Tag Archive | lent

Third Sunday in Lent, 2017

3rd Sunday in Lent, year A, preached 3/19/17

first reading:  Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

second reading:  Romans 5:1-11

gospel reading:  John 4:5-42


Have you ever boasted in suffering?  I mean, really.

I don’t know ONE person, even Jesus himself, who when suffering, has said, “Boy am I glad to be going through this! Look at me everybody – I’m suffering and ain’t it grand!”

The Israelites in our first reading certainly weren’t boasting in their suffering.  In fact, they were a whiny bunch.  The Lord had brought them out of bondage, but that wasn’t enough.  The Lord had given them manna from heaven to eat, and THAT wasn’t enough.  You’d think after all that they would trust that God would somehow take care of their thirst, but no.  They bitterly complained, so that Moses was afraid for his life!  No boasting there.

And there was no boasting from the Samaritan woman at the well either.  It’s clear from Jesus that she has seen her share of suffering.  Whether her reputation was sullied by questionable behavior, or whether she suffered as a childless widow being passed as a possession from brother to brother, her life wasn’t easy.  She’s got no time for boasting about anything.  She’s going about her daily business, trying to survive.

Boasting about suffering?  I don’t think so.  But at first glance that’s what it seems we’re expected to do in our second reading.  And not only that, there’s the part where St. Paul seems to tell us that suffering is GOOD for us – it produces endurance, then character, then hope.

So is the line of thought, boast in your suffering because suffering is good for you, because it will make you stronger and give you hope?

One could argue that surviving suffering makes us stronger, sure – but to have that give us hope?  It seems illogical and cruel.

I’ve never really liked our second reading for today because it’s been used to glorify suffering.  Masters have used it against slaves; abusers against those they abuse; the sick asked to be glad for their sickness.  It’s one of those verses that, when taken out of context, can cause all kinds of unnecessary pain and suffering for people.

But if St. Paul isn’t telling us to just lay down in our suffering – take it and be glad for it – what IS he telling us?

Well, because St. Paul is often quite wordy, a man whose thoughts often went in circles rather than straight lines we have to read SLOWLY.  And sometimes it even helps to draw pictures!*

Through Jesus Christ we are justified and have peace and grace.  This gives us hope – the hope we have of sharing the glory of God.  THIS is our starting point for EVERYTHING.

Now… it is because of this hope, that we can even begin to boast in our suffering.

You notice these verses begin with hope and end with hope – with suffering in between.  This hope, the hope which justification and peace and grace give us, carries us through suffering.

In fact, Paul is saying something quite extraordinary to all those who think faith is the cure-all for everything – those who would argue that as Christians we should be happy all the time or something is wrong or lacking in our faith. Paul acknowledges the reality of suffering in life, EVEN for those who have faith.  It is THIS hope which allows us to boast, even in suffering.

You see, the boasting isn’t in the suffering itself, as if suffering were some wonderful thing – the boasting is in knowing that our suffering doesn’t separate us from God.  Even when we suffer, God is still close to us.  Even when we suffer, we are still able to have hope through Jesus Christ.  Now that IS something to boast about.

The hope given to us through our justification in our Lord Jesus Christ – the peace and grace we have “obtained” through him – give us hope and keep us in hope through all the trials that come our way, because hope does not disappoint us.

So the boasting isn’t some prideful “tooting my own horn” at my trials.  It isn’t some martyr complex, LOOKING for suffering.  It isn’t some formula by which we are KEPT in suffering and told to like it.

It’s being held firm in Jesus’ love for us, knowing he is with us through our suffering.  It’s that Jesus gives us the endurance and character to make it through, even when we’re not sure how we can make it another day.

This endurance and character is even the permission we have to stand against that which brings us suffering!  Those who deal in injustice COUNT ON us not getting this part of it – what a shock when we do.  When we stand up to bullies and say, “Because Jesus loves me I can say ‘no more!'”

