We humans are an interesting lot. We like to debate and discuss the meaning of so many things. We argue over the meaning of the words Jesus said. Today’s gospel is no different. Jesus told his disciples “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The saying is so striking that people have wondered what it really means. Listen for a moment to the different interpretations of this single verse when you do a simple internet search.
Some have said that there is an eye of the needle gate in Jerusalem. These folks suggest that when the gates of the city were closed at night, they would leave open the eye of the needle gate. It was much smaller than others. If someone brought a heavily loaded camel to the eye of the needle gate, they would have to unload all of the goods from the camel and the camel would have to get on its knees and crawl through the gate. The conclusion is that wealthy people must unload their possessions and humble themselves before God in order to get into heaven.
Others have said there is no such gate. Rather, there is a problem with translation. There are two words in Greek that are very similar. One is the word kamilon which is translated as rope. The other word is kamelon which is translated as camel. The argument goes that Jesus said it is harder for a rope to go through the eye of a needle. Perhaps, then we could find a really large needle or a really small rope and make it work. With my eyesight, I struggle to get any thread through a needle.
Still others have said that these other two interpretations are wrong. The Persians had a saying before the Jewish people that used an elephant as the example of an animal trying to get through the eye of a needle. So, camel is the best interpretations and Jesus wanted us to know how hard it is to get to heaven.
I don’t consider myself a biblical scholar nor am I an expert in languages. I am just going to let these different interpretations of the eye of the needle verse stick with you and let you decide which is correct. What all of these interpretations have in common is the seriousness of Jesus statement.
The young man told Jesus that he followed all of the commandments. Jesus loved the young man and appreciated his dedication to the commandments. I think Jesus knew that the young man was troubled despite his faithfulness. There was something that kept him from God. This man’s problem wasn’t just the possessions that he had. It was the way he treated them. Many people in Jesus’s time thought that wealth meant you could have everything you wanted and needed. It was an accepted attitude. The young man lacked a state of being, or perhaps a way of being. His possessions ruled him when he should have been focused on God instead. But Jesus told us that wealth isn’t what matters. Jesus wanted the man to live with God’s will in his heart and mind. Without a relationship to God, we are lost.
There was a time when people would sell all of their possessions and join a monastery or go to a convent. I don’t think Jesus wants all of us to go into a monastery. After all, we are called to bring God’s kingdom to earth. If we all lived in a monastery, we wouldn’t spend much time with other people and wouldn’t usually work to change the world. We must look into our own lives and see if there is something that is getting in the way of our relationship with God. It isn’t enough simply to be a good person and to follow the rules. Jesus expects us to commit our lives to him and to God the Father. For some it is our possessions that keep us from God but for others it is something else.
When we listen to the words from Amos today, it sounds as if God will send a great calamity to the people of Israel. Amos warned the people to repent. The words are quite simple. “Seek the Lord and you shall live” Amos tells us. We should turn to the Lord for all of our wishes, not just because we are afraid of some terrible outcome if we don’t.
In the Psalm we say, “I will praise the Lord with everything that I have”. Can we just turn our hearts to God and let everything else work the way it should? If we offer praise to God isn’t it likely that we allow God to lead us? Won’t our possessions become less important when we are able to praise God?
Another way to think about the dilemma the man faced is to understand that we are all called to use the gifts we have in service to the Lord. Last week’s lessons were about how we should be stewards of God’s creation. We are expected to care for the earth and to care for the animals of the world and to care for our pets. This week, our call is to be stewards of our gifts.
I am thankful for the willingness of Jeff Lokensgard to share his thoughts about stewardship. You will hear two more presentations from parishioners about their commitment to stewardship. Each will share their own perspective about how they use their gifts to glorify God. Tomorrow, we will create the pledge cards for everyone that we know is a regular attendee of this church. I do this always remembering how thankful I am for the people who give their time to make this church a special place and how thankful I am for the people who contribute to this place. Our goal is to join together in community to seek to understand God’s word and to live into our relationship with God. We wish to be a welcoming community where God’s spirit can be found. We can only do that if you help us. I ask you to prayerfully consider your response when you receive your pledge. Our church lives right on the edge of having enough income to pay for the expenses we incur each year. How will you respond to God’s call to be a steward? This year, we have chosen the theme transforming generosity. The idea is that when we give away some of what we have, when we help God’s kingdom and help others then we will be transformed, changed by the understanding that we are doing just what Jesus called us to do.
I hope that you respond to the words of Jesus not just out of a sense of responsibility or guilt but rather out of a sense of joy and thanksgiving. You see, if your response comes from the perspective that you must earn your way into heaven by giving away money, you have missed the wonder found in the words of Jesus. It is all about the joy we have in God’s gifts that we decide to give some of it back.
I spent a lot of time on that eye of the needle verse so as I finish I want you to know that the most important words of today are found in the story after the young man leaves the presence of Jesus. For Jesus said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” God’s actions are much more important than our actions. And God can make a difference in our lives. We just need to open our hearts so that God can work in our lives. I like the words we find in our collect for today. We ask the Lord to send us grace, grace that leads us and grace that follows us so that we can do God’s work in the world.
May you feel God’s grace in such a way that all you care to do is praise God. May you feel God’s grace so that you are not distracted by earthly things but always pay attention to God’s will for you. May you feel God’s grace so that you have strength enough to follow God’s wishes for you. Amen.
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In my priestly role, I have been fortunate to be invited to some very special events. On Friday, I was asked to officiate at a renewal of vows. The couple is from England and they are the parents of my daughter’s friend. They chose a location quite special, the Grand Canyon. They had rented a place in the park called Shashone Point. It isn’t well known and doesn’t show up on the official park map. We had to drive through a locked gate onto a rough dirt road until we reached the canyon rim. That was the easy part. Many of you may know that I am afraid of heights and to get onto the point you had to walk on a narrow ledge with a drop off of over a thousand feet on one side. We all managed to make it out onto the point and had a lovely service. It was glorious. That is why I say that being a priest has many blessings.
For the renewal of vows I chose a portion of today’s gospel reading. We began with the verse that starts “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” We left out the portion of the gospel that speaks of divorce. It totally changes our sense of the reading. We focus on the love that two married people share. While the views were beautiful at the Grand Canyon, the best part of the ceremony was the visible love that you could feel between these two people. And we celebrated, for they have been married for 45 years. They are a wonderful example of how a marriage can show everyone how God loves us all.
Each week, our Bible readings offer a rich array of topics for us to think about. Today is no different. We have stories about creation and our responsibilities to be good stewards. We could talk about the gift that God gave us through Jesus and we could speak about how much Jesus loved the children or even how children can be such an example to us. I thought about each of these different topics and my first idea was to talk about God’s expectation that we be stewards of the earth. Today, I am going to speak about the glories of creation in two ways. First, about how God created so much beauty and our role in that creation. A second point is that as part of that creation God established the covenant of marriage and what that means to us.
