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.
From your faces, I can see that you folks are as happy to be here as I am. Aren’t we all so blessed to be part of God’s creation? We know God’s GOT us. God’s got our backs, and God does everything RIGHT. And along with that, we have each other. We could, and maybe SHOULD, be dancing in the aisles! We’d like to hug the Lord our God, but we’ll just settle for hugging one another. The Holy Spirit hangs out in Churches, as well as in all creation, but I’m pretty sure -
Transfiguration is on the “A” list.
Did you catch that Collect? We pray that, “With God as our ruler and guide, we may so live our lives that as we pass through this life, we will not lose our lives in the world to come.” Is that amazing, or what? Not only does God so ordain creation that we are intended for eternal life, God provides us with the help we need to get TO that life. With God, it’s win-win for us, for all creation, if we just say YES to God.
Think that’s what we’re doing when we say ”AMEN”
Then, when we’re beginning to realize what a wonderful deal, if you will, God’s got going for us, we hear the Hebrew Scripture from Second Kings. What a story! We got Elisha the prophet, successor to Elijah, prophet extraordinaire, along with Elisha’s servant, and the fella’s are hanging out in Gilgal, a place in Ephraim, where there is a famine, taking a little break from the rather chancy business of prophesy, when one of the faithful from Baal-shalishah comes along, as he ought to do, in accordance with God’s command, dragging “food from the first fruits to the man of God.” Now Elisha’s a proper shepherd of God’s flock, and he tells his servant to “set the food before the people, and let THEM eat.”
Naturally there’s a crowd hanging out, just in case something glorious falls out of Elisha’s mouth, which WE know will happen, because that’s what God recruits prophets for, and all that waiting and listening has made the folks hungry, and this God knows, and has already solved that problem. God’s GOT this. But the servant is all, “How can I set this before the people; what ARE you thinking, this is a severe deficit in the necessary amount of food.” So Elisha repeats himself, “Give it to the people and let Them eat.” Then Elisha provides the irrefutable rationale: “for thus says the LORD, ‘they shall eat and have some left.’” Oh, yeah! Elisha knows, God’s GOT this! God’s not only gonna do what God’s gonna do, GOD IS GOING TO DO WHAT GOD SAYS GOD IS GOING TO DO. Just like the Psalm says, “…You give them their food in due season. You open wide Your hand and satisfy the needs of EVERY living creature. The LORD IS indeed righteous and loving in all His ways.” We’re not arguing with that, but sometimes we lose sight of what that means, for us, AND for the rest of creation.
Fortunately, GOD never loses sight of anything!
And our old friend Paul is well aware of this. Most of Paul’s writing is engaged equally in PRAISING God, and helping the early Christians understand what it means to be followers of Christ. The obvious thing is that Paul never shifts his focus from God as manifest in Christ. It becomes clear to us that our faithful focus on Chris t, is a recipe for the best kind of human life. In today’s Epistle, Paul prays that God will “strengthen our ‘inner being, our souls, our spirits, with power from the Holy Spirit, that we may ‘comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.’ Now, as we know “comprehend” can mean ‘understand.’ And it can also mean “include,”or” encompass.”
We want it both ways! Paul prays that we may both understand and encompass Christ’s Love. Now THERE’S equipping for ministry! With Christ’s love for creation, and our faithfulness to Christ, Paul states that God will accomplish ‘far more than we can ask or imagine.’ And we WANT to be a part of this! Of course we do.
In today’s Epistle, the passage from Ephesians, Paul urges us not to wait until WE feel strong and competent, but to start praying and jump in, because God’s GOT this, and God is willing to use us, too. All RIGHT!