“For while we were still weak,” St. Paul writes…  “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…”

This is where it begins.  This is the foundation.  “While we were still weak… sinners… enemies… we were reconciled…”

THIS is our justification through Jesus.  THIS is the justification, the reconciliation that brings us peace and the “grace in which we stand.”

When St. Paul writes about boasting in suffering he means that even in our suffering we still have Jesus, and Jesus will be with us through it.

So we aren’t expected to say, “Guess what?  I have cancer!  Isn’t that great!”  What we can say is, “I have cancer.  But even though I have cancer I know that God loves me and Jesus died for me and is with me to help me through this. Thank God!”

There is a HUGE difference between the two.  We could never say the first, but we are blessed to say the latter.

AMEN.


*My attempt to draw out Paul’s thinking  

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First Sunday in Lent, 2017

First Sunday in Lent, year A (preached 3/5/17)

first reading:  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Psalm 32

second reading:  Romans 5:12-19

Matthew 4:1-11


I’ve never liked the story of the “Fall.”  It holds up an ugly mirror for me, and for us all.  One commentator I was listening to this week said he didn’t like calling this event the “Fall” because that makes it easier to let ourselves off the hook.  We see it as a one-time event rather than as a story unfolding throughout time, that includes US, indeed is fundamentally about US.

He preferred to call this a story about our ongoing rebellion against God.  THIS is the ugly mirror.

We are all Adam – following someone else’s actions without much thought, then blaming our behavior on that person.

We are all Eve – led astray by grand promises, without examining if they’re even feasible.  And then again, blaming our behavior on someone else.

This story is a mess of ugliness.  But it doesn’t start out that way.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that in verses 15-17 a perfect order is set up by God.  In verse 15 human beings are given work to do – a vocation – to “till” and “keep” the garden.  In verse 16 we are given permit.  God gives the man and woman permission to “freely eat.”  And in verse 17 there is prohibition – the one thing they cannot do.

Brueggemann states, “These three verses together provide a remarkable statement of anthropology. Human beings before God are characterized by vocation, permission and prohibition…. Any two of them without the third is surely to pervert life.”¹

Our rebellion comes about when we think we can have a healthy relationship with God while neglecting any of the three.

Each of us is given a vocation in this life.  It may not be our “job” necessarily – vocation is more than just what we do to make a living.  Vocation is what we do with our life.  How we go about operating in the world.  The kind of person we are in and out of the specific jobs we’ve been given.

For Adam and Eve, their vocation was to “till,” to work the land, but it was also to “keep,” or care for it, which is more than simply plowing the fields.

And each of us is given tremendous freedom by God in our lives – permission.  We are not puppets.  God is not some puppeteer manipulating us like marionettes.  The man and woman were permitted to eat from any tree in the garden, and free to “till” and “keep” the garden however they wanted.

And we all live with prohibition.  There are certain things which are not good for us or for the community. We all need boundaries to keep us safe.  We all know the prohibition faced by Adam and Eve.  That’s where we almost always focus our attention – on what they could NOT do.

When we go against the grain of our vocation, when we abuse our freedom, when we neglect to follow boundaries – we find trouble – SIN.

That certainly happened for the man and the woman.  Their rebellion against God’s prohibition caused disruption even in their freedom and vocation.  Instead of following their vocation to “keep” the garden, they tore up plants to make coverings for themselves.  Instead of enjoying their freedom, in verse 8 they’re hiding from God because of their nakedness.

What tempted them?  We can never know Adam’s motives, but for Eve it was knowledge and power.  “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Those seem like good things to me, but the truth remains that the act crossed a boundary they were not allowed to cross.  They had a relationship of trust and obedience with God, and now the trust and obedience were crushed.

Brueggemann writes, “They had wanted knowledge rather than trust.  And now they have it.  They now know more than they could have wanted to know.  And there is no place to run.”²

Have you ever done something, and the second you’ve done it, you regret it?  I know I have.  And I can imagine that’s how Adam and Eve felt, but there was no going back.