The feast of Saint Francis of Assisi was Thursday the fourth. We all know that Francis appreciated the beauty of nature and was especially drawn to all the creatures of the earth. He lived out the words found in Genesis when God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” Many brought their pets to be with them today. We celebrate the importance of all God’s creatures. We are thankful for our pets. We know the unconditional love that our pets have for us. I remember times when I came home from a bad day at work and our dog, Chester, would run up to me and greet me with so much joy. God created these animals to help us in our lives and we are to help the animals as well. When God indicated that we are to name these animals. God also wanted us to care for them. We are to be stewards of God’s creation. This month we will talk about stewardship. While the focus may be on how we support this church, I ask you to never forget that we are stewards in many parts of our lives.
Another part of God’s creation is marriage. Jesus spoke of two people becoming one flesh. He also spoke about divorce. I thought about how many people in the church this morning have been affected by divorce and hearing the words of Jesus may create your own memories, thoughts that hurt you in your very being. The words of Jesus about divorce may make you feel sad or guilty or lost. How might we deal with the words of Jesus today?
I would first like to point out that Jesus answered the question of divorce by talking about marriage. Jesus told us that marriage is an important commitment to God. Jesus brought us back to God’s creation describing how God created the world and expected humans to marry and to become one flesh, to be united one with another. Jesus said that God joined together two people and “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”.
We are fortunate in this community that we have so many examples of what a good marriage is supposed to be like. Thanks to those who work to make their marriage successful. Yesterday, we had a celebration of life for Roz Cope. I remember that Ed and Roz had their renewal of vows in April. They demonstrated the love that exists between husband and wife, another example of how we might love one another.
Jesus’ words about divorce are strong and may be difficult for us to hear. It doesn’t seem as if there is any room for concluding that divorce is OK. I believe that Jesus wanted us to work at our marriage, to do everything we can to keep two people together. In the marriage ceremony it is not just the husband and wife who make a commitment to each other, it is also the community. Everyone attending a wedding ceremony is asked if they will do all in their power to support the couple in their marriage.
One reason that Jesus spoke is that he knew the pain and suffering that comes with divorce. It is likely that both parties who go through a divorce feel a sense of loss and abandonment, a sense of failure and an uncertainty about what will come next in their lives. We call this family Sunday. We always care about families, but each month, we dedicate our service in a special way to families. We ask everyone to pray for families and to offer their support to each other because after all, we are a family in this church. Jesus knew that divorce hurts every member of a family, most especially the children. We pray for all children who have experienced a divorce.
Jesus told us that divorce is wrong. But divorce is a pretty common thing in today’s world. Churches have reached the point where divorce is much more accepted than it was. Divorce is just one of many things that Jesus told us is wrong. We also do things wrong when we lie or cheat or steal. And we do things wrong when we refuse to help the needy.
Saving a marriage may come in conflict with some other sins. It may conflict with abuse or infidelity which are also wrong. And when that happens, we may need to choose the lesser of the sins. It is not what Jesus said but it is what I believe.
We should be clear that divorce may be just like other sins. We ask God to forgive us and God does. For some reason we have come to the conclusion that divorce is a greater sin than others. I just don’t see it that way. Jesus died on the cross to forgive all of our sins, not just some of them. Jesus wants us to live in relationship with God, not to be ostracized for a particular thing that is wrong.
And as Christians, we are called to forgive each other as well. We are called to live in community with one another and to welcome everyone to this church. So, while a divorced person may have done something wrong, we remember that all of us have done something wrong. As we receive God’s forgiveness, we reach out to persons who feel as if they have been forgotten just because what they have done is public information.
My suggestion is that each of us reflects on what we have done wrong, and ask God to forgive us, that we make a commitment to not sin again, and that we pray to remind ourselves of that commitment. After that, let us all rejoice in the forgiveness which we have been offered in spite of the fact that we have done little to deserve it. Amen.
How many of us want things to be done our way? And when we don’t get what we want do we grumble or actually complain? We live in a time when the customer is always right and we often feel like we have the authority to say so when it doesn’t happen. Here are some examples of complaints that were submitted by travelers and published in the Toronto Star.
- “On my holiday to India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”
- A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained that his soup was too thick. He was inadvertently slurping gravy.
- Following a trip to a national theme park, one angry woman complained that the sun was so hot it melted her ice cream.
- An air traveler voiced her disapproval of all the clouds in the sky, saying they ruined her children’s game of Eye Spy.
But all of those complaints are minor when compared to one reported by the Associated Press. It seems that a man named Arthur Bundrage approached a Syracuse, New York, bank teller and demanded $20,000. When he got home, he discovered he’d been shortchanged. Outraged, he stormed back to the bank to tell them what he thought of their service. That’s when he was arrested. Well, I guess he thought he was justified in his complaint.
Before I continue, let me offer this quote for why we shouldn’t complain. “Never waste a second of your life complaining. Complaining doesn’t solve problems. It attracts them. The more you complain, the more problems you’ll have. And the more you infect other people with your problems. Don’t be an infection. Be a cure.” Here is one more, “Stay away from “still” people. Still broke, still complaining, still hating, and still nowhere.” Complaining isn’t something new
Did you notice all of the grumbling found in Scripture today? It began with the Israelites in the desert. The people were complaining to God and to Moses telling them they were tired of eating manna. They wanted to eat meat or fish. It sounds like something I might have done when I was a child. Do I have to eat my vegetables tonight? I am really tired of them. By the way, Scripture tells us that manna was actually quite good to eat. The Israelites beat the manna, boiled it and then made cakes out of it. The Bible tells us that it tasted as good as cakes made with oil. Well, I guess variety is the spice of life and the Israelites were looking for some variety in their diet.
And it wasn’t just the people who complained. Moses told God that he was tired of their complaining. He said that they were God’s people, not his and God should fix the problem not him. And that isn’t all of the complaining either. Joshua complained to Moses about two men prophesying in the camp when all the elders were away. Not one of the Israelites was happy and they expressed their dissatisfaction to God and the leaders of the people.
Well, complaining didn’t stop in the Hebrew Scripture. In the Gospel, the apostles complained about someone preaching the good news in Jesus’ name without being authorized to do so. The apostles only wanted those who had been anointed to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. Others needed to be stopped. They must have thought that you needed to be ordained in order to talk about how God works in our lives. That doesn’t happen today, does it?
It doesn’t seem that much has changed. We complain about bad drivers, about people who get in our way. We complain about things that our neighbors have done and things that are happening on the other side of the world. I know that complaining can be therapeutic. At the same time complaining can also make us negative about many things. We even occasionally complain to God about what is going on in our lives. Why did you let me get sick, we might say in our prayers to God. Why did you allow me to lose all of that money? Why can’t you come and solve my problems?
We complain to people as well as to God. How do you respond? I would say that when we hear complaints about something we said or did, we usually want to offer a retort or respond with a negative comment about the other person. We might even become disgusted or ignore the other individual. Somehow, though, when we complain to God, we believe that God is able to take it all and deal with our concerns.
You see, in each of the situations described in Scripture today, God took action. God wasn’t angered by the complaints of God’s people. God told Moses to bring together the elders and God ’s spirit entered into them. If we were to read on, we would learn that God sent quail to feed the people meat. God also entered into the lives of the apostles. Jesus told them to leave the man alone who was casting out demons in his name. God intervened to help humans understand God’s will.
