Sermon: The Last Sunday After the Epiphany Year A* February 23, 2020 The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Today is the last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany, in which we celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration, but it most certainly is not the last “epiphany.”
Epiphany covers every season in the Christian calendar, because God continues to reveal God’s self in transforming encounters, in the splendors of creation, in still, small moments, in the seemingly mundane instances of our daily lives—as well as in the numinous experiences that leave us breathless and stunned.
We walk on holy ground much of our lives without realizing or acknowledging it. The biblical epiphanies or revelations help us to see our own when they happen in ordinary times.
The mountaintop experiences in our spiritual journeys capture our attention and energize us. Just as Jesus was gloriously transfigured before the disciples, and they were changed forever, so we, too, are transformed.
Our faith is renewed; our love for God is fortified. And if we really get it, we feel a sense of awe and fear, or at least we should.
God’s revelations are not like warmed over television reruns. God’s revelations might sock us right between the eyes and knock the wind out of our sails. They can be fearsome events that leave us standing in awe much like a deer caught in a headlight.
The disciples were overcome by fear at Jesus’ transfiguration, with their vision of Moses the greatest lawgiver and Elijah the greatest prophet by his side. Yet Peter wants to build tents for them, so that the disciples can camp out and continue to bask in this glorious event.
We are a lot like Peter. We love the spiritual highs and want them to last forever. But, we can’t stay on the mountaintop because if we did, nothing would be accomplished in the valleys, where the real work of mission takes place.
The mountaintop experiences, the epiphanies, revelations, spiritual highs—are meant to prepare us for the work to which God calls us.
They are meant to show us Jesus ever more clearly, and they empower us to follow him into our mission on this earth corporately as God’s Church and individually as Jesus’ Disciples.
No wonder we, like the disciples, stand in awe and fear. And how appropriate that we do!
We should fear that Jesus might call us to mission that we are unprepared for; or mission that challenges our comfort zones; or mission that makes demands of us, of our time, our talent, and our treasure, or that puts us at odds with our neighbors, fellow club members, or political party allegiances.
In fact, an epiphany such as the transfiguration of God Incarnate should turn us upside down if we are really paying attention and love God. The reason is that we are faced with Truth (capital T), which often wreaks havoc with the status quo.
Howard Cooper writes in The Alphabet of Paradise (Skylight Paths, 2003): “Spiritual truths…interpret reality, creating a language to describe, subjectively, how things can be seen to be…”
And then he quotes Soren Kierkegaard: “’The truth is a snare: you cannot prove it, without being caught. You cannot have the truth in such a way that you catch it, but only in such a way that it catches you.’”
When we are following Jesus, we will be open to new experiences, to “seeing” the previously unseen, to having our own lives “caught” by his glory and his truth.
God spoke not only to prophets through the ages, but also God speaks to people in their own generation, including ours. Jesus’ prophetic word rings out. Yet it is often met with rejection, confusion and mistrust.
When that happens, it is usually due to our own lack of insight and understanding. This experience is a model for the glimpses of glory we are allowed in our journeys to prepare us to go out into the world in witness.
That’s the scary part, isn’t it? We realize that God doesn’t send us these experiences simply for our amusement or a fleeting lift. If we have prepared and sensitive hearts and minds, open to spiritual insight, we will have discovered Jesus to be more than a prophet, a sage, or a moral teacher.
As we follow him up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, we will also have found the Messiah, the sent one of God. We will encounter Jesus as the human face of God, greater than the greatest prophet and the premier lawgiver.
We might just be empowered to follow him further into realms we have yet to experience or can even envision.
We Episcopalians are comfortable and satisfied in our tidy, beautiful churches. Transfiguration challenges that.
Coming face to face with God’s radical Truth in the person of Jesus might bolt us out of our comfort zones and into dirty, disturbing places, full of challenge, possibly with people with whom we have little in common, or whose lifestyles we don’t understand, and who might even make us cringe.
In addition, God’s radical revelation might set us at odds with those we love. It might cause disagreements because of positions or actions we are called to take.
This is true in magnified ways at this very time in our country’s history, as more than ever, we are called to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,” as we read a few weeks ago in Micah.
We are being called to take a stand to protect families and fight injustice against our immigrant, Muslim, and Jewish neighbors, and that might make us politically or socially unpopular.
But, Jesus doesn’t call us to be politically correct, or politically partisan or nationalistic in expressing who we are as Christians in answer to what is going on in our communities.
We are confronted with issues of justice, of human rights, of loving our neighbors as ourselves—the very things the prophets taught. It takes courage and the willingness to follow Jesus into the hard places, and it just might make us unpopular.
Friends, we are not first and foremost Republicans or Democrats, liberal or conservative, nationalistic or libertarian. We are first are foremost people of God, and if we call ourselves Christian, then we first and foremost follow Jesus, and we do what HE would do and what HE calls us to do. JESUS IS LORD! (Can I get an Amen?)
Coming face to face with God’s radical Truth also shows us what is missing in on our lives. It should make us squirm. Remember the awe and fear part?
You have been given spiritual gifts and personal talents and abilities. You have been given a mission and you have a call, whether or not you realize it. Are you living into yours? Are you willing to let God draw you into God’s vision for your life?
Opportunities abound for each and every one of us to follow Jesus down from the mountaintop experience and into the valley, where we see dysfunction of every kind, war, hunger, anger, grief, destruction of the environment and the earth, our island home, as the prayer book calls it, and in general the pathos of life. It is much messier than stylish cocktail party fund raisers.
Perhaps these opportunities for transformation exist behind the doors of our own faith community. Or maybe these opportunities exist with our neighbor or the people right outside of our church doors. What will we do about it?
We can’t stay on the mountain and we can’t hide in the valleys. And we can’t continue with business as usual. Epiphanies don’t give us that option. And have no doubt about it—the ante goes up precipitously for those of us who are richly blessed in education, skills, opportunity, and the world’s goods. To whom much is given, much is required.
I close with a poem by Marie Howe, from The New Yorker magazine about fifteen years ago. It’s called “The Star Market.” I’ve shared it with you several years ago.
“The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday. An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout breathed so heavily that I had to step back a few steps.
“Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if the Star Market “had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in with the rest of them—sour milk, bad meat—looking for cereal and spring water.
“Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands and knees begging for mercy.
“If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”
“A little glimpse of life…in the deep, deep valleys. What would the woman, who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be healed—representing all that is wrong with the world—what would she see in OUR faces?”
*Resource: Synthesis, Last Sunday After Epiphany—Year A, February 3, 2008.