Adam and Eve committed no “special” sin that caused God to send them out of the garden.  Their sin was not unlike sin that you and I are tempted with every day.  And like them, we lose.  We act in ways that do NOT reflect God to whom we belong.

We betray our vocation as Christians every time we put someone or something before God, every time we pass by a person who needs help, every time we harbor negative thoughts about any race or class of person who God created.

God has given us permission to enjoy creation and our fellow creatures.  But often we are just lazy.  Not only that, we also abuse our freedom through our mistreatment of creation AND our fellow creatures.

And none of us like rules.  Any kind of prohibition makes us bristle.  We don’t like being told what we cannot do. Never mind that most of the time prohibitions are there for our safety and for the safety of others.

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy we are each invited to special repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love – the discipline of Lent.  Today’s reading from Genesis invites us to see in Adam and Eve’s rebellion, our own rebellion.

Adam and Eve call us to reflect upon the ways in which we rebel against the vocation, permission and prohibition that characterize our relationship with God.  And to repent.  Not to point blame.  But to stand naked before God and say, “I’m sorry.  I confess.”

And then we experience a new and amazing freedom.  A freedom so profound it defies words – but the closest word we have to describe it is – GRACE.

Amen.

Adam and Eve, by Deeda

Adam and Eve, by Deeda


¹Genesis.  Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  Walter Brueggemann.  John Knox Press, Atlanta; 1982, p. 46

²ibid, p. 49.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 3/6/16)

First reading:  Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32

Second Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Gospel Reading:  Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


This is one of the best loved of all the parables of Jesus.  Even non-Christians have heard of the story of the Prodigal Son.

It seems like a simple story, but it’s really SO much deeper.  None of these three characters are ideal. We’ve got a son who won’t grow up, an angry son who grumbles all day, and a father who wouldn’t know tough love if it hit him in the face.

Jesus tells this story because the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling about the lowlife with whom he was associating.  They don’t think Jesus should be eating with “sinners.”  In response, Jesus tells them parables about being lost, then found, and the rejoicing that comes with the finding.

Makes sense when put simply – but it’s really NOT that simple.

I’ll be honest with you.  I identify with the elder son.  And I think Jesus meant for the Pharisees and scribes to do so as well, because the comparison is very clear.  They didn’t think Jesus should be eating with those who clearly didn’t deserve him.  So Jesus tells a story about a father who throws a FEAST for a child who clearly didn’t deserve HIM.

Jesus eating with sinners.  The father feasting with an undeserving son.

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Rembrandt, 1662-1669

Again, back to describing these characters:  one is selfish, immature and wasteful; one is rigid, unforgiving, angry and bitter; and one loves with no boundaries or discipline.  WE are the children, and God is the father.

Jesus is telling us that THIS is how God operates with us – God loves recklessly and forgives foolishly. THIS is the love of God.  It knows no bounds.  It doesn’t abide by human rules of what is proper or “good.”

God’s love accepts those of us who try our best and those of us who don’t try at all.  God’s love embraces those of us who sweat for the Church and those who have abused the Church.  God’s love prepares a feast for the lifelong faithful and for deathbed confessors.  God’s love makes no earthly sense.

It IS reckless and foolish.  There is no sense of fairness or right and wrong.  And thank God for that!

The father’s only actions in this parable are to forgive, show mercy and REJOICE.

And while we, (or at least “I”), grumble at the unfairness of it all like the elder son, God is forgiving US of THAT sin – the sin of wanting to be judge – thinking we can tell God who is “deserving” of God’s love and rejoicing.  How arrogant and presumptuous!

prodigal son - elder son clip artMost of us look at this parable and see the CLEAR obvious sin of the younger son, but because most of us identify with the elder son, we fail to see HIS sin.

Sure, the elder son did all the right things, but he was angry and bitter, even lashing out at his father at the unfairness of it all.  He refuses to attend the feast and greet his brother – and he rebukes his own father.  He does all the right things, but his attitude is rigid and unforgiving.  And he is more than a little jealous.  “Why didn’t you let me have a party?”