These readings also highlight the role of lay people in ministry. God encouraged the lay leaders who served with Moses, the seventy elders, to preach and to speak about what God wanted. In the Gospel, Jesus allowed someone who was not close to him to cast out demons in his name. The letter from James indicates that we should call upon the elders to pray over the sick and that their prayers will be heard by God. In each case, God took charge and supported the role of the lay people in ministry.
If we believe that God intervened with the Israelites and the apostles, then God can intervene in our life as well. When we pray, we may actually be complaining and still God responds. We may not know how God answers our complaint but I believe that God does.
Just as God inspired the ministry of lay people in Scripture, part of what God does is to empower us for our ministry. In the Episcopal Church, we believe that lay ministry is just as important as the ministry of any ordained person. Lay ministry takes so many different forms and there are so many things you can do as a lay minister in this church. Chalice bearers, ushers, lay readers and the altar guild offer their ministry during the service. Others offer a ministry of hospitality that we enjoy after the service. This Sunday is social media Sunday and we have a dedicated group who keep our Facebook page and the website up to date while others help with the announcements and the newsletter. The emphasis today is on those who declare the word of God to others. I know that several people in this congregation have invited others to come and attend our church. That is a piece of lay ministry. It makes me remember the gentleman so many years ago who invited Jan and I to come and sing in the choir. It was our introduction to the Episcopal Church and it changed our lives.
Many years ago, I was encouraged by the rector of our church to go and visit someone in the hospital. When the priest asked me to go visit, the person’s name did not register with me. But I went anyway. It turns out that the man I visited was someone I had met before but not seen for a while. We had a good visit. The person I visited thanked me for coming and I got over some of the nerves I had about going to the hospital.
Your ministry matters. Listen to this quote from D’Angelo “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself.” I like this quote from Nathaniel Parker Willis about ministry as well, “If there is anything that keeps the mind open to angel visits, and repels the ministry of ill, it is human love.” Our ministry to others only requires that we love one another.
May you feel God’s spirit entering into you and encouraging you to minister to other people. It is always the grace of God that changes things. Hear Isaiah speaks to us about God’s grace, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” God’s grace is all that we need to bring God’s love to others. May you feel the strength of God empowering you this week. Amen.
On Friday, I took a trip to Mexico with a friend. For me, it was just a chance to get away. Jan was up in Flagstaff helping our daughter take care of the grandchildren. It was good to spend the day with another person and just talk. On the way we passed through the town of Why, Arizona. It is a small town located near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We started chatting about what people were thinking about when they named the town. Were they asking themselves “Why did I come to this place?” Did they wonder, “Why did God create this place?” Or was it just the only name they could think of.
When I thought about Why, Arizona it made me think of the comedy routine that was made famous by Abbott and Costello, “Who is on First”. So, I can imagine asking someone from the town of Why, “What town do you come from?” And the answer is Why. Well I just want to know how to find you? Why. I think we could make up our own comedy routine that used the town name Why. The confusion could last forever
Later, I learned that the town was named after the intersection of two highways that formed a Y when they came together. In Arizona, a town name must be at least three letters so they named the town with a question Why.
My friend said the town named Why reminded him that children ask Why over and over again. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to school? After a while parents can get tired of hearing that question
Jesus mentioned children in the Gospel lesson we read. Children can be difficult to deal with sometimes but they also bring us great joy.
Jesus encouraged us to pay attention to the children for he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Let’s reflect on that verse, asking ourselves what it means to welcome a child or any other person. I think the best place to start is to remind ourselves that we are welcomed by God.
God created us and God loves us. God has mercy and compassion on us. And God forgives us for what we have done. We can find God’s forgiveness so many times in Scripture. God forgave King David for his sins. God forgave Paul for persecuting the followers of Jesus and turned him into an apostle. God’s love was so complete that God sent Jesus to be with us.
We know that Jesus welcomed many into his life. Jesus visited with Gentile women and a woman who was bleeding. He healed lepers and people with demons. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus brought the children to sit with him, even though his disciples tried to chase them away. Everyone of the examples I have given you are people who were outcasts. Jesus forgave people when they had sinned. Even as he hung on the cross he forgave those who were killing him. It was another way that Jesus welcomed people.
Please know that Jesus welcomes you. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have done or what you look like. I hope that you find comfort in this welcome from Jesus. I hope that you can feel acceptance in the arms of Jesus.
We read in Scripture that we are children of God. We sometimes refer to God as Abba, a loving father. Yes, God welcomes each of us. Sometimes, just like children, we ask God questions. Questions like, Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow people to go to war? Why did Jesus have to die? I wonder if God gets tired of hearing our questions. What we know is that regardless of our questions and our doubts, God accepts us for what we are.
Why did Jesus welcome the child? Professor of theology, Elisabeth Johnson, said “In any culture, children are vulnerable; they are dependent on others for their survival and well-being. In the ancient world, their vulnerability was magnified by the fact that they had no legal protection. A child had no status, no rights. A child certainly had nothing to offer anyone in terms of honor or status. But it is precisely these little ones with whom Jesus identifies.
How are we supposed to care for the children? Professor Johnson said it this way, “True greatness, Jesus says, is not to be above others, but to be least of all and servant of all. It is not to ascend the social ladder but rather descend it, taking the lowest place. It is not to seek the company of the powerful, but to welcome and care for those without status, such as the child that Jesus embraces and places before his disciples.
When you come to church, I hope that you feel welcomed by God, by Jesus, in this place. I hope that you feel welcomed to come to the altar for communion. In response to God’s welcoming, we try to welcome others. We often say about the Episcopal Church that all are welcome. We try to live that welcome when we greet folks who visit and when we offer God’s peace to others during the service. We seek to welcome others with our outreach programs. We welcome those who have been here for many years because that is what Jesus taught us.
In the letter from James, the author expressed concern about divisions in the church. James wrote that we covet something we cannot have so we enter into conflict and disputes. Our works are to be done with gentleness born of wisdom. We are not to harbor selfish ambition in our hearts. God’s righteousness is found in those who make peace. This letter encourages us to ask God for what we need and as we do we are able to welcome others in peace.
Some of you probably know a hymn composed by Marty Haugen in 1995 that speaks of our welcome. The first verse goes like this.
Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
It often seems easier to surround ourselves with people who are successful. We certainly shouldn’t avoid them. But Jesus told us to welcome the child. In doing so, he wanted us to welcome all who are outcasts. In our society we glorify youth and vitality. The outcast might be someone who is older. It might mean welcoming someone who comes to the church alone. It could be someone who is sick and cannot attend on Sunday. The outcasts certainly include prisoners and homeless people.
Welcoming also gives us the opportunity to learn from others. I know I learned from people in Honduras and El Salvador who were poor and yet maintained a positive attitude, people who were joyous for the little things they had in their lives. I feel that I have learned from people who come to food kitchens where I have helped hand out food. Most of these people are thankful for the little that they have been given. It is encouragement for us to be thankful for all we have received.
