SERMON: Last Epiphany C 3 3 19
Ex34:29-35; Ps99;2Cor3:12-4:2;Lk 9:28-43a
Moses really had a hard time of it. He was thrown in the Nile River in a basket as an infant. He had to deal with the burning bush. He had to deal with followers who were often quite cranky. So one day he had had enough and he went up the mountain where he communed with God and explained to the Almighty that he was tired, he was weak, he was worn out by his people and all their demands.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," God said to Moses, as if He didn't already know all this. "I think I can help you. Here, take these two tablets."
OK, maybe that's not the way it's spelled out in today's Hebrew Bible reading, but you get the idea. My joke leads to the presumption that the cure for Moses' headache -- and for all of our headaches -- is The Ten Commandments. I suppose that is true, even if it was just a joke. Or at least, if we follow the Ten Commandments our headaches will diminish. But following them is the key.
Our collect this morning notes that Jesus "revealed his glory upon the holy mountain. This is one of the many ways in which the Christian tradition acknowledges its linkage to the Jewish tradition; Jesus is effectively mimicking Moses. Both went up the Holy Mountain, both had shining faces after time on the Holy Mountain.
It stands to reason that we would get a lot of parallel signals in today's lessons. This is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. This means that Lent begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. It's important as the forty days of Lent begin and we track Jesus through the wilderness that we are clear that he was God-sent and that he is connected with the holy people of the faith who preceded him. In the Gospel Jesus is accompanied on his trip up the mountain by Peter, John and James. His appearance and his clothing are changed as he is praying. Jesus then does not appear to be surprised by the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but the three disciples are. Peter's confusion at this situation is helpful to us because we are confused as well. We don't understand what's going on any better than Peter does. His proposition that they build three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah makes sense only in that Peter was being helpful to the three spiritual guides.
Then a cloud surrounded them and a voice said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him." And that's the effective end of the story. Jesus and the disciples are silent for awhile, then they go down the mountain and Jesus heals a young man tormented by a demon, but only after declaring, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?"
This combination of Bible readings sets us straight as we look ahead a couple of days and imagine Lent being upon us again. We are clear about Jesus being decidedly God's Son and Chosen One. We recognize the similarities with Moses, and we see that Jesus is, indeed, worn out by his followers whose faith seems to disappoint often.
Not to put too much pressure on ourselves, but how do you think we should use these readings to prepare us for the season of Lent? Officially Lent is a season of penitence and fasting in preparation for Easter. Lent is derived from the Old English word for the season of spring which meant lengthening days. I can imagine that some kind of restraint might be necessary as we look past Lent and see Easter. It is not difficult to imagine a time when church was a more central community activity, and perhaps people wanted to celebrate Easter before they'd gone through the rigors of Lent. That makes penitence and fasting sound a little more reasonable.
Some practice, some discipline, before the big celebration.
Delayed gratification is not a hallmark of contemporary society, however. We want what we want when we want it. Well, that's not the way the church works. If we do not submit to the cycles and seasons of life in the church then we miss the connection to our heritage, to the people who populated the pews and before pews the homes where services were conducted, where people of faith gathered to reflect on the meaning of our belief system.
So how do we prepare? The days of giving up something for Lent have given way, significantly if not mostly, to people assuming a new discipline or practice during the weeks of Lent. For a number of years here at St. Paul's we have held Lenten suppers on Wednesday nights during Lent. This year they are scheduled for March 13, 20, 27 and April 3, followed by our Lenten Seder with Rabbi Dan Polish April 10. These midweek meals with discussion of Lenten meditations and a brief Compline service are an excellent way to let Lent break into our lives, to give us new things to think about and new ways to think about them.
We also engage in many practices that are common in Anglican churches worldwide during Lent: We don't sing the service music or the Lord's Prayer during Lent; we discontinue the use of the word Alleluia (and we wait to see whether the priest can remember). We change our version of the Prayers of the People and the Eucharistic Prayer. All this is to help us recognize that things are changing: the season, the progress of the church year, our worship methods, and so on.
There is also the potential to do something in church because you want to. There is some discussion about a Prayer Group meeting for the 15 minutes before the 10 am service in the pews near the Baptismal Font to pray special prayers for the season. And there are endless prayer and meditation practices available to us when we try to build awareness into our Lent.
It is very much both a personal thing and a collective thing. How we engage in Lenten practice as a congregation is well known and well established. How we choose to effect Lenten practice privately is, well, private, and utterly up to you and me. I can tell you, though, from personal experience that taking Lent seriously brings definitely positive results. Not only does it ready us for Easter, but it opens us up to the awareness of what Jesus was living through in the wilderness. No, Satan is likely not going to try to get us to deny God, but temptation does surround us all the time.
Lent is intended for us to take stock, to consider what occurs to us when we recite the Confession every Sunday. What do we wish we didn't do? What do we wish we did more? What would we like to include? What would we like to omit? What would we choose to inject into our lives to replace the things we'd like God's help removing? And how will we pray to God to please remove whatever it is and replace it with something more fitting? The answer is: ask God. Ask God to open your mind and your heart to see what calls for adjustment, to inspire different actions or choices or thoughts, and to continue to pray for this.
If we take those aspects of our lives that represent temptation, that is, the things that harm us yet compel us, and we surround ourselves with resources both spiritual and practical that serve as a barrier between us and our temptations, we come out of the Lenten experience with dual benefits. One is we will have succeeded in living into the choices we know are best for us, the choices we make when we are mindful of what is best for us. The second benefit is that we are energized and prepared for the meaning and experience of Easter when it arrives April 22.
As I said, it is a very personal matter. I offer my experience and encourage you to find ways to live life differently during Lent. For all who seek to fully devote themselves to new practices and ways of being in Lent, I pray that peace and discovery and Easter preparedness are the result. Amen
A sermon on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, March 3, 2019, delivered at