The father forgives them both.

The father could’ve said to the elder son, “Look, I’m in charge and if I want to throw your brother a party then I’ll throw him a party.  Now get in there!”

Instead he says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we HAD to celebrate and rejoice…”

The father even tries to repair the relationship between the brothers.  When the elder son refers to the younger son as “this son of yours,” the father changes it to “this brother of YOURS.”  The father wants them all to be reconciled – a theme in our second reading where St. Paul calls us to a “ministry of reconciliation” – not only to God, but to one another.¹

From a human perspective we get jealous and think that somehow love is a finite thing and that a loved one giving another love will somehow mean less for us.  And you know, sometimes with human beings that happens because of sin.  But it is not so with God.

God loves me more intensely, more personally, than I’ll ever know.  Yet God loves all of you the SAME way.  God’s love for me doesn’t mean there’s any less for you; God’s love for you doesn’t mean there’s any less for me.

And that love is with us no matter how well we’ve done, or how far we’ve fallen.  This may not seem fair, but it’s a glorious thing.  Because each one of us has times in our lives when we fall, when we fail – when we KNOW we have done wrong.  We feel small, humiliated, weak.  Each one of us has had times when WE are the younger son.

And we have been like the elder son – rigid, perhaps even jaded by events in our lives, only looking at the world with eyes of judgment instead of love and grace.

And in BOTH these times thank God that we are welcomed back by God with arms that embrace instead of reject us.

The world can be cruel, but God is not.  God is love.

Heaven rejoices whenever we, as we sing in our Lenten gospel verse “return to the your God”² again and again and again.  Every time we confess, every time we petition for God’s mercy, there is rejoicing in heaven.

Thank you Lord, for loving us foolishly and recklessly, when it makes no “earthly” sense to do so; thank you that there’s enough of your love to go around for us all; and thank you for loving us SO much that you rejoice whenever we return to you.  Please teach US to rejoice in your gifts of love and mercy, and in the gift you give us of each other.

AMEN.


¹Matthew 5:24, plus many other texts that speak of our need to forgive one another as God has forgiven us.

²Joel 2:13 – each week our congregation sings a verse from the Bible to introduce the gospel reading.  In Lent, we sing this verse.

 

Second Sunday in Lent, 2016

Second Sunday in Lent, year C, 2016 (preached 2/21/16)

first reading:  Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Psalm 27

second reading:  Philippians 3:17-4:1

gospel reading:  Luke 13:31-35

 


Poor Abram had a long wait before him.

In our first reading this morning, God makes Abram a promise – “your very own (child) shall be your heir.”  God even took him out at night, had him look at the sky and told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.

God would repeat this promise to Abram more than once.  But a lot of LIFE happened between this first giving of the promise and it becoming a reality.  Abram and Sarai would wander and settle.  Out of desperation Sarai “gave” her slave Hagar to Abram so he could have a child with HER.  God would give circumcision as a sign of the covenant, and would change their names to Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham would bargain with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.  At one point, as they heard again the promise that they would have a son, Sarah LAUGHED.  Indeed, when their son was finally born, they named him Isaac, which means LAUGHTER.  In Genesis 20:6-7, Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.”

All told, they waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled for almost TWENTY FIVE years.  Like I said, a LONG wait for God to keep the promise.

I’m sure there were times when they thought all hope was lost.  Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sums things up:  “Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around?”

We live in a world of promises.  People make them to us, and we make them to others.  In fact, we’re in the middle of a season of promises now, as the presidential campaigns are in full swing.  Candidates in both parties are practically promising us they’ll bring Eden!  Jobs, more money in our pockets, free college, less crime on our streets, the final collapse of terrorism – you name it, they’re promising it.  “All this can be yours if you just elect ME!”

Problem is, many of those promises won’t or can’t be kept.

But we make promises too.  Sometimes we make a promise KNOWING we can keep it, other times HOPING to keep it, and other times sadly, knowing we WON’T keep it.