While children may not be as low on the social ladder today as they were in Jesus’ time, they are still at risk. Jesus didn’t really tell us what we can learn from children. Still, I think there is much we can learn from children. Children have a love of life that some of us have lost. Children are inquisitive, a trait that many of us could use. Last week, at the 10:00 service, a child came walking up to the front of the church as we started communion. I loved her joy and determination and curiosity. Children are loving, it means so much to me when my granddaughter speaks to me over the phone and shouts, “Good morning, grandpa”. I hope that each of you are thinking about ways that children have taught you something. It is from the least, the smallest, the unempowered that we sometimes can learn something important. What might you grasp from those people this week?
I encourage you to leave church today remembering that you are welcome because you have receive the love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. And I encourage you to reflect on how you can share God’s mercy with someone who needs it, welcoming them, giving someone the comfort and care that is only possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
This past Tuesday, we remembered those who died in the 9-11 disaster. We remembered people who died in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. We remembered those first responders who came immediately to help those who where affected, putting their lives at risk. We remember that first responders are still impacted by their efforts on 9-11. We remembered those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.
As I watched the news on Tuesday, one of the television stations aired a segment on Pat Tillman. I am sure you all know that Pat Tillman was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who decided after 9-11 to serve in the military. Tillman died in a battle in 2004 in Afghanistan. We are thankful for his patriotism, his commitment to defend the United States and we are thankful for his sacrifice. I continue to be amazed by his decision to give up a lucrative football career to serve in the military. Clearly, his desire to protect our country was stronger than his joy in playing football and his wish to make money.
As the newscast continued, I watched an interview conducted with Pat Tillman the day after 9-11. You can see in his face and hear in his words the resolve to do something in response to the disaster. Players and coaches on that Cardinals team later would say they knew something significant had changed in Tillman. They could tell by his words and his look. They were not surprised when he left his football career behind him. Here is part of what he said,
"My great-grandfather was in Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up, you know everything, and has gone and fought in wars. And I really haven’t done a damn thing, as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for.” Pat Tillman showed his resolve and determination that day.
Our lessons for today, remind us that we are called to have dedication and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We are asked to have resolve. We are asked to stay the course even though our lives may be difficult. We are asked to follow the example that Jesus gave to us.
You may remember that in last week’s readings, I spoke about persistence. The characters mentioned in Scripture were persistent in their prayers to God. It seems to me that this week is a continuation of that sense of determination. Let us be resolved to follow Jesus.
The phrase that most touched me in Isaiah today is the expression, “therefore I have set my face like flint”. Flint, of course, is a hard stone. It was used as a tool, as an arrow by the Native Americans, and it was struck to start a fire. In the image of a person setting a face like flint we understand the determination that individual has. I am reminded of a point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus decided that he must go to Jerusalem, be crucified and rise from the dead. Luke wrote, “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. Jesus would not be deterred from this path. No one, not even Peter, could keep him from doing what needed to be done.”
In order to understand what this means to us, we return to Scripture. The passage from Isaiah is about a prophet who has heard God’s word. Knowing the word of God helped the prophet to remain steadfast in the Lord. The prophet was not moved by adversaries or temptations. Nor was the prophet changed by punishment or persecution.
I think we are in a similar position. We have heard the word of God. We should remain committed to following God’s word. It does not matter what difficulties we encounter. We may be tempted by sin, tempted by those who would lead us astray. Jesus was punished on the cross. Our punishment may not be physical, but we may be laughed at or teased by people who do not believe. Our call from God may put us in situations where it would be easier to just give in and deny that Jesus Christ is our Lord. That is why we set our face like flint. We will not be held back from our mission.
One of the temptations we face is found in the letter to James. We must be careful in all that we say. For the tongue can be a source of evil in our lives. The tongue is such a small part of our body and yet it can be so powerful. The tongue can be a source of good such as when we declare the glory of God. It can be the source of evil, such as when we gossip about others.
James wrote that the tongue can control the rest of the body. He referred to the bit of a bridle through which a rider controls all the movements of the horse. He wrote about the rudder of a ship which can be small but controls the movements of a massive ocean liner. We must let the small voice we receive from God control our words and actions.
James even warned preachers like me, telling them to be careful in what they say and mindful of God’s word, we can send many off in the wrong direction. Words can be so powerful. Let us use them to worship and praise God, not to separate ourselves from others.
The Gospel reading gives us another example of determination and the risk of temptation. Jesus was testing the Apostles. He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke out and said you are the Messiah! His words were inspirational. He used his tongue for good. Then, Jesus spoke about the suffering and rejection he would experience. Peter must have been horrified. He loved and worshipped Jesus so much that he couldn’t imagine Jesus suffering. Peter decided he couldn’t let it happen. So he chose to argue the point with Jesus. Perhaps Peter spoke too quickly, letting his tongue and his emotions get the best of him. I don’t think Peter heard the most important words that Jesus spoke on that day. For Jesus said that after three days he would rise again. Peter missed the glory, the promise, and the redemption that he would receive when all the events were concluded.
Jesus gives us a great lesson. Jesus knew what he was going to encounter but was resolved to go through with it. Jesus knew that he would suffer in body and in spirit, but he would continue anyway, for the final result would be transforming.
In the sorrow and depths of despair that the United States experienced during the Civil War, after the death of so many soldiers who fought on both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln captured the essence of what it means to be committed. He said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was steadfast in his efforts to save the union. His words guide our nation to this day.
Lincoln was focused on patriotism, love of our country and dedication to live the ideals upon which it was founded. The example that we receive from Pat Tillman and Abraham Lincoln is about dediucation. Today, we seek to apply their ideas on dedication to our love of God and our resolve to live our lives as followers of Jesus.
Our commitment is to be firm in our faith, followers of Jesus. We live to be part of the Jesus Movement. We need to be dedicated for we know that we will have hard times. I don’t expect that we will be persecuted physically even though Christians in other parts of the world face that possibility. Our temptation will come in other ways. We must expect it and be ready to face it. Perhaps our temptations will be like the one Peter faced. We may experience a time when our faith in Jesus, our love of Jesus is so strong that we only want to live in the resurrection. We want to avoid the suffering Jesus experienced in his life and avoid any suffering in our lives that may come from our faith. Let us instead recognize that we may be tried and let us be resolved to remain faithful followers in all we do. Let us be strengthened by the work of Jesus and accept his mercy and love, his forgiveness when we do wrong. And let us remember that if we are resolved to follow Jesus, we receive his promise of eternal life. Amen.
Do you remember a few years ago a commercial that appeared on TV? The final line of the commercial was “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”. It is often the quiet people that tell us what we really need to know. The loud ones can say so much that it is hard to identify what is important in their words.
The saying that we might take away from today is “when we pray to God, God listens”. It doesn’t matter whether we approach God with a silent prayer or speak in the loudest voice. God will listen. Another image that you might consider today is how we can be changed when we are in God’s presence.
In the Gospel, Jesus sought some place to rest, he chose a place away from the crowds that were following him. Jesus went to the area called Tyre, an area without Jewish people. Certainly no one would have heard about Jesus in this place. But even the Gentiles knew about Jesus’ healing power. A woman approached and asked Jesus to heal her daughter. The response Jesus gave is surprising. No way, he said. I came for the Jewish people. We could think this is an example of the humanity of Jesus. He was tired and probably didn’t think he had the strength to help. He told the woman to go away. But she was persistent and reminded him of his calling. Jesus healed her daughter. The woman asked God for help and God responded. This is an example of the power of prayer.
