- The nativity and the visitation of the Magi
- At the dedication with Simeon and Anna
- Found Jesus in the temple
- Present at the first miracle
- At the foot of the Cross with John
Peter, James and John were the only three people to witness one of the greatest events of human history – the Transfiguration. For a few brief moments, they witnessed God in all his glory.
Moses saw something similar, but with one major difference. You’ll remember that Moses was up on the Mountain and it was there that he received the Law. Afterwards, as a way of knowing that God would truly be with him and the Israelites, Moses asked God to reveal himself. He said, “Show me your glory.” The Lord responded, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
And there is the that major difference in the story of Moses and the story of the Transfiguration, “… my face must not be seen.” To look upon the face of God was to die.
Yet, in our Gospel reading we read, as Peter, James and John were watching, Jesus “was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory…” Peter, James and John saw the face of God. They saw what not even Moses was allowed to look upon. Our Gospel said that following the Transfiguration that Peter and the boys were “terrified.” They were terrified because they knew they had seen the face of God and they feared they were about to drop dead.
Why didn’t they? Answer: Jesus. The prologue to John’s Gospel begins to explain this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” … but it is Jesus himself who provides the answer a bit later in John’s Gospel, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” God revealed himself and his full nature – his glory, his grace, his truth, his love – in the person of Jesus. And through that revealing, that revelation, we became his sons and daughters. Peter, James and John did not drop dead when they witnessed the glory of God… WE do not drop dead when we witness the glory of God, because we are His. He is in us and we are in Him. As Jesus stated in his prayer on the night before he was crucified, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
The Transfiguration is a picture of who God truly is, but not only that, it is also a glimpse of who WE truly are, for the glory that is in Jesus… is also in us.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
A wise Israelite, dwelling some distance from Jerusalem, sent his son to the Holy City to complete his education. During his son’s absence the father was taken ill, and feeling that death was upon him he made a will, leaving all his property to one of his slaves, on condition that he should allow the son to select any one article which pleased him for an inheritance.
As soon as his master died, the slave, elated with his good fortune, hastened to Jerusalem, informed his late master’s son of what had taken place, and showed him the will.
The young man was surprised and grieved at the intelligence, and after the allotted time of mourning had expired, he began to seriously consider his situation. He went to his teacher, explained the circumstances to him, read him his father’s will, and expressed himself bitterly on account of the disappointment of his reasonable hopes and expectations. He could think of nothing that he had done to offend his father, and was loud in his complaints of in-justice.
“Stop,” said his teacher; “thy father was a man of wisdom and a loving relative. This will is a living monument to his good sense and far-sightedness. May his son prove as wise in his day.”
“What!” exclaimed the young man. “I see no wisdom in his bestowal of his property upon a slave; no affection in this slight upon his only son.”
“Listen,” returned the teacher. “By his action thy father hath but secured thy inheritance to thee, if thou art wise enough to avail thyself of his understanding. Thus thought he when he felt the hand of death approaching, ‘My son is away; when I am dead he will not be here to take charge of my affairs; my slaves will plunder my estate, and to gain time will even conceal my death from my son, and deprive me of the sweet savor of mourning.’ To prevent these things he bequeathed his property to his slave, well knowing that the slave, believing in his apparent right, would give thee speedy information and take care of the effects, even as he has done.”
“Well, well, and how does this benefit me?” impatiently interrupted the pupil.
“Ah!” replied the teacher, “wisdom I see rests not with the young. Dost thou not know that what a slave possesses belongs but to his master? Has not thy father left thee the right to select one article of all his property for thy on? Choose the slave as thy portion, and by possessing him thou wilt recover all that was thy father’s. Such was his wise and loving intention.”
The young man did as he was advised, and gave the slave his freedom afterwards. But ever after he was wont to exclaim:
“Wisdom resides with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
(This illustration is from Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East: Ancient Hebrew, Vol. 3)
There are many morals to this story, but the one that struck me was that the young man was so focused on what he thought he had not received, that he completely missed the point that he had inherited everything. I think that we often are also so focused on the things that we don’t have that we miss out on the things that we do.
When we don’t have much and we want what others have it is often considered coveting. When we do have in abundance and we want more, it is greed. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have very specific needs and rights such as food, clothing, freedom, and so on; but there really is a limit to how much is enough. However, the mistake we make in all of this is the assumption that all we see have, here and now, whether it is considered by the world to be great or insignificant, is all that is important and all that there is.
Bede’s History of the English Church and People, tells the story of how St. Paulinus – a Roman missionary to the Anglo-Saxons and how he tried to convert the English to Christianity. Paulinus visits King Edwin in the year 627. Edwin and his followers worshipped pagan gods, and had no concept of a better afterlife to look forward to. Edwin was impressed with the ideas of Paulinus, but decided to hear the views of his advisors before deciding whether to convert to Christianity. One of them spoke in favour of Christianity, and put the case like this:
“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. Inside, there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while, but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”
What Edwin’s advisor has come to understand is that this life, although it is all that we can truly know, is not all that there is; therefore, it should not be of the greatest significance to us, nor should giving all that we have in order to make this world more comfortable for ourselves be our greatest goal.