We make BIG promises like the ones we make to our spouse when we get married, or the promises we make to God when our children are baptized.  We make LITTLE promises – or little to us, that may be a very big deal to the recipient.  A promise to take a child to the movies, a promise to call a friend, a promise to meet someone at a certain place at a certain time.  Or a promise that we’re telling the truth.

Promises are a big deal.  They are an earnest, sincere, SERIOUS statement of our intentions, or of another’s intentions toward us.  In a world where someone’s “word” still means something, promises require trust, and should not be made lightly.

In the end, Abram had faith, was able to trust God, but I’m sure it wasn’t easy in those 20+ years of waiting.  I’m sure Abram and Sarai had moments of doubt.

In our culture of instant gratification, waiting is barely tolerated – waiting for over 20 years for something is unthinkable.  And when we experience a delay we might not only get frustrated, we may also start to believe that maybe God has broken the promise.

But we need to remember that God is not beholden to our timetables.  God keeps promises on God’s time, not ours. We also have to be careful.  We need to distinguish between what God actually promises and what we simply want from God.  Those are two VERY different things.

Sometimes we get angry thinking God hasn’t kept a promise, when in reality it’s just that God hasn’t given us what we asked for.  Again, two very different things.  Here’s what God has NOT promised us:

God has never promised that we would have an easy life, a pain-free life, a life free from anxieties or suffering.  God has never promised that we would be respected,  or successful, or wealthy, or happy, or that our home life or work life or community life would be smooth sailing.

You know what St. Paul would call people who tell us that God ever promised things like those?  ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST.  He does so much in our second reading.

“Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ….  Their god is the belly; and their glory is in shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”

Cross-FS

In reality, God has promised us very little.  But what God HAS promised us is HUGE.  And we, like Abram, trust and believe, even when the promise is only in the future, or not clear to the naked eye.

God HAS promised the savior, Jesus Christ.  God HAS promised that the Holy Spirit is in us.  God HAS promised that God loves us.  God HAS promised that God is present with us always.  God HAS promised that our sins are forgiven.  God HAS promised that there is a place prepared for us in heaven.

Now, these promises may not do anything to immediately solve our money problems or health problems, or relationship problems – and that may disappoint us.  But really they do MORE.  They give us a source of comfort, strength and courage to face the difficulties of this life.  They give us a foundation that steadies us no matter what comes our way.

This is what the cross is all about.  It’s about God understanding our suffering.  It’s God being WITH US, Emmanuel, in our suffering – walking through the valley of the shadow of death WITH US.

God’s promises may not give us those “earthly things” we WANT, but they give us more than we could ever dream of – they give us everything we NEED.

AMEN.

 

what I’m doing for Lent

As I shared in my sermon a few days ago, my attitude has been negative lately.  There has been some stress at home and at church.  The political situation in the United States has been very upsetting to me and I’ve been posting and sharing a lot of links on Facebook and Twitter, especially regarding Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  I could go on and on about it, but I won’t – because I decided that my Lenten focus this year will be on allowing God to transfigure my attitude.

I could’ve picked something easier, like giving up chocolate or staying away from fast food.  It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be easier.  Because controlling an outward physical thing you put in your mouth is A LOT easier than controlling what you allow in your mind and heart and what comes out of your mouth. (ref. Matthew 15: 11)

But that’s more what the spirit of Lent is about.  Reflecting, taking stock, looking in the mirror behind the pretty face to the bits of ugliness we’ve allowed into our souls.  Cleaning house.  Sorting through what keeps us from a fuller relationship with God and our neighbor and getting rid of it – hopefully not just for the 40+ days of Lent.  The ideal is to start a practice during Lent and have it for the rest of our lives. Really, what would be the point of setting a goal to be kinder for Lent, only to return to being mean once Easter arrives?

So here are the guidelines I’m working on for myself for Lent this year.  It’s not perfect or complete, but it’s a work in progress just like me.