That initial response that Jesus gave might be a lesson to us in our own humanness. I think Jesus wants us to remember the times we have rejected the power of God and all that God does. Have you ever questioned whether God is working in the world, thinking that maybe God is just sitting back and watching? Have you ever thought that God is only listening to certain people or believers of a certain faith? Have you wondered whether Jesus really did all of the miracles we find in Scripture? I think Jesus is suggesting to us that in our humanness, we may place limits on God’s power, grace and love even though we are believers. Even during the times we question, we can pray that God will help us in our uncertainty. The power of God transcends all of our humanity, reaching out to everyone in love. Just as the woman cried out to Jesus, we may need the stranger to remind us of God’s healing power available to each person.
God’s healing power is described in all parts of our scripture today. In the gospel, Jesus healed two people each from a different culture. After healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus left Tyre and went to Decapolis. Once again, he was looking for a place where he could find quiet and rest but the people in need still found him. Some folks wanted to help a deaf and dumb man so they asked Jesus to heal him. Just like the Syrophoenician woman, the deaf and dumb man was not Jewish. Jesus didn’t reject their request and he did more than just say you are healed. He didn’t just say go your faith has saved you. Speaking to the man would not have worked. Instead, Jesus physically showed the man how he healed him. Jesus touched and spat, helping the man to experience the miracle.
Perhaps after his encounter with the woman, Jesus was a little stronger and was not distracted from his mission to all. That mission became even clearer after his resurrection. First Paul and later Peter open their ministry to the Gentiles in their lives. They both knew that Jesus offered himself to all people. So, we shouldn’t limit God by what we understand. God isn’t found in just the Episcopal Church. God isn’t found in just the Christian community. God is here for everyone in every race and every nation. The differences in the healings indicate that God deals with each of us differently according to our needs.
God’s healing power is mentioned in other passages from today’s Scripture. In the reading from Isaiah, we hear “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped”. Later in the Psalm it says, “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down”. Yes, God’s healing is available to every person not just those who followed the Jewish customs at the time of Jesus.
Let us consider one more way these two healings connect. I find the message for us is persistence. The message is found in the willingness of people to call on God. The woman wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus tried to hide from others but she found him. Jesus tried to turn her away but she demanded that he help her daughter. And the deaf man sought out Jesus as well.
Given the examples we read today, I would say that we are called to ask for God’s help always. We never know when God will respond to our plea but we do know that God will always listen. In Matthew’s gospel, we find this, “Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”. Jesus actually wanted us to ask God for what we need.
A similar expression is that we should pray without ceasing. Those words pray without ceasing are found in 1 Thessalonions 5:17. I would say that we can ask God for what we need without ceasing. Given today’s healings, I think we could say that God helps those who ask. God responds to everyone and responds to us when we are the squeaky wheel.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, brings some clarification on this theme in his sermon “Pray Without Ceasing.” Emerson made the following observation: “It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion.”
So, let’s make everything we do and think a prayer. Let’s always be interacting with God in ways that help us to focus our lives on holy things and what we can do to bring ourselves closer to God. The best way to understand what praying without ceasing means is to listen to the entire passage in Thessalonians.
The verses actually say this “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
Praying without ceasing relates to everything we do in our lives. It is connected to the sense of good that we do for others. It is connected to our willingness to give thanks to God for all that God does for us. It is connected to our willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. And it is connected to our effort to do good and avoid evil.
We wish to experience God in all parts of our lives and to express the glory of God to others. That last part fits really well with what happened for after the healing of the deaf and dumb man, Jesus asked folks to not tell anyone what had happened. But they went out and proclaimed his good work to everyone they met.
Our scripture encourages us to see the power of God at work in our lives. It encourages us to trust that God will help us on our journey. It encourages us to reach out to God in prayer, asking God to help us. It doesn’t matter what we have done, it doesn’t matter where we are. God has the power to heal what ails us. We may not even know what healing is best for ourselves. But God knows. Let us pray that God will continue to work in our lives and that each of us in thanksgiving will proclaim God’s glory in all that we do, praying every day through our words and actions. Amen.
You may have noticed the common thread going through our readings is the encouragement to act with wisdom. If we look hard enough, we can find many ideas about what wisdom is. Let me start with three short sayings.
A British journalist named Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
W.C. Fields said, "Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”
Milton Berle once quipped, “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think.”
I am not sure any of those help that much. How might you define wisdom? You probably wouldn’t say the smartest person in the room is the wisest. The most highly educated person is not always the wisest either.
We get some good definitions of wisdom from Scripture today. It all starts with the Book of Proverbs. The entire book provides encouragement to us that we acquire wisdom and avoid folly. My study Bible says that wisdom is a word that is rich in nuance, and that throughout the book of Proverbs wisdom is referred to with terms such as insight, understanding, advice, prudence, discretion discipline and good sense. The book of Proverbs contains many sayings, advice to the unwise such as “A soft answer turns away wrath” which is found in Proverbs 15:1.
A French writer named Nicolas Chamfort wrote, “There are more fools than wise men, and even in a wise man there is more folly than wisdom.”
A newspaper columnist named Doug Larsen wrote, “Wisdom is the quality that keeps you from getting into situations where you need it.”
Perhaps we should read the entire book of Proverbs for wisdom is a fleeting virtue. In today’s passage, Wisdom is referred to as a woman. The connections to the Gospel are pretty clear. Woman wisdom invites others to enter her house “to eat of my bread and to drink of the wine I have mixed”. While dining in her abode, having bread and wine, those who come will be given words of wisdom. It connects so well with what Jesus said many years later. In the bread and wine given by Jesus, we receive wisdom and with that gift Jesus also offers us everlasting life.
Wisdom is a theme in the second reading as well. Paul exhorted his flock to live as wise people, to make the most of their time. Things haven’t changed much in that regard. The world is a difficult and dangerous place. There are many threats to our existence and many temptations. Wisdom is our way of keeping on the straight and narrow path. In the entire passage, Paul wanted his followers to live as children of the light. Before they began to follow Jesus, they lived in darkness. Now, they have received the wisdom that came from Jesus and the light that they have entered into is good and true.
Paul believed the wisdom of Jesus would change their lives. Divine wisdom brought them closer to God and Paul said they would be so excited that they became filled with the Holy Spirit and would sing hymns and psalms. In our Bible study on Wednesday, several people were moved by this idea and remembered the songs of their childhood. I am sure some of you remember those songs as well. Did you feel the Holy spirit moving in you? Were you thankful for adults who taught you songs of joy? Let’s take just a minute and sing together two songs from childhood. Let’s start with this little light of mine, a song that fits with the call to live in the light.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine let it shine.
And how about the song Jesus loves the little children
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world
Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world.