Then there’s that wonderful Gospel story, parallel to the passage in Second Kings. Jesus is dealing with Elisha’s situation. Here’s the large, hungry crowd, eager to hear what Jesus has to say to them. We are THERE, we want to hear Jesus, too. And Philip, Jesus’ follower, plays the part of Elisha’s servant – complete with the momentary lapse in recollection of God’s promises. So, Jesus says to Philip, ’Bro, how are we going to buy food to feed this crew??’ That’s Philip’s cue. ‘ Six month’s wages wouldn’t buy that much food.’ But God has GOT this. Andrew says, ‘ There’s a little boy with 5 barley loaves and two fish – but how’s that going to help?’ Andrew and Philip’re like all of us, a little slow on the uptake. ‘Make them sit down,’ says Jesus; Who then asks a blessing on the food. Now Jesus is NOT into wasting food, so, when everyone is full and content, the left-overs are gathered, and an extra twelve baskets are available. Seeing this, needless to say, everyone gets excited, decides that Jesus is clearly the longed-for Messiah, and their job is to make Our Lord king, an objective with which Jesus wants no part. So Jesus makes Himself scarce, and the disciples hop in the boat and head to Capernaum. Evidently, a monsoon arises; we imagine the Holy Spirit saying, “So, Jesus, Buddy, Your homies are getting a wee mite nervous out there on the lake, due to a brief lapse in their realization of WHO they’re dealing with; and shortly, the poor terrified disciples are delighted to see Jesus strolling across the Sea of Galilee toward them. Jesus says, ‘Chill, guys, it’s Me,’ at which point everyone finds themselves safe on the land toward which they had been rowing.
See, with God, there really IS a happy ending.
Don’t we just love Scripture!?! When we can lay aside our awareness of cultural, historical, and linguistic differences, and HEAR what the Lord our God is saying to the people of God, and know that all the differences we concern ourselves over are truly irrelevant to the blessing inherent in the message for the people of God, then we realize that these ancient people are US; and that Scripture is OUR history, OUR story of God’s love and care for us, and God’s involvement with us.
We can live our lives knowing, and depending upon, the realization that God’s GOT this!
THANKS BE TO GOD! Written by Susan Smith-Allen
I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to conduct a wedding in Marseille, France on the Mediterranean. I had met the bride seven years ago in Cameroon. I
was helping my college roommate there for three months with her non-government organization, monitoring orphans scattered throughout seven villages to the north
of the city she lives in.
This bride, Elodie, a French student nurse, came to Cameroon to serve an internship in rural clinics. So she lived with us for a month there. Four years ago
she and her partner actually came to the U.S and share our Thanksgiving dinner with us. Suddenly, last winter I got an email from her asking if I would officiate at
her religious ceremony in France. Of course I said yes. When I was pondering what sort of homily I would give at the wedding, I
happened to be reading Brian McLaren’s book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In it I was deeply moved by his discussion of God’s love. It seemed a fitting center for
that homily, and it came to my mind again as I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday.
These were the words that so moved me:
1. You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate,
encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.
2. You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.
3. You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.
4. You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need.
5. You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.
6. You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.
7. You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.
8. You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing unrelenting seduction to give up.
Now, hold those words about the radical nature of love God intends for us and consider the lessons this morning.
Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” There is this persistent ethical thread throughout the Hebrew Bible. God
requires the community to be ruled with justice and righteousness, unity and love. In the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that one manifestation of how well a
ruler is doing on this front is the treatment of the alien, orphan and widow. In this passage, we read that the leaders do not have the capacity for love here.
But God has compassion for this community of exiles.
For those alienated from their homes..
For those separated from their families...
For those taken away from all they knew.
God always reaches out in love to every exile, every dispossessed person.
Mark talks about the love Jesus has for his sheep. He heals many in his own land, in Galilee – and then, after a time away for prayer and re-centering, he and his
disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to Gennasarret. That’s Gentile country, you know. Immediately, he is called upon to heal – the foreigner, the alien, and the
stranger. He is confronted with the overwhelming need of “the other” and rises to the occasion. For most of his ministry we see him in the thick of the people,
among those in greatest need. I can relate. In Cameroon, while assisting some nursing students provide health assessments of children, we ran out of time while
there were still dozens of mothers and children waiting. “Oh please,” they said, “just see my child.” And, “please, I need one of those mosquito nets, too.” The
press of those in desperate need was heart breaking.
