Rev. Kirsten Sermon
We are at a pivot in our liturgical seasons. Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany. On Tuesday we will celebrate Shrove Tuesday with a pancake supper. In other parts of the world, Carnivale is in full swing. And then on Wednesday, we will celebrate Ash Wednesday, reminded that we are but dust and to dust we shall return.
Next Sunday, we will have new prayers, and we will solemnly entered into Lenten contemplation. We will prepare for Easter by deepening our knowledge of God, coming to know Jesus’ suffering, Jesus’ struggle. We will contemplate brutal oppression, torture and death. We will seek to know our own humanness, the ways in which we are not divine. We will look at our sin and seek repentence. And in knowing Jesus’ suffering, reflecting on our own brokenness, we will come to know God’s forgiveness and anticipate the new life that has been given to all of us.
We are moving from Epiphany--the season of revelation, into Lent—a season of preparation and repentence. We have been shown God’s glory, and now we must prepare ourselves to receive to God’s forgiveness. I feel this pivot as a shift from looking out at the glory of Christ to looking in at our humanness, made in Christ’s image. We could understand this shift as a move from high Christology to low Christology. We contemplate Christ, one with the Father, our Creator God—far greater than us, the origin of all things. But we also know Jesus, fully human who walked with us, died for us and was resurrected for our salvation.
Our Scriptural passages today give us this opportunity to pivot and begin our Lenten journey.
As I heard the Gospel, I thought of us as like Peter and James and John. We are the disciples who accompany Jesus up the mountain to pray. Maybe over this season of Epiphany, in our prayers, or our dreams, we have seen Christ in his glory. Maybe we have had glimpses of a shining face. The revelation may have come as a vision of Jesus. Or the revelation may have come as we’ve seen Christ’s glory in the world—seen it in the face of a newborn child, seen it in the giftedness of someone here in the congregation. As we pray today, let us take this moment to experience the revelation fully. We can ask in our prayers, “Show us your glory.” Show us your glory in the beauty of the earth. Show us your glory in the surprising Love that conquers hatred, that cures sickness, that overcomes inequalities.
But when our prayers are answered, and we see that dazzling white garment, that shining face, then what are we to do?
I heard a story this week about a child, a member of our congregation, who spoke out at this week’s Interfaith Street Chaplaincy’s Wellness Dinner. A child who raised a hand and testified to God’s presence in that circle of people who need God’s presence so much. This child showed us again what it is to be the healer, to love our neighbors as ourselves. At that moment, this child shined with Christ’s reflected glory.
I worked this week with people who are working on clean energy investment projects. These are finance people who are focused on making our world sustainable. They are working with energy companies to help us transition into a carbon-constrained world. They are shining with God’s love in their own realm, the realm of bond finance and energy infrastructure.
I met this week with two other priests in charge of Marin Episcopal Churches—Rev. Molly at Church of the Redeemer and Rev. Christopher at St. Paul’s. These two priests talked about building up their congregations, starting new ministries, deepening faith and reaching out to our neighbors. The stories that they told were storied of God working in our midst. I saw in their enthusiastic praise for the people in their congregations, a shining, a white garment—God’s gifts coming to fruition.
If we are like Peter and John and James, we might consider taking this stories, these images of God’s glory in our midst and building a tent to honor them. We might retell these stories for the purpose of glorifying these people. We might get confused and think that these revelations are what we need to honor.
But in our Gospel reading today. God speaks to the disciples telling them that they have missed the point. (As we often do.) The Gospel tells us that Peter, John and James were “weighed down with sleep”, but since they’d stayed awake they had seen Jesus’ glory and the glory of the two men with him. Peter, John and James enter into a cloud. They are terribly afraid because this cloud has come over them. Then they hear God’s voice, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Just when the disciples think that they have understood Christ because they have seen Jesus with Moses and Elijah, God comes to them and says, “Listen to him.” God is saying to the disciples and to us—Christ’s glory is not in what you see, what you recognize as God’s magnificence. Christ’s glory is in what Jesus says and does. And this message is reinforced by what happens next.
As they descend the mountain, a man approaches Jesus and tells Jesus about his son who is possessed and suffers convulsions. The disciples have been unable to heal the child, but Jesus answered the man, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? . . . Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
And this is the pivot. The disciples go from thinking that they have experienced a revelation in the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, to knowing that the greatness of God is in the work of healing, reconciling and bringing to new life.
Just before the healing, Jesus reflects with his disciples and all the people around him that he will not be among them for much longer (or at least that is one way to read his cryptic remarks). I hear him saying, perhaps with some frustration, don’t you get it. It’s not about building tents or honoring me with things—it’s about doing my work in the world.
And so as we hear the other passages today—the Hebrew Bible and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we can use the image of the veil and the shining face as a way to reflect on this shift. Moses’ face is shining, reflecting the glory of God. But he sees through the veil except when he speaks directly to God. God’s glory is so brilliant, God’s grace so all forgiving, that it changes us humans. When we come to know God, we shine with that glory. But Even when we have experienced revelation, known God in all God’s splendor, still we see dimly, through a veil. And the revelation of God is not a cause for pride or self congratulations. That revelation builds us up to participate in God’s work here in the world.
Paul tells the Corinthians “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness . . . since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.