Sunday, February 27, 2022
Transfiguration of Our Lord / Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

Prayer of the Day

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm

Exodus 34:29-35 Coming down from Mount Sinai, Moses’ face shone
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 With unveiled faces we see the Lord’s glory as we are transformed
Luke 9:28-43a  Jesus is transfigured on the mountain

Sermon

Title:  Hope: A Disciple’s Privilege

The star is still shining. Oh, how I love to see it shining there this late in February.  And I will miss it when it is gone after today. Yes, this year, thanks to a nice long Epiphany season the star has been lighted and remained there for just over two months. (By comparison, in years with a short Epiphany season, the star would have made its exit three weeks ago and we would be well into Lent by now.)

But there it still is.  The spirit of the Christmas surprise still warming us.  The light of the incarnation still stirring peace and joy in us.  The love of God made known in Jesus Christ who is the light of the world still leading us into deeper understanding and appreciation for this most gracious gift that transformed creation and is transforming us.

However, in the midst of the warmth and the glow, in the presence of the joyous spirit, the bright light, and the profound love; throughout this season, Jesus – through the words of the gospel of Luke, has been calling us to follow, to be disciples, to work for justice, to join him in changing the world. An overwhelming and daunting call indeed.  Perhaps even intensified in these times of ours.  Have you felt it?  I sure have.  The star is shining and Jesus is calling; all the while our nation continues to be confronted by this renewed and very much needed reckoning around issues of race and racism.  The star is shining and Jesus is calling; all the while we are working to tell more complete stories about our past even as some are trying to silence the truth.  The star is shining and Jesus is calling; all the while our eyes are forced more opened to the systemic impacts of racism as we hear of new attacks on the marginalized and see blatant examples of injustice played out on the evening news.  The star is shining and Jesus is calling; all the while some of us long for and want to work for a more just future for all but don’t always know how.  (I joined others in protest at city hall Thursday afternoon. Did it do anything?  Did it change the mayor’s actions?  Not yet, at least.  But I had to do something.  Say something.)

Turning that famous Dickensian opening line “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” into a sentence for this time, perhaps for this Epiphany season, we can say “It was the most comforting of times. It was the most challenging of times.”  But that is at the heart of the call to be disciples of Jesus the Christ, yes?

As in every Epiphany season, be it short or long, at the end of it, on its last Sunday, we always find ourselves on that mountaintop with the transfigured Jesus.  He is glowing with the glory of his divinity. And every year we hear Peter – “not knowing what he is saying” – suggest that they just stay up there.  Just stay with the warm fuzzy part, stay with the glory and not face the reality of the challenge of living as disciples in a world of rage and rough house, where empires grow and tyrannize, where religious leaders dominate rather than liberate, where nations senselessly invade other nations, where people are oppressed and killed because of the color of their skin or the religion they practice or because of the way that they love. Can you blame Peter for wanting to stay? I’d suggest that he build a five-star hotel up there?  Don’t you just want to keep that star glowing?  Keep our minds on the cooing baby or the glowing divine one.

But Jesus knows they cannot stay.  The passage from Luke we heard this morning started with the words eight days after these sayings.  Those sayings referred to were Jesus talking about his impending death. And then going on to call his disciples to not only follow him in life, but to follow him in dying to self for the sake of the world.  Join him not in physical death, but in dying to our sinful self so that we might rise to the new life that our resurrected Savior gives witness to and invites us to live into.  And there it is, both the challenge and the privilege of discipleship.

Now there is a charged word. Privilege.  For those of us who are white in America, we are learning to a new degree that we must acknowledge that we have privilege.  Again, there are mixed feelings. A strange sense of lucky, yet guilty over undeserved favor.  Shame that our society even favors some and not all.  But also, responsibility.  Like I heard a mom say to your young son as they walked past the church one day – “You have to use your privilege to help others.”

In his writing to the church in Corinth, Paul is talking to them about a disciple’s privilege. He uses the analogy of Moses’ veil that was described in our first reading. But I have to say, that analogy runs into a bit of trouble.  Paul means well, but taken too far, that privilege as he explains it begins to sound like elitism and can fuel wrong thinking in that sinful self that we struggle with as we seek to daily drown it in the waters of baptism.  One can certainly hear strains that could, and probably have, given way to antisemitism and Christian exclusivism.

If Paul had just stopped at verse 12.  12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness,

Instead, he goes on with his “Not like Moses…”  Always dangerous to do any version of the “Not like them…” phraseology.   Paul, you had it.  Right there.  That is the disciple’s privilege – “we have such a hope.”  (I know the classic song says what the world needs now is love sweet love.  But I’m thinking hope would be a lot more helpful right now.  And, in some ways, it is a lot hard to muster.)  Yes, Paul – we have such a hope, therefore we act with great boldness.

Not: we have insight, so we act. Not:  we have knowledge and understanding, so we act. Not:  we know more than they do, so we act.

We have hope – born in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, grounded in faith that is the work of the Holy Spirit. And so, as disciples, we act with boldness as children of the God who is love.    

As Paul puts it, getting back on track after his problematic analogy:  4:1Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  With the privilege of hope, we do not lose heart.  And that hope is renewed by the water and the Word, at the table and in our fellowship.

And so, with Peter, James and John, we can NOT stay on this mountain, nor stay in this season, nor stay in this sanctuary, nor stay in our cocoons.  We are called to go forward in hope.  The world needs us to go forward in hope bringing hope.  Sharing our privilege of hope.

On this day Jesus is becoming the fullness of his incarnation by walking the way of the cross, proclaiming love and mercy, grace and forgiveness in word and in deed.  As his disciples we are following him.  We, too, are becoming. 

Perhaps that little episode back down off the mountain, removed from the glorious transfiguration, can offer a bit of encouragement and forbearance for those of us who are not feeling up to the task, not wanting to leave the mountaintop, not wanting to follow Jesus into what lies ahead.  For even those who followed him first, saw him with their own eyes, heard him speak, witnessed the miracles. Even these disciples did not quite get it right all the time. You gotta love Jesus’ “how much longer must I be with you and bear with you.”  Sounds like he would have liked to stay up on that mountaintop himself. But notice he never says, “that’s it, you’re not worth it.  I’m not going through with it.” Instead, he continues in his becoming.  Becoming the savior of the world.  Becoming that one who leads us through death and into life.  Becoming the one who is our hope, so that we are able to not lose heart, we are able to act with great boldness, living into the privilege that God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit gives to all. And that is justice.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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