I hope that singing those songs helps you to feel the power of the Holy Spirit within you and that in wisdom you are excited to praise God. Jesus wanted us to live in a community where the wisdom of God is something we seek together and something we share with each other. I think Paul wanted us to sing in our hearts as well. Our singing can be “literal singing which gives God praise, and the kind of heart attitude for which “singing” is a metaphor (Understanding the Sunday Scriptures)”. We are thankful for wisdom and we are thankful for the gift Jesus gave us. Through his sacrifice we have salvation. Our hearts are alive with joy.
This Gospel reading must have been difficult for the Jewish people to hear. Jesus said, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” How can Jesus offer us his flesh to eat, they asked. If I had been there, I would have asked the same question. It is through our reflection, through our looking back and knowing that Jesus died for us that we better understand. His death and resurrection was the gift of life for us. His blood was also given and for that we are thankful. Because of his sacrifice, we are redeemed, we are lifted up out of our sin and we have the opportunity to live a life of joy. It is through the teachings of so many who come before us and through our faith that we come to understand that Jesus is present in the bread and wine which we consume each Sunday. Jesus is not changed by giving up his flesh and blood. Rather we are changed. It is a mystery. But more important it is a gift. It is another example of the mercy of God given to each of us. Our communal worship is a time to praise God and to reverence the Lord. As Jesus told us, if we follow, we will be given wisdom. The wisdom we receive then helps us to come into union with God. That union helps us to live our lives in the way that God intended. As the prior readings suggest, this union with God is what keeps us from sin and helps us to dedicate our souls to God.
I have two more sayings from unknown sources to share.
“Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. Let us join in our worship together and praise God for all that God has done for us.”
“A coincidence is when God performs a miracle, and decides to remain anonymous.” I believe that God is at work in our lives and often performing miracles. However we may not think of them as miracles.
Can you remember the last time you were really hungry or thirsty? I know, it doesn’t often happen to most of us. Perhaps, you skipped a meal trying to loose weight or maybe you were on a trip and couldn’t get to a place to eat. I remember a trip we took to Yellowstone National Park. I got so thirsty that I couldn’t stop drinking water. When we are hungry or thirsty, all we can think about is food or water. That is what our readings refer to today. We are called by Jesus to wish with all of our souls that we can be with him, that Jesus will give us the food we need. We wish that Jesus will help us to have the wisdom to deal with all that life has to offer. We pray that Jesus will nourish us in a way that all we want to do is follow him. If we can focus on Jesus then we know that all of the cravings of our human bodies such as drinking alcohol are just ways to take our minds off of what we really need. This week, let us take the bread and the wine that Jesus offers to us and allow ourselves to grow closer to Jesus, living in his love and knowing it to be the best place we can be. Amen.
I don’t often do sermons that involve everyone but today perhaps you would be willing to help me in a small way. Let’s start with this question? What is your favorite food? This past week, I went to a restaurant and my wife and I shared a steak for dinner. It was tender, tasty and moist. I loved it.
Another of my favorite foods is mashed potatoes. Jan and I tease each other about my desire for mashed potatoes. We don’t often have them at our house because they are high in carbohydrates. I like to say that we only have mashed potatoes at home when we have guests over for dinner. I love mashed potatoes. For some, their favorite food is dessert. Can you imagine the taste of your favorite desert right now? I sometimes like to go and eat gelato and may favorite flavor has Nutella in it.
I decided to begin with food because in our gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Bread of Life. Our lesson is from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. It is quite a lengthy discourse so you need to be prepared to hear some similar words the next two Sundays as well. Jesus describes what it means that he is the Bread of Life to his followers and those who had doubts. We probably fit into both of those categories.
With any food we actually eat like a steak or mashed potatoes or gelato, we are satisfied by that one meal but our satisfaction may not last. Our joy is only as long as our memories can bring back the taste of that good food. We may need to go back and experience that food one more time. Our experience with Jesus is a little different. Jesus is constantly feeding us. Jesus feeds us on Sunday and gives us strength for the week. It is also true that Jesus is with us each day of that week and if we seek it, Jesus will feed us again and again.
Our scriptures are full of times when God fed people. These readings describe three times when God fed the people with real food. Jesus reminded everyone that God provided manna as the Israelites wandered in the desert. Jesus said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” The Israelites never seemed to be satisfied by the food they were given. They often complained about God and about Moses.
The second example of feeding comes in the reading from 1st Kings. Elijah was running away from the wrathful Jezebel who was out to get him. Elijah was frightened, exhausted and dispirited. He stopped under a broom tree and feel asleep. God sent an angel to give Elijah food. He was so refreshed that he could go forty days without any more food. If you were to continue to read the story of Elijah, you would learn that Elijah wasn’t too excited about doing what God called him to do. God wanted Elijah to go back and care for God’s people. It took some nudging on God’s part. God takes care of us just as God took care of the Israelites and Elijah.
Just two weeks ago, we heard the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand also in the Gospel of John. That is the third example of God feeding the people. But as the story continues this week, we learn that many of the Jews grumbled when they heard what Jesus had to say about the Bread of Life. They had just experienced a miracle, some wanted to make him king, but they couldn’t believe that Jesus could do another miracle, that Jesus could continue to feed them and that Jesus would feed them not only with physical food but also with spiritual food. God is kind and caring but we don’t always appreciate what God does.
When we hear Jesus speak of the bread of Life our thoughts usually turn to the spiritual food, communion. We have forgotten that God gives us food on a regular basis. Many believe that humans are the ones that make food, on large farms and in pastures. How quickly we forget that God created all things and we are intended to be stewards of God’s creation, using it to feed ourselves, to feed others and to care for all creatures and living things on the earth.
And so we say in the Our Father, give us today our daily bread. I accept that prayer on two levels. First that we wish that God will allow for creation to be abundant and that we will have food to live on. We also ask God to send Jesus so that we will be fed spiritually and have the strength to live holy lives.
Providing food for all people continues to be a challenge. It is surprising that many go hungry while farmers who grow grains are having a difficult time making money. We seem to have enough food for everyone. And yet we know that people are not getting fed. I recently read a note from the United Food Bank in Mesa. There were pleased to report that a recent study indicated some improvement in hunger in Arizona. They reported on a statistic called food insecurity. “Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” In Maricopa county, the percentage of people who struggle to get food was reduced from 15% to 14.3 %. That is still a large number who need food. Children are significantly more likely to have trouble getting enough foods. It is well known that poor people are often given food that is not appropriate, filled with carbohydrates that causes weight gain and increases in diabetes. We try to help solve this issue of a lack of food because we are God’s hands on this earth. We pray that God will provide enough food to feed everyone.
But our more important lesson is that Jesus feeds us spiritually. When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life” he provided us with information but more importantly he gave us an invitation. Come and see he is saying to us. When the Jews went out to Galilee to see Jesus, they went because they heard about all the signs he had done. They knew that Jesus healed the sick. We too come to see this Jesus. We have heard and know that Jesus lived his life for us. We see that Jesus feeds us just as he fed the five thousand. Taste and believe he said. We receive communion and believe that Jesus is God.
Each time we come to church we are fed with this Bread of Life. Jesus gave his life for us and continues to give us a new life. The Bread that we are given each week nourishes us and strengthens us. We are able to leave this place uplifted spiritually, all because of God’s gift, all because of the promise that Jesus made to us. This Bread carries us throughout the week, helping us to reject sin and to live our life for God and others.
