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Thursday, February 4, 2016

February 8, 2016, Last Epiphany/The Transfiguration

Quotes That Make Me Think

"God promises us that through Scripture we will meet God, and our identities as individuals and a community of faith will be formed and transformed."

"Transforming Transfiguation," Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

"The Transfiguration is an apt Preface to Lent and Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, because what lies ahead is both a confrontation between the non-violent justice of the Kingdom of God and the violent injustice of the Roman Empire; as well as the non-violent way of the Beloved versus the hoped-for victory by the Messiah."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Luke 9:28-36, (37-43), David Ewart, 2013.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


O god, whose Son, your Beloved, was transfigured in dazzling light, with reverent awe we enter your holy presence.  Your presence cannot be contained in tents our hands have made but must be sought in your creatures and all that your hands have fashioned.  Lead us from the high mountain to seek you in the lowly of the earth, serving them, after Christ’s example, in peace and sacrificial love.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

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

Some Thoughts on Luke 9:28-36(37-43)
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Epiphany begins with the visitation of the wise men, contains the prophesy of Simeon at the presentation, moves to the baptism of Jesus by John, then moved through several lessons in Luke’s Gospel which outline the mission of Jesus and what kind of Messiah he is to be for the people of Israel and for the Gentiles.  We conclude Epiphany with the transfiguration.  As Luke Timothy Johnson calls the passage “Recognizing Jesus,” we are then not surprised that this season of revelation and light ends on the mountain top.
If you are interested in how the other texts tell the story of the transfiguration you can find the parallels for today’s Gospel reading here:
vv. 28-36
vv. 37-43a
One of the things I want to draw our attention to as we begin to survey this Gospel reading is that the lectionary has divided it in an odd place. I very much like the division of the passage as 9:18-36.  Here we have a complicated disagreement between the New Testament scholar and the Liturgist.  Overlooking that, we see plainly as we open up our Bibles that Luke intends to begin the account by transitioning from the miracle of loaves and fishes to a private time of prayer between teacher and disciples. 

In the previous passage the miracle of multiplication and abundance concludes as we see the ochlos (mentioned above as "the crowd") transformed in the new nation of God’s people – the laos.  The revelation of the reign of God’s breaking into the world is then immediately followed by a time of prayer.  Jesus asks them in this time away from the others, who am I?  From Peter we receive the revelation “Messiah of God,” or as almost all scholars recognize: “God’s Anointed.”  While Jesus tells them to keep this quiet he also charges them to follow, deny themselves, and to die daily to self – living for Christ and for others along the journey of discipleship.

As before we see the revelation, and then a response of discipleship offered.  So we come to verse 28 and the test. Just how are our disciples doing? We might remember Simon’s response last week of humble repentance. What happens this Sunday?  Are we there yet?

We begin with these words, “as he was praying.” Many scholars focus in on the changes that Luke makes to the end time predictions of Mark and the imagery of Christ’s second coming and the number of days from the revelation of Jesus as Messiah (Mark’s 6 to Luke’s 8). 

What strikes me and seems so very profound is that the transfiguration occurs in the midst of prayer.  Specifically, while Jesus is praying the transfiguration takes place.  We have not ventured too far from Jesus’ baptism so we can remember that the moment of recognition of Jesus as God’s beloved came during prayer as well.  Again here we see the reality that the Holy Spirit comes in prayer; it comes when we present ourselves to God.  It comes in words and it comes in silence.

Jesus is praying.  As he prays his appearance is altered and his clothes become dazzlingly white.  Two men were seen speaking to him: Moses and Elijah.  They too are witnessed to be in glory.  And they were talking about the death and resurrection and events about to take place in Jerusalem. This account is one filled with images and words that would have resonated with the first Christians. They are images to be repeated by the Godly work of resurrection and in Luke’s account of the events that followed.

I believe the importance of this moment is highlighted by the very particular words used by Luke to describe the transfiguration.  The word for departure is a direct translation of exodus.  Jesus is God’s glory; he is the Messiah to lead the new nation out of bondage.  Jesus is like Moses and Elijah, he is a great prophet. But he is also God’s Glory, the revelation of the Godhead. Jesus is also the one through whom all nations shall become inheritors of Abraham’s covenant.

