Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily for the Last Sunday after Epiphany: The Transfiguration of Jesus

Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;

The Transfiguration of Jesus atop a mountain is one of the amazing events in his life, yet outside of the church, it is very unknown. In terms of paintings and music, is very under represented. It seems that it is a confusing event for us, as it was for Peter.

It is good for us to be here.

This is what Peter says when he sees Jesus clothes dazzling white, so white that no fuller could bleach them so.

Not only is Jesus whole appearance in a state of metamorphosis, glowing, radiating as the sun, the source of this light being himself, he is joined by Moses and Elijah, the two most important old testament prophets.

I would suggest that this scene is, as Peter says, “good.”
It is more than good, this is truly marvellous.

Peter was given a taste of the perfect harmony of the divine life. The veil of mystery was for this moment lifted, and Jesus divine nature was revealed.

That’s “good.”

But Peter is saying more than “good.”

The word means more than good as in behaving well, or good that it was fortunate he was there, it means more like beautiful and wondrous.
Peters cry is really a recognition that he knows he is sharing in the beautiful, he was sharing in something divine.

We need to remember that six days before this event, Jesus had just given his first prediction of his coming passion, that he must suffer, die and rise again.

He had also informed the disciples of the true cost of being a disciple, that they were to take up their own cross if they were follow him, that they were to lose their own life. Heavy stuff.

With this is mind, it is no surprise that Peter was carrying on that it was good.

This moment of divine glory was a respite from daily ministry and a relief from thinking about the cost of discipleship.

He likes it so much he suggests that the moment be prolonged:
let us make three dwellings, he says

He wants this to go on forever. He looks back and sees the grind of daily ministry with its persecutions, and looks to the future and sees suffering.
It is understandable that he would want to keep this wonderful event going forever.

So, why was it good that Peter was there?  What did he make of it?

It can be seen as a promise.
It was promise to Peter, that although life was tough, and was certainly going to get tougher, it was going to work out.

The transfigured Christ was almost a sneak preview of the resurrected Christ.
It was a reassurance that though he, Jesus will be crucified and die, he will rise again.

But even more so, it was sign his divinity.

Peter had recognised the Jesus was the Christ. Here Jesus was revealing the full story. His revelation showed that he was beyond the norms of physicality and time. He was showing his true divine eternal nature.

But what about us. Why is it good that we hear about the transfigured Christ?

In fact, there are many Christians that think of the Transfiguration as unimportant.

But, Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters think quite the opposite. For them, this day is third in importance only to Holy Week and Christmas.

But for us, we celebrate the Transfiguration before we go into Lent.

It is a last glimpse of Christ in glory before we celebrate the Christ in suffering of Good Friday.
And this makes some sense.
In Mark, once we are up the hill and Christ is transfigured,
we descend the mount,
and all sign and sights lead to Jerusalem and to the cross.

But the eastern Orthodox celebrate the Transfiguration in its own right, the transfiguration as a significant event in the life of Christ.

And their understanding of it as such is different.
For them too the transfiguration is a promise, but of a different kind. 

It is more a revelation of the potential spirituality of the earthly life in its highest outward form.

They see it as Jesus showing the capacity of humanity, he is showing what those who are united with him, are being lead to.

For the Eastern Orthodox, the transfiguration shows where we are heading.

And this is why it is good that we are here.

We can understand the transfiguration as a final piece of Christs glory before the wilderness of lent, an image of majestic divinity before we are confronted with the idea of a crucified God on Good Friday.

Or, we see in the Transfiguration the potential of humanity’s spiritual nature revealed by Christ to Peter and his companions and to us.

Either way, it is good that we hear about and pray about it together. 
You see, with other events in Christs life, we have to come to some understanding of them.

We need to get our heads around the incarnation. We need to confront and be confronted by the cross.

The transfiguration is different. It doesn’t demand an understanding.

But what it does do is invite us.

It invites us to go deep into prayer and contemplation.
The transfigured Christ invites us to deeper into our spiritual nature.
The transfigured Christ invites us to be united with him.
The transfigured Christ reveals his divinity for us to see,
and he invites us to share in that with him.

The transfigured Christ says to us “Come ”

So it is good that we are here.

It is good that we are here to be together as we contemplate the meaning of the transfiguration.
It is good that we are here to be reminded to prepare ourselves for Lent.
It is good that we are here to experience Christ’s presence in the eucharist.
It is good that we are here to be invited to share in Christ’s divinity with him.

As Peter said, It is good for us to be here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homily for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

In today’s Gospel, in many ways, we are shown what a day was like for Jesus. It seems that Mark has put together this section to show us the sort of things that occupied a normal day in Jesus ministry.

