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Friday, March 4, 2011

Last Sunday of Epiphany - Transfiguration Sunday

"The indwelling Deity darted out its rays through the veil of the flesh; and that with such transcendent splendour, that he no longer bore the form of a servant. His face shone with Divine majesty, like the sun in its strength; and all his body was so irradiated by it, that his clothes could not conceal its glory, but became white and glittering as the very light, with which he covered himself as with a garment."

Matthew 17:1-9
17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus Online NRSV Text

Textweek General Resources

Textweek Resources For Sunday's Gospel from Matthew

Some interesting articles on this passage:

William Loader's "First Thoughts"

Working Preacher thoughts on each lesson appointed for today

Chris Haslaam's Clippings Site

God of all that is worthy of trust and destined to endure, you have made the words of your Son a solid rock on which the children of your kingdom can build their lives.  Shelter us from the storms of mere worldly wisdom; anchor our judgments and choices in your timeless truth; that, with our lives set securely on this firm foundation, we may not collapse int he face of adversity or assault, but stand steadfast and true in the faith that endures. 

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...The Transfiguration
Matthew is ever the story teller.  His art shines through in this narrative of the Transfiguration.  Certainly we see (as we have already seen in other parts of the Matthean Gospel) traces of the Sinai experience of Moses and God, and Moses with his followers.  The telling of the Jesus story has mimicked the landscape and has given us a sense of space and place not unlike the Exodus itself.  Scholars in most texts say that is not all.  Matthew weaves images from Daniel, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 255)

The transfiguration though is central in the revelation of who Jesus is.  We have talked some in the past few weeks about Jesus as a new Moses and new Elijah.  We have talked about how Jesus' ministry begins a new age of prophetic action and an age of the Holy Spirit.  We have talked about the emerging importance of the disciples in this new ministry; and how each follower of Jesus becomes a bearer of the Good News of Salvation in the world through action and word. 

Here in this text we see clearly these themes amplified. Jesus is not Moses or Elijah - that time is over.  Jesus is leading his disciples not to create a revolution in religious thought which still manifests itself in one or two given locations.  No.  Jesus is recreating the world holistically.  Jesus' mission is not in a temple on a mountaintop, or even in in one country. His ministry is not a ministry where the followers come to him, but a ministry where the followers primary worship act is following him into the world. 

In his Lambeth address to the Bishop, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that we needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. He remarked at the reality of sin in such a belief that God must be protected by us.  He instead offered an image, which remained with me after reading it on Tuesday morning this week, that we are to go out of our churches and places of worship to find Jesus already out in the world. We are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world. 

We might remember as we reflect on the Transfiguration Jesus' own words earlier in Matthew: Follow Me.  Not please come with me, but a command -- follow him.  Here again Jesus leads his followers out into the world, off the mountain top, out into the place where the proclamation of Jesus Christ is made. 

A Sermon on the Transfiguration
Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 spoke these last public words:
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I‘ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know [tonight] that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy [tonight], I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Ghandi, St. Francis -- they joined Jesus on the mountain top. They stood upon the mountain and looked down and saw the promised land, the kingdom of God revealed.

And each and everyone of them left the mountain and returned to the world becoming the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low and there to dwell with God. They understood that our God is the God of the lowly who descends from the highest heavens and highest peeks into the valleys of our lives and the lives of the poor and those in need of a helping hand.

Today we read the Gospel story from Matthew of the mountain top experience of Peter, James, and John. The climb mount Tabor to discover the pouring out of grace from the heavens into the human vessel Jesus of Nazareth. They discover the truth about their teacher and become students of what God’s true mission is in the world. They discover that the goal is not the mountain top, but the promised land.

A promised land of deliverance for the poor, the oppressed, those in need of healing and those lost along the way. Their mountain top experience with Jesus reveals to them that Jesus fully understands God’s intention to empty grace into the world.

At first they see the unmasking of this glory for themselves. Perhaps they say: “this is good for us”; or “I am glad that I am here.” Then they look down the mountain with their enculturated eyes and see hopelessness and poverty and a great darkness which cloaked the world and their minds eye at that moment in history.

Jesus however, understands perfectly as he comes to be transfigured by the grace of God, transformed by the grace of God. Jesus knows his mission is universal servanthood to the world below. The darkness of the world around is enlightened by the grace of God and becomes the promised land where salvation and deliverance is given out through the ministry of preaching, healing, restoration, and resistance.

