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Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

Feb 23, 2020

Passage: Matthew 17:1-9

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Detail:

Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A - 2020)
February 23rd, 2020
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

Exodus 24:12-18 2 Peter 1:16-21 Matthew 17:1-9

 

We have arrived at the end of the Epiphany season! As I’m sure you all know, the season of Lent begins on Wednesday, so this Sunday, we’re saying our final Alleluias until Easter, and marking the end of the season after Epiphany. And there’s an interesting ‘bookend’ going on in this morning’s Gospel lesson that I want to bring your attention to because I think it might help us as we enter the Lenten season.

So, I’d like us to cast our memories all the way back to the First Sunday after Epiphany on January 12th. On that day, we celebrated and remembered the occasion of Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan. And if you recall the Gospel reading from that Sunday, then you may recall it saying that when Jesus was baptized, as he came up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because we just heard about another occasion when a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This time, it’s the occasion when Jesus and a few of his friends go up on a mountain, and Jesus is transfigured. So we’ve got this sort of bookending of the Epiphany season where, at the beginning - and again at the end, we hear about a manifestation of God’s glory, and then comes a voice saying that Jesus is God’s beloved Son. And pretty much the whole of the Epiphany season in between is themed around the idea that Jesus is THE manifestation of God’s glory and that he is God’s beloved Son. And all of the light imagery that we get during Epiphany is meant to help us appreciate how good it is to rejoice that we are a people who live in the light that God has revealed to us. 

But as this morning’s Gospel lesson reminds us, at least in this life, we can’t stop time and bask in the light forever. In fact, we’ve had that lesson in front of us throughout the Epiphany season; again with a kind of bookend. Because if you go back to the story of Jesus’ baptism at the one end, then you know that immediately after he’s baptized, Jesus goes out into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. And then at the other end, after he’s transfigured, Jesus tells his friends that he’s going to wind up being crucified. In both cases, the glory that is revealed leads to some pretty un-glorious and hard times. And I think that much of life is like that. 

For those of you who have asked to see pictures of my son, then you know that I have probably 500 pictures on my phone. 500 captured little moments from his life that show him at his most photogenically beautiful. And he is a handsome little guy! There’s one I even took only yesterday where the late afternoon sun is shining on him, and he’s just smiling - and it’s perfect. It was one of those sublime moments that you want to just sit with and make last forever. And in such moments, I really do feel like saying, “This is my beloved son, and I am well pleased with him!”  I’m happy to show you the picture, by the way! 

But the thing that the picture doesn’t show is that not even 10 seconds after I took it, he was wailing like the world was ending. And Davis and I were off to the races with a diaper change and getting him fed and then trying to convince him that it was nap time and him disagreeing vociferously - you know the story. And for all of the 500 pictures that I have of my son where he looks happy and content, there are probably 500000 moments of fussiness and crying and all of us just plodding through as best we can. That doesn’t diminish those perfect moments - those perfect moments ARE true - but I do think that it’s worth acknowledging that there are also times when things are difficult. Because that’s also true. 

Too often in the church, I think we tend to want to put on our best face and present the perfect image of what we think we should look like. And I get it. If we are, as we claim to be, God’s beloved children, then it would be unseemly for us to let anyone see our imperfections. Because even though God sees me when I’m not at my best, no one else should have to! No one else needs to hear my complaints or know about my struggles. All I need to do when I gather with my community is present the picture of happiness and contentment. But that’s not what will lead to our transformation. 

Look at what Jesus might have to say about our only wanting to put our imagined best face forward. If projecting the right image were his only concern, after his transfiguration on the mountain he probably would have said something to his friends like, “Now make sure that everyone knows about what just happened up there. Don’t tell them about the bad stuff that’s coming. Or if you have to, just gloss over the bits about me getting arrested and crucified and dying. And focus instead on telling people about how you saw the glory.” No. 

Remember what Jesus says: “Do not tell anyone about what you’ve seen until after I’ve been raised from the dead.” In other words, he tells his friends don’t just dwell on the snapshot. Don’t get caught up or stuck on the glory that you’ve seen, but instead keep following me down the mountain and stick with it through the struggle. And then, only after you’ve been through the hard time and acknowledged it as true, can you look back on this moment and appreciate the larger truth of what God meant when God said I am his beloved Son.   

And what the larger truth is all about is this: the transfigured Jesus IS the Jesus who is on his way to be crucified. God’s beloved Son had to struggle with temptation and suffer humiliation and death. And so do we. The way of life for us - the way of true transformation - is not in patching together a few perfect snapshots of happiness and presenting that to the world as the only thing worth seeing. It’s in embracing the whole of life, as messy and as difficult and as full of frustration and disappointment as it is, and allowing others to see that even in the midst of the struggle, God is still at work. 

Of course, this way of transformation is not easy. And there are times when, in our own way, we can get fussy and wail like a newborn. But even then, even in those moments when imperfection seems to be all that we know, God’s voice still speaks to us, saying, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”