And it is nourishment for our entire life. Jesus promised that if we follow him and take this Bread we will receive eternal life. It is an incredible gift. So, we come each week to receive this gift. We see the Body and blood of Jesus. We are strengthened for our journey and we believe that Jesus is our Savior.
This food that we have been given, this bread of life, helps us to follow the words found in the letter to the Ephesians. It gives us the courage to speak truth to our neighbors. It encourages our contrite hearts to give up anger each day. The bread of Life keeps evil from escaping our mouth and gives us instead kind and considerate words to share with others. It helps us put away bitterness and wrath and wrangling and slander. We become kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, imitators of God’s grace.
Let us not be like the people in the road who were murmuring and questioning, doubting that Jesus could really do this, wondering about how it is possible. Instead let us accept Jesus as our Lord.
The Bread of Life is the reason we offer communion every Sunday. Jesus said come and see, taste and believe. We join fellow Christians today and every Sunday. We experience the grace and love of Jesus. We receive the Bread of Life. We believe in Jesus for we know that Jesus will give us life eternal. Amen.
Each of us has our own identity. Some times we choose our own identity and other times it is thrust upon us when people call us names. And we are often identified in several different ways. I am a husband and a father and a grandfather. I am also a priest, a designation that was given to me when I was ordained on January 19, 2014. When I am asked, what should I call you? I respond call me Bob or Father Bob for that is how I identify myself. The identity that we choose is important for ourselves and for others. As we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, I have asked Bill Robinson to come and explain the icon which he wrote and which first appeared in this church the day before my ordination. That was special. As Bill shares the story of the icon and how it helps us to understand the Transfiguration, I would ask you to keep in mind that this feast is one way that we identify Jesus. I also ask you to consider what it means to you to be identified as a follower of Jesus.
Icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration by Br. Bill
To better understand the Icon of the Transfiguration, it might be helpful for us to have a short understanding of the nature of an “icon”, and why this particular graphic format is different from other types of religious artwork.
The word “Icon” is simply the Greek word for image, and “icons” consist of symbolic images of Jesus, Mary, all of the canonized Saints and, occasionally, the feasts and events of the church year (such as The Feast of the Transfiguration). They are usually painted on wood, or fresco, or done in mosaic, and they always illustrate portions of scripture. Icons are regarded by the major liturgical churches as “graphic scripture”. Like scripture, icons are said to be written rather than painted. By interacting with icons in prayer and contemplation, icons can become windows and doorways to a spiritual connection that one might not otherwise experience. This is similar to the icons on phones and computers. Interact with these icons by clicking, rather than prayer, and whole programs open up!
The three synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus took the three apostles, James, Peter, and John “the beloved” and led them up a high mountain. There, as Matthew tells us, he was “transfigured into blinding light; both his face and clothing changing before their eyes”. Mark, in his Gospel, writes that “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white.” And again, Mark says that his clothes were “such that no one on earth could bleach them”.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that the transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. It is this comment that is depicted in this icon, where Jesus is raising His hands in prayer. Luke says, “While He was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.” Then, before the eyes of the apostles, appeared the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Then, if that was not already enough, a voice came out of a cloud and said, “This is my Son, the beloved. In today’s Epistle, written near the end of his life, Peter states “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”
The icon we are discussing today is a symbolic representation of the event described in the Gospels. The composition of this icon follows a strictly symmetrical scheme. It shows a stylized mountain landscape, characterized by a central peak that is flanked by two lesser peaks. Jesus stands (or almost floats) on the central peak. He is clothed in a white and gold robe that appears to have dazzling light coming from within it. This is not sunlight. It is what students of theology refer to as the “uncreated light of God”-- a source of light, unlike sunlight or chemical light or electrical light that appears to come right out of darkness. Furthermore, He is surrounded by a gold and red boat-shaped image known as a “mandorla—the ancient symbol of the creator God. At Jesus’ feet is a round medallion showing an Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God, which is one of the earliest symbols for our Lord
Jesus is flanked by the two prophets. Moses is on His left (your right as you look at it), and Elijah on His right, each standing on his own peak. The image of Jesus is larger than the two prophets. This follows an iconic convention, which calls for the most important figure to be the biggest. Moses carries the tablets representative of the Law, and Elijah wears the “mantle of prophesy” that he passed on to Elisha before ascending to Heaven in the chariot of fire. Elijah’s mantle, or cloak, is described in the Old Testament, and in the icon it is shown as somewhat ratty. The same cloak is depicted in one of the stained glass panels at the back of our own church!
The three medallions at the bottom of the icon represent James, Peter, and John. Normally, the three apostles are shown as figures rather than symbols, but the round shape of this icon did not permit that design. The medallions, however, are accurate copies of the symbolic representations of these apostles that also appear in the stained glass windows at the back of our church. These designs have been a part of this church since its construction. So, even though the icon is new to this church, the symbols have design continuity with our whole history. James is symbolized by the three shells. After his martyrdom in the first century, James’ remains were moved to the village of Compostela in NW Spain, and the cockleshell became the symbol worn by pilgrims to his tomb. Peter is symbolized by the crossed keys. Jesus told him: “I give you the keys to my kingdom. James’ brother, John, is identified by the serpent in the chalice, which symbolizes his willingness to drink from the same cup as Jesus, and which leads to his death.
The Latin word for transfiguration, transfiguratio, means, “to be changed to another form”. The Greek word is metamorpheos and has much the same meaning. The Transfiguration, therefore, is a revelation of Christ’s divine nature, a manifestation of the Trinity, and a confirmation of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. This is shown symbolically by all of the white and gold lines that crisscross the image of Jesus and seem to come from within Him, rather than from an external source. This light is the central feature of this icon and was mentioned earlier as the uncreated light of God. It is a supernatural light with transforming power that has its source in God’s own being. It is the light that Jesus Himself speaks of in John’s Gospel when He says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As Jesus becomes that light, his true nature is revealed. As Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For in Him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
Today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration also serves as a very early recognition of the Trinity. The disciples hear the voice the Father, they see the Son, and they were enveloped by the Holy Spirit in the brilliance of the uncreated light. They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who represented the “Law and Prophets”, and who confirmed that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. Thus, the God they had served so faithfully for so long, without actually seeing, could now be seen and spoken to face to face. Here, in the blinding light on the mountain of the Transfiguration, prophets and the disciples were able to witness God’s personified radiance directly.
Fr. Bob speaking again
Bill has shared with you the images of the Transfiguration. The Icon is a great example of what we see in our minds when we imagine the Transfiguration of Jesus. I would ask you to think about what we hear. In this passage, God the Father speaks and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It is not the first time in Luke’s gospel that we have heard God speak about Jesus. God did so when Jesus was baptized when we heard God say, “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
This sounds different to me. At his baptism, God spoke to Jesus, encouraging him to begin his public ministry. At the Transfiguration, God spoke to the apostles and through them God speaks to us. Listen to him. Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is God. Jesus told us who God is and what God expects of us. Jesus is the way to help us understand God and to hear God’s wishes.
