Last Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Donald G. Brown, February 19, 2012
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Donald G. Brown
Today, as this morning’s program cover has already informed you, marks the Last Sunday after Epiphany. The great forty days of Lent begin this Wednesday with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy and the imposition of Ashes at 7:00 am, 12 noon, and 7:30 pm. Because Lent has a somber and reflective tone about it we won’t be saying or singing “Alleluia” in any of our worship services until the magnificent Easter Eve Vigil at the end of Lent. Putting away the “Alleluia” is a reminder that the Lenten Season has a different tone and tenor about it. More about that later…..

The gospel appointed for reading on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, whether it comes from Luke, or Mark, or Matthew’s writings, always presents the same amazing account every year. It is the story of the transfiguration of Jesus before his three most trusted disciples, Peter, James, and John. On a mountaintop, Jesus is praying and while in prayer, his appearance changes and he is surrounded by a brilliant light. Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, appear and converse with Jesus. Then there is a cloud and the disciples hear the voice of God telling them, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (Mk. 9:2-9)

What is the point of this story? Well, what happens for the disciples is that quite literally they see Jesus in a new light. They begin to understand Jesus’ connection to God and their own Jewish religious tradition. They have some inkling as to why Jesus has begun talking about his own suffering and death. At a heart level, the disciples have a life shaking experience of the reality of the holy, the divine, the awesome presence of God.

In one shining moment, Jesus’ true identity is revealed to them. It isn’t hidden behind teachings in parables, confrontations with religious and political authorities, or even healings. For one moment, everything is crystal clear. They have a glimpse of what God is really like.

The reason we hear the account of the Transfiguration each year on the Sunday before Lent begins is to remind us that the purpose of Lent is to seek those situations where we too can experience, catch a glimpse of, what God is like. At the very core of our being, we long to know God. Yet, often God can seem remote and distant.  Philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal once observed, “Any religion that doesn’t say that God is hidden is not true.” 

Lent is a time for us to intentionally search out those situations and circumstances where we can possibly be touched by the presence of God. And while you can find God…or God can find you….in most any circumstance the Church is still a pretty good bet for finding the ways and means for connecting to God at a deeper level.

Here at All Souls, we have a Lenten tradition of delving into a significant topic that has implications for our spiritual lives, how we relate to God, each other and ourselves. We gather on Wednesday evenings in Lent for a simple soup supper and then a program that includes small group discussion. This year’s topic is titled: “WE CANNOT WALK ALONE” we will look with love and care at how racism has influenced our lives as Christian people. Members of the parish will be sharing stories about how they have been impacted by racism. This is an area where all of us have been affected and we need to discover how we as Christians can walk the road to mutual understanding, respect and reconciliation.

And for those of you who are new to Christianity or the Episcopal Church or if you’d like a refresher course on basics in the Christian faith, you can join the Catechumenate Class. This is another way of understanding for yourself the mystery of God and Christianity more fully. See today’s Blue Sheet for more details.

Either or both of these Lenten courses can be a means of helping you come into your own experience of the living reality of God and encountering the essence of what the Transfiguration is about. Also if you want to be involved in a mission to help others during this Lent you can join the efforts of Episcopal Relief and Development which you’ll be hearing more about in the coming weeks.

One of the first lessons we can draw from the Transfiguration is how important it is to leave behind your usual routine and change your “business as usual attitude” if you are going to grow spiritually. Personal spiritual growth doesn’t often happen by accident. The stage for growth is set by an intentional decision to LEAVE behind your old routines so you can gain a new and enlightened perspective.

The second lesson to be learned from the Transfiguration is the importance of being OPEN. It doesn’t matter how often you might come to church or how many spiritually enriching books you might read, if you are not open to the presence of God, you will not encounter God.
I have known people who have experienced profound miracles in their lives, physical healings, restored relationships, personal transformations, all of which they just shrug off as luck or coincidence. Peter, James, and John could have dismissed their experience on the mountaintop as a hallucination brought about by eating some bad lamb chops. Bottom line, if you are going to grow spiritually, you need to be open to the possibility of discovering how God’s spirit is actually at work in your life.

A third thing lesson to be learned from the Transfiguration story is the importance of new VISION in your life, seeing your life from a new God-given perspective. I was taking recently with a member of one of All Souls small groups who spoke of what a profound difference the group had made in his life.  He said, “My small group has been so supportive of me and it has helped me discover a sense of the reality of the love of Christ that I never knew.” This individual now has a new vision for living his life. In joining that small group he LEFT behind his routine, OPENED himself to a new experience, and gained a new VISION of what living life is all about.

Now this person is engaged in ministry in a way he never was before. He is conscious of his calling to be a disciple who reflects the love and care of Jesus Christ as he relates to others at work, at home and everywhere he finds himself. That is the fourth lesson to be learned from the Transfiguration story. Jesus and his disciples did not stay on the mountain and bask in the radiance of holy feelings and experiences. Their encounter with God was a preparation for being more fully ENGAGED in the challenges of daily living.

Dealing with the heartache, disappointment, irritations, sorrows, setbacks, and even the joys and delights of life impact you differently once you have encountered the living reality of God. The Transfiguration, which really was one of those figurative and literal mountain top experiences, is not a call to escape into some sort of religious nirvana. An encounter with God changes your life precisely so that you can engage the events of your life each day with hope, optimism, and courage.

When I listen to a sermon, I always ask myself questions like, “What am I suppose to take away from this sermon? How will my life be different because of this sermon? What am I meant to remember and do because of this sermon?”

So for this sermon, here is quick recap and a pneumonic device to help you remember these comments through Lent. I’ve mentioned four lessons that we can glean from the account of the Transfiguration we heard this morning. They are:

LEAVE behind your usual, everyday routine.
OPEN yourself to God’s presence and power.
VISUALIZE your life from a new God given perspective.
ENGAGE life more fully as a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Remember the first word of each of these four concepts and you’ll also be remembering the purpose of Lent. These four points, if you follow them will also aid you in making Lent a meaningful time in your own spiritual pilgrimage.

LEAVE behind your usual, everyday routine.
OPEN yourself to God’s presence and power.
VISUALIZE your life from a new God given perspective.
ENGAGE life more fully as a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Leave, Open, Visualize, Engage. Take the first letter of each of these words and they spell “LOVE.” This Lent be intentional about your spiritual life and you will be changed. 

This Lent remember the importance of LOVE, and live so that love is the principle that guides your life, and blesses you and those whose lives your touch as you journey through the 40 days of Lent and beyond. AMEN








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