February 27: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

The sermon for Sunday, February 27, 2022 was preached as a response to Luke 9.28-36 based on the manuscript below by the Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews. Father Joseph is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick.

Who here has heard this text before,
either from Matthew, Mark, or Luke?
And who has heard a sermon on this text
about the greatness of mountaintop experiences
and the need to come down from the mountain
and get to work
or at least continue the work
we’re given to do?
Who here has preached that exact sermon,
maybe more than once?
And is maybe bored with this text
because that is too easy,
makes too much sense,
and should just be intuitive?

You’ll be comforted to hear these words from Justo Gonzalez
“[This interpretation] trivializes
what the gospel presents as an awesome and mysterious event,
turning it into a pedestrian example
of what should be little more than common wisdom…
[and] it ignores the point,
so clearly stated in Luke,
that the disciples “kept silent”
and told no one about their mountaintop experience.”[1]
And these from Fred Craddock,
“This is a mountaintop experience
but not the kind about which persons
write glowingly of sunrises, soft breezes,
warm friends, music, and quiet time.
On this mountain the subject is death,
and the frightening presence of God
reduces those present to silence.
In due time, after the resurrection,
they will remember, understand, and not feel heavy.”[2]
After the resurrection,
they will remember, understand,
and not feel heavy.
It’s been a while
since I didn’t feel heavy, huh?
That’s what today’s text,
today’s gospel,
today’s Good News,
offers if we let it stand on its terms,
and let it tell us about God
rather than rushing to ask what it can tell us
about ourselves
or how we can immediately apply it
to our lives.

The gospel text today
takes place about a week after Peter says that Jesus is the Christ,
is the Messiah, is God’s Annointed One.
He’s been directed to keep that a secret,
and Jesus has predicted his own death
for the first time.
Just after this text,
the disciples are unable to heal a boy
and then Jesus does.
Jesus is about to head to Jerusalem
where he knows he’ll face death.
The disciples feel heavy,
not unlike us.

A law pending in Florida
would keep Topher from telling his classmates
about his weekend with his two dads.
It’s the worst of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
imposed on children, teens, and families
through the government and educators.
In Texas parents who love their children enough to listen to them
and listen to medical doctors and psychologist
and geneticists and other researchers
can be sanctioned for child abuse
for seeking and offering gender-affirming care
if their children are trans.
That’s to say nothing of a war in Ukraine!
An imperialist mindset
that too often has besieged Christianity in our past
has led to Russia attacking and invading another sovereign state
for ego and control.
Inflation is affecting the costs of goods and services
and it’s February in an even year,
so midterm elections, campaigns, and issues
are about a month late in getting started.
Plus the pandemic isn’t over!
Numbers are looking great right now,
and with the sun shining this week even as it’s been cold
it’s been nice to feel some hope again.
But the pandemic isn’t over
and another variant could tear through the world
any moment.
Talk about feeling heavy!

We can’t know what it was like
to be on the mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah,
but we certainly know firsthand the trials and tribulations
that have always beset humanity.
That’s where Jesus, God incarnate
comes to us today.
He’s been named as the savior of creation
and predicted his own death.
As Craddock notes,
the topic of conversation with Moses and Elijah
is his “departure” –
his death in Jerusalem.
Facing that heaviness, unlike any we’ve ever faced,
Jesus takes some disciples with him up the mountain.
To pray.
“While he was praying,
the appearance of his face changed,
and his clothes became dazzling white.”
As he’s praying he’s met with Moses and Elijah
symbols of all the law and the prophets
as he himself has an experience like Moses
which we heard in Exodus today.

Before the disciples hear the voice directing them to follow Jesus,
Jesus is met with God the Creator’s previous voices.
They meet him in prayer to discuss with him
“his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
They’re there talking with Jesus about his exodus,
the way out,
the way out of bondage to sin
that he’s about to accomplish
like Moses leading the people
out of slavery in Egypt.
All this happens –
the appearance of Moses and Elijah,
Jesus’ face beginning to glow brightly,
a cloud demonstrating God’s presence surrounding them
and a voice from the cloud giving directions
to follow Jesus, whom god has chosen and whom God loves –
while Jesus is at prayer.

While we probably don’t experience those specific events,
we do have our own kinds of mountaintop experiences,
where we write glowingly of sunrises, soft breezes,
warm friends, music, and quiet time.
Whether we do or not,
God is available to us,
even in all the troubles that swirl around us in this world
from Ukraine to those whom our systems fail
and need to use our pantry and sock box.
God is available to us in Bread and Wine
eating Jesus’ Flesh and Blood.
And God is available to us
when we sit and pray,
like Jesus did on the mountaintop
with his disciples.

As we go into Lent,
maybe that’s where we find our focus.
Fasting is a good discipline,
and is a part of praying when done deeply.
When we open ourselves to God,
we won’t find ourselves sitting still and doing nothing,
looking only at the flame of a candle
or listening only to the sound of a gong.
The mountaintop experience that Jesus had
was one of mystery and wonder
that probably only Jesus can have
being the Messiah and all.
But God is available to us,
through nothing we’ve done
waiting to hear us, comfort us, and transform us. Amen.

[1] Gonzalez, Justo L. Luke: Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible) . Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
[2] Craddock, Fred B. Luke: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 135). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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