Monthly Archives: August 2017

Sermon: The Transfiguration of our Lord

Below is a copy and recording of my sermon from The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 6, 2017), preached at St. Luke’s East Greenwich.  You can find the lessons here. As always your comments and reflections are welcome. 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration,
one of my favorite feasts in the life of the Church.

This feast we celebrate today is so important to me because it is all about two things that are the core of my faith and my personhood – identity and integrity.

On this the feast of the Transfiguration something is revealed to us about the identity and integrity of Jesus, and of ourselves. And I truly believe that if we open ourselves fully to what is celebrated on this day,
we might just find not only God,
but ourselves transfigured.

transfigiconToday’s Gospel passage finds us on the mountain.
Just as in real estate, location is everything in Scripture.
Mountaintops are known, and symbolic of, places where God is revealed.

So when we hear: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray,” that is a clue to us that something incredibly important is about to happen.
God is about to reveal God’s self in some miraculous way.

In this Gospel passage, in this mountaintop moment, God is making sure that the core of the disciples – Peter and John and James – have no doubt about the fullness of Jesus’ identity. In the verses leading up to todays’ passage from Luke, there are a series of stories and events that attempt to communicate to the disciples the divine nature of Jesus. Time and time again the disciples just do not get it. They keep trying to force Jesus into their idea of who the messiah should be and how the messiah should act.

As an aside, it needs to be noted that throughout Luke’s Gospel, the female disciples absolutely get it, but the gender division of Luke’s narrative is another sermon for another time.

As we approach this mountain top encounter there are three key elements that speak to the identity and integrity of Jesus.

First, Jesus takes these three disciples up the mountain to pray.

Now this might be an obvious statement,
but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway;
for Jesus prayer is incredibly important.

Repeatedly throughout Luke’s narrative we witness how Jesus is empowered by prayer.
Through prayer Jesus opens himself to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Through prayer Jesus chooses the apostles.
Through prayer Jesus is able to maintain his integrity through abuse.
Through prayer Jesus is strengthened to confront the oppressive structures of the empire.
And it is through prayer
that the disciples would be able to do all these things and more, if they could simply get out of their own way and truly accept the presence of God in their lives.

At this point in the Gospel, the disciples do not have this prayer thing down. It will be another two chapters until they ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Even though they still have not received their formal training in prayer, God still uses the empowering nature of prayer to be a time when the disciples – and all of us – are able to come into proximity with the Divine.

It is in the setting of prayer that the true identity of Jesus is revealed.

 The second key element of this transfiguration event is the appearance of two prophets.

In this prayerful moment, when Jesus is transformed and his clothes become dazzling white he does not appear alone. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is an indicator that the mission of God, in the person of Jesus, is a continuation of the work that God had already begun in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

This makes clear that the Jewish identity of the disciples, and what later generations will call Christian identity, do connect. This is a sign that for us as Christians, that the words spoken through the prophets have been realized in the person of Jesus.   That is why of all the prophets, it is Moses and Elijah who appear.

Moses is the reminder of the past.
Moses was the person empowered by God, to lead God’s chosen people out of bondage and slavery into freedom.
Elijah, in Jewish thought, in connected to the end times.
Elijah is the one who will one day turn people’s hearts back to the covenant.
Jesus’ transfiguration is placed between those who represent the beginning and the end. The conversation the three of them have makes clear the fullness of Jesus’ mission: that Jesus is ended to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission.

Just a few verses beyond today’s Gospel passage, Luke will tell the reader that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus will begin that long journey to the cross.

Thus by standing next to Moses it is made clear to us that that just as Moses was the one who led the people Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, Jesus will be the one to lead all of humanity out of the bondage and slavery of sin.

And by standing next to Elijah, the one who will bring people back to the covenant that God made with the ancestors, Jesus will be the one to usher us back to the very presences of God in the end of time.

Now if all that was not enough for this revelation of the glory of God, there is one final moment that makes Jesus’ divine nature explicitly clear:

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

For the second time we read God claiming Jesus as God’s Son.

Several chapters earlier, at Jesus’ Baptism, we read that God speaks from heaven and says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

But now
here
during the Transfiguration of our Lord,
God once again speaks, and this time, tells us that Jesus is God’s Beloved.
And God does not just speak to the disciples confirming Jesus’ identity,
God commands the disciples – and each one of us – to Listen to Jesus!

No longer can there be any doubt.
This teacher, this rabbi they have been following is the divine Son of God.
This teacher will not only lead us out of temporal slavery,
but he will break down the door of hell
redeem every soul for all of eternity
and usher us into that heavenly city – the New Jerusalem.

In this moment, we receive a vision to carry with us down the mountain.

