The Sunday Sermon: Transfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:12, 17 – 4:1
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The Spirit of the Lord God
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
This is the scripture that we have been working with, leaning into, for the last four weeks, a portrayal of the peaceable kin-dom of God, which we are called to bring about in this world.
In the month before Christmas we re-discovered who we are: Christians, which is to say “little Christs.” When we’re bold enough we remove even the diminutive adjective: We are Christs. God’s anointed ones. We, like Jesus, are God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
In the month after Christmas we spent our time in the book of Isaiah, hearing not about condemnation or any imminent annihilation from God through the prophet’s voice, but hearing about God’s love for us, God’s delight in us, God’s choice of us for the work of this world – nothing less than the realization of that kin-dom of God, here and now.
In the past month, we’ve explored where this kin-dom is present and where it is not, and what we might do about that second part,
Next Sunday we begin Lent. This week we begin Lent, actually, on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. So our time is short.
Pray with me …
Last Sunday I began by asking this question: Who are the wolves and the lions and the lambs and the oxen? And even as we started separating the world and ourselves into categories in our heads, we heard with this: In the kin-dom of God there are no “wolves and lambs.” There are no lions and oxen. There are no “native borns or illegal immigrants;” there is “neither rich, nor working class, nor poor;” there are “neither people of color nor people of no color;” there is “no gay or straight,”; no “Republican or Democrat or Independent.” In the kin-dom of God there are no divisions set up to limit human potential or stratify human worth or diminish the human spirit in any way.
This is the vision we’ve been living with, leaning into: equality. It’s a justice issue and in the world of God it doesn’t mean all of creation should be “the same.” It means all of creation should be treated “the same.” With full life that insists on Life and with deep love that insists on Love. This is the community that, for us, was ushered in during the life and through the death and new life of Jesus. This is the community that is ours to extend, if not complete, in our lives on this earth. This is our hope.
“Since then,” our scripture reading today begins, “(since then) we have such a hope … we act with great boldness.” Listen for the Word of God. Read 2 Corinthians 3:12, 17 – 4:1. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In last week’s scripture we read the highlight of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. This morning, in this second letter to the Corinthians, we hear the core of Paul’s theology, his foundational understanding of God and creation: Because of the reality of the Divine, call it whatever you must, and because of the centrality of Jesus, we are called from lives of spiritual bondage and intellectual blindness” to a new freedom, hope, and boldness as a result of our transforming encounter with “the Spirit of the Lord.”
The Sunday before Lent begins is Transfiguration Sunday. That’s today. We’re not reading a Gospel account of that event this year. Rather we’re reading the New Testament scripture paired with one of those accounts. “All of us,” Paul writes, “all of us … are being (transfigured)” because we have encountered the Spirit of the Lord.
It’s important here, I think, to share a little “exegesis,” the often boring scripture analysis that is a part of every good sermon. Paul says “the Lord is the Spirit,” and he speaks of “Spirit of the Lord” and “the Lord, the Spirit.” But, understand that any doctrine of the Trinity is centuries away yet and, while the New Testament regularly applies to Jesus the title of “Lord,” and interprets Old Testament passages that use “Lord” to be about Jesus, the “Lord” in Paul’s writing and our reading this morning is best understood as ‘the Lord God.” When we turn our faces to the Lord God, veils are removed and transformation, transfiguration, happens! Jesus turned his face to God.
We imagine things like the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus as something singular, something that only happened for him. Or we think of it as something deeply mysterious and mystical, only for a few chosen “holy” persons on a sacred mountain far away, certainly not us. We’re wrong. It is us, it’s for us … “all of us,” Paul writes. And it happens to all of us if, and when, we open our hearts to the reality we have given our hearts to, the Spirit of the Lord God, and “turn our face to it.”
This Spirit – for Paul at his deepest core, I believe, and for us at our most vulnerable moments – this Spirit is not the external, supernatural, potentially invasive deity we have created to protect us and to make sense of the non-sensical. It is the internal, hyper-natural, continually interactive Spirit that transfigures us, transforms us, every time we see “the Spirit of the Lord.” And where do we see that Spirit? “Reflected in a mirror,” Paul writes! Who stares back at you in a mirror. Who? You do. You stare back at you and I stare back at me. It’s us. We are right before our own eyes. And our validation is right under our noses: “Seeing the glory of God reflected in a mirror, we are transformed into the same image.”
Week after week after week after week for ten years and more I, and other preachers in other pulpits, stand before congregations like you trying to name the perils of our time and hoping to provide some responses from our faith that will change things, that will empower us against those perils. But at the end of the day (or the decade), we’re only together for a little over an hour a week and even then we preachers do most of the talking and explaining, and I’ll bet way more than half of the time using words or thoughts or phrases that only we comprehend. So when you get right down to it, most of us (me, too) don’t’ feel like we have much power in our lives, in the realms of social justice, or politics, or even church life. Even after ten years of Sundays. Our feelings of helplessness or voicelessness come up every time we consider how much is wrong in the world versus how much we could possibly do; or every time another election cycle comes around and we hear so many wrong words and have so little input; or every day in-between as we wait for another opportunity but fear we will find ourselves complacent or disenfranchised again.
In the midst of this reality, we need Sundays like this morning and months like the ones past. We need reminders of the agency we do have in this world. We just spent three months reminding ourselves of the agency we have in this world. We have approached our lives, the Christian life, with open eyes and open ears and open hearts. We have been peeking out from behind the security blankets to which we have been clinging (namely, our insistence that we are “not enough” let someone else do it – Jesus) peering out in order to see ourselves as God created us: As God’s Beloved, in whom God delights, and to whom God entrusts the world. We do have agency in this world and we must act with great boldness.
We can do this one day, one injustice, at a time. We can do this at the polling places every election cycle. We can do this at rallies against nonsense gun laws, or in opposition to the creation of more walls that divide the world, or in any structuring of society that creates division – wolves and lambs, or lions and oxen. We can do this by standing with those hurt once again by, of all institutions, the church as so many were again this past week. But, whatever else we “do,” we must remember and accept who we “are” and act with boldness for kingdom values.
This table is set before us this morning and will be again in three days as our Lenten journey formally begins. It is set here and centered on one word: Remember.
“Remember me,” Jesus said. Remember us. Remember how we met? Remember who we met? Remember who was hungry. Remember how we fed. Remember were we went. Remember what I taught. Remember what you learned. Remember how we laughed. Remember how we cried. Remember how we healed. Remember how we walked. Remember how we talked? Remember how excited we were? Remember how tired we got? Remember where we slept. Remember whose you are. Remember where you were. Remember where you are. Remember where you’re going. Remember who you are. Remember.
It is way past time to lift the veil. And with “unveiled faces” it is time to look in the mirror and see, however dimly, the glory of the Lord God reflected back. Our own transfiguration gives us clearer vision, glimpses of Divine purpose more fully revealed, and the courage to speak more boldly. And, “since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” As we prepare to begin another Lenten journey, it is time again to gather at this table to remember who we are so we can act with great boldness on what must be. Let’s prepare ourselves.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 3, 2019