Sermon 2/7/2016


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 34.29-35; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28-43a; and Psalm 99


We began Epiphany by noting the definition of “epiphany” – a sudden insight into “the essential nature or meaning of something” ( Each Sunday of Epiphany has provided us with insight into Jesus’ nature and the meaning of his ministry; into the fullness of God’s nature, love, and grace. Let’s briefly review these insights.

First, Jesus’ baptism. After his baptism Jesus was praying, and Luke (3.21-22; NRSV) tells us, “the heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

On the Second Sunday of Epiphany, we considered Jesus’ first miracle – changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana despite his having told Mary that his time had not yet come.

On the Third Sunday of Epiphany, we encountered Jesus, the hometown boy of Nazareth, reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.17-18; NRSV). We also heard his pronouncement, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4.21; NRSV).

Last Sunday we continued the story of Jesus in Nazareth and noted how Jesus rebuked those in the synagogue for their disbelief – “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus confronted them and made it abundantly clear that the coming of the Kingdom of God is meant for all people – Jew and Gentile alike. Though they would have thrown Jesus over the cliff at the edge of town, Jesus walked through their midst.

Today, the last Sunday of Epiphany, we encounter the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. At the start of Epiphany, I noted how Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration share three features – prayer, a physical manifestation of God’s presence, and the voice of God. Today’s Gospel reading begins with these words: “Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9.28; NRSV).

What sayings? Jesus had informed his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9.22; NRSV). As Jesus was praying, his face was changed, his clothes became dazzling white, and two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glory and talked with Jesus of his departure which would soon take place in Jerusalem. Although sleepy (this must have been at night) Peter, James, and John had remained awake. They witnessed Jesus’ glory along with that of Moses and Elijah. Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter offered to build three booths. Perhaps he was hoping to keep them there; the account tells us that Peter did not really know what he was saying. I suspect if we had witnessed this event, we also would not have known how to respond. As Peter was making this statement, a cloud overshadowed them; they were terrified as the cloud enveloped them. Matthew (17.5) tells us the cloud was bright. Then a voice came from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9.35; NRSV).

Again, we have prayer, a physical manifestation, and the voice of God. At the baptism, the voice, addressed to Jesus, said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3.22; NRSV). At the transfiguration, God’s voice addressed the disciples – “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Each of these epiphanies provide us with marvelous insight into God’s grace – in the baptism the Father tells the Son that he is well pleased; in the miracle at Cana, God’s grace provides for the guests at a wedding; in the synagogue, God’s grace fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, while making it clear that grace extends to all; and in the transfiguration, God’s grace prepares Jesus for Jerusalem..

But we are not yet done with this reading from the Gospel of Luke. The second part of the reading is optional, yet I believe it completes the story. Apparently Jesus, Peter, James, and John spent the night on the mountain, for the account continues, “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him” (Luke 9.38; NRSV). The mountain top experience is over, and once again Jesus and the disciples are confronted by the needs of this world. A man’s son suffers a spirit who throws him to the ground, convulses him, makes him shriek and foam at the mouth! We now recognize these symptoms as classic signs of epilepsy. The other disciples had unsuccessfully tried to cure the boy; the father begged Jesus to look at him. Jesus told him to bring his son to him; while on the way he was once again seized. Jesus healed his son, gave him back to his father, and all were astonished at the greatness of God.

In addition to informing us of God’s grace and greatness, this story contains some powerful lessons.

First, things happen when we pray. Prayer opens the channel which allows God’s grace to flow into us. When we pray, we come to see the glory of God of which St. Paul speaks, and as he says, we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (1 Corinthians 3.18; NRSV).  When we are transformed, God’s grace continues to flow through us into the lives of those around us through ministry. St. Paul acknowledges the significance of our transformation from one degree of glory to another when he continues, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God” (I Corinthians 4.1-2; NRSV).

Second, we all love a mountaintop experience – whether physical or spiritual – and we would like for it to continue. Perhaps the truly appealing part of our physical mountaintop experience is at heart spiritual. When in the mountains, I experience the call to worship. Leaving the mountains is always melancholic.

Third, we must recognize that the mountaintop experience is merely preparation for what is to come. Moses could not remain on Mt. Sinai; he had to deliver the tablets. After fleeing Jezebel, Elijah could not remain in his cave on Mt. Horeb, for God told him to return and anoint Hazael as king over Aram, to anoint Jehu as king over Israel, and to anoint Elisha as his own replacement. Jesus could not remain on the Mount of Transfiguration, for he had to finish the ministry God had begun – the cross and the resurrection were calling.

This is why the second part of our Gospel reading is so important. It calls us from mountaintop to ministry! It serves to remind us that prayer is preparation for what lies ahead – perhaps that is why we are reluctant to truly pray. At some level of our sub-conscious, do we know that prayer may be dangerous? Do we know that we may be transformed in God’s image from one degree of glory to another? Do we know that this will dramatically change the world as we experience it? Only the courageous pray!

God usually has to bring us to our knees through allowing some set of adverse circumstances to touch our lives. These adverse circumstances, which we are prone to curse, to rail against, may simply be God’s mercy at work in our lives. In the midst of such adversity, just as with Elijah, it is not unusual to visit the mountaintop, but let us remember, this is merely the preparation for what lies ahead. We are being prepared for ministry to a world that is broken, bleeding, and begging. During Lent, let us pray; let us “listen to him” as God commanded; let us be courageous and faithful!




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