The Last Sunday after the Epiphany March 3, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2;

Luke 9:28 – 36, [37-43a]

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

Mountaintops,

lonely, wild, rugged places,

where the air is thin and clean,

 

the sorrows and concerns

of the world

lie far below . . .

 

and without that weight,

without those cares,

clarity of thought

and intention

might just be possible.

 

It was to mountaintops

that Jesus went . . .

to rest, to pray,

to prepare

for what lay next.

 

 

And so we find him today,

on the last Sunday

of the season of Epiphany,

 

on the mountain

with Peter and John and James . . .

 

about eight days

after he had told the disciples

that he must

ultimately suffer and die . . .      [Luke 9:22]

to their great consternation.

 

His teaching and actions,

and claims about God’s love

for

the poor, the unacceptable,

the sick, the ignored,

the dispossessed and alienated . .

 

were stirring up

excitement and expectation

in the common people

of the land . . .

 

and stirring up

trouble and enmity

in the halls and temples

of privilege and power

in Galilee and

all the way south in Jerusalem.

 

 

And so

to the mountaintop . . .

there to pray and get clear

about the way forward,

with Peter and John and James

as companions . . .

 

and eyewitnesses

to the astonishing:

 

the sudden radiance

of Jesus’ face as he prayed . . .

shining with what

could only be

God’s glory . . .

 

the startling appearance

of Moses and Elijah,

long dead yet . . . alive? . . .

 

Moses who lead the people

of Israel

out of Egypt;

 

Elijah,

God’s true prophet

in an age of false prophets:

 

heroes in the history of Israel,

and perhaps childhood heroes

of the three disciples

and of Jesus . . .

 

 

As Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus

of what he was to accomplish

in Jerusalem,

God’s glory

enveloped them all.

 

 

Sometimes I think

of this conversation

 

as elders from the past

now passing along

the wisdom

of their tradition

to the younger one who is

carrying it forward . . .

 

carrying it forward

by

preaching and enacting

not the letter of the Law

but its Spirit,

 

carrying it forward

by

proclaiming and enacting

with prophetic zeal

God’s justice

for the poor, the meek, the sick,

the hungry and thirsty.

Surely the presence of Moses and Elijah

encourages Jesus

and strengthens him

for the difficult journey

ahead,

 

for as much as he will not shrink

from where his mission is taking him

there has to be hesitancy and fear

if he is not only divine,

but truly human.

 

 

Speaking of truly human,

the three disciples

are completely overcome . . .

 

the weight of all this glory

pressing them down toward sleep

 

they are barely awake

as a cloud descends

and a voice proclaims:

 

“This is my Son, my Chosen;

listen to him!”

 

 

 

“My Son, the Beloved”

God proclaimed Jesus

at his baptism;            [Luke 3:22]

 

“My Son, my Chosen,”

God proclaims him now.

 

As that first acclamation

sent Jesus into the desert

to wrestle with temptations,

to prepare him for the mission

he would begin on his return . . .

 

so the second

sends him on to Jerusalem,

confirming the rightness of his path:

to him,

and to Peter, John and James.

 

“Listen to him,”

God commands them . . .

and they will listen,

but

even after this extraordinary experience,

they will still not really

understand.

 

 

 

Down from the mountain

lies the world

of struggle and pain.

 

Jesus is not in the best of moods

as he returns to that

“real world”

and the faithless and perverse generation,

and their demands . . .

 

but even as he turns his face

toward Jerusalem,

he continues his work

of healing . . .

 

responding

to the urgent needs

before him

with compassion

 

and a suffering boy

is made whole.

 

 

 

The readings for this day

together revolve around

the old and the new,

continuity and disconnect,

what is hidden and what is revealed:

 

Moses receiving the tablets of the Law

on Mount Sinai,

his face shining

because of his nearness to God,

the veil he wore

because the people

could not bear the brightness;

 

Jesus, the new Moses,

his glory revealed

on the mountaintop,

where it would seem

a new interpreter of the Law

is anointed by Moses

and affirmed by God.