In the Transfiguration, we get a glimpse of the unimaginable reality of God’s grace, glory, and love for all of humanity.

But what happens when the appearance and revelation of God – ends?
What happens when we come off the mountain?

When Jesus, Peter, John, and James come down the mountain they met a man whose only son was possessed by a demon.
The man says to Jesus, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
Jesus chastises those around him,
rebukes the demon,
and the boy is healed.
As soon as Peter, John, and James come off the mountain they find transfiguration in every day life.

That healing encounter is where identity and integrity meet in the realities of the Transfiguration.

On the mountaintop Jesus’ identity is revealed. Once they are down in the valley the disciples witness the fullness of Jesus’ integrity. They see the honest and true reality that the mission of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to restore all of the created order to the way God intended creation to be from the very beginning:
Good
In the imagine of God
Whole
Redeemed

By witnessing the intersection of Jesus’ identity and integrity we are forced to see Jesus differently – to understand Jesus differently.

This teacher the disciples have been following around is not going to be some great and powerful military leader –
releasing the people of God from oppression through violence and destruction.

This transfigured Christ is going to humbly heal humanity and redeem us all
through suffering
anguish
and humiliation.

While we glimpse the glory of God in the transfiguration moment on the mountaintop, we will not fully see the glory of God until we stand at the foot of the Cross.

And if we are going to understand Jesus in this new way, we must also understand our relationship with Jesus and our call as disciples in new ways.

We are called to remove from ourselves all the darkness the world has placed upon us, so that our light might shine forth. We are no longer are to understand our ministries and callings through our own desires, but instead take on the meekness and humility of Christ.

We must, through prayer, open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit that we may be empowered to truly and completely listen to the commands of Jesus.

Now there is one more piece about coming down from the mountain that allows us to fully take on this new reality of our discipleship.

Think back for a moment to our Old Testament lesson from Exodus.

After coming down from Mount Sinaimoses
After having an incredibly intimate encounter with God,
that according to other parts of scripture should have killed Moses
Moses’s face was shining.
After encountering the holy, Moses was visibly changed.

Now I could preach two more sermons just on this passage from Exodus, I’m not going to, but I could.

However there is one thing I do not want to miss today.

This transformation was so startling that Moses started wearing a veil to not scare those in his community. But every time Moses went and spoke to God, Moses would remove his veil.

That for us is the final key to understanding our identity and integrity as followers of Jesus.

We may from time to time, find ourselves placing veils over our faces to not scare those around us, to not cause trouble, or for any other reason.

But when we come to this place,
When we come to hear the word of God
When we come to see God face to face
When we come to hold God in the palms of our hands in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
We no longer have any reason to fear or hide our faces.
We can remove every mask,
every veil,
We can remove absolutely everything that we put up to hide the light that shines from our faces.

If we are to truly be disciples then we must live into the fullness of our identity with all integrity in front of God, and one another.

On this feast of the Transfiguration may we give thanks for the divine revelation of God on all the mountaintops past, present, and yet to come.
May we come to know something more of the identity and integrity of God.
But most importantly may God reveal to us something of our own identity and integrity that we too might be transfigured.

AMEN.

 

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Sermon: RSCM Evensong

Last night I had the great pleasure of preaching at one of the RSCM Newport Course Evensongs.  The service was held at Grace Episcopal Church in Providence.  For the service we used the Propers for Social Justice: Psalm 146, Isaiah 42:1-7, and Matthew 10:32-42.  Below is a recording and manuscript for the sermon.  As always, comments welcome. 

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Photo taken by The Rev’d Grace Swinski

 

preaching

Photo by The Rev’d Gillian Barr

Music inspires movement.
When there are no words to raise the spirit in despair, music lifts us to new heights.
When all seems lost, music can restore us to hope and return us to our center.

 

Throughout the entirety of human history, humanity has turned to music to propel it forward. From our own historical moment all the way back to the song God spoke to usher the world into being – music has moved us.

Songs have the ability to express the hopes and aspirations of social movements. Just try to think of a movement that does not have a playlist. Music is the source of inspiration and power for liberation. No wonder that in the midst of the despair and anguish of exile God would offer the people of Israel hope through song.

The passage from Isaiah we have heard tonight is known as the First Servant Song. It is the first of four times throughout these latter chapters of Isaiah that we hear about the servant of God in very particular ways. In this introductory song we hear God describe the servant and then issue the servant a charge – God gives the servant purpose.

The Lord calls out and says,

I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

The purpose of the Servant is to be an instrument,
to implement the vision of God,
to faithfully and diligently work to make the justice of God reign on earth.

 The purpose of the Servant is to take up the fast that the Lord has chosen, the fast that is proclaimed just a few chapters ahead: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. To share bread with the hungry, to house the homeless, to clothe the naked, to let the light break forth and shatter the darkness.