The disciples are asleep and miss most of the action.  Perhaps in their confusion, perhaps in that same way they did not want to go into the deep water, here they offer to build tents.  This of course is a tie to the feast of Booths.  However, we are told that Peter doesn't really know what he is saying. We have the answer to the question in Stephen’s witness (Acts 7:48-50), “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.”  So, quite frankly, this is a silly idea.

Furthermore, Peter is wrong. By offering three tents he misses the point. He has placed Jesus merely on a parallel prophetic course as Moses and Elijah. Clearly more is desired by God. (Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, 156).

So often our excuses and our ideas about why the reign of God must follow our desires are just silly.  They are foolish. I imagine like Peter, it is hard to see. I know for me it is difficult to see just how foolish they really are until I have some distance and can look back and see exactly what Jesus was doing.

God then proclaims that this is indeed his Glory, the one who has been selected, the one who is his beloved, and God instructs those who witness this event to do as Jesus asks.

Imagine in this moment the fear of witnessing such an event. Certainly the disciples are afraid as they are engulfed in this cloud and bear witness to a truly divine interaction.  Their response is silence, silent contemplation.

Luke gives us a very clear sense of the essential ingredient in ministry and how so very much hinges upon prayer:  prayer before the action of following Jesus; prayer before the coming of the Holy Spirit; prayer in which God will speak; prayer that is revelatory; prayer that knocks you to your knees; prayer that gives you ministry; prayer is where you will hear the voice of God speaking and calling to you.

This makes me wonder.  When people come to our churches do they experience the transfiguration?  We have certainly built booths.  And, we work hard to keep God imprisoned there.  We try not to live into Jesus’ teaching much more than those of Moses or Elijah’s.  We aren't that different from Peter.  Such a message is important to contemplate on the eve of Lent.

What would it be like if when people left our worship services they felt as though they had been apart of witnessing the transfiguration?  What would it be like, Sunday after Sunday, if they left worship forever changed?  They left in quiet contemplation waiting to hear where Jesus was calling them to serve. They left the mountain top to experience Jesus in the world? 

I am not advocating a worship that is either charismatic, renewal oriented, modern, post-modern, or traditional. To believe there is only one style of worship that is missional or where God can be experienced is to participate in booth building.  But when we celebrate do we believe what we are saying? Are we in the moment praying or simply saying the words? How do we prepare ourselves to lead this kind of worship?  How do we prepare our laity to be leaders in this same way? How do we get out of the way and truly become vessels of the Most High God so that those who seek him find him, and don’t discover a tired worn out congregation?

As a leader of worship I wonder am I in tune with the sacred things being undertaken in this moment; or is this just another Sunday to get through so I can go on to the next thing?

Some Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

In our passage from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians we have an argument being made about the law of Moses and the law of Christ.  Paul is using the word "glory" here to refer to the fact that when Moses went up to the Lord and received the Torah his face shined; so he veiled it.  Paul in the first words for this passage is saying literally that Moses face shines less now that the old law is passing away and the new law of Christ has been revealed.  

He then argues that to continue to spend a lifetime attempting to live out the old covenant will be a life wasted indeed because the law of Moses is unable to help humans see God's true and intended desire for creation.  Paul is arguing that when we try to make the law of Moses our guiding principle it is like we have a veil over our own faces and we are unable to see our created purpose.

However, those who chose to follow Jesus who brings with him the law of love will have the "veil removed."  In receiving the Holy Spirit (which is God's perfect love) we are able to look upon the Lord and discover that God intended humanity and all creation to be free.  We see, "with unveiled faces", in the face of God in Christ Jesus our true intended reflection.  The face of God in Christ, revealed by God's love in the Holy Spirit, shows us our "dispensation", our release, from the law of "stone" to a law of love.

This is God's mercy, that Christ has come as has our salvation, we are free.  When we live into our true being and when we love and become like Christ other behaviors fall away.  Paul is saying the opposite of everything his readers have been taught and we have been taught.  We typically believe if we will but do the law then freedom and love will come; then salvation will come. Paul has again turned this on its head.  Our freedom in Christ and through Christ brings love.  When we love, and follow this law of Christ, and see ourselves as beloved - as God sees us - we then behave differently.  When we love shameful things are renounced, when we love cunning falls away as useless.  When we love a truth is spoken more powerful than false teachings.  When we love we are vulnerable; but we are who God intended us to be.  We are who God sees and hopes we are.

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