Last Sunday after the Epiphany

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Good Friday, Year A April 14, 2017 Good Friday, Year A John 18:11, 9:28-30
Maundy Thursday, Year A April 13, 2017 Maundy Thursday, Year A John 13:1-7, 31b-35
Palm Sunday, Year A April 9, 2017 Palm Sunday, Year A Matthew 26:36-46
Lent 5 April 2, 2017 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A, Baptism John 11:1-45
Lent 4 March 26, 2017 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
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


Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Sermon Date:February 26, 2017

Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9

Liturgy Calendar: Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

“Transfiguration” – Raphael (1520)

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What is the point of trying to be a Christian?  Is there any point at all in trying to follow this way of life? 

Is my belief that Jesus is the Son of God based on  some cleverly devised myth?

Every day I pray the Lord’s prayer and say these words—“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…..”

But if I’m honest with myself, do I really believe that God’s reign will ever be realized on this earth?  And if it isn’t going to be realized, and Jesus isn’t going to return in glory, then why do I need to bother to take on the tough life of discipleship?

Peter, that impetuous disciple, had his own issues with discipleship.

Remember his spectacular failure of nerve leading to his denial of even knowing Jesus when he realized that his own life might be at risk because he was a disciple?

And yet, many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter encouraged the early Christians to keep on believing and living as disciples.

As a way of encouraging them, he supplied his eyewitness account of an event that we know as the transfiguration. 

Peter must have returned to this event in his heart and mind over and over, because this event an amazing proof to Peter that Jesus was truly the beloved Son of God and that Peter really did want to follow this man.

So Peter must have told this story frequently to those who were tired of waiting for Jesus to return and were giving up on discipleship, because this event had confirmed and increased his own faith.    

Here’s the story. 

Jesus, Peter, James and John head up a high mountain.

With his own eyes, Peter gets to see Jesus transfigured.  Peter gets to see the face of Jesus shine like the sun.

And then, when suddenly, Jesus with his shining face is talking with Moses and Elijah!—Peter must feel that he, James, and John have arrived right then and there in the realized reign of God—this must be heaven!

So no wonder Peter wants to build three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, and to hold onto this moment in which past, present and future are merging like atoms smashing into into one another, releasing cosmic and holy energy, releasing a brilliant cloud of light that overshadows them all.

And the voice—echoing from the beginning of time, flowing through the present moment, majestically stretching far into the future, saying, “This is my Son the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”

No wonder that as the disciples were embraced by that brilliant cloud of light and heard that voice like a sonic boom that they fell to the earth, overcome by fear, unable to move.

They stayed like that until Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  When they looked up, everything had returned to normal, and when they had gotten themselves together they went back down the mountain with the warning from Jesus not to talk about the vision until he had been raised from the dead.

How can this memory of Peter’s, which he shared with the early church, help us over two thousand years later? 

I’m going to give you five reasons why this story is helpful to us, the present day disciples. 

First of all, Peter, James and John had to be willing to go with Jesus up the high mountain alone, leaving their companions, the other disciples, behind.  This willingness was an indication of their trust and faith in Jesus, that he would not lead them anywhere that they should not go.  The disciples who waited at the foot of the mountain also had trust and faith in Jesus, because they simply waited for him to return.  They were there when he got back. 

So we can learn from this beginning of the story that we too can trust and have faith, not only to follow Jesus into unusual places, but also simply to wait on Jesus to return. 

This faithful and trustful waiting has big implications for prayer—because much of prayer is simply waiting on Jesus, especially when we feel his absence and wonder what on earth is taking him so long to get back from wherever it is he has gone. 

Second, this story is a reminder that living in the present moment is one of the best ways we can be open to God at work in our lives.  In this story, present, past and future merge—and Peter wants to hold onto that.  We get tempted to hold certain moments or times of our lives and enshrine them.  In a quickly changing world, holding onto the good old days when everything was perfect, building dwellings and putting a box around those mountaintop times, and living there instead of in the present moment—that way of life is tempting but deadly.  Imagine time frozen in a moment, even a wonderful, life-giving moment or time.  Then nothing else can happen!  God is always creating new things, doing new work.   But if we’re stuck in only one moment, we miss the imaginative, creative, life giving work that God is doing right now!  And God’s work can be death dealing or upsetting—consider for a moment the crucifixion and death of Jesus himself.  And yet, God was working through that awful event, doing a new life giving thing.   

