St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Last Epiphany 2017 Sermon
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Corby Varness

When you have an epiphany, you make a great realization and shout “Aha”.  Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, also known as Transfiguration Sunday. 
 
How did we get here?  Well, we started the liturgical year in November with the season of Advent where we prepared for the coming of the baby Jesus.  We joyfully celebrated Christmas, carrying our small candles outside, bringing the light of Christ to the world. The season of Epiphany starts with three wise men following the dim light of a star to a distant manger.  When they see baby Jesus, they say; “Aha.” 
           
Throughout Epiphany, we say; ‘Aha’ repeatedly as we hear of God coming down at Jesus’ baptism, booming; “This is my son!”  We say; ‘Aha’ as we listen week after week to the lengthy Sermon on the Mount, a compilation of Christ’s greatest hits. That brings us to today, the last day of the Epiphany season.  We end this season of ‘Aha’s’ with a great big bombshell, a flash of light, blinding light so bright it is like the sun.  So we have come from the early time with the wise men in dim starlight to this dazzling vision of Christ on the mountaintop, his father again booming: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
           
Now, it is good to have this bright light because in a couple of days it will be Ash Wednesday, ushering in the darkness of Lent.  The season of Lent prepares us for the greatest mystery of our faith; the death and resurrection of our Lord.  We journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward his suffering and death.  Thankfully, we also journey toward the great, joyous miracle of Easter.
           
I’m taking an online class from Dartmouth University called “Question Reality; Science, Philosophy and the Search for Meaning.”  There have been some fascinating lectures about the beginning of all things, the Big Boom.  But what jump started everything?  Aristotle wrote about “the unmoved mover”, the primary cause or mover of everything in the universe.  This course is getting me to think a lot about God.  The universe is so incomprehensibly huge and complex.  Did God make all of that?  If so, God is more amazing than I’d ever thought.
           
When I was young, God was my buddy.  I knew God was on my side, even when I told white lies or was cranky to my sister.  As a Roman Catholic kid, I knew that God would forgive me anything if I just said enough Hail Marys.  I talked to God a lot, confided in him, prayed to him.  As I grew older, I realized that I also had a friend in Jesus, a Jesus who walked alongside me, a Jesus who was more approachable than his dad.  When I became a mother, I hung out with Mary a lot, because she really understood what it was like to raise a son.
           
These friendly folks are a far cry from a deity who created a universe full of everything.  I wonder if we do God a disservice when we  singabout “what a friend we have in Jesus”.  Instead, we have a scary and powerful God meeting Moses in a great cloud, a devouring fire on top of Mount Sinai.  In our psalm we hear: “The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake.” 

Jesus lets his friends know that he is not just a normal guy when he makes Peter, James and John climb up a high mountain so that they can see him ‘transfigure before them, with his face shining like the sun, (the SUN mind you), and his clothes become dazzling white.’  Oh, Moses and Elijah show up too.  God isn’t too subtle when he shows up in a bright cloud, interrupting poor Peter as he strives to show some hospitality to his elders.  God booms: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
           
The disciples are overcome with fear but Jesus takes it all in stride.  He tells them to get up, calm down and don’t be scared.  They start back down the mountain and he mentions; “By the way, don’t tell anyone about this until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  OK.
 
To the disciples, I’m pretty sure Jesus was incomprehensible.  To us, I think God is also incomprehensible.  Think about this; each Sunday we come here to St. Mark’s to sing some upbeat hymns, join in fellowship as we partake of communion and pray together.  We look forward to visiting over strong coffee and nice snacks.  But today’s gospel reminds us that we are also here to encounter God.  GOD.  God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.  All powerful, all present, all knowing.  This God is big. Some of our hymns have a better sense of this, as when we sing:
           
“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made.  I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.  Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art!”
           
Let’s enter into the Lenten season contemplating this great God of ours.  Let’s put aside our phones, computers, TVs and take some time to sit quietly with this powerful presence we call God.  Let’s use this forty days in the wilderness to wrestle with our temptations as Christ did.
           
Here is a good way to look at Lent: farmers prune fruit trees to let the light in.  During Lent, we can prune and simplify our lives so God’s light can come in.
           
The season of Lent is a good time to go to our own mountaintops and pray.  If we get quiet, maybe we too can be surrounded by a cloud and hear the voice of God.  God may be too big for our feeble minds but we know that God is here, God is near.  Give God some time to talk to you.
           
Please join me in prayer to our mighty God: 
                        Eternal God,
                        you revealed to the disciples
                        the everlasting glory of Jesus Christ.
                        Grant us, who have not seen and yet believe,
                        the gift of your Holy Spirit,
                        that we may boldly live the gospel
                        and shine with your transforming glory,
                        as people changed and changing
                        through the redeeming presence of our Savior. Amen.


 
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