Transforming Lent… Get LIT!

March 2, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The Last Sunday after Epiphany – Year A RCL

Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

Peter, John and James go up the mountain with Jesus and Jesus is transfigured. His face beams like the sun and his clothes are dazzling white. In Luke’s version, this transfiguration occurs while Jesus is praying, but today’s reading from Matthew doesn’t provide any context for the change, it just happens.

And when it happens, and Elijah and Moses appear there with Jesus, this doesn’t seem to frighten the disciples in any way. Peter actually wants to set up camp for them. He offers to build three dwellings, one for each of them. This is a glorious event, and although he doesn’t fully understand what’s happening, Peter’s instinct, probably not unlike our own, is to hold onto it as long as he can!

It reminds me of a conversation I had with Bob Rea a few months ago. You never have to wonder if Bob is listening during a sermon because after the service he always shares some thought or insight about what he heard. It’s really quite refreshing, even if what he shares challenges me from time to time.

I had just preached a sermon, and in it I talked about the Sirius XM radio subscription that came with my new car. I confessed that I had found a Contemporary Christian music station that I actually liked, explaining how uplifting the music was for me.

After the service, Bob came up to me and conveyed a cautionary note – explaining quite seriously, that while this kind of music can be inspiring, it can also be quite addictive! If we listen to is all the time, it’s intoxicating in its own way, not unlike setting up tents on the mountain top.

Similarly, at Clergy Conference last week a colleague of mine was talking about a youth program her daughter was participating in. Each weekend seemed to be a revival-type experience, and as a result, regular Sunday worship was pretty boring by comparison. Her daughter reveled in the mountain-top-life, but the day to day grind, not so much.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when revival inspiration and mountain-top experiences are enriching to our Christian journey, but just as in this passage, it isn’t a place we get to set up camp and live forever.

And in today’s reading, even while they were on the mountain top, as Peter was trying to hold fast to the experience, we are told that a bright cloud came and overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased.” This is familiar. It echoes the proclamation at Jesus’ baptism.

Listen to himBut this time, there’s an added phrase “Listen to him!” This exhortation delivers a jolt of fear through Peter and the other two disciples sending them to their knees.

And while still trying to grapple with this thundering command, it says that “Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” This response by Jesus seems so matter-of-fact, like these loud booming voices happen all the time.

And as much as I trust Jesus, and appreciate his pastoral response, I couldn’t help but notice that he doesn’t refute the command. Jesus didn’t say, “You don’t have to listen to that voice” he simply says, “Do not be afraid.”

The “Do not be afraid” from Jesus, while somewhat comforting, anticipates that what the disciples are about to hear may be unnerving; unsettling.

A little later in that chapter, after they descend from the mountain, Jesus tells the disciples “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised. And they were greatly distressed.” (Mt 17:22-23)

And in the very next chapter, Jesus tells them many things…

  • “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become [humble] like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3)
  • “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18:6)
  • “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire.” (Mt. 18:8)
  • “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one” (Mt. 18:15)
  • And when Peter, in response, asks how many times he must forgive another member of the church if they sin against him, Jesus replies, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:21-22)

These are hard things, and Jesus is just getting warmed up. Do Not Be Afraid, indeed!

You see, this transfiguration of Jesus is a reflection of the transformation that is necessary in our own lives as followers of Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Romans uses this same Greek word – μεταμορφόω (metamorphoō), when he says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2, NRSV)

And so, each year on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, this passage of the Transfiguration of Christ is the selected text; as we stand at the precipice of Lent.

In tandem with this Gospel lesson, today’s Old Testament passage has Moses going up the mountain to be with God and to receive instruction from God. It says that he was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

This forty days and nights brings to mind Jesus’ time in the desert. And though we aren’t given details of what these specific experiences held for Moses or Jesus, we know that the time was intentionally set apart for LISTENING. For discerning what the will of God would be for them.

Likewise, Lent, for us, is a setting aside of time… intentionally… to be with God. To listen for what God is saying to us. It is our time to be intentional about listening.

We don’t give things up for Lent as a game. It isn’t a test of our will power, though for some, it may feel that way. No, it’s about doing something that makes us mindful of our dependence on God. Doing something, perhaps giving up something we enjoy, which is a form a fasting, and setting aside intentional time for prayer or silence.

cloudsThese acts are meant to put us in connection with God in a way that gets OUR attention. It isn’t about getting God’s attention. God is already here, always. This time of Lent is about getting OUR attention.

To still ourselves in some way, or, maybe just the opposite, to stir us up – like the booming voice from the cloud; to do something that up-ends our daily routine so we have a jarring remembrance that this is a different time; a time to redirect our attention toward God.

And as instructed by today’s gospel lesson – it’s a time for LISTENING more deeply.

One practice I’d like to suggest has to do with our time here on Sunday morning. When I was a parishioner at Emmaus House, Claiborne Jones who is the vicar there, often had seminarians preach on Sunday morning. On these Sunday’s Claiborne would ask the congregation, upon leaving at the end of the service, to not simply greet the visiting preacher, but to share something that they HEARD – something that spoke to them, or stirred them, or prompted them to do more reflection. Bob Rea does this each week, as do some others of you. But if this isn’t usually your practice, I invite you into this practice during Lent. Perhaps you will be surprised by what you hear.

And one last word as we think ahead to Lent.

In whatever you take-on or give-up as your Lenten discipline, remember the Old Testament text a few weeks ago from Isaiah – that the purpose of fasting is not to bring attention to ourselves. Isaiah says,

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers… Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high…

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

And when this is our fast, being mindful of others, Isaiah goes on to say: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly… the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

And so I contend that in the light of the Transfigured Christ, our time of fasting, our time of listening, is also a time for each of us to be LIT UP!

To let our light break forth! And to let the light of Christ shine in our hearts and in our lives! In this way, we carry the transfiguration of the mountain-top experience into the world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ!

So as unorthodox as it may seem, people of Christ Church, I invite you to LIGHT IT UP this Lent! Alleluia, Alleluia!

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I invite your thoughts and insights.

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