When my mother in law died, I was with her.  She and I were alone together in her bedroom as her last hours passed by.  I was with her when she took her last breath.  I was totally focused on her, in the present moment, as her life came to an end.  And in her death, I could see God doing a new thing. As her body relaxed the years faded away.  I could almost SEE with my own eyes her resurrection life unfolding.  I felt as if I had not only witnessed a death, but that I was also at a birth! 

This time was a gift to me.  But I couldn’t stay there forever.  Family had to be notified, the funeral home called and my life with its new responsibilities had to continue. 

For a while, I wanted to keep her house untouched.  For me, it was like those dwellings that Peter wanted to build—I’ll keep this forever as a good memory and dwell in my memories.   But if I did that, the next good things that God wanted to do wouldn’t be able to happen.

And holding on to bad things is a problem as well—some old grudge, or some old hurt, letting that bad stuff stifle our lives—like living in some dark dusty closet of angry grief  and hurt—and meanwhile, God is busy with lifegiving creative work outside that stifling dwelling, and would love for us to come out and enjoy all the creative wonders of the present moment!

Third—God said, “This is my Son, the beloved! With him I am well pleased!  Listen to him!”  This statement of God’s is a pretty clear cut helpful part of the story. Listen to Jesus, God tells us!   Jesus does not say that the path of discipleship will ever be easy, that we will be spared pain, and in fact the path of discipleship can bring pain!  But Jesus also says at the end of Matthew’s gospel, when he is sending the disciples out, that he will be with them always.  And that’s his promise to us as well.  Sometimes in the tough pieces of our lives, we forget to listen to Jesus about how we are to live, and we forget that he promises to be with us.  So this story reminds us to listen to him, and not just to part of what he said, but to everything that he said. 

This listening to Jesus is particularly important in our own times, when we are being bombarded with so much information all the time from so many sources that it’s hard to listen to any of it, or to even know what is true when we do.  This is the age of alternative “facts,” conspiracy theories, and competing narratives about the world we live in. What really IS true?  The transfiguration story reminds us that in this death dealing quicksand of information, the lifegiving teachings of Jesus will guide us in the paths that God wants us to go.

Fourth, the disciples were overwhelmed with fear and awe because of what they had just experienced.  They couldn’t even get up until Jesus came and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 

Fearing God can help us keep what we do in the context of what God wants, but the fear of God can also paralyze us if we are so fearful of God that we don’t take the risks involved with living.  Martin Luther said, “Love God and sin boldly!”  Peter is a great example of someone who did just that—impetuously living and sinning, even as he tried to live a life of discipleship.  We are going to mess up!  God doesn’t want our awe of God and fear of messing up to keep us from even trying to live as disciples!   

Then there’s the fear of everything else.  Every age is the age of fear, and our age is no exception.  Fear is always waiting, like some evil genie, to keep us away from God and separated from one another.  Fear of what people will think or say about us might keep us from doing some life giving thing God is calling us to do. Fear might hold us back from taking the risk of loving our enemies, or seeking justice for the oppressed.  Fear is bondage.  Fear is not being able to act. So Jesus says, “GET UP!  DO NOT BE AFRAID!”  And he will touch us with his grace and his power so that we can have the audacity stop being afraid, to get up and get busy doing God’s work in the world, even if we are going to make mistakes as we try to do that.   

Here’s one last lesson for us as disciples—Jesus told Peter, James and John to tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

We must remember that all of these stories about Jesus as the Son of God are not complete unless we hear them in the context of the resurrection.   And our lives are not complete either, until we put our own stories into the context of the resurrection—God desires new life and resurrection for all of us—but God will never force us to receive new life.  We have to be willing to open our hearts to God, and be willing to let God touch us and make us new and to bring us into resurrection life, even in this life. 

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday. I hope you’ll keep this last story from the season after Epiphany with you as Lent begins–that you’ll enter into Lent with a willingness to wait on God in prayer and to follow in faith and trust when Jesus lays out the path on which we are to walk.   I hope you’ll enter into Lent with a determination to let go of the past and let God work in the present moment, and to let go of the tendency to hold on to the things that keep God from doing a new thing. I hope you’ll enter into Lent with the willingness to listen to Jesus, to hear his teachings and to seek his truth, and to follow him as his disciples. I hope you’ll enter into Lent without fear, knowing that even though sin is real and death is inevitable, God is always doing a new thing, and that resurrection is on the way.

Yes, there is a point to being a Christian, and living as disciples even as we wait.  We too are God’s beloved children, and God is waiting on us to be living, breathing signs of resurrection, and hints of God’s reign being brought into reality in our lives, even in this present moment.


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