 

 

Between those two stories,

lies the somewhat convoluted passage

we heard today

from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians,

 

(whose meaning we might say

is itself somewhat veiled . . .)

 

 

 

(or perhaps it is just that

a veil lay over my mind

as I tried to make some kind

of linear sense of it . . .)

 

Paul,

once a Pharisee and

zealous persecutor of Jesus-followers,

 

now a recent ardent convert to the Way,

(the term for Jesus followers

before the word Christian came into being).

 

Paul’s mission:

to distance himself

from his former tradition

and

win more converts to the Way . . .

 

and to support the churches he founded

in their new life and practice.

 

It is imperative to him

to play up the discontinuity

between the new and the old . . .

for him the one must supersede the other . . .

 

 

In this passage,

he is working on

making a distinction

between

 

the glory of God

as revealed to the people of Israel

in the covenant of the Law,

 

and what he sees as “the greater glory”

revealed in Jesus.

 

 

Just before what we heard today,

he speaks of the glory seen in Moses

as now being “set aside” . . .

 

“What once had glory has lost its glory,”

he says,

“because of the greater glory,

for, if what was set aside came though glory,

much more has the permanent come in glory!”

[2 Corinthians 3:10-11]

 

 

When he says

“to this very day,

whenever Moses [meaning the Hebrew Scriptures]

is read,

a veil lies over the minds of the people of Israel,

but when one turns to the Lord,

the veil is removed . . .”

 

By this very day

he means his day,

only 40 years after

Jesus’ death and resurrection,

 

when the old,

the religious traditions of Israel,

and the new,

the emerging practices of the

followers of the Way

 

were at odds with one another,

with distrust and hostility between them.

 

When we hear Paul’s

“To this very day”

we should not take it to mean

our own day.

 

Paul’s assertion,

understandable in his own context,

must not shape the minds and hearts

of Christians today.

 

 

Yes, in the early days

there was discontinuity –

a terrible breach:

 

Jesus himself was rejected

by his own religious leaders . . .

 

and his followers

were cast out of the synagogue

and persecuted . . .

 

signs of the politics

and chaos of his time

and Paul’s . . .

 

but I think

we might see

in the gospels’ accounts

of the mountaintop conversation

of Moses and Elijah

and Jesus,

a kind of passing,

not extinguishing,

of the torch.

 

Jesus himself said

he came not to abolish

but to fulfill the Law.

 

We should listen to him.

 

 

We have seen

the horrors

perpetrated by Christians

whose own minds were veiled

to the glory and purposes of God

revealed in the traditions of Jews

and their practice of their religion:

 

All across the centuries:

 

Christians persecuted Jews,

Christians tortured and murdered Jews,

Christians stood by and did nothing,

and by doing nothing,

were complicit in those horrors,

Christians fostered and continue to condone

anti-semitism in word and behavior.

 

 

For far too long

our minds have been veiled.

 

We have failed to see the continuity

between these two Ways

of loving and worshipping God,

 

We have failed to respect and to learn from

the distinctions

of the one from the other.

 

We have failed to recognize in the other

a child of God like ourselves.

 

 

These failures are our own shame,

and by God’s mercy,

and with God’s grace,

we must continue to renounce

and denounce them,

for they corrupt and destroy

the creatures of God.

 

Let our minds

not be veiled

to the revelation of God

in the lives of the matriarchs and patriarchs

of the Hebrew Scriptures,

in the lives of Jews

living under duress and persecution

across the centuries,

in our Jewish sisters and brothers today,

still living under the crushing burden

of anti-semitism.

 

Let our minds

not be veiled

to the continuing story

of God with God’s people:

 

the Way of Christianity,

to which we have been called . . .

 

the Way of Judaism,

to which others have been called . . .

 

the Way of the seeker

still seeking.

 

 

Let us all be gift to one another,

for we are all God’s Chosen.

 

Let us walk in loving companionship

as fellow sojourners in a troubled world,

for we are all God’s children.

 

Let us all, with unveiled faces,

see in each other

the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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