Sunday, February 26, 2017

God Manifest in Glory

Epiphany  VII+A       
26, February  + 2017         
The Rev. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Exodus 24:12-18                                                                                                 
Psalm 2or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21                                                                                                         
Matthew 17:1-9

After getting all Pope John Paul II's luggage loaded in the limo (and His Holiness doesn't travel light) in NYC, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb. "Excuse me, Your Holiness." says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?""Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "They never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today.""I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning."There might be something extra in it for you," says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Supreme Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105mph."Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!," pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. "Oh, my God, I'm gonna lose my license," moans the driver. The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the patrolman approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. "I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatch. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five."So bust him," said the Chief."I think the guy's a big shot," said the cop."All the more reason.""No, I mean really a big shot," said the cop."What'd ya got there, the Mayor?""Bigger.""Governor.""Bigger.""Well," said the Chief, "Who is it?""I don't know", said the cop, "but he's got the Pope driving for him."

We are now at the end of the Epiphany season, what in the previous Prayer Book was called Quinquagesima Sunday. It is a culmination of all of the revelations of God in Christ Jesus in this season of Manifestation (which is what the word Epiphany means.)  The whole of the life of Jesus is filled with manifestations, or as I call them in this sermon: glimpses of glory. Earlier in the traditional season of Epiphanies, the Virgin Mary tells her son: “they have no more wine”. Then, after this she instructs the servants to: “do whatever he tells you.”  Doing is something we are good at, but on the Holy Mountain, the voice from heaven says: “this is my son whom I love, listen to Him!” 

Listening is not necessarily something we are good at doing.  In this age of the Western world, we are bombarded constantly with sound.  We have instruction in Public Speaking; however, we don’t have lessons in listening! But this isn’t an issue just in our age, but in the ancient world.  Early in Christianity, we have a hermitic tradition, continuing the Hebrew tradition of meditation.  The idea of being still to hear the still small voice of God in our day is difficult. It is all the more complicated by our self centered egos. Often when someone is speaking to us, we are thinking of the next thing that WE are going to say, which is obviously so much more important. When we listen, we are not in control and in some sense, we are submissive: Listen to Him!  When from our human perspective we really focus and listen to someone, we honor them, we show their words have importance, we show that they have importance. In this season of the Epiphany, we have manifestations particularly pointed out: the coming of the Wise Men, the Baptism of Jesus and the turning of water into wine. But as significant as these are, the whole life of Jesus is replete with manifestation after manifestation, which the church signifies by a feast day of the Church. The Older Testament epiphanies, we do not celebrate, but today, we read of God taking Moses up to the mountain, it says that the glory of God was like a devouring fire.  Some of these are the Annunciation, the birth manifested to the shepherds, the Presentation in the Temple, the warning to flee into Egypt and the finding of Jesus in the temple when he was twelve. Over and over again we see this in the gospels and I want to suggest to us this morning, that when we embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifests in our lives, and through our lives.  The fabric of God’s plan for humanity has continued on even when we think we may have screwed it up. 

The transfiguration says clearly that Jesus is the Messiah; that no matter how seemingly good, or meritorious other religions may seem, this Jesus is the Areal thing@. Jesus, in a profound act of love for the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, includes them on the final Acheck@, the final Ago ahead@ for the mission that would lead to the cross..  He includes them as God gives his blessing to the mission and they see for a moment the glory of God shining out from within the very person of Jesus.  This glory of God, the Hebrew word, Ashekinah@ is what God wants to place in the souls of the human race.  That glory that was lost to us by the sins of our first parents; that restoration of the wholeness and completeness of that image of God that he has bestowed upon each of us. In Hebrew, the word for glory is “cabod”, like in Washington Irving story of Icabod Crane and the headless horseman.  Icabod means the glory has departed.  The Hebrew word translated into Greek gives us the word glory, however, cabod is a presence, not just light and power but something that can be felt and experienced.  It is said that later when Moses would meet with God in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle, his face would shine when he came out. That same glory God has placed in our hearts.  The verse on my face book webpage says: “For God who said let light shine out of darkness has caused His light to shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of His glory displayed in the face of Christ.”  That light is in you and me and we live it out in “thought, word and deed, to quote the Prayer book. We prayed at the beginning of this service: that we might “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”  If we will let the Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit shine from our hearts to the world that so desperately needs God!

Webster=s dictionary defines transfiguration as Aan exalting glorifying or spiritual change.@ A church growth consultant that I read a few years ago spoke about what it is that the church is selling. What is the Aproduct@ if you will that we offer to the world?  We offer an exalting glorifying and spiritual and life change.  Life change!  If our lives are not beginning to change to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ, then we are missing something. That is partially why we live together in this body that Jesus both established and paid for with his own blood, this body he calls the Church. That was Paul=s experience, the experience of the other disciples and all of those who so freely abandoned Judaism and other religions in those early years and caused them to follow Christ.  It was the power of transfiguration.  St. Francis de Sales once said. AWe cannot help conforming ourselves to what we love.@  It has been an experience over the ages that as people come to really fall in love with Jesus the Son of the living God, they change.

I was speaking with the husband of one of my patients who told me of the next door neighbor’s son who had gone to prison on drug related charges and came out talking about God and how his life had changed.  He is now trying to reach my patient’s grandson who is perilously close to going down that same path.  The light cannot help but shine out into the darkness.

Transfigured in the Greek word is Metamorphoo Perhaps you heard the word in biology class?  Probably our most familiar use is with the caterpillar who after the cocoon becomes the magnificent butterfly!  It refers to the real essence of a thing.  We sometimes say "God sees our hearts" and indeed he does.  Our hearts are the REAL person that we are.  When Jesus was "transfigured" before the disciples, the glory that is God was manifest. . The transfiguration says clearly that Jesus is the Messiah; that no matter how seemingly good, or meritorious other religions may seem, this Jesus is the real thing. Jesus, in a profound act of love for the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, includes them on the final Acheck@, the final Ago ahead@ for the mission.  He includes them as God gives his blessing to the mission and they see for a moment the glory of God shining out from within the very person of Jesus.  This glory of God, God wants to place in the souls of the human race.  That glory that was lost to us by the sins of our first parents; that restoration of the wholeness and completeness of that image of God that he has bestowed upon each of us. .  It is like someone with cataracts having them removed.  Or that old former slave trader John Newton writing Amazing Grace: "was blind but now I see!" 

This morning as we come to Him at the rail, receiving our last communion before the rime of spiritual “boot camp” we call Lent, let us remember who we are because of who He is!  Let us pray that God will let the Light shine through us like living stained glass windows.  Let us listen for the voice of God in our hearts and keep on listening.  Let us pray that we: be changed into his likeness from glory to glory. We serve a Living God and the Christ of Glory. Let us pray for ourselves as well as for others to use a discerning faithfulness as we leave this house, to go to mission that God has called us to do, and as our collect said:  with faithfulness, awareness and love.. God is still speaking, are we listening?


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