  • I will read a little bit every day for personal devotional time.  I’ve gotten out of the practice of personal devotional time and that is not helpful.  This reading will be separate and apart from sermon preparation, because sermon preparation is neither personal or devotional since it has the intentional focus of something that will become quite public.  I’m going to be using Daily Readings from Luther’s Writings, selected and edited by Barbara Owen, published by Augsburg Fortress in 1993.  It’s been gathering dust on my bookshelf, so I’ve dusted it off and hope to find new meaning in it.
  • I will monitor how I consume and share social media.  This will be HARD.  My Facebook and Twitter timelines are FILLED with memes and links to articles, some of which are informative and important, especially in the current political season.  But they also make me angry and suspicious. Hatred of diversity is rampant.  Those who say they follow Christ aren’t acting like Christ.  Hypocrisy is more blatant than ever.  The political dialog isn’t dialog at all, just “talking at” people.  I could go on and on – which is part of my problem. There is a need to stand up to those who misrepresent Jesus. There is a need to call out hatred and injustice that masks as leadership or a desire to “protect” people.  I cannot sit by silent when part of my call as a baptized child of God is to serve, value and lift up the “least of these.”  But in the process of standing up for others I can’t allow myself to be dragged down in the mud and become like those I protest against.  Sinking to their level is not an option that is healthy for me (or for anyone else I think).  I can’t stop reading the news or sharing it, but I have to be stricter about monitoring my sources and the amount.  Perhaps just a handful of sources that are more bipartisan and only checking the news a few times a day instead of  throughout the day which social media makes so easy.  This will be a balancing act for sure – but balance is good.  Without it we fall.
  • I will be more conscious of the joy that is around me.  Too many times we think we have to “find” something to make us happy, or that “thing” that will bring us joy.  We search and search and many times the things we’re searching for are right in front of us, we just haven’t paid attention.  It’s there. We just have to see it better.  To use a Glennon Melton word, I have to better use my “perspectacles” (get it?  perspective & spectacles).  My husband and I had a wonderful talk this morning.  We shared what we were each going to do with our Lent.  He asked how he could support me.  Joy.  He told he made a thoughtless comment about me to someone the other day and asked for my forgiveness. Joy. My son gave me the biggest hug this morning when he woke up.  Joy.  I have food in my fridge. Joy.  I have a God who loves me.  Joy.

Many consider Lent to be a depressing time.  It’s actually one of my favorite seasons of the Church year. Why? Because self-examination is good for us.  Not just to “do whatever feels good,” but to think about what is really good for us.  And realizing through this self-examination that everything isn’t just “about” us either.  Our thoughts and actions have real consequences that ripple out to others.  And Lent also prepares us to receive with even greater joy the ultimate gift of Easter – when love conquered sin and death.  Plus, our culture hasn’t figured out a way to “sell” Lent yet, so it’s generally free of the consumerism that surrounds Christmas and Easter.

So blessed Lent to all of you who observe – and prayers for you on however you plan to take this journey.

Soli Deo Gloria.

lent

The Transfiguration of our Lord, 2016

The Transfiguration of our Lord, year C, 2016 (preached 2/7/16)

first reading:  Exodus 34:29-35

Psalm 99

second reading:  2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

gospel reading:  Luke 9:28-43a


I don’t know about you, but for me the last few months of 2015 and the first month of 2016 were, to put it nicely, NOT so nice.  I won’t go into personal details, but even events in the world were chaotic and sometimes awful.

It’s left me in a bad mood all the way around.  I’ve been negative.  I’ve been short with my husband and kids.  I’ve wanted to retreat into my own little shell, to use the words of Greta Garbo, “I want to be left alone!”

But we can’t do that can’t we?  Very few people in this world are called to be hermits, or monks, or cloistered nuns, leaving “the world” behind.  Most of us are called not only to be a part of the world, but ACTIVE in it.

