Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Last Epiphany

Last Epiphany A March 6, 2011 St. Andrew’s Bessemer City

          We come today to one of the turning points in the church year, the Last Sunday after Epiphany. This Wednesday March 9 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days plus Sundays of Lent, to April 24 Easter, then 50 days including Sundays of celebration until Pentecost June 12, then 51/2 months until Advent and Christmas.

          Today’s Bible readings are about turning points – the Old Testament about God giving his law to the people, the Gospel about the Transfiguration, and the Epistle about our own transfiguration as members of God’s Church including the important teaching, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

          Let me talk first about the Epistle teaching. We say in the Creed, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” From that it follows that we give the church spiritual authority as we read and interpret the Bible. A continuing spiritual tension is between understanding ourselves as individuals responsible for working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and understanding ourselves as part of the body of Christ saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection. One way to see the Reformation of the 15th and 16th centuries is as a Protestant individualist correction of a Catholic over-emphasis on salvation of the whole body.  The tension is resolved in Philippians 2:13, “It is God who works in you both to will and do his good pleasure.”

            We are at the same time both individuals born one by one, dying one by one, coming one by one to God’s judgment to answer for our sins. We are also part of the human family into which we are born and nurtured, a family essential to our survival and growth, a family in which we learn how to live, a family that supports and sustains us as we grow old, a family that mourns our death.

          As individuals we are responsible for making decisions of conscience about our lives. As part of the family our consciences are formed by our common life. In that context we come to a turning point – a decision to seek to know and do the will of the God who made us and loves us. The disciples had made their initial decision to leave their fishing business and follow Jesus. The Transfiguration was another turning point for Jesus and for the disciples.

The children of Israel made a decision to follow Moses out of slavery in Egypt. They learned to survive in the desert on God’s daily gift of manna, to trust God to provide water. They organized judges to settle disputes; they beat back an Amalakite raid. They were willing to enter covenant with the Lord. God called Moses up the mountain to receive the Law as a sign of that covenant. When Moses came down the mountain his face shone, shone with joy from being in the presence of God. It was another turning point for Israel.

          The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus had been baptized by John and tempted. He had preached and healed, and called the disciples and taught them about God’s coming kingdom. The disciples had been sent out with power and authority to preach and heal, and they had come back rejoicing. Jesus saw that they were ready to enter more fully into their calling. One day when they were alone he asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” They told them the many things people were saying about him. And then he asked them the question each one of us is called to answer for ourselves, “And who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ of God.” Then Jesus told them plainly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and on the 3rd day be raised.” They didn’t understand. Even Peter rebuked Jesus, “God forbid Lord; this shall never happen to you.” Jesus responded, “Get behind me Satan.” 

          Shortly after this difficult teaching Jesus was called up the mountain, as Moses had been called up Sinai. While he was praying his appearance changed and even his clothing became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared, Moses through whom God had given the Law, the sign of the covenant, and Elijah the first of the prophets through whom God had called Israel back to the glory of obedience, prophets through whom God had worked many miracles.  Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his death and resurrection through which God would establish his kingdom through his church forever.

          From the cloud came the voice of God, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” On Sinai God spoke in thunder and lightning to the people of Israel. On the same mountain he spoke to Elijah in the still small voice. We are not told what tone of voice God used at the Transfiguration, but the disciples heard and obeyed.

          From the Transfiguration Jesus’ face was resolutely set toward Jerusalem, death and resurrection. The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ life and ministry.

          What are your turning points? Have you come to the place in your life where you are ready to make, or to make again, your own covenant with Jesus, where you are ready to receive the love Jesus has for you and commit your life to him in the fellowship of Jesus’ body the church?  We all have to do that once, and repeat as needed.

          Have you received his love and committed your life to Jesus and now need to move on in new and hard and active trust in his forgiveness and new life? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to turn loose and trust to his love?

          The penitential season of Lent offers us opportunity for worship, fellowship, and study so we may grow in commitment.

          The children of Israel were never the same after Sinai. The life of Jesus and his disciples turned at the Transfiguration to death and resurrection.  May God grant us grace to turn and turn again to him in worship, love, and service.  

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