Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Our Journey Begins (a sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany by Brian Popp)

Today is designated as the last Sunday after Epiphany in our church calendar. It marks the end of Epiphany – the season in our church year between Advent and Lent.

We now move into the season of Lent. Lent is a time when many of us prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, moderation, repentance, and spiritual discipline (What are you giving up for Lent?). It is a period of somber self examination and penitence. We should set aside time for reflection upon Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. We need to reflect upon His life, death on the cross, burial and resurrection – on His coming in glory!

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. Although there is no mention of Lent in the Bible, the practice of repentance and Imposition of Ashes can be found in a number of books of the Bible. 2 Samuel 13:19 states; “But Tamor put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she was wearing.” This is an ancient sign speaking of frailty and uncertainty of human life and marking the penitence of the community as a whole.

In many Christian churches Lent lasts 40 days excluding Sundays. Matthew 4: 1-2 states:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. He fasted 40 days and 40 nights and afterwards he was famished.”

There is no one right way to observe Lent. You must find your own spiritual path. I’m certain Tim will guide us over the next 40 days to find that path. I pray you will be able to develop your own right relationship with God during the Lenten season!

This Sunday is also designated as Transfiguration Sunday in our church year. Transfiguration refers to Christ’s appearance in radiant glory to three of His disciples. Let us review this story in greater detail from Luke 9: 28-36, our gospel reading for today! This story can be found in all of the Synoptic Gospels.

In Luke 9: 21-27 Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. He advises His disciples that: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed and on the third day be raised.” He sternly orders and commands them not to tell anyone.

Luke 9: 28 tells us: About 8 days later Peter, James and John (three of His disciples) accompany Jesus up a mountain to pray. While the mountain is not named in Scripture it is believed to be Mount Tabor in lower Galilee in Israel.

While Jesus was praying the appearance of His face changed and His clothing became dazzling white. His transfiguration came from within himself. His garments became radiant as a result. This transformation takes place during a time He is in close contact with the Father.

The disciples had fallen asleep. When they awoke they saw the most eye-opening visions ever! Jesus was no longer alone. They saw two men with Him - Moses and Elijah. You will remember that Moses was an important Old Testament prophet – the Deliverer of the People of Israel, the great lawgiver of Israel. He led the extended family of Israel in the form of a nation with a structure and code of law – the Ten Commandments.

In our first reading this morning from Exodus 34:29 Taylor read: “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant (including the Ten Commandments) in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking to God.” His shining face was a reflection of God’s glory.

Elijah was the greatest of the prophets of God and a wonder worker. He was a Saint through whom God worked miracles, not just occasionally, but as a matter of course. The appearance of Elijah was foretold in Malachi 4:5:

“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes”. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is probably best interpreted as indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah).

Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples to be talking with Jesus. They were talking to Him about His departure which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. N.T. Wright in his book “Luke for Everyone” explains: “The word for “departure” is exodus and Luke means us to understand that in several senses. It can mean like exodus in the Old Testament, “departure”, “going away”. It can also serve as a euphemism for “death” as when someone says “when I am no longer here” referring to their own death. But the reason Luke has chosen not least in connection to Moses! – is that in His death Jesus will enact an event just like the Exodus from Egypt. In the first Exodus, Moses lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and home to the Promised Land. In the new exodus Jesus will lead all God’s people out of slavery of sin and death, and home to their promised inheritance -  the new creation in which the whole world will be redeemed”!

Peter, James and John witnessed the meeting between Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  Peter suggested to Jesus that they build three dwellings – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah! Peter got it wrong! His mistake was in assuming Jesus would be joining a triumvirate with Moses and Elijah as the three main biblical figures. Jesus, in fact, is alone the culmination of the law and the prophets!

While Peter was saying this a cloud came and overshadowed them and they were terrified.  A voice came from the cloud that said: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him”. Jesus received honor and glory from God the Father himself!

When the voice had spoken Jesus was found alone – Moses and Elijah had disappeared! The disciples kept silent. They told no one about what they had seen on the mountain.

Michael Ramsay, a former Archbishop of Canterbury has said:
“Transfiguration is indeed a central theme of Christianity, the transforming of suffering and circumstances, of men and women with the vision of Christ before them and the Holy Spirit within them”.

The Transfiguration story is so unique that I could not find a parallel story in my research! Although I am not a Harry Potter fan I believe there are references to transfiguration in some of J.K. Rawlings books but in a totally different context – transfiguration as part of magic – not through Divine intervention!

As we ponder our upcoming Lenten journey what can we use in the Transfiguration story to sustain us until the empty tomb of Easter? I have three suggested actions:

1. Looking – seeing with new eyes.
Perhaps we can view our fellow Christians in a different light. During the Transfiguration Jesus’ face was transformed. Peter, James and John got a glimpse of who Jesus really was. Can we consider our friends, family members or acquaintances in a more positive light? Think about it!

2. Listening – listening with different ears.
In Luke 9:35 we read: “This is my Son, My Chosen, listen to Him” Listening is central to Transfiguration. True listening is an internal quality, away of being. It is more about silence than words. Ultimately, listening is about presence. Listening creates an opening through which the transfigured Jesus enters and transforms us. Listening asks of us intention, attention and letting go things that deafen us. Listening can be our spiritual practice. It opens us to healing, reconciliation and union. Listening can be some of the most difficult work we do!

3. Praying – many different kinds.
In Luke 9: 28 we read: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray”. As part of my preparation for today I Googled “Pray”. I got 202 million hits in .56 seconds! A very popular word and action indeed! To pray is to enter into spiritual communion with God through prayer as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration or confession. Let us never forget that prayer is our principal means of communicating with God!

I personally use a daily devotional book entitled “The Power of Being Thankful” by Joyce Meyer. I read the following statement on Thursday this week:
“God will strengthen us and enable us to handle life peacefully and wisely if we start praying about things instead of merely trying to get through the day”.

Please think about this and use it daily during your Lenten journey!
During my talk this morning I have attempted to share with you my understanding of the Transfiguration story. Some final comments:

·      This story is unique among the Gospels in that it happens TO Jesus instead of BY Him.
·      Jesus is the clearly the connecting point between Heaven and Earth.
·      Jesus is affirmed by God as His own Beloved Son.

How might we use the lessons from it on our own Lenten journey. I have suggested three actions you might consider:

1.     Looking for the deeper meaning of the story and seeing through “new eyes”,
2.     Listening to Him – Jesus Christ, God’s Chosen one, and
3.     Praying daily and praying often during every day!

May the Holy Spirit be our guide through our Lenten journey! AMEN

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