For we do not proclaim ourselves

A sermon at Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, NY

Last Sunday after Epiphany, February 15, 2015

…the God of the world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the Glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

Today is the last Sunday before Lent begins and our lectionary always uses the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus as the Gospel lesson. I must admit that I have often been puzzled by the Transfiguration, not quite understanding what it was about. Of course, I’m in good company: St. Peter was there and this is what today’s lesson from Mark says about him: “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”

This is a mysterious and strange thing at the top of this mountain. Jesus suddenly starts to shine, brighter than the lights on Broadway, more like a nuclear explosion or a close-up of a pure white star. But what does it mean? Moses and Elijah were there—the prophet who brought down the law of God from the top of the mountain to the people of Israel and the other prophet who was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind by a chariot of fire. And the voice from heaven, “This is my son, the beloved, Listen to him!” So similar to what happened at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

So the story connects with a lot of important things elsewhere in the Bible, but I’m still puzzled. Jesus is shining. {Shrug} There’s not much moral to that. Not much content or direction. The disciples are frightened and confused. I suppose that could describe the church today, but …

What does St. Paul have to say? “…the god of this world (or this age) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” The apostle is referring to the false god and false values that people fall into so easily. The word that is translated as “world” is “aeon” which originally has a meaning of a long time, perhaps eternity. You might think of it as “this present age” and the distractions we have in the present time—but don’t think of it as “kids these days” or “that pesky internet”—Paul was talking about 2000 years ago, long before any of our grandparents grandparents were complaining about their kids. This time is always the time of distraction, of values of selfishness and building up pride in worthless possessions, putting those values before the spiritual values of Christ’s self-giving love.

We are often blinded from seeing even the brightest of lights of Christ’s love by being too busy, or too smart to be simple and listen to him. Sometimes we are distracted by ourselves, our own achievements, our own organizations. Sometimes we can even make the church part of the “present age” or the “god of this world,” if we look to its numbers, or its prestige as the measure of its value. For St. Paul says, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” The life that we get, we get from the Living God, not from the god of this age or of the past age. It is not from bishops, or priests or vestries, or even from smart people organizing something they think will be better than those things. The life is the life of God in Jesus.

I grew up in a very different place from most people here, and in different circumstances. The culture that I learned was Anglo-Saxon and a bit Germanic. I developed tastes and esthetic judgments based on my background and education. The style of liturgy I developed was what I wished that worship would have been like in my childhood: concise, spare, clear. My style was based on the good parts of what was familiar to me, and what was familiar seemed to be what Jesus was looking for. But here, the liturgy and context is very different from either my childhood or my training. But Jesus is here. How can that be?

We are here with those who love us and who God loves to receive new life and openness to new calling from God. Yet at the same time, the god of this age draws us to those things we want to hold on to simply because they are like us and are familiar to us—they make us comfortable and complacent. It is not familiarity and comfort that are the reason for us to be here, but the precious treasure of that love that God’s people have for one another. St. Paul continues in the next verse after today’s reading ends, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” It is in this place that we find ourselves, and with these companions here that are familiar to us, that God works his miracle, calling us forward, to be his body in the world, though it be totally new and strange.

“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

So we are there on the mountain with Peter and James and John. They were terrified, and a cloud overshadowed them. The voice came, “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” They looked around, and there wasn’t anything there—no more Moses, no more Elijah, and apparently the pyrotechnics of Jesus clothing and body weren’t there any more—just Jesus.

Mount of the TransfigurationAnd they went with him down the mountain to accompany him on that final trip to Jerusalem. This week we begin our observance of Lent. Let us focus on him alone, and follow until the light of his resurrection glorifies God in our lives.

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