What an unbelievable and seemingly impossible task – to make God’s reality, humanity’s reality. How could the servant possibly do this?

For over a century, biblical scholars and preachers have debated who exactly this servant is. Is the prophet writing about a particular person, or is the prophet describing all of Israel? Is the prophet prophesying for the long awaited messiah – the one we will come to know as Jesus? Or is the prophet doing something else?

Frankly, and with all due respect to those preaching and scholarly giants, I think we miss the point of the servant songs when we focus so much on the true identity of the servant. Because by focusing on the identity of the servant, we are claiming that the servant is someone other than ourselves. We are claiming that this work is for someone else, from some faraway place, from a long, long time ago.

You see the practices that the prophet Isaiah called the people of Israel to cherish captured Jesus’ imagination and they ought to capture ours as well. Israel, the chosen people of God, received from the prophet Isaiah what the Church received from Christ, and that is what we the Church must testify to the world – the revelation that the God who creates is a just God who restores sight to the blind, freedom to the captives, and gives strength to those who serve.

We the followers of Jesus, taken from every family, language, people, and nation; taken from across every boundary, every line of division, every category of humanity have been set apart to be servants of God. To restore sight to the blind; to set the captive free; to use our freedom in the maintenance of justice in our communities and in our world.

What, my friends, have we gotten ourselves into?

It would be easy for us to say that the world today is too divided, too hateful, that relationships are too broken for this servant work to become reality. All you have to do is turn on the news, open a newspaper, login to Facebook and scroll past the cat videos to see just how divided we are. It seems as if fear, hatred, and judgment rule the day. It seems the walls and barriers around us are just too strong for us to set the captives free. The world has just changed too much from the time of Isaiah for us to take on this servant work. Things must have been easier back then.

While this might be easy for us to say, or a convenient excuse to use, we would be wrong in doing so. Things were not easier for the people of Israel. Their world was not less complicated than ours. This servant song we hear tonight was given to the people of Israel while they were in exile.

They had been cast out of their homeland
gripped with fear and anxiety
left to wonder if they would ever make it home.
And the reality is that not everyone would.

How easy it would have been for the people of Israel to give up on the work of the Servant. To say this is just too hard. To say that hope is lost.

But that is not what they did. They, through toil and struggle, hung on to that hope – trusting that somehow, someway, God would prevail. They would be restored. They would receive salvation. So they kept on singing.

The word given to us by God
The word prophesied by Isaiah
The word championed by Jesus
The word put forth in a song
Is a word that scares the world, because it offers a new reality.

Walter Brueggemann, biblical scholar and theologian, once wrote, “Every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”

You choristers, you congregation here gathered, are those artists. It is our job, despite the pressures from society, to keep imagination alive. To never forget the words that we have sung this night, the words that scare the world: “The Lord looseth men out of prison; the Lord giveth sight to the blind. The Lord helpeth them that are fallen; the Lord careth for the righteous. The Lord careth for the strangers; he defendeth the fatherless and widow,” “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.”

That is the imagination,
the word,
the prophecy,
the song we must keep alive.
This is the servant work we must embody.

We hear from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel that if we take on the work of the servant, the work of the prophet, the work of the righteous; if we carry on the ministry established by Jesus then we will receive our reward. But claiming this work, singing this song, will not be easy

We hear Jesus say:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father . . . whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is warning us that there is a great cost to this life of discipleship. That his followers will be persecuted, that households and families will be divided, that followers of Jesus will be asked to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

In this warning, in these startling words, Jesus is offering to those listening to him then – and to us today – a life altering invitation

An invitation to follow
to persevere with Christ through hardship and division
to preach the Gospel message at all times
to give up everything the world tells us is important in order that we might truly and finally learn what is means to live.
To fully live into the intentions God has for us from the beginning.
2To be servants of God, to be lights to the world, to set the captive free.
To never stop singing.

The exile of the people of Israel is not the end of their story.
The death of Jesus on the Cross is not the end of his story.
Our present day of division and strife does not have to be the end of our story.

For in the cross we have a sign that all things are have been, are being, and will always be made new. There is always hope for restoration.

The miracle of the cross is that death itself dies
That we have been redeemed
That we can keep on singing.

Through the miraculous grace of God, through that never stopping, never giving up, always and forever love of God the people of Israel returned home, Jesus was raised from the dead, and we are claimed as servants of God.

Therefore it is our responsibility to claim the servant song as our own.
It is our responsibility to share in the peace of Christ.
It is our responsibility to make no peace with oppression.
It is our responsibility as artists to keep God’s imagination alive, to never give up hope.
It is our responsibility to sing.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

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