In both the OT reading and the Gospel there is this clear message: the exiles – the alien – the stranger – the orphan – are also God’s people. The Epistle reading
raises the question of those pesky Gentiles as well. We know that the early church was struggling with questions of who is in and who is out. The Jews who had
come to accept Jesus as the Messiah couldn’t figure out what to do with those Gentiles who wanted into their fellowship. How could someone who was not
circumcised possibly become an insider? How could one who didn’t share the story of the People of Israel even begin to understand what Jesus had done for the
Jews? But in the Kingdom of God, even those pesky Gentiles are be counted as in.
In Ephesians we read that Jesus made both groups into one. He broke down the dividing walls between them. Then there were no longer any strangers or aliens. It
is at the very core of our understanding as Christians that we should grow more and more into this radical kind of love that Jesus had for absolutely everyone. It is
a difficult journey. But one we MUST take. And that brings us right back to Brian McLaren’s discussion of love.
1 You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, annoy, offend, and encroach upon us. We are called to surround ourselves – as Jesus did – with those who are the most difficult to love.
2 You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness. Now there’s a challenge for us – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even to possible unkindness.
3 You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need. Being in the midst of people with unquenchable need is not a comfortable place to be. We can feel pretty overwhelmed as – indeed – Jesus must have felt. It’s exactly why he had to take time away from the crowds.
4 You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict. It’s one thing sitting in our comfortable world praying for peace. It’s altogether another thing to become immersed in resolvable conflict. But how else can we possibly learn of God’s peace – that passes all understanding.
5 You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation. We know of the acute humiliation Jesus suffered. How can we possibly understand it unless we, too, experience humiliation. Perhaps one of the dilemmas that we people of privilege share is that we don’t often experience humiliation.
6 You can’t learn the determination and endurance that love requires without opposition and frustration and an unrelenting desire to give up.
You see, the kind of love Jesus modeled – and wants us to learn – is a life long school. If God loved the exiles in Babylon then we need to be schooled in loving
the exiles in our midst. If God loved the Gentiles of the early church then we need to be schooled in how to love and include the strangers all around us. If Jesus
could go out – among those in greatest need, day after day after day – then we need to be schooled in that kind of endurance and determination.
It’s not an easy school to attend. We can drop out any time. We can settle back into the sofa cushions of God’s embracing love ..... or we can accept the challenge
and enroll in God’s school of love. When we flunk out, as we surely will, we can enroll again and again until we enter the everlasting kingdom of infinite love.
Oh, my Lord! Let the whole Church say Amen! Say it again. Say it one more time! Amen! I’m out of breath for ya. This is a blessed night. It is a blessed night. We gather this night. Many of us are Episcopalians. Many of us are from other Christian traditions and families. Many of us are people of good will of no particular denomination or stripe. Some of us are probably Republicans. And, some of us are probably Democrats. Some of us are probably independents. But all of us are children of God. All of us! All of us! And that’s what we celebrate this night. We come together as the children of God. Like that old song used to say when I was a kid,
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in his sight.
All! All! All!
Allow me if you will then, to on your behalf thank all of those who have made this night possible. We thank you! We thank you! We thank you! And allow me also on your behalf to the thank the bishops and people of the Diocese of Texas. Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Thank you, Texas! Texas! Texas!
