Persistence and Resistance

A Sermon for The Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36, Psalm 99

 

Let’s see I graduated college in 1975, meaning I graduated high school in 1972. No, I didn’t do four years of college in three, I simply got High School credit for college Freshman English. This means I finished the 6th grade in in 1968. So, sometime between 1963 and then one of my sisters, came home from school and told my mother she would get an “A” in health if mom quit smoking. There is nothing quite so persistent as a child on a mission for an “A”; unless it is a newly reformed smoker. By the way, there is nothing more resistant than someone threatened by change. Our mom did quit smoking, but it was many years later, and it had nothing to do with a child’s health grade. The readings from both Exodus and Luke this morning have elements of persistence and resistance.

The story we heard from Exodus is best read with the story of The Golden Calf in the back ground. God established the covenant with Moses; but before they can even get it finished Israel breaks it. Moses convinces God not to obliterate Israel. And they renewed the covenant (Yarchin)

By the time it is all over Moses has spent so much time with God his face is either filled with horns, near eastern iconography often depict divinities with horns, or his face shines with the glory of God’s presence (Gaventa and Petersen). We don’t know because the word ‘shine’ or qā-ran seems clear enough, except that nowhere in scripture does it have either meaning, so we don’t really know what they are trying to say (Fretheim). But whatever it is the Israelites recognize that Moses mediates the restored covenant (Yarchin). It doesn’t matter if Moses’ face is shining, or covered with horns, his face is a reminder that God is close; perhaps too close for comfort. Moses and God are persistent, but Israel is resistant.

56 Books, and a many more centuries later Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He takes Peter, James, and John with him. They see his face change and his clothes become brilliant white, and witness Moses and Elijah appear and begin speaking with Jesus. They get a behind-the-curtain glimpse of Jesus’ glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter wants to make dwellings or tents for them. Typically, we have been told Peter is trying to keep Jesus in the box he is comfortable with. We see Peter as being resistant. But that is not necessarily what is happening. It is possible that Peter does understand that something transformative is happening. Remember that just a while ago he proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah (Luke 9:20b). He may only partially grasp the significance of the event. Nonetheless, Peter recognizes this is a turning point, (Lewis). So far, no resistance. What he wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place (Culpepper). He wants to capture it, to capture the feeling, and hold it forever (Lewis).

A past mentor of mine Fr. Gray Temple wrote Molten Soul. The idea he presents is that to be changed by the Spirit requires that our soul be malleable like molten metal so that, they can be shaped like molten metal. It is a powerful experience, it is invigorating, it is energizing. The experience changes everything, it changes everything about ourselves, it changes everything about how we see the world around us, and where we see God’s presence in the world. It is so strong that often our initial reaction is to try to hold on to that moment, in part so we can pass it on. Just like Peter tries to do. The trouble is that when we do that, we often freeze our souls, and what we try to pass on is much more like a hard metal bar, and in passing it on, it is like hitting folks over the head with it. Have you ever been hit in the head by a metal bar? So maybe Peter and the other disciples show a kind of resistance.

Peter has had a molten soul experience on the mountain top. He wants to freeze it. Temple points out the danger. Alan Culpepper writes:

that the dangers of close encounters of the divine kind are that we fail to learn from them, we reject the experience, or we try to make them the norm and either withdraw,

 or as Temple writes assault others with it (Culpepper).

It would appear, from this story, that there is always a temptation to stay on the mountain top, or in glory’s light and to use that sacred space as a hiding place from the problems of the world (Cox). Peter recognizes that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed. He knows he can never be the same, and maybe, just maybe he doesn’t want that (Lewis). Once again resistance of some kind. Israel wants to distance themselves from the presence of God; they recognize that if they are too close they can be changed, not exactly like Moses, but changed nonetheless. They are either repelling, or rejecting, or claiming it can wait, or really it isn’t necessary, and you know that this is just not the right time (Lewis). Israel is definitely resisting. We also resist change that comes with divine encounters, or many other kinds of encounter.

The disciples wanted to build booths and stay on the mountaintop. But they could not stop time and live on in the radiance of that moment (Culpepper),  Neither could Israel; and neither can we stop time.

We cannot stay on the mountain top, we cannot continuously bask in glory’s light. God needs us to go down from the mountain and away from divine light and go out into the world, taking with us some of God’s transformative love with us to share with others (Cox). Discipleship involves following, and going on. Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading us and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced (Culpepper). Divine persistence.

Temple encourages us to encourage each other to keep our souls molten so we can continue to be shaped by the presence of the Spirit; but also, so we can share the presence of the Kingdom that is, as it always has been, right here, right now.


References

Cox, Jason. “Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration.” 6 8 2017. Sermons that Work.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
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.
Lewis, Karoline. Why We Need the Transfiguration. 8 2 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Temple, Gray. The Molten Soul. Church Publising Inc, 2000.
Yarchin, William. Commentary on Exodus 34:29-35. 6 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

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A sermon for Christmas 2 & Epiphany

Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a, Matthew 2:1-15,19-23, Psalm 84 or 84:1-8

 

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again. 

