Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon for Last Epiphany

Last Epiphany February 19 2012
The Rev. Kate Ekrem

Peter is a blurter. There are so many times in Gospels where he talks before he thinks: “Let me walk on the water with you, Jesus.” And the same person who was the first to blurt out, “you are the Messiah, Jesus” was also the one who said, “I do not know the man.”

He’s gotten an especially bad rap for this blurt, “Let’s make dwelling places, Jesus.” Over the years Biblical commentators have said Peter is just wrong and bad for wanting to build a dwelling place up on the mountain,
living in the clouds,  apart from the reality of life, rather than going down off the mountain to continue their ministry to those in need. But you know, the translation is important. It’s booths peter wants to build, what our Jewish sisters and brothers build to celebrate Sukkot, the festival of booths, an agricultural festival when people build booths or tents to commemorate the 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Because Hebrew prophesy said that the end of the world, the day of the Lord, when God came to issue his final judgment on the world, would happen during the festival of booths. So Jesus sees Moses and Elijah and Jesus all shining like the sun, and perhaps takes a logical conclusion that the Day of the Lord is here, let’s get ready.

So Peter’s issue is not so much that he places worship over mission, but that he is trying to skip to the good part. Just six days ago, Jesus told him, that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mar 8:31 NRS). Peter’s thinking, I know you said you had to suffer and die, but clearly you’ve got the power and God is here, so let’s get on to the part where God comes to set everything right and make the world perfect and we have that feast on the mountaintop with well aged wines that Isaiah talked about. Let’s skip to the good part, forget the crucifixion let’s go straight to resurrection. Forget Lent, and Ash Wednesday and all that, ashes are depressing, let’s have Easter now.

Have you noticed that Easter candy is already in the stores? I was in CVS last week and was very temped to buy stuff for kids Easter baskets, then remembered we haven’t even started Lent yet and likelihood of me eating the candy before Easter would be very high. Often the world around us always seem to be wanting to jump ahead to the next holiday, just like Peter wanted to jump ahead to the end. Do you ever skip to the end of a book, and read the last couple pages to make sure it has a happy ending? But we don’t get to skip to the end of the book that is our life.

Peter thinks, perhaps, that we can get to Easter unchanged, carrying all our baggage along with us. But the transfiguration is about transformation, about letting go of the old, embracing the new, being converted to life in Christ. Jesus invites us on a journey down from the mountain, into the world. The journey will transform us. We probably shouldn’t bring too much baggage along with us; don’t overpack. We’ll encounter many interesting people along the way and they will change us, if we let them. The journey may even lead us to the cross, that ultimate moment of self-sacrifice and transforming love. And then it will lead us beyond even that. To skip to the end, to go right to the celebration, would be to celebrate nothing, it would be an empty gesture. And it’s also actually impossible. In real life you have to live every page, take it as it comes.

But we can do that with the memory, with the knowledge, of the transfiguration, of Jesus’ powerful presence, inside of us. A few years back I had a sabbatical, and it was a wonderful time. I got to pray and hike and knit and play with my kids a lot, and have a lot of time with God. I remember the night before my sabbatical ended and I had to go back to real life, feeling pretty depressed. I left the house and went to nearby conservation lands where I had often walked. I stood in the woods, and tearfully thought, I’ll never be able to walk in these woods and feel close to God again. And then I thought, am I crazy? I live 10 minutes from here. I can walk here every day if I want to. And I realized that the feeling of God’s powerful presence with me was something inside of me, that is always there. You can go down from the mountaintop, but the mountaintop doesn’t leave you. The transfiguring, transforming power of God, is always with us, in every step of our journey, every page of our story.

Today is Alleluia Sunday, the day we say and sing lots and lots of alleluias to get them out of our system before Lent, during which time we don’t say Alleluia in our worship, we save it for Easter. Just like we might be saving that Easter candy or whatever we might put aside for Lent. Our liturgy and our Lenten fast acknowledge the reality that life isn’t always full of joyful alleluia, but still we worship, still we pray, because we do know the end of the story, the end of Jesus’ story and the end of all our stories. When Jesus points the way down off the mountain, we know the road ahead of us may be hard, challenging, tragic, or boring, but it’s life and God is there. The point is to be present to Jesus’s presence in the moment, in whatever we are about in our daily lives, to let ourselves be changed, even transfigured, by what we encounter on the journey, and at the same time remember where we are going, what our goal is, that God has a plan and that the story ends with resurrection. We have to go through Lent to get there, but from now on, we are pointed towards Easter. 

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