Well I’m in an awkward position because I have a feeling we are the only thing standing in the way of food. This is an unenviable position. So let me hasten to my text. From the New Testament, the Gospel of John, near the end of John’s gospel. In fact some scholars say chapter twenty ends the gospel. But if you look in your Bible, you’ll see there’s another chapter. And scholars have all sorts of theories about whether chapter twenty-one is an addition, an extension, or an appendix. I’m not a scholar. I’m a country preacher, and I know preachers, and you do too. I’ve got a feeling John finished his sermon in chapter twenty, the plane was landing, and he remembered somethin’ else. And took off and came around again. That’s what happened. So on his first landing, which is chapter twenty, he almost brings it to conclusion. And he does so with these words:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these few are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, God wants you to live. God wants us to live. God wants this world to live. God wants us to live! You can almost hear it in the text. John is tryin’ to land the plane, and he says there are many other things that I could’ve written, but these few things that I have written, in this whole Gospel of John, the stories of Jesus turning water into wine, the story of Jesus meeting old Nicodemus, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman that Bishop was talkin’ about, by the well, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 folk, (ain’t she wonderful [referring to interpreter]?). All these stories, the story of Lazarus, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, the story of him being raised from the dead, I could have told you more stories. This is Jesus Christ we’re talking about! This is not John Doe! This brother was incredible! I could be telling you stories all night, and you’d never get your barbecue! But these few stories I have told you so that you might come to believe. And believing means just trust. It doesn’t mean you understand. It doesn’t mean you got it figured it out. It means I’m just going to trust you. These have been written so that you might believe that Jesus really is, really is the Messiah, the Christ, the human face of God, the incarnation of God’s love in the life of a human person. Or as the Nicene Creed says:
God of God,
Light of Light,
Very God of very God
This is not John Doe we’re talking about! These have been written so that you might believe. That he really is the sign, the ultimate seal of how much God loves you. And this has been written so that you can have life. Life. Real life, not life you can barter for on E Bay. Real life! Life that the world did not give, and the world cannot take away. Life! Life! And in John’s gospel it’s incredible . . . I wanna make sure, how ya’ll doin’? I wanna make sure. We want to make sure everybody’s in. If you look at John’s gospel, the theme of life is woven from beginning to end. At the beginning of the gospel with that wonderful poetry,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God. In him was life.
And that life was the light of the world.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
This is life! Life with God! Life! And it goes on. I’m not making this up. It’s in the book. He says in the sixth chapter, “I am the bread of life.” In the fourth chapter, he says, “I am the waters of life.” In the third chapter, Jesus meets, he meets, he meets the first Episcopalians. It’s true! I am convinced that Nicodemus in the third chapter of John was the first Episcopalian. If you read the text carefully, it says that Nicodemus, who was a member of the Pharisees, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the high court, he was a sort of an aristocrat, smellin’ like an Episcopalian to me! But even better than that, John’s gospel says, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Only an Episcopalian would try to get close to Jesus when nobody was looking. That’s an Episcopalian! But Nicodemus was alright, ‘cause when push came to shove, Nicodemus defended Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. And Nicodemus got with Joseph of Arimethea and made provision for the burial of Jesus. That’s also an Episcopalian. My reason for mentioning that, it was in the conversation with Nicodemus that Nicodemus said, “You know Lord, I want to know more about your teaching.” And Jesus said to him, “Nicodemus, don’t give me that jive. We’re not on Oprah Winfrey”. He said Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In the Greek it can be translated, born again, born anew, or born from above. And the point, I think, the only reason to be born is so that you can live! God wants you to live! God wants us to have life, and God wants all of his children to have life! I could go on but I won’t.
