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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017 — 26 Feb 17

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

RCL A Last Epiphany
Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Saint Matthew 17:1-9

The word that comes to mind today quicker than any other word is theophany. A theophany, the dictionary tells us, is a manifestation to us human beings of God. A theophany is a manifestation of God to mere mortals. Each lesson today involves a theophany. And while I plan to focus on the Gospel, I want to point out that the first lesson concerns the manifestation of God to Moses on Mount Sinai when God delivered into Moses’ hands the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. The Epistle looks back on the Transfiguration from the perspective of the disciples who were present for the Transfiguration and who later were witnesses of the Resurrection. The Resurrection was no cleverly devised myth, the Epistle claims, because Jesus Christ had earlier been declared God’s Son by God’s heavenly voice at the Transfiguration.

The Gospel is Jesus’ Transfiguration, the theophany of theophanies. Remember that a theophany is a manifestation to human beings of God. For a moment, a brief moment, the veil is drawn, pulled open, and Jesus’ divinity overshadows his humanity. Jesus’ face shone like the sun, his clothes became dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah, both of whom had a direct experience of God in their mortal lives, appear and in front of the disciples directly experience Jesus the Son of God just as they had earlier experienced God the Father.

All of this bears down right to us as we plan to begin our Lenten journey on Wednesday. In the Collect today we ask God that we, seeing by faith the light of Jesus’ transfigured countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.[1]

Remember that it is Jesus’ divinity that shines past his humanity in the Transfiguration. We, you and I, made in the image of God, have only our humanity that can be changed into his likeness. The possibilities lying within our Lenten journeys and our lives are human possibilities. We should not expect our faces to shine with the divinity that Jesus shares with the Father and the Spirit. But our humanity can be brought into a closer likeness to Jesus. That would be a reasonable goal.

As we read through the Sermon on the Mount, I emphasized to you that Jesus’ teaching and expectations for us are humanly possible though difficult. The kingdom of God is where our human abilities are applied to do God’s will. That is our goal. We do not wisely attempt to take God’s place or to be what we are not.

Changed into his likeness from glory to glory may be a bit of a stretch for us human beings. But there is so much that we can do. We can be guided by Jesus to do what Jesus would do. And if we do that, the kingdom is nearer than it was before we knew God’s will. We can show the way to God’s kingdom, and there we can celebrate Jesus’ glorious resurrection that gives us hope that we are indeed marked as his own forever.

[1] The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, BCP, page 217.

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Epiphany 7, 2017 — 19 Feb 17

Epiphany 7, 2017

RCL A Epiphany 7
Leviticus 19:1-2 and 9-18, Psalm 119:33-40, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 and 16-23, Saint Matthew 5:38-48

The road we Christians travel appears to be rising with the Lessons we are given today. That road’s grade is rising as we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount. The road steepens and steepens as Jesus gives his signature teaching and preaching about the Kingdom of God.

In the First Lesson, the Lord tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”[1] That’s a pretty high bar. The First Lesson today may be found in the Holiness Code, Leviticus Chapter 17 through Chapter 26, in which the Lord enjoins the Israelites over and over again to be holy. And, just as often, the Lord gives concrete examples of how they may be holy. In today’s lesson, harvesters are told not to harvest every gleaning. They are to cut their profits by leaving gleanings to be gathered by the poor and the alien.

In the Gospel today, Jesus enjoins his disciples to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[2] Being perfect is not easy to do. But Saint Matthew records the word perfect. It is worth noting that in the only parallel to this passage in the Gospels, in Saint Luke, the word is not perfect: the word is merciful.

We can be perfect, as Jesus says, by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. If that makes us perfect, perfection is reachable. We can love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. Those things are within the human compass. They are not easy. We may prefer to do them not. But we are able to do them.

If you are like me, you begin to see how unrelenting Jesus is. He sets a standard within the human compass, and he expects us to meet the standard. I think we shall have to wait a very long time if rather than do what he commands we wait for him to give us a pass. The pass, I believe, will not be forthcoming.

He may not ever let us off the hook we have selected for ourselves. He may let us stay on that hook, whatever it is, for a very long time. His counsel to be perfect shows how very much he wants us to follow him off of that hook.

The good news, of course, is that Jesus asks us to do nothing that we cannot do. He asks us to do nothing that he was not willing to do or that he did not do himself. Lying within each one of us are the freedom and the power to be what he wants us to be, to be the best that we humanly can be. All we have to do is to take up our cross, and follow him.

[1] Leviticus 19:1.

[2] Saint Matthew 5:48.

Epiphany 6, 2017 — 12 Feb 17

Epiphany 6, 2017

RCL A Epiphany 6
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Saint Matthew 5:21-37

Now for the third week in a row, we have for the Gospel a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. I have said previously that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ main teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God and that buying in to him represents a greater commitment, a higher cost, than buying in to John the Baptist. And all those things are here again.

Two main points are to be made. One: Jesus sets a higher standard for our conduct of our lives than does the law. We are liable for the anger that can lead to murder. We are liable for the desire that can lead to adultery. We are liable for taking an oath that can lead to an oath we do not keep. You see what Jesus is teaching. We are liable for a disposition as well as the crime that can result from it. The bar for us is much higher than the bar set by the law.

And the second point involves the dangers of hell and of being thrown into its fires. The “hell” he mentions is Gehenna, the name for the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem’s walls whose fires never went out. It is the place during the kings of Israel where the idolaters made sacrifices of children. They preferred idols to God. They preferred death to life. In every way they grabbed the wrong end of the stick. Jesus recommends in the strongest terms not to trash our lives by not living abundantly and generously, and not to turn ourselves into refuse by accepting the low-ball standards of the law. We are to live abundantly and generously caring for those less fortunate and helping the weak.

There always is something better to do than just stay out of trouble. We are to choose life and prosperity not death and adversity as we are told in the First Lesson.[1] What that Lesson and Jesus’ sayings in the Gospel make so clear is what we so often turn from accepting. And that is this. We are free to make whatever choices we want to make. We are free to choose to do the right things, and we are free to use any means at our disposal to suck on death in one form or another.

The better choice, of course, is to follow Jesus, as hard as the buy in is. For at bottom, when all is said and done, our service to him is our perfect freedom. And it is in our death to ourselves that we live in him. He offers us freedom and life. We have only to choose to take them and to live that abundant life that he died to give us. We have, after all, to think long-term. We think of eternity not the weekend or the next few years. Ours is a baptism into his death and life which never ends.

[1] Deuteronomy 30:15.

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