Sermon: Transfiguration Sunday

Posted February 6, 2016 @ 11:04pm | by Tripp

A sermon given on the last Sunday of Epiphanytide, often called Transfiguration Sunday, at All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, CA. You can listen to it here.

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

I think we’re going to need more scripture if this is going to happen. So, let’s back up a little in our Gospel reading and pose a question: What sayings? “After these sayings,” it reads. So, what sayings?

Luke writes:

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of [God] and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray.

Oh. Those sayings.

I see.

No wonder Peter, John, and James go to the mountain to pray with Jesus. “Where does he get this stuff?!” They must have been concerned for their friend and teacher.

So up the mountain they go. And, in a bit of literary foreshadowing, they fall asleep while Jesus is praying. The Passion of Christ is being lifted up before us in this story and in Jesus’ sayings.

I invite us to use our imaginations to listen for what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about up there.

I imagine Jesus filling the other two in somehow.

“Yeah. I told them what I have to do. All of it. The whole thing. I’m not sure they get it yet. Everyone is still talking about when I turned water into wine. I went back home and my old neighbors tried throwing me off a cliff. This is going to be much harder than I imagined.” Looking to Elijah, Jesus asks, “How did you do it?”

“I didn't. Not at first. First, I went into hiding, remember? I hid in a cave.” Moses nods. He offers a stuttering response to Jesus' question, “I did it barefoot. And it took forever.”

We cannot kid ourselves. This is the glory of the Lord and it isn’t easy. There is light, and there are clouds, and from the clouds emerge a voice. “Listen to him,” it demands. Encourages. Insists.

The magical realism of the Gospel comes alive for us today. And it’s just what we need for what comes next in our story. We need the magic of the Gospel to give us courage to do the work of the Gospel. Otherwise we’re likely to try to freeze time in order not to move forward in response to an encounter with God.

Instead, we build something.

Memorials.

Monuments.

Honors and who knows what. These are examples of the very temptations Jesus faced in the desert.

His friends tempt him.

This isn’t an example of the problem of building churches (unless you are also tempting Jesus to stay here and not go to Jerusalem). It is an example of the all to frequent human habit of trying to capture a moment.

This is coming from the guy with several thousand pictures of his son. Every moment gets its own digital tabernacle. Every time the glory of God is revealed, I post something on Instagram. So, I say this with some authority. I’m trying to freeze time.

But Jesus wants us to see it through instead. He doesn’t want us to build something. Not yet. We’re not ready yet. Not yet.

We won’t be ready until after Easter,
until after the whole thing is revealed and we have come to believe
that the story of God,
of the exodus,
of the prophetic witness,
of the Messiah
is the story of Jubilee,
of healing,
of peace making,
of reconciliation.

The first thing Jesus does when he comes down off the mountain is heal someone. A child. So let’s let’s follow that moment.

According to The National Center for Children in Poverty, “More than 16 million children in the United States - 22% of all children - live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level - $23,550 a year for a family of four."

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess where the effective poverty line is in a place like the Bay Area.

There’s a Jubilee to be had. There’s no doubting that.

Recently in Nigeria, Boko Haram burned 86 school children to death. We must find justice. Are there not enemies to pray for? Is there not peace to be made?

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

We carry the memory of a sound with us. “Be not afraid.”

“Listen to him.”

Play it again and again in your memory. Make it part of your spiritual soundtrack. Embrace the magic of the mountain top and the healing of the child. Don’t split them apart. Hold them together. See that it is the same God in Christ Jesus who reveals the Glory of the Holy Spirit in this way.

Of course, this is hard. It’s so difficult that Jesus’ own disciples cannot do it. Jesus calls them faithless. We have a frustrated Messiah, to be certain. But his frustration shows us again why we need to get our acts together before we raise a memorial.

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

Then we can ask...

What happens next? What happens after the work of healing and reconciliation? Where do we go?

We go to the cross.

Having picked up our own crosses in the form of healing and blessing and reconciling with one another, praying for our enemies and making peace, we go to another hill top. We go to Golgotha.

And the tomb.

Only then will we go to Resurrection.

Only then can we make our song “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Lent is upon us, Friends of God.

Tuesday we will dutifully (one hopes joyfully) eat our fill of pancakes or gumbo. Fasting doesn’t make sense until there’s a feast, you know. But then Ash Wednesday will be upon us and we will remember the dust. We will remember over the course of weeks the journey that is Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem for we too are on that same journey. We too are caught up in a passion.

But first, let us come down from the mountain top. There is healing to give and receive. There is peace to make. There are enemies to pray for, to love. This is the Jubilee of the Lord. 

 

 
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