March 2, 2014: The Feast of the Transfiguration


Sermon
The Rt. Rev.Ed Leidel, Jr.
Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Good morning. It’s great to be here with you at St. Paul’s this morning. Your Rector and Wardens have invited me here as a way of introducing me to you as I begin a three month process of working with Father Steve and your vestry. During these upcoming months your vestry will be re-discerning their perceptions of the best of what St Paul’s is today and the best of what St. Paul’s can become in the future. I will remain invisible to most of you, as my work will be behind the scenes, encouraging your leadership to use their many gifts to lead St. Paul’s into a sustainable and life-giving presence for the new and challenging time in which we live.

Today we end the Epiphany season and prepare to transition into the introspective season of Lent this coming Ash Wednesday.

The season of Epiphany has been a time when we have witnessed some of the most revealing “glory” stories of Jesus who we come ultimately to experience as the amazing cosmic Christ – the Son of God, co-equal with the Creator of all things.

I love this season of surprising eye-opening stories. Epiphanies are about encounters of revelation, illumination, surprise or what I like to call “Great A-ha’s.” Epiphanies open our eyes, hearts and minds to realities greater than we thought possible. Epiphanies tend to move us out of comfortable certitudes into realms of mystery and Divine Presence.  At the heart of the Gospels’ Good News are the Epiphany stories.

The Epiphany Gospels tell of…

  • Jesus’ baptism and a voice from above that proclaims “This is my Son, the Beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
  • Jesus healing a leper and a paralyzed man.
  • Jesus turning six huge vats of water into wine at a wedding feast to save the bride and groom embarrassment.
  • Jesus goes out with a worn out Peter who has been fruitless of a catch all-night and ironically asks Peter to go again to put down his net to make the largest catch of his life.

Or what of other stories of Jesus walking on water, feeding 5000, walking through walls and raising Lazarus from the dead.

All of these “Wow” moments give folks time to pause and wonder who is this Jesus? These revelations challenge us to be open to the awe and wonder of a universe way beyond our imaginations. It is instructive that in the Baptismal service in our BCP, we charge the newly baptized to use their gift of experiencing “joy and wonder in all of God’s works.”

Author Barbara Brown Taylor says these “encounters are a way of breaking biblical people open; of rearranging what they think they know for sure so that there is room for more divine movement in their lives…. Certainties can become casualties in these in these encounters, or at least those certainties that involve clinging to static notions of who’s who, what’s what, where you are going in your life and why.”[1]

Epiphanies are not confined to Gospel stories. History is full of them.

  • Remember Archimedes making his discovery of the meaning of weight and water displacement in his bathtub and running out naked into the streets, yelling “Eureka.”
  • Or what about Isaac Newton’s great a-ha about gravity when an apple falls on his head.

Today the theory of quantum mechanics and relativity theory offer us new epiphanies into the great unknowns of micro and macro reality. Quantum theory postulates that it is possible (though highly unlikely) that we could walk through a wall. Relativity theory suggests that if we were to travel near the speed of light and return home, our friends would all have aged and probably be dead while we had only grown old by a few minutes.

It takes real openness and humility to fit those notions into our every day reality.

Actually awe and wonder is all around us. We all have our moments of epiphany, but we often fail to recognize them because we are so locked into our preconceived notions of reality. Remember Candid Camera? Some of the videotaping of their surprises is revealing:

  • The single stemmed flower that sips from a nearby glass of water in a restaurant.
  • The singing bird in a cage that is not really there.

In both of these snapshots of human behavior, new reality is denied and the unsuspecting prey reverts to their old preconceptions of what can be real.

Today’s lessons ooze with epiphany mystery. Moses’ experience of God’s glory in the cloud and fire on Mount Sinai; The psalmist brakes through Israel’s defiance by announcing through the psalmist that Israel is God’s child whom God has begotten; In the Epistle Peter as an eye witness to the voice at Jesus’ baptism, exhorts us “to be attentive to God’s glory; and finally in the epiphany that trumps all epiphanies, Matthew tells the mountain top story of Jesus’ transfigured face and dazzling clothes in the presence of Moses and Elijah.

In this morning’s gospel Jesus is nearing the time of his crucifixion. So he takes his “senior warden” Peter, his “junior warden” John and his John’s brother James on a mini retreat to give them strength for taking over when Jesus’ leaves them in the days ahead. Wouldn’t you just love to know what was going through their minds as they witnessed God’s glory there? Jesus purposely asks them not to talk about what has happened probably because they need time to take it all in and because no one would likely believe them. He says in time it will all make more sense.

Again I quote Barbara Brown Taylor, “Inside the cloud of unknowing, things can change pretty dramatically.” She says that the thing is when we encounter our own clouds of unknowing we are challenged to “stay present to what is happening right in front of us.” [2]

Your Wardens, Rector and Vestry are about to enter a time of “mountain top” discernment as they begin their Lenten journey time together. My role as a coach to your leadership will be simply to encourage them to be open to the marvelous and transformative power of Grace. Pray for them to be intuitively open to new epiphanies. Pray that they will be able to let go of some of their past “certainties” and give way to new ways to lead St. Paul’s into a new and greatly challenging day. Pray that they will be able to hold on to many of the treasures’ of the past while integrating them with “new wine” for the future. After Easter, your leaders will invite those of you who are so called to enter with them into their process of discovery, visioning and action.

May you all have a most blessed Lenten journey as you thoughtfully and courageously clean your spiritual houses and allow yourselves to be transformed in God’s amazing Easter Grace.

Amen.



[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal Daily Scan Thursday 2-27-14

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal Daily Scan Thursday 2-27-14

 


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