When we look out into the world from the mountain top what do we see?

I believe the church’s ministry has become a private and not a public one. We live in the illusion of the mountain top when we are in the valleys of life. We live in the illusion of separateness in the midst of a great sea of humanity longing for deliverance.

We have become individual utilitarians. Seeking only what is good for us as individuals. This is a good place to be. It is like the man who says to the priest upon the burial of his wife; “Thank you for all you have done the church has meant a lot to my wife and to my son by giving him a solid ethical Sunday school education, but now that he is a teenager we probably don’t need you any more and won’t be seeing you as much.” We come to the gospel believing it is good for us to be here.

Others of us have become individual expressionists. Seeking only a place that will listen to us but does not call us to change or be transformed. We enter church because want a place that will listen to us and others can join if they are like minded but ultimately uninterested. And so perhaps we say, “It is good that I am here.”

In the church we hear the gospel and we keep it locked up inside so that it is here when we need it.

When we hoard God’s grace we see life in relationship with God through the eyes of Peter, James and John on the mountain top. We see the world as a hopeless, dark place, filled with evil and the lost. We keep the grace to ourselves and hope to refuse God’s ability to redeem and restore the world.

But the truth is too great at times and our ears and hearts might be pricked by the wisdom of our holy scripture which reminds us that God created the garden and those within that he might walk with them in the cool of the day and share with them all the hope of his heart.

Jesus gives us new glasses to wear. If we are followers and students of Jesus, if we are truly Christian we see the world for what it is: the promise land. The world, the culture, the people are ultimately (like Jesus himself) transfigured by the overflowing grace of God.

Jesus, the world, all humanity and all creation are transfigured: it is a public transformation.

And the student who goes to the mountain top and sees the miracle that takes place there and chooses to follow Jesus reinterprets their mission as one of discipleship servanthood.

I have been to the mountain top; truth is it has probably happened a number of times, perhaps not as gloriously as Martin Luther King, Jr., but from time to time as the dark night gives way to an Easter Day.  The vision I have seen is beyond the words of this world - yet always the same. The message is a clear one though: hope. Hope. Hope. Universal and all encompassing hope.

Together, we move, and live, and have our being in a great sea of hope awash with the grace of God.

I know that our following of Jesus will lead us to that holy place where every partial loyalty is abandoned in the wake of the mercy and grace of our God.

We are assured that all of humanity will be freed from its bondage and is gong to be reconciled with the source of all life. And that no matter what the world looks like to you God’s love in Jesus overwhelms our powerlessness and reinterprets the world as it is ultimately reconciled to itself human to human.

Each Sunday we pray “thy kingdom come” but do we see it?

I have begun to see it. I am beginning to understand that the power of my life and my prayers and the lives and prayers of all those around me can move all humanity through God’s grace toward the transformation and reconciliation of all things.

We are to be audaciously engaged in proclaiming the vision that God has given and to be bold enough to counteract the world around us.

The vision that God gives us is so fantastic that believing it requires almost a supernatural faith.

At times I have been tempted to participate and believe in a life that proclaims that the nature of our brokenness, our own personal alienation, our sin if you will is so deep that the transformation can’t be taken seriously and must be dismissed and demythologised in some kind of apologetic for God.

But God reveals for us today in the gospel, once again, his sacred story. “Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give up his life in ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

It doesn’t get much clearer. God has willed to show his love for the world by descending more and more deeply into human frailty. The more conscious we become of our relationship with Jesus and the God of all grace and mercy, the more deeply we become convinced that we are to be like God out in the world making room in our lives for the other and ministering on behalf of the other.  Like Jesus to become a lowly servant.

God is the descending God. The movement is down, down, down, until it finds the sickest, the most afflicted, the most helpless, the most alienated, the most cut off. The movement of God is the flooding of our lives with grace beyond all grace.

Praise be to this God of the lowly!

Are not our sacred images of God the lamb led silently to the slaughter, the image of servant washing his friends feet the night before his death, the image of a man living among the lepers of the world.

We discover on the mountain top that to reach bottom is to exert an infinite pull on the heartstrings of humanity hastening the moment when justice and peace will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

We discover that our lives and ministry are a public servanthood to the world and people around us.

We discover on the mountain top that we live in the promised land.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method

This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican

Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.

2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.

3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.

4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.

5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.

6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.

7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"

8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father..."

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