Hopefully most times we respond to this call and say, “Thank you God, for allowing me to serve you and make a difference in the world and with the people around me.”  Other times we just say, “Thanks a LOT God.” (sarcastically)

When faced with these moments we might think that we simply need an “attitude adjustment.”  Really, what we need, and what God offers to us is a “transfiguration” – a transformation.  I looked up the secular definition of transfiguration and it reads, “a change in form or appearance – metamorphosis.”

This is what happened to Jesus in today’s reading, the story of “The Transfiguation” – when he went up the mountain with the disciples to pray.  We read, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

Romanian Orthodox Church, Jericho

Romanian Orthodox Church, Jericho

In that moment the disciples were able to see a different Jesus – not just their beloved rabbi, but the Jesus that stood in the company of arguably the two greatest figures of the Jewish faith – Moses and Elijah.  It was an event so stupendous that Peter wanted to make monuments to commemorate the occasion.

They were able to recognize the importance of it on one level, but they really had no way to comprehend the WEIGHT of it, because they still didn’t understand what was to come for themselves, or for Jesus.  For what was to come had nothing to do with earthly glory or building monuments – what was to come was shame and fear and death.

The Transfiguration is the changing of Jesus, not in the literal biology of who he was, but in how the disciples saw him.  Jesus was changed.

  • He was dazzling.  But he soon would be beaten.
  • His clothes became white, but soon the guards would strip him and gamble for his clothes.
  • He was talking to Moses and Elijah, but soon the crowds would taunt him and wonder if Elijah would save him from the cross.

If that was the only change, the only transfiguration, we’d be in big trouble – but it wasn’t.

  • Because Jesus also went from dead to living.  From laid in the tomb, to risen again on the third day.

We call our gospel reading today “The Transfiguration,” but truth be told there are many types of transfiguration that happen in Jesus’ story.  And just as Jesus was transfigured, he transfigures you and me.

Our first transfiguration happens at Holy Baptism, when we become children of God, joined to Jesus and saved through Jesus for all eternity.

Our baptism changes us.  It is there that we are adopted into God’s family and get a new name and the forever mark of the cross.  But baptism is only the beginning.  God’s forgiveness renews us every day.

Every day we are being changed, transfigured, going through metamorphosis, from sinner to saint, saint to sinner, sinner to saint…

Not all Christian denominations celebrate the Transfiguration today – many celebrate this event during the month of August – but I think this is a perfect time.  Celebrating the Transfiguration right before Lent is a good way for us to reflect on the person and ministry of Jesus, but it’s also a good way for us to approach Lent.

I began this sermon by confessing my bad attitude.  As we approach Lent this year, I’m thinking of way that I can work on letting God transfigure that.  It just might be a part of my Lenten discipline this year – God transfiguring my heart and head.  A metamorphosis from negativity to joy, from doom to hope, from fear to confidence.

I’ve shared a bit of my thinking about how God can transfigure me this Lent.  I invite YOU to reflect over these next few days before Wednesday, about what God can transfigure in YOU.

When you look in the mirror, beyond all the surface appearances – in the words of St. Paul from our second reading – what do you see reflected back at you?  What do you wish God could transform?  Lent is the perfect time for that self-examination, and for allowing God to transfigure us.

Because Lent is more than giving up chocolate, Lent is about how we can recognize and appreciate all God has done and is continuing to do in our lives.  Lent is about acknowledging the darkness so that we can see the Light.

It’s also appropriate too that our annual meeting is today – a good time to reflect on how we have lived as a congregation in faith, and where God can work to transfigure us as a community together.  We are not static things.  We are living, breathing, moving, growing creatures – changing all the time.

The Transfiguration invites us to see Jesus’ transfiguration – but also how Jesus transfigures US.  How through faith God is constantly making, remaking and remaking us again – beginning at baptism, and continuing throughout our lives – to the life to come.

AMEN.