All the elements are there:  There is the call to follow, there is the teaching with authority, there is healing of body and mind. And lastly there is the retirement away for prayer.

It is interesting to note that in Mark, Jesus praying only gets mentioned 3 times. Once as we heard today, and another happens after the first feeding of the multitude:
After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
The other happens in the garden at Gethsemane, where he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."

The fact that mark only mentions Jesus praying three times is not to suggest that Jesus only actually prayed three times during earthly ministry. None of us would think that was possible. There are several common factors in each incident: Prayer is always alone, at night, and in times of stress

The stress is the reason for prayer.

It is most clearly stated in the events of the night before his crucifixion, when he takes three of the disciples to the garden at Gethsemane and as the Gospel tells us He “began to be distressed and agitated.  He tells the three of them "I am deeply grieved, even to death” then he makes his way apart from them to pray.

It is easy to see why Jesus would be stressed on that particular night. He knew exactly what was about to occur. Everything was turning out as he had predicted. Knowing what was about to occur the next afternoon is a fair enough reason to be stressed.

But what of the other two occasions? The incident after the first feeding of the multitude, where he says farewell to the disciples, and goes up to a mountain to pray, and the incident in today’s Gospel, where he is hunted out by the disciples, because they can’t find him.

I believe that it is still stress related.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus has healed the sick, proclaimed the word, and exorcised demons. The crowds are beginning to form, it seems as though it is reaching a fever pitch of excitement. Everyone who hears of his healings and exorcisms wants a part of it. They want a part of this miracle worker.

He teaches with authority, he heals the sick, even spirits obey him.

He really is something else.

But Jesus retires away to pray. We can think that it has been done to refresh himself ready for the next day of healing and preaching. Ready for the ever growing crowds.

The fact that things aren’t going to plan is revealed at two points.
We hear of Simon and his companions hunting for Jesus. Not the disciples, but Simon and his companions. Mark here is showing us that at this point they aren’t acting as disciples, but rather are acting on behalf of the people. They have come with a request from the crowds:

 "Everyone is searching for you."

Jesus answer tells us what is really going on:

"Let us go on to the neighbouring towns,
so that I may proclaim the message there also;
for that is what I came out to do."

All these healings, exorcisms, the preaching have done their job where he is. It is time to move on and proclaim elsewhere.

But it is more than this. Jesus is rejecting the crowds. He is rejecting the popularity. The excitement, the exorcisms, the healings, these were not his main purpose. This isn’t what he came to do. The day had really been a great strain and a disappointment to him. This was secondary stuff.

The primary stuff was to proclaim to proclaim the kingdom of God. This was primary. Healings and exorcisms were secondary.

The kingdom of god was primary. The effects and workings toward were secondary.

The healings and exorcisms are fine. There is nothing wrong with them, they are results of the coming kingdom.  They are secondary, they aren’t the main purpose.

This is a difficulty we find ourselves today. We get ourselves confused between the primary and secondary issues of the kingdom.  We worry about the roof on our church and place our energy on how to fix it. This may be important, but it is not the reason we gather.  We can get ourselves tangled up with the secondary issues of church that we forget why we are even doing them.

We can even convince ourselves that we are proclaiming the Kingdom, when really we are doing secondary work.  Meetings about who is on what team and who is going to make sure the accounts are up to date can feel like the primary work. But they aren’t. They are important, but they are only important in that they will help the proclaiming of the Kingdom of God.

Secondary issues can seem to be very positive. Gaining a crowd at church and the ways we do that are important, but this too is secondary. The primary purpose of anything we do is to proclaim the good news. The crowd may gather, but unless the kingdom is proclaimed, we are caught up in secondary issues.

This is tricky stuff. There are so many things that feel like they are the important part of our work, but they are secondary to what we are really about. Maybe these secondary issues are  like the demons Jesus was exorcising. They are there keeping us from what we are meant to be doing. They tell us that synods, meetings, and administration are what we need to do. It is nonsense. In reality they are things that keep us from what we are about.

And this is why Jesus removed himself and prayed. He saw the crowds, he worked the miracles, and he saw that this was becoming primary in the minds of everyone. His mission was railroaded into the secondary. He removed himself from everyone to centre himself, to hear what the Father needed him to be doing.

When we gather to hear God’s word, we are doing the same thing. This is a time out of the ordinary, a time when we get to hear what it is we are supposed to be doing, hearing about the things that matter. As we go about our week, the secondary issues will come in. That is fine, and they are impossible to avoid. But the trick is to remember why we do them.