I expect you know that nursery rhyme. I cannot remember not knowing it. It first appeared in the mid 1800’s, makes an appearance in Through the Looking-Glass, and though often presented as an egg, egg is never mentioned. As interesting, as all this is, is the rhyme’s political history. For ears I have known, though I can’t cite the source,it is a critique of the King’s army and Calvary in a day when such critique could cost you your head. It may originally refer to Richard II or English Civil War. [i] In the interest of full disclosure, both those predate the earliest printed version, so who knows. Those connections bring up the reality that in literature there is often meaning behind what we read, especially when it’s an old text, whose cultural assumptions are lost to the ravages of time. This is often the case in scripture, and is certainly true in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel story.

 You know the story of the wise men, who: follow a star to Jerusalem, ask Herod Where is the new born King of the Jews? follow the advice  of Herod’s advisors, and continue to  Bethlehem where they offer baby Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then rather than returning to Herod, as agreed, they follow advice,  that comes in a dream, and head home by another way. The same dream giver warns Joseph, who gathers up Mary, baby Jesus and flees to Egypt. Denied his opportunity to kill off the rival claimant to the throne, Herod kills all the boys in Bethlehem Jesus’ age. After Herod dies, Joseph, in another dream is told to return home. He does, until he learns that Herod’s son Archelaus is King, and he settles in Nazareth.

 I am sure you heard the cited references to scripture:

           from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd  my people Israel.

          ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ 

          A voice was heard in Ramah,
             wailing and loud lamentation,
          Rachel weeping for her children;

          He will be called a Nazorean.

The first is from Micah, anticipates God’s reign, which will end imperial ambitions [ii] and that gets any King’s attention. It also emphasizes Jesus’ connection to David, Israel’s iconic King [iii] strike two. The appearance of foreign dignitaries bringing treasures to Israel’s King fits Isaiah’s prophecy and references in Numbers, and the Psalms. [iv] Moreover to pay homage, also means worship, and implies submission to a political power. Strike three, four and … on the imperial attention scale. [v]

The out of Egypt bit evokes all sorts of historical imagery. From Genesis, the story of Joseph and the Hebrews going to Egypt to escape death from famine [vi] comes to mind. This connects Jesus to the last of Israel’s three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, who are at the heart of Israel’s relationship to God.

The third scripture citing, is associated with the murder of lots of innocent children. It quotes Jeremiah expressing lament for the tragedies of defeat by Assyria, and exile in Babylon; both defining events in Israel’s history. The lament also evokes the memory of slavery in Egypt, which includes Pharaoh’s effort to subdue the Hebrews by ordering the mid wives to allow all the Hebrew all boys to die at birth. The mid wives defer to their awe of God. The murder and attempted murder of the innocent, whoever they may be, is a common response of powerful elite who feel threatened. It is not God’s will for the innocent to die, or to be oppressed or dispossessed; unfortunately it has been and will be a reality until the Kingdom fully arrives. But we should note, neither murderous efforts of Pharaoh or Herod displace God’s purposes. In lament, there is hope. [vii]

The final bit of scripture He will be called a Nazorean. Jesus living in Nazareth, is a pun with Nazirite; one who vows to be set aside for God,under terms established in Numbers. The vow can be temporary, or lifelong. We are familiar with Sampson; others who took lifelong vows are Samuel, John the Baptist, and, while in  in Corinth, Paul. [viii] The critical ideal is absolute dedication to serving God.

 When we re read Matthew’s story of the wise men, from a Humpty Dumpty perspective there are a couple of gleanings. From the beginning the coming of Christ encounters hostility; [ix] empire, in whatever form, and modern empire looks very different than ancient empire, strikes back; and the insignificant people welcome God’s initiative. [x] Secondly, from the outset, Matthew wants readers to see Israel’s story in Jesus’ story. [xi] For us, Matthew wants us to see our story in Jesus’ story.

We are at the very end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, when we, by celebrating Jesus’ birth, remind ourselves, that the incarnation touches every corner of creation, touches you ,touches your neighbor, the environment, the very stars, so far – far away. That means everything is of God, is literally touched by God, and that defines our relationship with: the stars, our environment, our neighbors, and ourselves.

Monday is Epiphany, when we celebrate those infamous wise men, who traveled two years to pay homage, to worship Jesus, the light of the world. They tell us Jesus is sovereign over all, including governments, even elected governments. That does not mean we throw out our Constitution, and its provision that prohibits the state from establishing a religion. It does mean we should expect our elected leaders to begin every deliberation, to make every decision from the moral foundation of the incarnation.

It also means that we, as a church community as individuals begin every effort from that same moral foundation. The wise men’s story also tells us honoring God, serving God takes time; sometimes it takes years just to get to the place to begin.  

As we a new year; as we begin inviting people     to join us at our new worship time, as we begin – inviting our neighbors to Friday Families; as we begin to discern, plan and launch: Brewing Faith, and Stephen’s house we do so from the perspective of everyone’s incarnate being; knowing it will take us time just to get started; knowing that there will be push back, from the beginning from those who perceive it all as threat; knowing that amidst murderous intent there is divine hope; knowing that Jesus is in our story, that Jesus is our story, and that enlightens our lives even to far-end of the stars.

  


[ii] New Interpreters’ Study Bible, Matthew 2:1

[iii] ibid

[iv] New Interpreters’ One Volume Commentary, Matthew 3;

                Isaiah 60:1-7; Numbers 24:17, Psalm 72:10-11,15

[v] NISB, NI1VOL 

[vi] ibid

[vii] ibid

[viii] Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton; Holman Bible Dictionary General Editor, Trent C. Butler, Ph.D; The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia., James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor

[ix] NI1VOL

[x] NISB

[xi] NI1VOL