The Rev. Hannah Hooker’s sermon from the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B.
This epiphany we have heard about and prayed about and contemplated the ways that Jesus of Nazareth is revealed to be the Christ in Scripture. First, the Magi were drawn by a star and God made them to understand that the infant they met was already greater than any other earthly king. Thirty years later (or one week, for us) Jesus is baptized by John at the river Jordan and the clouds opened up and a dove came down and God announced to the world that this man, this human man is God’s divine son. Over the next three weeks in our lectionary, we heard about Jesus calling his first disciples, giving his first teachings, and working his first miracles. His disciples knew that there was something special, something supernatural, something otherworldly about this man they had taken up with. But was he the Messiah, the savior prophesied about from the time of Moses, the one who save God’s people?
This morning, three disciples’ suspicions are confirmed as Jesus reveals his true identity once and for all. Peter, James and John go up to the top of a mountain together with Jesus. This is not in itself unusual. Jesus was often walking away to a secluded place to pray either alone or with a few disciples. But when they arrive, these three disciples experience something unexplainable, something that only happens in dreams. All of a sudden, this man, this Jew from Nazareth that they have come to know and trust, is transformed, transfigured in front of them. They are blinded by the light of his face and I imagine that their other senses were likewise stunned. And there are Moses and Elijah next to him, perhaps the two most familiar and beloved and important figures in these disciples’ cultural, religious, and spiritual lives standing right in front of them.
They are overcome. They are in the presence of their God. All is right with the world. Everything is connected, everything makes sense, they have attained the truth. Nothing can hurt them here. The only thing that matters, the only thing that exists, is being in the presence of this blinding love. So of course, the disciples respond by saying, let’s stay here. Let’s pitch our tents here. Let’s never leave. Let’s stay forever just like this.
In our own lives, we respond to Christ in a very similar way. When we find a safe, comfortable, amazing, loving, true experience of Christ’s love – at a particular church, with a particular priest or pastor, with a particular budget, schedule, and set of friends, we say, let’s pitch our tent here.
Like the disciples, we mean well, but we are danger of becoming like Elisha in our Old Testament reading this morning. Just as Elisha repeated over and over again to Elijah that he’s committed to Elijah and nothing is going to change, once we’ve pitched our spiritual tents, we often find ourselves repeating over and over again, we’re here, we’re committed, this is what church is, this is what the bible says and what it means, and this is how it should be. And when someone says something like “you know it can’t stay like this forever” or “you know, the Bible is a living text not stagnant and there might be other ways of looking at it” or “your amazing experience is in some way hindering my amazing experience” we respond, as Elisha did, “shut up already and sit back down!”
But in the end, it doesn’t matter how committed and faithful Elisha appears to be, Elijah completes his journey, fulfills his purpose, leaves this earth, and leaves Elisha behind. Likewise, Christ says, “boys, we can’t stay here,” and leads them back down the mountain. Peter and James and John wanted to stay on the mountain forever, and build a monument there, because it is our human tendency once we have discovered Christ’s love to try and comprehend it, then own it, control it, build a monument to encase it. But Christ has other plans, for the disciples and for us, and the only monument that ever matters is the cross.
In our liturgical journey, we’ve reached the end of Epiphany, and it is time for us to let go of the safety and comfort of the season of revelation and begin our journey with Christ to the cross. In our spiritual journey, God is calling us to let go of our need to control what Christ’s love looks like at St. Mark’s, and begin following Christ’s vision for this place, which may very well be new and unfamiliar, uncomfortable, might even end on a cross.
At our annual meeting back in January, we highlighted many of the fantastic and thriving ministries at St. Mark’s, like the Two Saints Kitchen, our growing youth group, Children’s Christian education on Wednesday nights, our incredible music program, and our transformative Sunday morning worship experience. We also highlighted some tough truths. We are still without a rector, and our pledges and budget are not quite where they need to be to hire one. We do not have any ongoing adult formation, Sunday school, or small groups. None of these truths are dire and they are, at one time or another, something every church goes through. But surely, when a mirror is held up for us as worshiping community, we are ought to respond faithfully together. So many of us have found a home, a safe haven, at St. Mark’s and we want to pitch our tents atop this mountain. But Christ is calling us back down, reminding us that there is work to do, that the story does not end with the revelation.
And so, during Lent, we will strive to unite behind one mission, one discipline, to faithfully explore our common spiritual life and discern what God is calling us towards in the near future. We will recommit to this common life through our worship, home devotions, small groups, and stewardship, meaning how we give our time and use our gifts and spend our money. We will hold one another accountable on our journey to the cross. We will practice our faith together. We have spent a season celebrating the knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ. Now we must accept our commission as his followers, pick up our own crosses, and follow him all the way to Good Friday. It will be a challenge. It will require discipline. It will be glorious. And it all starts here, on top of our St. Mark’s mountain, where we have seen and felt and known the true love of Christ.
I invite and encourage you to pick up a St. Mark’s Lenten Devotional booklet on the table in the Narthex on the way out. I invite and encourage you to join us this Wednesday, at 7am, noon, or 7pm as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin our #LentenDiscipline. I invite and encourage you to spend time this week considering your personal #LentenDiscipline. How does the mountaintop of the transfiguration impact your life, and how is God calling you to take up your cross in the life of St. Mark’s during this Lenten season. Amen.
Photo: Church of the Transfiguration, Mt. Tabor, Israel