 

Lenten worship

It may sound weird to some, but I LOVE Lent.  I love solemnity, the seriousness, the heaviness.  I love the intense look inward, not to boast, but to admit that we have no reason for boasting.  The stripping away of pretense.  Purple is also my favorite color.  I love seeing purple everywhere.  Most of all I love the focus on the cross.  Lent also hasn’t been co-opted by the larger culture the way Advent and Christmas have, although the Easter Bunny does sit for pictures in our local mall. Can anyone PLEASE tell me where the tradition of that blasted bunny comes from?  (Nothing against bunnies in general, but the Easter bunny, don’t get me started…)

no alleluia LentI love how worship changes in Lent.  I love how we have to work at NOT saying/singing Alleluia.  So much of our worship shifts to stay away from that expression of praise.  You know what that means?  That means normally our worship is filled with it!  And I miss it when it’s gone.  It’s like suddenly not being able to say or hear “I love you” to/from a loved one.  That makes the Easter Vigil or Easter morning service all the more joyous when we say and sing it over and over and over!

confession3I also love NOT hearing absolution.  It doesn’t feel good, I yearn for it, I yearn to speak it as a pastor, I yearn for the people to hear it proclaimed, so I am overcome with gratitude when it finally comes at the Easter Vigil or Easter morning worship.  Some congregations omit confession altogether.  In my congregation, we still say the confession, but instead of hearing a pastoral absolution, we receive a general assurance – definitely NOT the same as hearing, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It’s like not being able to say or hear the Alleluia.   It doesn’t mean we aren’t forgiven, that God is holding out on us, but hearing absolution spoken is freeing on a bodily level that’s hard to explain – the weight lifted off our shoulders (by the weight that Jesus bore on his shoulders on the cross).  Thank you Jesus!

note-450x450I love the hymnody of Lent.  Again, it may sound strange to some, but the hymns, just like the readings, tell it like it is – we sin, we cannot come to God through our own merits, we need Jesus.  We are nothing.  He is everything.  Some of my favorite Lenten hymns are:  Savior When in Dust to You, My Song is Love Unknown, Were You There?, In The Cross of Christ I Glory, Beneath The Cross of Jesus, and O Sacred Head Now Wounded.  You get the idea.  I have a lot! “Upon the cross of Jesus, my eye at times can see, the very dying form of one who suffered there for me.  And from my contrite heart, with tears, two wonders I confess:  the wonder of his glorious love, and my unworthiness” (Beneath the Cross of Jesus, verse 2).  In the congregation I serve we sing the hymn of the day before the sermon, and after we sing one of these hymns I feel like standing up and saying, “The hymn said it all folks.  Let’s just move on to the creed.”  Of course I don’t, but these hymns are hard to follow!

palm crossesI love palm crosses.  Ok, this may be a little superficial, but each year after worship is over on Palm Sunday, I stay after worship and show anyone who wants how to make a palm cross.  I learned from my pastoral internship supervisor many years ago, and I love to pass it on.  The kids think it’s a cool new trick, and some of the older folks with arthritic hands can’t manage it, so I’m happy to make a cross for them.  People are very attached to the palms of Palm Sunday.  They’ll have me make extras so they can bring them to friends or family that don’t even go to church.  In my home we keep them for the whole year.

TriduumImageI love the Triduum – Latin for three days.  The Triduum is Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil.  Maundy Thursday when we celebrate Jesus giving us his body and blood in Holy Communion and remember his washing the disciples’ feet.  Good Friday when we remember his suffering and death.  The Easter Vigil when we begin in somber darkness and exit in joy.  It’s a marathon for worship leaders/planners, (and for those in the pews too!) but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lent is a time when we confront our need for Jesus.  We pay special attention to how he pushed the envelope in his earthly ministry and his journey to the cross.  We change the way we do things to show reverence and to help us focus, but also to keep us awake, so that we don’t take our worship and lives of faith for granted or think we know it all and have perfected this Christian walk.  We take a deep look at our faith and our life and realize how short we have fallen from where we should be – indeed that we can never measure up – which is why we desperately need Jesus.  It’s a wake up call each one of us needs, so that when Easter arrives we may greet the empty tomb with energy, and yes, LIFE!!!

lent