It goes on in John’s gospel, he says, “I am resurrection and I am life”. He says in the fourteenth chapter, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”. In the tenth chapter, “I have come that you might have life.” And then at the end of the gospel, I’ve written all these things so that you might believe and have life! The whole point is life! Life abundant meant for each. Life for rich folk and life for poor folk. Life for Democrats and life for Republicans. Life for Independents! Life for Deputies! Life for Bishops! Life for everybody! Life! Life! Life! Life. Life. And the truth is it’s so easy to be deceived about what makes for real life. John’s gospel noticed that Jesus wasn’t talking about biology. Biology is important. ‘Cause you got to start somewhere. But that’s the basics. I mean the truth, is we are all human beings, and biologically that is who we are as human beings. But biologically, we are simply part of the animal world. We’re basically like that pigeon in the House of Deputies. I leaned over to President Jennings and said, “Madam President, ya’ll got a pigeon in this house.” But that’s basic biology. We’re part of the animal world. And I’m going to be careful here, because I know Bishop Katharine is in here somewhere and she’s a scientist. I don’t want to get out of my pay grade, but I think my eighth grade teacher taught us in living things that members of the animal world have certain characteristics, that among these are three: they breathe, they eat, and they make more of their own kind. Respiration, (sounds better in Spanish, I like that), respiration, consumption, and reproduction. They eat, they breathe, they make more of their own kind. My wife has two cats who can do that. Actually they’ve been to the vet they can do two out of the three. And that’s fine, but the truth is, life is more than that. Jesus said as much. Is not your life more valuable than even the sparrows? Those priceless creatures of God, you are of more value than the sparrows. You need clothes, but how much do you need? Consider the Lillies of the field. They grow, they spread. They toss. They turn, and even your heavenly Father takes care of them. And how much more valuable are you? I’ve come to show you life! Not just biological life! Not just existence! Not just surviving! Not just getting by! To have life! Life as I dreamed it!
Life as I intended! God wants you – are ya’ll with me? And the truth is, I’m convinced, that love is the key to life. I have a theory, and I know there’s some theologians in this room, I’m gonna be careful, but I’m convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness, and hatred is a derivative of selfishness. Yeah, I think we’re onto something here. See selfishness, or self-centeredness, or as the ancient mothers and fathers used to say that hubris, false pride, yeah, that false, self-centered pride that puts me in the center of the world, and you and God and everybody else on the periphery, that selfishness, it is the root of all evil. It is the source if every wrong. It is behind every bigotry. It is behind every injustice. It is the root cancer of every war. It is the source of every destruction. That selfishness destroys homes! It will destroy churches! It will destroy nations! And left untethered, it will destroy creation! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness! Selfishness!
And love is the cure. I had to say that briefly at a wedding recently. I had to get it in in a little bit of time. I’m not going to go too much longer with you all either. But love is the Balm in Gilead. Love will heal the sin-sick soul. Love can lift us up when the gravity of selfishness will pull us down! Love can bind us together when selfishness will tear us apart. We actually have a television show which is the incarnation of selfishness. And actually there’s another word for selfishness, believe it or not. It’s called sin. That’s why we have Lent, a season to deal with sin. But love is the cure. We got a television show, and you know the one I’m talking about. It’s the television show Survivor. Now it’s just a television show, I know. But think about the premise of the show. The premise of Survivor is that you put all these people on a desert island, and the goal of their life, is to find life by getting everybody else kicked off the island. That’s a parable of selfishness! ‘Cause eventually selfishness gets everybody kicked off the island! And there’s nobody left but you! And you are incredibly boring by yourself!
But love brings us together. Love heals the wounds. Love can lift us up. Love is the source of setting us free, and it is the root source of life. In fact the truth is the only reason we’re here is because of love. Give me another minute or two. I mean stop and think about it for a moment. We Christians believe in God. We believe in one God, and yet we believe in God the Holy Trinity. Am I right about that? Please say that with more confidence, it really is true. We have one God and yet we know this one God in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But we don’t have three gods, one God! We just know this one God in magnificent ways! We got ourselves a many splendored God! And God you see, the Holy Trinity is our tradition’s way of telling us that God can embrace individuality and multiplicity all at the same time! God is not worried about uniformity. God can have unity and diversity, not uniformity at the same time. Ya’ll hear what I’m gettin’ at now? The truth is God has in God’s self everything God that needs to be whole and to be fulfilled, and to be complete. St. Augustine of Hippo, no flaming liberal to be sure, Augustine of Hippo once said, that the Trinity means that God is a community of love in God’s self. And First John, chapter four, verse says, “Beloved let us love because love is from God, and those who love are born of God, and know God because God is love. God is love! God is love! And guess what, guess what, that’s the reason we’re here! God is the Trinity. God had all the company God needed in God’s self. Which means God did not need y’all! God did not need the world to be a headache. But love moves over and makes room and space for the other to be. Love says, let there be light! Love says, let there be a world! Love says, let there be Andy! Love says, let there be Byron! Love says let there be Deena! Love says let there be Hector! Love says let there be Jeff, well Jeff, let me think about it. Love, the reason we are here, the reason there is a world because God is love. We are here. We have life because of love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another.” And after he rose from the dead, he asked Simon Peter, “You want to follow me now?” It’s not about mechanical following. He says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said, “Yeah Lord, you know I love you.” “I want you to take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Lord, I just got through sayin’ I love you. Yes I love you. You knew that.” “Then take care of my sheep!” He says, “Simon son of John, DO YOU LOVE ME? If you love me, you will overcome your self- centeredness, and another will take you by the hand, and may lead you to where you do not want to go. But it won’t be all about you any more. It will be about following me!” And then Jesus said, “Now follow me.” The key to following Jesus, the key to being his disciples, the key to life is love! Is love! Is love. It’s love.
