|Lent 3||March 19, 2017||Third Sunday in Lent, Year A||Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42|
|Lent 2||March 12, 2017||Second Sunday in Lent, Year A||Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, John 3:1-17|
|Lent 1||March 5, 2017||First Sunday in Lent, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Ash Wednesday||March 1, 2017||Ash Wednesday, Year A||Matthew 4:1-11|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany||February 26, 2017||Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany||February 19, 2017||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 12, 2017||Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Deuteronomy 30:15-20; 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany||February 5, 2017||Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20|
|Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Reflections on Annual Convention, Susan Tilt||January 29, 2017||4th Sunday after the Epiphany||Matthew 5:1-12|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany||January 22, 2017||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Psalm 27:1, 5-13, Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany||January 15, 2017||Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Baptism of Jesus||January 8, 2017||The Baptism of our Lord, Year A||The Book of Common Prayer|
|Epiphany||January 6, 2017||Epiphany 2017||Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Day, Year A||December 25, 2016||Christmas Day, 2016||Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Psalm 98, John 1:1-14|
|The Eve of the Nativity||December 24, 2016||Christmas Eve||Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2: 1-20|
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Sermon Date:February 7, 2016
Scripture: Luke 9:28-43a
Liturgy Calendar: Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
"Transfiguration" – Fra Angelico (1442)
Every year, on the last Sunday of Epiphany, we get to see and to hear about the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountaintop. And since this is Year C, Luke provides us with his version of what happened on that mountain and then what happens when Jesus and the disciples come back down the mountain.
A man in the crowd that meets Jesus back in the valley cries out to Jesus on behalf of his only son.
A spirit possesses his son. The father says, “Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.”
Apparently the man had begged the disciples to cast out this spirit, but they could not, because they were powerless against it.
I have a lot of sympathy for the disciples.
After all, what would you do if someone asked you to cast out a spirit that is tormenting someone and making that person suffer?
As Christians, we are constantly aware of what seems to be powerlessness in the face of suffering.
Many of us have had relatives, or know of people who have loved ones who suffered horribly in their final days, weeks, or months of life. No amount of praying, bargaining, or begging God changed the outcome or took away the pain that those people endured.
And often, we are powerless to stop our own suffering.
What then, are we disciples of Jesus to do when we find ourselves face to face with suffering?
Just before this incident in which the father cries out to Jesus on behalf of his only son, Jesus and his disciples have been up on the mountain to pray.
And as Jesus was praying there, he was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Jesus.
Only Luke reports the content of the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
“They were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
This conversation is significant.
Eight days before Jesus, Peter, James and John had gone up the mountain, Jesus had told the disciples that he would undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Jesus had already made it clear to the disciples, then, that he himself was going to suffer, and now his conversation with Moses and Elijah centered around the suffering that he was going to face in Jerusalem.
As Christians, we believe that the suffering of Jesus was what theologians refer to as redemptive suffering.
Susan Nelson, Professor of Theology and Culture at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in an article in the journal Interpretation, says that “some suffering can be used for redemptive purposes…God can use suffering to redeem sinners, to end cycles of suffering and sin, and to bring reconciliation and hope to a suffering world.”
Suffering becomes redemptive when “cycles of suffering and sin are broken…redemptive suffering reaches down into sinful hearts and pulls on the chords of compassion that bind one creature to the suffering of another.”
Susan Nelson provides some examples of redemptive suffering in her article.
The Roman Catholic priest, Maximillian Kolbe, a prisoner at Auschwitz, volunteered to take the place of another prisoner who was being sent, with nine others, to a hunger cell to die of starvation. So because of Kolbe, one man was saved. “Kolbe was sent to the hunger cell, where the collective memory attests he ministered in love to his dying companions and where he died so slowly that he was finally murdered by lethal injection. The memory of his sacrificial act did not die with him but remained as a testimony that a site of radical suffering—a place haunted by death and terror—could also be a place where a sacrificial gesture speaks meaning. Suffering and cruelty may have dominated the day, but they were not the only word.”
And this example, also from the time of World War II….the Germans dropped a bomb on Canterbury Cathedral in England and left it in ruins…in response, the congregation chose to pray for the citizens of Dresden, Germany, who had suffered under allied bombing raids, and they “made their destroyed sanctuary a place to work for the reconciliation of people in conflict all over the world.”
This example of redemptive suffering comes to us from the African nation of Rwanda, where one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by the radical Hutus in the genocide that took place there in 1994. Girls at a boarding school were ordered to divide themselves ethnically or suffer the consequences. The girls refused to do so, saying that they were all Rwandans. As a result, they were indiscriminately beaten and shot. These brave Hutu girls could have chosen to live, but chose instead to call themselves Rwandans” in solidarity with their Tutsi classmates.
What about our own suffering? How can the physical, emotional and psychic pains we face in our own lives become redemptive?
At Bible study, Eunice told the story of a man she knows whose wife was bedridden for years. She told about how she went to visit one day, and the woman, in bed, had a donut on a plate in front of her. And her husband would periodically go over and pinch off a tiny piece of that donut and place it in his wife’s mouth, saying something like, “Princess, here’s something for you to enjoy.” “My sweet wife, here’s something sweet for you,” and so on. During that visit, Eunice could feel the love and compassion with which this man was responding to his own suffering and the ongoing suffering of his wife.
Chris Hicks and his family cared for his wife Rhonda at home throughout her years of battling cancer. Chris said that for the last seventeen days of her life, they could not move her without causing her pain. This hurt them deeply—to have to witness this incredible physical pain. And yet, they continued to care for her with love and compassion.
Our own pain can make joy and pleasure in life practically impossible.
Pain can make us unpleasant to be around. Extreme pain can even take away our desire to live.
As Christians, though, we can recall that Jesus, too, has suffered. Even on the mountain, as he prayed, he was transfigured, so close to God and consumed by God that the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white, and yet, his conversation with Moses and Elijah centered on the suffering he was about to endure.
We too, can go to God in prayer, even in pain that takes away any words we might have, remembering the encouraging words that Paul wrote to the Romans.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us….the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
The following prayer appears in The Book of Common Prayer on page 461. It was adopted for our prayer book from The Army and Navy Service Book. When our pain takes away our ability to pray in our own words, this prayer can be useful.
“Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father’s will: Be near me in my time of weakness and pain; sustain me by your grace, that my strength and courage may not fail; heal me according to your will; and help me always to believe that what happens to me here is of little account if you hold me in eternal life, my Lord and my God. Amen.”
If you remember nothing else from this sermon today, remember that we have power in the face of suffering.
We can remember this vision of Jesus on a mountain top, his clothes dazzling white, his face changed into the light of sheer love and union with God. We can remember another hill where Jesus hung on a cross and suffered in hope that through his suffering, the world would be redeemed.
We can choose the way of the cross, the way of compassionate presence with those who suffer.
God will answer our prayers for the strength and courage we will need when we enter into our own time of suffering.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, our Lord who prayed on the mountain and was transfigured, our Lord who chose to suffer and die on a cross in order to redeem our own suffering.
Nelson, Susan L. “Facing Evil: Evil’s Many Faces: Five Paradigms for Understanding Evil.” In Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, Vol 57, Number 4, October 2003.
Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. New York: The Seabury Press, 1981.