St. John's, Centreville
March 3, 2019
Last Epiphany C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the Last Sunday in Epiphany and we know it's the Last Sunday in Epiphany because we have just read the story of the Transfiguration. The season of Epiphany began eight weeks ago with the coming of the Wise Men to visit the baby Jesus, and continued with the Baptism of Jesus. The we heard Jesus' calling of Peter and Andrew, who dropped their nets and followed him. Jesus performed the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana and taught the crowds in the Sermon on the Plain. During this season of Epiphany, we have gotten to know something about who Jesus is.
In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray, as he does many times during his ministry. He takes Peter and James and John with him. As he is praying, his very being is altered. His face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white. Not only that, but the disciples see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, Moses, who brought God's 10 Commandments to the people and who presents the law; and Elijah, who represents the prophets. They talk with Jesus about his departure as he is headed to Jerusalem where he knows he will be arrested, tried and crucified. Jesus has told Peter that he will suffer and die and Peter does not want this to happen to his Savior and his friend. Peter wants to protect Jesus. Maybe if he builds three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus, on the mountaintop, they can stay and Jesus will not have to die.
But then a cloud consumes them all and a voice from the cloud says, "This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him." Listen to him. We can only imagine the power and magnificence of this scene and why Peter and the others want to stay on the mountaintop.
These words from the cloud are similar to those heard at the baptism of Jesus as he is starting his ministry. But Luke's gospel adds the words, "Listen to him." God knows what lies ahead for Jesus and for the disciples and God knows it will not be an easy road. Jesus takes Peter and James and John up to the mountain so they can hear the words of God and have the courage to face what is coming. God implores the disciples to listen to Jesus. But as we know, the disciples scatter in fear when Jesus is arrested and crucified, when Jesus needs them the most.
We can imagine that Peter, James and John wanted this time with Jesus, Moses and Elijah to last. We would call it a "mountaintop experience", one that we don't want to leave. I imagine most of us may have had a mountaintop experience at one time or another, a time when we feel close to the presence of God, when we feel surrounded by God's love and peace. Maybe it was at a retreat at Shrine Mont or another retreat center, or in the middle of the woods, or at the edge of the ocean. And in that place you feel the overwhelming presence of God and its no wonder that we don't want to leave that place. We don't want to go back home and face the trials and mundane tasks of everyday life. But we can't do the work that God has called us to do if we remain on the mountaintop. We have to come back down into the valley to minister to the world.
And that is exactly what Jesus did. He left the joy and peace of the mountaintop and went down into the valley to head toward Jerusalem. As soon as he gets down the mountain, he is greeted by a man who is desperately seeking healing for his son who is having seizures. The disciples who had remained behind at the foot of the mountain were not able to heal the child, and Jesus rebukes them. Jesus heals the child and returns him to his father. "And all were astounded at the greatness of God." And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
We, too, cannot minister to God's people if we stay up on the mountaintop. In order to be Christ to one another, we need to walk with them, help those who are suffering, feed the hungry and house the homeless. We cannot do that from a distance. We are God's hands and feet in this world. Although we all need spiritual refreshment and renewal from time to time, we cannot stay up on the mountain forever. As we listen to God, we are called to minister to God's people, to proclaim the gospel and to live out the gospel in our daily lives.
When we encounter God, our lives are changed in some way. Our lives are transformed. Perhaps we have a stronger relationship with God. Perhaps some inner healing or growth will take place. Perhaps we will be better attuned to listen to the voice of God. Everyone's transformation will be different according to different needs.
The Transfiguration of Moses and Jesus are meant to strengthen the faith of the people who were witnessing these events, for the long and frightening journeys that lie ahead of them - Moses into the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and Jesus to the cross.
We are about to head into the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer, fasting and self-denial. That is why the story of the Transfiguration is always read on the last Sunday before the start of Lent each year, so that we, too, can hear about Moses' and Jesus' encounters with God on the mountaintop; so we, like the disciples, can have the strength and direction for our long journey ahead, knowing that God is with us.
The season of Lent starts this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, when we will confess our sins and receive the imposition of ashes. We are called to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance, by fasting, prayer and self-denial and by reading and meditating on God's holy word.
Lent is a good time to take on the discipline of setting aside a time for daily prayer, study and quiet time, to talk to and to LISTEN to God. It is not possible to stay up on the mountain to be in the presence of God. But we can set aside time each day to be with God, to feel God's presence, to hear that still, small voice within us; to pray for the sick and the poor, the hungry and the homeless, the suffering and those in conflicts around the world, for St. John's and this community of faith....and then LISTEN for the voice of God. We can intentionally look for ways that God works in us and around us, so that others, too, may see and feel God's presence.
To try to jump past Lent and then celebrate Easter is to miss out on many opportunities for growth and personal discernment. The Christian pilgrimage is not a way around the troubles of this world, but rather it is a way through them toward the glorious Kingdom of God. May we take this opportunity that Lent provides us for prayer, fasting and self-denial as we are able, so we might grow in the knowledge and love of God and in service to those around us. Amen.