I say this because this is part of what Jesus is talking to us about in our gospel reading today. Remember, the rich man wants Jesus to mediate between him and his brother over the family inheritance. Jesus’ response, “this is not my concern.” Then Jesus tells the parable of the man who one year had a bumper crop, then built for himself storage to keep it all, and finally said to himself, “I’ve got it all.” Jesus’ response, “Fool!” Jesus calls him a fool not because he was wealthy – there is no condemnation there and not because he was successful either – this isn’t the issue…
Jesus calls the man a fool, because he planned as though the life he was living was all that there was. To use the analogy of the sparrow that flew through the banquet hall, the man did not plan for what would happen after he flew out the other window. He had this life all worked out, but he didn’t plan for what would happen to him after he died. As Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Again, understand, this is not a matter of treasures, success, fame, or any of that. Instead, it is a matter of the heart – “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So I’m not asking you to go off and live the life of a desert monk.. because even a desert monk can be so filled with spiritual pride – “Oh, I’m so much better than the rest of the world” – that even though the world may perceive them to be all holy – the fact remains that their heart has not been transformed. So, like the young man who thought he had inherited nothing, but had in fact inherited it all, you and I must also recognize that our inheritance – that which makes us rich beyond compare – is not what we can see, feel, or count, but our inheritance, as St. Peter states, gives “us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” That is where our hearts should be and no amount of earthly treasure should distract us from it.
Let us pray: Virgin Mary, most loving Mother, please give us hearts like yours, firm in their attachments and of unshakable loyalty. Affectionate hearts which radiate a discreet tenderness and which are open. Pure hearts which live in the flesh without being burdened by it. Generous hearts, quick in forgetting their hurts and always ready to forgive. Considerate hearts which hide a great deal of love in the smallest details, in the most humble service. Magnanimous hearts which rejoice in other’s triumphs and share in their sorrows. Hearts which condemn no one, and do not tire of being confided to. Hearts taken up by Christ, totally given to His infinite love. Amen.
As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
This Sunday we Baptize Gabrielle.
Our reading from Hosea began, When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” I read that for our first reading and thought, “I could preach from that,” but then decided that maybe I couldn’t. I wouldn’t know where to start. So…
The young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize his three cats in the bathtub.
The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tomcat rebelled.
The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the “ceremony.”
But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face.
Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be an Episcopalian if you want to!”
Folks have been arguing about baptism since day one. At first they argued about who baptized who. Later, came all the arguments about “how” a person was to be baptized: full immersion, in a tub, in a river or just a sprinkling. And then they argued over whether a person should be baptized as an adult or baby. On and on the arguments have gone.
Several years ago a church member wrote, “the church I belong to is torn in a fierce dispute. One section says that baptism is IN the name of the Father and the other that it is INTO the name of the Father.” He says, “I belong to one of these parties. I feel most strongly about it. I would die for it in fact, but I forget which it is!”
We all have a tendency to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be, but the truth is, it’s not about what we think. It’s about God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and it is about what He is doing.
So, what is God doing in Baptism? There are three things that St. Paul in his writings makes very clear. First, God through our Baptism is cleansing us from the defilement of sin. Second, He is creating a mystical union between the baptized and Christ. And third, He is incorporating the baptized into the Church, the body of Christ. I can assure you that not even the raging waters of the Mississippi river could accomplish any of this unless God Himself is involved.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey wrote, “Baptism is the first significant fact about a Christian. It declares that the beginning of a man’s Christianity is not what he feels and experiences, but what God in Christ had done for him.” Which, as we said, includes forgiveness of sins, mystical union with Christ and incorporation into the Church. Paul summarized those points in his letter to the Colossians which we read, “When you were buried with Christ in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead.” When we are baptized, when we go under the water, it is symbolizing our death – death to the old self. When we rise back out of the water, it is symbolizing our rising again to new life – the new life in Christ Jesus. The water is a symbol and it is pointing to the reality which God is accomplishing in us – new birth – a resurrected life in Jesus Christ.
Paul confirms this all in his letter to the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The only specific instruction we have with regard to baptism comes from Jesus himself. He says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As long as we follow the instructions of Jesus, I honestly don’t think God cares about “How” we go about it, immersion or sprinkling, child or adult. I believe God’s primary concern is that we are obedient and to fail to be baptized, in whichever form, is to fail to be obedient to God.
God does not care about the “How” of our baptism as long as it is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but he does care that we as his children, through our Baptism or the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant, publicly acknowledge Him as our Lord. He cares about the fact that we as adults solemnly vow, that with his help, we will assist in the raising up all children in our charge into the knowledge and love of Him. And, finally, he cares that we keep all other aspects of the covenant that are there to draw us and others closer to Him.