It is so easy for our modern day minds to hear this because we already know that Jesus is God. But, I ask you to remember the gospel stories that come before this one so that you might understand the confusion that existed about who Jesus was.
We followed Jesus as he healed the daughter of the leader of the synagogue and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Jesus told everyone this is no big deal, don’t tell anyone what happened. Did they ask who this Jesus is?
Jesus sent the apostles out to evangelize giving them power over demons and the ability to cure diseases. Did Jesus have the authority to do this? We heard Herod speak as he wondered about Jesus. Is this John the Baptist who has come back to life? Is it Elijah? Is this a prophet? Jesus fed the five thousand people with a few loaves and fish. People wanted to make him a king.
Many questions and suggestions surrounded the identity of Jesus. All these questions are answered by the Transfiguration. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is God. It is his identity. As I said, none of this is a surprise to us. I just ask you to think about your identity in the context of the Transfiguration. I wish to be identified as a follower of Jesus, a disciple. I wish to be changed forever, to be transformed, to live into the name of our church. I wear a cross to say to everyone who I am. What does this change we seek mean?
On Friday, I went to the movies and I saw a preview for a new Transformer movie that will premier in December. It is called, Bumblebee. A young lady picks out a yellow Volkswagon beetle or bug and drives it home. She learns later that the car is really Bumblebee. The car is transformed into a massive robot that can handle any threat, any enemy and yet still have a caring personality.
We seek a change that allows us to focus on God and caring for our neighbor. We seek to be freed from the desires of the earth, desires for riches or fame or power and instead be dedicated to a life like Jesus led.
Have you ever had a special encounter with God? Whether your experience included images of a radiant Jesus or you heard the voice of God, I hope you can recall that time. I encourage you to ask God to continue to change you, to transform you in a way that you are willing to stand up and say, I am a follower of Jesus. I know who I am. I want to live my life for Jesus. Amen.
If someone asked you to summarize the teachings of Jesus, what verses in the Bible would you turn to? Would you start with Matthew’s gospel where it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Or perhaps you might reach into John’s gospel where it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We have a less well-known but equally important reading which comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This entire passage that we read today is a summary of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us and all that Jesus has done for us. Commentators might say that in these verses, Paul has covered a great deal about Christian Theology.
Allow me to paraphrase from a commentary by the Rev Scott Hoezee. In this lesson, Paul wrote about each of the persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He wrote about the fact that God has chosen us to be God’s people. He described the redemption we receive through Jesus Christ. Paul told us that we are saved by grace. He mentioned the doctrines of creation and providence. Paul wrote about the end of the world. He spoke of faith and sanctification. And Paul proclaimed the gospel as the center of our faith. Hoezee wrote “It’s all here. Of course, each topic could be fleshed out, but by the time you finished fleshing them out, what you would have would be close to a complete seminary curriculum.” By the way, the original Greek was written in just one sentence so if you have trouble connecting with all that was said in these fourteen verses do not feel alone.
Today, I want to take on two ideas that are mentioned in Paul’s letter. The first is the overwhelming work of God and in particular the overwhelming work of Jesus in the world. The second is that Jesus Christ gives us truth. I want to explore what that might mean to us.
Oftentimes, when we read Scripture, we hear about actions that we should be committed to. Love your neighbor. Care for the sick and those in prison. Obey the Ten Commandments. Pray to God. But this part of Ephesians has no words about what we are to do. It is all about what God has done for us. God has chosen us and called us to follow Christ. God designated us to be holy people. God decided to adopt us as God’s children. God forgives all the wrong that we have done. Jesus Christ called us to follow him. Jesus gave himself for us. Jesus explained to us about the wisdom of God. And the inheritance we receive from God leads to redemption and a promise of joining God in heaven.
If you find yourself coming to Transfiguration today and you feel like you need a break, you’re in the right place. For today, let us be lifted up by all the gifts that God has given us.
One of my favorite God given gifts is that we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Most of you remember that we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. The seal is an indication that we belong to God. In baptism it is a sign that we belong to Christ. The seal of the Holy Spirit comes to us all the time-not just in baptism. We are God’s children when we are born and the seal of baptism is just another time when God once again marks us as God’s own. We are chosen as God’s adopted children.
The Holy Spirit does more than mark us as Christ’s. The Holy Spirit remains with us. The Holy Spirit guides us and leads us to do God’s will. It is a presence that can help us anytime and anywhere.
The Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus give us our spiritual direction. We often call that receiving the wisdom of God. Another word that we can use is the truth. It is Jesus who provides us with the truth, the gospel of your salvation.
The truth is a difficult thing to find these days. I find it difficult to know the truth when I listen to the various perspectives of people in the news. We have many tough issues that must be resolved and the feelings run strong on both side. It seems that everyone points to certain facts, the truth as they understand it, to support whatever position they might take. There does not seem to be a likely answer to many of our most pressing challenges.
But when it comes to our faith and to our relationship with God, we turn to Jesus for the truth. The disciples turned to Jesus for the truth. In Luke’s gospel it says, “‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus said to his followers, “‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Also in John “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
We also look to the Holy Spirit for truth. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. The truth is right there for us, a gift of Jesus, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Everyone of our readings today refers to the truth.
Amos, the prophet, was a shepherd who proclaimed the truth to the divided countries of the Jewish people. Amos came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and he predicted destruction because the leaders were mistreating the poor and wallowing in their riches. It was a difficult message because Jeroboam’s reign was a time of economic and political prosperity. Not surprisingly, the king and the head priest did not want to hear what he had to say. In fact, Amos was asked to leave the country for his words. It took a while but Amos’ prediction came true. The Northern Kingdom was taken over by the Assyrians some thirty years after Amos made his prediction.
The Psalm places truth with God’s mercy and connects truth to our relationship with God when it says that righteousness and peace shall come together. When we seek the truth from God, we will find peace and receive God’s mercy.
And in the gospel, John was killed because he told the truth. He told Herod that it was unlawful for him to have married his brother’s wife, Herodias. She became so angry that she plotted against John and eventually found a way to have him killed.
Amos and John chose to confront leaders with the truth. Both of them suffered for what they said. I don’t think our search for the truth is as dangerous as it was for Amos and John. We look for God’s truth in Scripture. We look to the words of Jesus for our truth. We look to the Holy Spirit in prayer for the truth. Our search for truth may be for our own benefit or we may be called to speak the truth to others.
Today, I wish that you would bask in the blessings of God that were shared by Paul. We often think about what Jesus told us to do. “Go and make disciples of all nations” for example. But today, I would hope that you would hear the word of Jesus and hear him saying to you “Come.” For the first words that he said were “Come and follow me” (paraphrase from Charles Heimsatt Sermons on the Inner Life).
Let us come to Jesus for the truth. The truth is that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is our redeemer. Jesus forgave us of our sins. Jesus promised that he would save a place for his followers.
We may be called to share the truth that we learn from Jesus with others. We may be called to declare the truth to people who do not want to hear it. I would say those are worries for another day. Today, I just want to accept the grace that we receive from God and the opportunity to share those blessings with everyone in our spiritual community. Amen.