Sermon: Last Epiphany RCL C – “Sweetener”

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Charlie Brown: Lucy says, “If I was in charge of the world, I’d change everything.” Charlie turns and says, “That wouldn’t be easy. Where would you start?” Lucy looks directly at him, and without hesitation responds, “I’d start with you!”

Here’s a question for you: what color is a chameleon’s skin? It is actually translucent. There is still a bit of a mystery as to why it occurs, but the scientist have learned that it is the cells below the skin that are moving so as to refract a particular color, but this idea of changing color has also entered into the way we understand the brain and how we interact with one another. It is the Chameleon Effect and helps us to understand things like why yawns are contagious (yes, you may yawn, because now that I’ve said it, your minds are wanting to). It also explains why laughing is contagious and how, most times, if you smile at someone—even a perfect stranger—they’ll smile back (I like to do that anyway because even if they don’t smile back, you will make them nervous.) The point being, one person’s behavior can affect another person’s behavior. Chain reaction, domino effect, a string of random acts of kindness: all of these speak of this Chameleon Effect. This is even true in our life with God.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, who lived in Poland and died in 1786, said: “One must always pray for his friend, as one cannot do much for himself, for ‘One does not deliver oneself from imprisonment.’ But when asking for his friend, he is answered quickly. Therefore, each one should pray for his friend, and thus each works on the other’s desire until all of them are answered. This is why it was said, ‘Jewish people [and I would add Christian people] are areivim, responsible and sweet for one another,’ where areivim means sweetness, as they sweeten for each other by the prayers they pray for one another, and by this they are answered.” (Source)

The word, areivim is further defined as sweetness, intertwined, and mutually responsible. (Source) I think we can look at it like sugar added to coffee, the sugar—the sweet—intertwines with the coffee and together make the change. So Rabbi Elimelech is saying that I can’t change myself without having the “sweetener” of you in my life. From there the Chameleon Effect plays through us all as we pray for one another. So when Lucy says she wanted to change the world and she would start with Chuck, she could if she came alongside him in prayer—instead of the manner in which she was most certainly thinking.

What is important to note is that the sweetener does not change the external circumstances, it only changes the person and how that person is able to respond and relate to those external factors.

Leading up to our Gospel reading today of the Transfiguration, we are told that about a week before, Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Matthew and Mark tell us it was six days later and Luke tells us that it was about eight days later that Jesus took with him Peter, James and John and ascended the mountain, and while Jesus “was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” He was transfigured before their eyes.

We know that the light that surrounded Jesus was not from above, but was instead from within. He revealed to the three apostles his glory. Something I recently read also said that it was a grace bestowed upon Peter, James, and John for them to actually be able to see this transfiguration. Without that grace, even if they had been present, they would not have seen it.

Following this event, all three Gospels have Jesus and the disciples descending the mountain, where they meet the other disciples along with a large crowd and arguing religious leaders. It is also then that Jesus heals the demon-possessed boy.

Given the nature and intensity of the ministry at that time, I suspect that those six to eight days prior to the transfiguration were quite similar to the day that followed: crowds, healings, teachings, arguments, etc. All the external factors were the same, but…

I don’t know why Jesus chose to only be transfigured before Peter, James, and John, but I can only imagine how the impact of witnessing such an event would have affected them. How would they have seen the ministry of Jesus prior to the transfiguration and then how would they see this same ministry following it? The light of Jesus’ transfiguration and the grace to see that light must have been like an areivim to them: a sweetener, that bound them to Jesus in a way they had not experienced before and gave them a recognition that they had a responsibility to share it with others. To lift up others with this knowledge. The one event of the Transfiguration was like the effect of a skipped stone on the smooth surface of the water: ripples going out affecting one another and affecting others. The water—the external circumstances—remains water, but how it is seen and perceived is completely different.

The Transfiguration is also like an oasis in a vast desert. It is a place of nourishment, water, rest, and so on, but it is also a vision of what can be and that vision does not leave you. Even when you must go back into the desert, you carry that vision with you as a hope and a promise. And as you travel along, you will encounter others who have been traveling in the heat of the day and who are thirsty and have been eating sand for days, but when they see you—someone who has been given food and water and is healthy—like that Chameleon Effect, they too will see that there is hope and if you will be a sweetener to them, their hope will be fulfilled by the promise… the promise of life-giving water. The promise of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

That is our world and those are our external circumstances, but we as a Christian people have been to the oasis—we come to it every week in the Blessed Sacrament—so we know of the hopes and promises of God. Like Peter, James and John, we have witnessed the light of the transfiguration in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, therefore we must be the areivim for others. The external circumstances are not likely to change, but we are called to share the sweetener of the Transfiguration with all.

Don’t be afraid or disturbed by what you hear and read: these things are going to happen and must happen, but you… you keep skipping stones: sweetening the lives of those you know and being a witness of hope to the others around you.

Let us pray: Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed, kindle in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with Your pure and peaceable wisdom those who make decisions for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility Your kingdom may go forward, till the earth be filled with the knowledge of Your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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