With regards to all the arguments, in the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” Which means that we are to focus on what it is we are saying or have said in the Baptismal Covenant. They are not empty words; therefore, we should not be making empty promises as we say them. We must focus on what God is doing in our life and in the life of the one baptized. At that point, maybe.. MAYBE.. when we get all this right we can then turn our attention to the foolish and stupid arguments, but for now, we have a long ways to go, so let us keep our focus where it belongs.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The light turns yellow and the woman begins to blow the car horn, flips him off, and screams profanity and curses at the man. The man, looks up, sees the yellow light and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red.
The woman is beside herself, screaming as she misses her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious-looking policeman. The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight. She complies, speechless at what is happening.
After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up. She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car, then handcuffs her and takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, she is let out of the cell and escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, “I’m really sorry for this mistake. But, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”
It would seem that many have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the topic of Christianity and Christians. I recently read a bumper sticker that said, “I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club that I can’t stand.” Not necessarily original, you have all probably heard the Gandhi quote from several years ago, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” However, the Christian “image” seems to be deteriorating even more these days, there was a picture going around on Facebook: Jesus was walking down an old dusty road with Hitler seeming to have a very intent conversation with him. Worse, Jesus had a backpack and a rifle slung over his shoulder. I wrote a caption in my head for that one, Jesus said to Hitler, “So, how did you decide which ones could be members and which ones couldn’t? Oh… and what did you do with the ones that didn’t agree with you?” Christians are getting a bad name, but its really no wonder, so called Christians run around with placards declaring such things as “God Hates Fags” and others are quite comfortable with judging and categorically condemning to Dante’s ninth level of hell anyone who disagrees with their theology.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way lumping you all in with these Christians. I am not suggesting that you are guilty of this type of behavior. In fact, what I have seen of you is quite the opposite, you all actually seem to be quite compassionate and loving. You are not guilty of this behavior, but in the eyes of many in the world today, you ARE guilty. In a sense, guilty by association, because we all live under the banner of Christianity.
For some, the appropriate response is to separate, attempt to isolate themselves, and shout with their loudest voices, “We are different! We are better! We have the answer!” Does this resolve anything? No. In all likelihood, it only compounds the original problem because Christians begin fighting with other Christians and the rest of the world sits back and laughs at the hypocrisy. At the other end of responses, we have some who will simply walk away, disillusioned and frustrated with their experience with Christianity, because they had believed it was something different. They believed it held meaning for their lives and answers to life’s questions, and discovered it was no different – if not worse – than the secular world. In between those to extremes is really just a great deal of apathy.
Is there a way out? Absolutely. The answer lies in answering one simple question: “Who is my neighbor?”
Our Gospel reading today is probably one of the most familiar: The parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the story after one of the rabbis asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life… Jesus answer is simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.. and love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the rabbi was more interested in one upping Jesus than actually seeking knowledge, so he added a followup question, “Who is my neighbor.” In response, Jesus tells the parable…
A man – presumably Jewish – was attacked on a road and left for dead. A priest comes by, but does not stop to help. Another of the religious leaders comes by, but he does not stop to help either. It is the Samaritan that comes across the dying man and it is he that helps. To fully understand the parable, we must understand two important details of the story, 1) the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and 2) the perspective that the parable is being told from.
First Jews and Samaritans… the best way to understand that relationship is to look at the state of Jewish / Arab relations today. There may not have been open warfare between Jew and Samaritan, but the animosity between the two groups is similar to Jews and Arabs today – they don’t get along!
Second, generally we place the perspective of the parable on the Samaritan. He is the one deciding who his neighbor is. However, the perspective is actually the injured Jewish man and whether he can decide who HIS neighbor is. Bishop N. T. Wright – the Bishop of Durham, puts it this way, “Can you – that is, the injured Jewish man – Can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor? If you can’t, you might be left for dead.” Imagine, lying on the side of the road, beaten and bloody, half dead. Several people, maybe even your priest, see you, but can’t be bothered with stopping – too busy or whatever – and then, the one person you detest, despise, loathe more than anyone else comes by and instead of pointing at you and laughing and declaring, “I see you’ve finally gotten what you deserve!” Instead of doing any of that, they stop and begin to offer you help. What do you do? Because you detest, despise and loathe them.. are you going to tell them to stop? To get away from you? Or, are you going to think to yourself, “Perhaps this isn’t such a bad fella after all? Perhaps this person is my real neighbor?”
The world around us has a very poor view of Christianity. We are not going to change the world’s view, but.. but.. we – St. Luke’s Episcopal Church may be able to change our communities view of Christianity. We can show them that we are willing to set aside race, creed, politics, financial status, all of it… we can show them we are willing to set it all aside for one very simple reason… We want to serve.. we want to love.. In the process, they might decide that we are not such bad neighbors after all.
Will our community – the wounded and the injured – will our community know we are their neighbor if we shout out what we like or don’t like? Who we agree with or who we disagree with? By our staunch view on this topic or that? No. They’ll know what we think and maybe, rightly or wrongly what we believe, but they will not know us as their neighbors. Jesus said, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing to serve sacrificially as Jesus served.. by choosing to be true and faithful neighbors. We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing.. to love.. with no exceptions.
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.