Monday, February 08, 2016

Sermon; Last Epiphany; Luke 9:28-36

Today is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and on this last Sunday we once again have a gospel of revealings and beginnings.  We also have the second bookend of the Epiphany season.  First, let's look at the revealings and beginnings this passage offers.

This story is a theophany – a revealing or manifestation of God.  Peter, James, and John go with Jesus up the mountain.  While there Jesus is transfigured to a dazzling white, is joined by Moses and Elijah, and a voice comes from a cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”  You can't get much more revealing than that.

Peter, filled with some kind of motivation, steps up to build three dwellings, one for each holy man.  Luke tells us that Peter did not know what he had said.  There could be, and are, may explanations for this, but rather than offer an explanation, I want to make an observation.

Jesus is transfigured and Moses and Elijah appear.  This is a major event and Peter jumps to action.  It is then the voice calls out, “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him.”

There are plenty of times when people want to jump to action in the name of Christ.  There are plenty of times when people claim to be acting on behalf of Christ, oftentimes misquoting or pulling quotes out of context.

Listen to him.

As this Epiphany season winds down, and as we prepare to move into Lent where we are called to, among other things, self-examination and reading and meditating on God's holy Word, these three words spoken to Peter, James, and John are spoken to us – Listen to him.

God has been revealed to us through the transfiguration of Jesus.  Instead of jumping into rash actions without understanding what we are saying or doing, may we begin to listen to what Jesus is really saying and revealing to us.

The second aspect of today's reading is its role as right-hand bookend.  The Epiphany season begins, obviously, with the Epiphany on January 6 and the arrival of the wise men.  But because January 6 rarely falls on a Sunday, the season, practically speaking, begins on the First Sunday after the Epiphany.  If you recall, that was the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.

Think back to that Sunday and the gospel reading we had.  When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The season begins with seeing the revealing of Jesus as God's son while he is praying, and with the voice from heaven.  From there we hear readings of revealings and beginnings.  This continues through today, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.  And on this Sunday we hear that Jesus went to pray, that he was revealed as God's son, and we hear the voice from heaven.

This season is book-ended by readings of prayer, revealings, and beginnings.  This season, more than any other, is focused on the revealing of God's glory and the beginning of our understanding of who Jesus is.  This season begins with the mystery of Jesus' baptism and it ends with the mystery of the transfiguration.

The gospel passage ends with this sentence: And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

This seems to be counter-intuitive to us.  Why wouldn't they tell people about their amazing experience?  Why wouldn't they turn this into a mega-evangelism tool?  If I had that experience, I'd be telling everyone around me.

Well . . . probably not.

When we are confronted with the holy mystery, in whatever form it takes, we are often as silent as these disciples.  After Mary's encounter with Gabriel, she left town for some quiet time.  After the shepherds told Mary about their angelic vision, she pondered them in her heart.  When I sat alone in the chapel after a Morning Prayer service while visiting a seminary campus, my only words were, “This is where I need to be.”  When confronted with the holy mystery, we need time to process that experience.

We are closing out the Epiphany season.  We have had five weeks of gospel stories providing us with revealings and beginnings.  We have seen Jesus anointed with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  We have seen Jesus transfigured before our eyes.  We have heard the voice from heaven twice declaring Jesus as God's son.  We have glimpsed holy mysteries.

And now, as this Epiphany season comes to a close and Lent begins, we are given two things for which to be mindful.  First, if we are to begin to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and the nearness of the kingdom of God, then we must learn to listen to what Jesus is saying.  It does us no good to start building things without first hearing what Jesus might actually be telling us.

Second, we must be aware that we have witnessed holy mysteries this season.  As we move into Lent, remember that we are called to a new season of self-examination and meditation.  Follow the example of the disciples and others and be quiet.  Pray.  Examine.  Meditate.  Ponder.

And in that listening, in that pondering, may you come to be book-ended – surrounded – by the holy mysteries of God.



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