Well, I’m going to stop now. I’m getting older now. That’s an understatement. But you know the older I get the more I am convinced that we waste a lot of time in life in stuff that does not give life. And some of that’s human, we’re human. And that’s okay I’m not puttin’ all that down. But at the end of the day, we’ve gotta live. We’ve got to live in a world where little children are not separated from their parents at our borders. We gotta live in that kind of world. And the work of love is to make a world with the possibility of life for all is real. That is the work of love. And I really believe that’s why I am a Christian, better yet why I’m a follower of Jesus. A very faulty one, by the way, but a follower nonetheless. But I am because I believe Jesus was right. The way to life is the way of love. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor. And while you’re at it, love yourself. That’s the key. Well, all this is predicated on a prior conviction, a conviction that (To audience and referring to interpreter: We do this all the time, you should have seen us in Honduras. We were even better.) It really is based on a conviction that God knows what God is talking about. Think about that for a second. Everything I’ve said, everything I’ve said is based on the conviction that Jesus knows what he’s talking about. That God knows what he’s talking about. If he doesn’t, then ya’ll might as well go eat barbecue right now!
I realized that years ago. I was a parish priest in Baltimore – Diocese of Maryland, there’s probably somebody around – and our youngest daughter was probably three years old, and my wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her, I can’t remember now. But they would go out and then I would take the young one to nursery school. (To audience and referring to interpreter: I don’t know what my sister said, but you all obviously enjoyed it.) Okay. So anyway, I’m there at home, I’m with Elizabeth and we were waiting a little while before we went off to school. And so I said, “Elizabeth I need you to go and put your raincoat on.” And she looks back at me, at three years old now, and here I am the rector of the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African-American Church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall. Yeah! This is a serious church! Yeah! So here I am the rector of St. James and here’s this little three year old person. I said, “Elizabeth go put your rain coat on.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside”. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” See you got to know the source of authority. I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and I showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth just go and put your raincoat on!”
So we left the house and got in the car, and drove off to nursery school. And so I took her in school. And I came back out and I sat in the car. And I sat in the car. I said I can’t believe that little thing. She actually thought she knew better than I do. Here I am the rector of historic, St. James. Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, they all came out of that church. Yeas! Here I am and she actually thought she knew more than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did! And it occurred to me that that must be what we look like to God! That’s what! And I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips, and just saying, they are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love! Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way, to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together! Don’t they know how much I love them! How much.
My brothers, my sisters, my siblings, we have work to do. To stand for Christianity, a way of being Christian that looks like Jesus of Nazareth. A way of being Christian that is grounded and based on love. A way of being Christian that is not ashamed to be called people of love. So go from this place and be people of the way. Go from this place as people of Jesus. Go from this place as people of love! Go from this place and heal our lands! Go from this place and heal our world! Go from this place until justice rolls down! Go from this place until the nightmare is over! Go from this place until God’s dream is realized! Go from this place and help us live!
God love ya! God bless ya! And GO!
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.