theophany, Mark records, is Jesus’ baptism. It was an intimate private affair in the midst of a very public gathering around John the Baptist. Here, we have a public affair, at least its public to Peter, James and John, in the midst of a reasonably private gathering, after all they are on a mountain top. This contrast clues us in that something different is happening. This time, when God speaks the intended audience is: Peter, James and John. They now know, directly from God, Jesus is God’s beloved son. They also now know they are to listen to him. Two more observations: 1.being God’s son is tantamount to being God’s messiah; and 2.the dictate to “listen to him.” is not about authority, rather it firmly establishes Jesus identity.

What our theorem suggests is that this story is not about establishing dominance. The transfiguration established Jesus identity. The messianic secrete creates time in which the fullness of Jesus as the next messiah, the next big thing, can grow to its surprising fullness. It’s only as something different than the dominate Romanesque Davidic Imperial messiah that Jesus can bring salvation to all creation.

History teaches us the Jesus movement, Christianity, became a dominate force in the Mediterranean basin. After the church split in to Western Church, centered in Rome, and Eastern Orthodox Church and became dominate from the British Isles to Italian – Greek border, and from the Italian – Greek border to Persia, and at least powerfully present from Persia to China. We also know Western Christianity after the Reformation became dominate throughout the colonialized new world. Centuries have past. Christianity is not dominate in Europe, and less dominate in the US, and barely hanging on in the more eastern realms. We also know Christianity is on the ascendancy in Africa and Asia.

So, here we go:

  • Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all derivatives of the God of Abraham, all have a part in whatever new thing God is bringing to life.
  • Jesus was never about Christianity, a close reading of Gospels reveals that Jesus was always bringing people to God’s presence; Jesus always was, and is all about God.
  • The dominate position of Islam in the Middle east and its growth in Europe, and Christianity ascendency in Africa and Asia is not a predictor, one way or another, about what new thing God is bringing to life.
  • According to our theorem Christianity’s fall from dominance in Europe and rapidly falling dominance in the US will create space for whatever new thing God is bringing to life to be seeded, root, sprout and grow; and I cannot imagine who, what, how, when or where, beyond my sound belief, and absolute trust that God continues to be actively present here and now albeit in a wholly new way.

My prayer for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light, is that we allow the brilliance of Jesus’ transfiguration to envelop us, envelope our imaginations, and allow our vision to be swaddled by the enshrouding cloud; so all we see is the new light of Christ, which is actually, according to John’s Gospel, the original cosmic light, illumine the next big thing illumine our path to the next big thing.


References

Manjoo, Farhad. “Google, Might Now, ut Not Forever.” New York Times 11 2 2015. web. <http://nyti.ms/1uFqOI9&gt;.

Seddon, Rev. Matt. “6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014; Groaning: The soundtrack of creation.” 20 7 2014. Sermons that Work.

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 15 2 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2344&gt;.