Transfiguration and War

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is also the 69th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In fact, the connection between August 6, the Transfiguration, and war goes back to 1456, when Pope Callixtus III established that day for the Feast of the Transfiguration, in celebration of the victory of Hungarian forces led by John Hunyadi over the Turks which temporarily stopped the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe.

For those of us who grew up after World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were frightening symbols of the power of atomic weapons and of the horrible destruction they could unleash. The unimaginable suffering of those who died and survived created indelible images that were balanced by the equally unimaginable suffering caused by the war that was ended by Japan’s surrender.

In the decades since August 6 1945, we witnessed continued war and suffering, but thankfully no more use of atomic weapons. This summer we commemorate not just Hiroshima but also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. We witness wars and violence in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, as well as in central Africa.

What is the message of the Transfiguration in the midst of all this violence, historical and current? On one level, the Transfiguration is about the mysterious appearance of Jesus Christ to his disciples in the radiance of his divinity, with a voice from heaven telling them, “This is my beloved Son.” Still, Jesus’ suffering and death, the cross, looms on the horizon of the Transfiguration, the Mount of Transfiguration foreshadows the mount of Calvary, as the collect for the day so beautifully expresses:

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Get up! Do not be afraid! A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany

I was struggling to figure out how to start my sermon this morning. I didn’t think the introduction worked very well at 8:00 so I went back upstairs between services and tried again. But it didn’t help; it still seemed flat. Then as I began to listen to the choir during the psalm chant, it came to me. The setting by Thomas Atwood is one of my favorites and as I listened, I was immediately transported back to Choral Evensong at All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, TN. I’ve come to love Anglican chant and a beautifully sung Choral Evensong is an opportunity for me to experience God’s beauty through music. As I listened to the choir this morning, I was reminded of the power and beauty of evensong, reminded of encountering God through music, and I was left wanting to hear more, to recapture those experiences of years ago. Continue reading

Listen to Him: A Sermon for the Last Sunday of Epiphany, 2013

February 10, 2013

Epiphany is a season during which we are invited to explore the ways in which God’s glory appears to us. This year, brief as it is, we have seen God’s glory in the Baptism of our Lord, in the miracle of Jesus Christ turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Each year, on the last Sunday of Epiphany, we hear a different gospel version of the same story, Jesus’ transfiguration. It is a story that breaks in upon us, just as God’s glory breaks in upon us, and in its details, its eerie nature, and its resonances, it breaks in upon our sense of time and reality, and invites to look forward to the resurrection, and back to the Hebrew Bible, to Sinai and to the prophets. Continue reading

Prophecy and Epiphany: Lectionary Reflections for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

This week’s readings are here.

Although we’ve not paid close attention, one of the themes of our readings in this Season of Epiphany in year B is the nature of prophecy (both as an institution and as an event). We heard the very different stories of the calls of Samuel and Jonah on the Second and Third Sundays. The young boy Samuel needed help from Eli to discern that God was calling him. Jonah had no doubt that he was called by God, but he ran away from the call and resisted the message that God had given him to deliver. We also heard from Second Isaiah (on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany), and Elisha’s healing of Naaman yesterday.

Among the stories of particular prophets about whom we heard, were also reflections on the nature of the prophetic office. A couple of weeks ago, the Hebrew Bible reading was Deuteronomy 18:15-20:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’

This is the heart of Hebrew prophecy: one who speaks the Word of God to the people. The model is Moses, who was a mediator between Yahweh and the Israelites, who both delivered the law and interpreted it. Earlier in the chapter, it’s made clear what prophecy is not: soothsaying, augury, divination. These are efforts to predict and control the future. But there’s more.  There is also a clear distinction between true and false prophecy: “Whoever speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word I have not commanded them to speak–that prophet shall die.”

This raises the obvious question: How is one to know whether the word a prophet speaks comes from God? The following verses (Deut 18:21-22) ask and answer that question. If whatever is spoken doesn’t come to pass or prove true, then it comes from a false prophet. In other words, wait and see.

In this week’s reading from 2 Kings, we have the wonderful story of Elijah’s departure from earth and the passing of the mantle of prophecy from Elijah to Elisha. Often our focus is on the single prophet, the great hero who, like Elijah and Elisha, performed miracles, and stood alone against the monarchy and the prophets of Ba’al. There are also those solo prophets, Amos, Isaiah, and the like who were opposed by the monarchy and establishment and could rely only on the support of God.

This text shows a more complex institution, the “company of prophets” who seem connected in some way with the solo practitioners and are aware that Elijah is about to pass from the earth. They are curious and involved in the story, even when it’s clear that Elijah sometimes sees them as a nuisance. By the way, Elijah’s itinerary exactly imitates the itinerary of Joshua and the Israelites when they entered the promised land.

All of these readings encourage us to explore the nature of call and the nature of the prophetic message, the relationship of prophetic and other forms of authority. We tend to think of prophets as those who can predict the future, but in the Hebrew tradition, they were primarily interpreters of the law, the Torah, and sought to hold the monarchy and its people to divine standards, to create and maintain just relationships and just communities.

On the other hand, progressive Christians often emphasize the prophetic role of the religious leader or the community without examining the nature of the leader’s or community’s authority. There’s a seductive temptation to perceive oneself as a prophet and to interpret opposition to oneself or one’s message in terms of the opposition of an Israelite king or faithless people to God’s message. Call, authority, and divine message can only be discerned in community, and as Deuteronomy 18 suggests, one ought to approach one’s calling, and one’s message with a certain degree of humility, and uncertainty. I sometimes wonder whether there remains any utility whatever in seeing the church’s role (or that of its leaders) in terms of prophecy.

Do not be afraid: A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

March 6, 2011

Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany. It’s been a long season of Epiphany, almost two months. Christmas is nothing more than a faint memory and if we were in a different part of the country, spring would be well on its way. The season of Epiphany always begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. It always ends here, with the story of the Transfiguration. In between those two, we hear stories of Jesus Christ’s appearances to his disciples and to us. This Sunday provides us with another opportunity to experience and try to understand the glory of Christ, even as we look forward to Lent with its very different emphasis.

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