Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: The Transfiguration – February 10, 2013
In the name of the living God – our Source, our Strength and our End.
This is the last Sunday of the Season After Epiphany, the last Sunday before we turn our hearts and heads to the season of Lent. On this Sunday every year, we hear the story of the Transfiguration – the strange and mysterious event that was the turning point for Jesus and his followers. It was after this trek up a mountain, a vision of divine glory, and the hearing of God’s voice that Jesus turned toward Jerusalem and began the last days of his earthly ministry – facing the suffering that was to come and his brutal death.
In this story, I hear three invitations: the first is to a climb, the second is to an experience of divine glory and the third is an invitation to get back to work.
First, the climb.
Not all of Jesus disciples were on this expedition. Peter, James and John were often singled out to be with Jesus at important times. According to the chapter just before our Gospel lesson today, there were still questions in the minds of Jesus’ followers as to who he really was. It was only Peter who, when responding to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” declared boldly, “Your are the Messiah of God.” Of course, just a while later, it was Peter who denied Jesus three times in a row. So much for favoritism based on amount or consistency of faith.
Anyway, these three were invited to leave the hustle and bustle of the crowds that continually followed Jesus. They were invited to take some time to rest, to reflect, to talk without interruption, some specific time of prayer….after they hiked up a mountain.
The second in invitation is to an experience of divine glory.
While they were praying, the story goes, Jesus’ appearance changed. His clothes became dazzling white and his face looked different. Not only that, he was joined by the two most important prophets of their religion: Moses and Elijah, and the three disciples were terrified. I guess they hadn’t anticipated such a spectacle. Who would? They went up the mountain to pray and what did they experience? A vision of what the author calls “glory.” They saw magnificence, splendor, grandeur, beauty – they saw something that invoked their wonder. And they were filled with a desire to keep, maybe even hoard this experience. Let us build on this mountain, let us stay in this place, let this glory be our reality from now on and forever.
Nope – that was not the divine plan. The plan was to move forward – to return to the mundane – marching orders, if you will. Clouds gathered eclipsing the brilliance of their experience and then a voice was heard: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” A voice in the darkness – listen, listen!
An invitation to climb, an invitation to an experience of divine glory and an invitation to go on.
On Wednesday, many of us will gather here again to receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the ashes of last Palm Sunday. We will remember that we are made of dust and will return to the dust – and we will remember that, just as we were marked as Christ’s own in baptism, we continue to be Christ’s own now and forever. And as our observance of Lent begins, we are given the same three invitations.
There are a lot of people who want more when it comes to experiencing the Divine. But not all are ready or willing to make an effort to avail themselves of this possibility. I have no doubt that at some point all of the disciples had an experience of God’s glory. But in this story it was only three of them that took Jesus up on the invitation to climb and were present at this transforming event.
Our invitation to climb this year includes some special times of prayer and reflection – beginning with the Ash Wednesday services, our mid-week services, formation programs, Spiritual Direction, and walking “The Way of the Cross.”
When we take advantage of the invitation to go deeper as we make time and use our muscles to climb, we may be surprised by what God’s invitation actually entails. We may find ourselves face to face with something we never expected, something beyond our wildest imaginations, something we want to keep, a place we want to stay forever: a new sense of peace, a new sense of awe, a new sense of community, a new sense of joy, an awareness of God’s glory.
The third invitation is probably the hardest: leave the mountain and get going with the work of building the Kingdom. For Jesus and his friends, it meant more confrontations with demons, more teaching, more waiting, more disappointment, more sacrifice until the final humiliation of death on a cross.
For us, the work of building God’s kingdom involves the same kinds of things, I think. We are called to confront the demons of violence and injustice, we are called to learn and to teach the ways of God’s love, we are called to wait, to sacrifice and we may very well be disappointed. But this is an invitation from God – and so we can trust that the outcome will be good – that peace will prevail and justice will be served and the world will be bathed in the creative love from which it was conceived.
Again, this Lent, we have tried to offer specific opportunities to make this a reality. In addition to our weekly donations for the CCA food panty, we hope to gather items that our local shelter needs as they care for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Beyond our own parish, there are many other opportunities to build God’s kingdom – to take a stand for justice and to pursue peace.
On Thursday, our bishops have invited us to Hartford to participate in a March for Change as we seek to end the culture of violence that surrounds, devastates and ends so may lives. The latest figures – more individuals have been killed from gun violence in this country than all the Americans killed in all the wars since and including the Revolutionary War.
Also on Thursday, Valentine’s Day, there will be a worldwide event called “1 Billion Rising” to acknowledge the fact that 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in their life time. 1 in 3 – think about it. We can stand together as men and women and say, “Enough!” We will not tolerate this kind of violence in our homes or in our streets.
I’ll be marching with our bishops in New Haven and then I’ll be “Rising” with one of my daughters, her husband and her children in New Hampshire. There is a “Rising” scheduled on the Green – just across the street – from 12:30 to 1:00 organized by the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Norwalk. I sincerely hope that many of you will participate in this work of building God’s kingdom. Just as we expressed ourselves when we gathered to renounce bullying, we are called to fight this kind of violence – a violence that I dare say has affected every single one of us in some way.
If you’ve heard the invitation to go deeper and you’re inclined to climb the mountain today, don’t delay. If you’ve already been to the mountain and experienced the glory of God, get going. Be builders of God’s kingdom among the poor, the vulnerable, the abused and the forgotten – all those who need to know about God’s love.
Listen to Jesus. Do his work. Grow in his grace and make this a truly holy Lent informed by his glory. Amen.