Monday, February 24, 2020

Transfiguration A

Matthew 17:1-9

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

On Transfiguration we bury the alleluias! Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with ashes that remind us of our own death and mortality. Lent is 40 days, from Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week, excluding Sundays that are "in but not of" Lent because each Sunday is a little Easter. Lent is a truly penitential season where many people discipline themselves in meaningful ways such as giving up a food they enjoy, a habit they don't want, taking on an activity to benefit others. No alleluias during Lent because of repentance and an overall low-key sensibility.

The western protestant church celebrates Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany. For Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican churches, Transfiguration is on August 6th. Many Orthodox churches observe Transfiguration for an octave of eight days; the church long has noted particularly important festivals in octaves, so Transfiguration is that important! Some RC churches observe Transfiguration on the Second Sunday in Lent.

All three synoptic gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – include similar accounts of the Transfiguration—metamorphosis in Greek.

One way for explaining the church's year of grace is to consider Advent through Transfiguration a big section that especially reveals God in Jesus as God of all, God for all, with the light of Christ reaching everywhere it shines.

Similar to Jesus' Baptism a few weeks ago, the Transfiguration famously brings us a Trinitarian theophany, a simultaneous revelation/showing forth of all three persons of the godhead.

Throughout OT and NT, we experience creation as the setting or venue for God's historical activity. In Judaism, mountains often were arenas of God's self-revelation.

Traditional and valid interpretations of this event include:

1. You can't stay on the mountaintop forever.
2. The party needs to end because you need to go back to the daily rhythm of life with its public witness out in the world.
3. You can't contain God or put "god in a box." Martin Luther talked about a domesticated god.
3. God is not a place god of one particular locale; God is God of all places, all people, everywhere.

Other ideas:

1. In Matthew 17:1, "Six days later" comes after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ of God, after Jesus' rebuke of Peter as satan; Transfiguration reveals Jesus full of light as Son of the Excellent Glory, as today's second reading 2 Peter 1:16-19 names God the Father in 1:17.

2. In Luke's account, they've just finished Succoth, the Feast of Booths – Tabernacles – Tents when people re-enacted God's protection during their wilderness wanderings in the exodus desert (Leviticus 23:39-43). Those temporary structures provided shelter from the elements yet people remained exposed to nature, so it's possible Peter, James, and John imagined offering hospitality and protection to Moses and Elijah because their memory of Succoth was so fresh.

3. Late Trappist monk Thomas Merton suggested not only Jesus was transformed, the disciples with him also received a transfiguration that helped them recognize the divine presence in all persons, in all creation.

Verse 17:5 During this literal seeing-with-their-eyes vision of Jesus full of brightness, dazzle, bling, and splendor ("glory," as Pastor Peg emphasized in her sermon) the voice from heaven commands not look at him, but Listen to him!. In the Hebrew way of life, to listen is to hear is to obey. Alexander observed how calmly matter of fact the Father's announcement of Jesus' sonship is, without the type of unwelcome intrusiveness we get from too much current advertising.

Moses represents the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant; Elijah represents the voice of the prophets. Both appeared on the mountain with Jesus we know as the ultimate word of God, the definitive interpreter of The Law and the Prophets. Listen to Jesus! and don't listen to any other cultural, consumer, economic, ecclesiastical voices evokes the Barmen Declaration [1934] from the Confessing Church in Germany in the wake of the idolatry of nazi national socialism:

Barmen Declaration 8:11: "Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death."

• We can consider Baptism of Jesus and Transfiguration bookends for each other.

• We can pair the unknown mountain of Transfiguration and Calvary Mountain where Jesus was crucified, with both revealing an aspect of God's essence.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Epiphany 6A

Deuteronomy 30:[11-14]; 15-20

11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Matthew 5:21-24; 43-45

21"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder'; and "whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.

23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

43'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."

This is Matthew's gospel year in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) that gives us our Sunday scripture readings. The synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke all view Jesus in a similar manner (syn=together, as in words like synthesis, synoptic, synergy, synod, synchrony; optic=eye, as in words like optical, optician, optometrist, optimistic, optimal), yet each gospel account has distinctive themes. Matthew especially presents Jesus as the new Liberator Moses, as the new King David. Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness.

We're still in the season of Epiphany that especially emphasizes Jesus as light, savior, and reconciler of all creation, not solely for the Hebrew or Israelite people. Epiphany means revealing, showing forth, shining out. Last Sunday we talked about us as light to the world, us as salt of the earth. Yes, in John's gospel Jesus calls himself light of the world, but we're in Matthew where Jesus announces us as salt and light!

We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke) a spelling-out of the Ten Commandments. This would have been our third Sermon on the Mount week, but last Sunday we celebrated Jesus' Presentation in the Temple because February 2nd was a Sunday. With new members being received again today, we didn't program all four of the appointed scriptures, but after we heard the passage from Matthew in Sunday School I read part of the first lection and four verses before.

The Ten Word or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant [Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5] God gave the people through Moses mirror God's nature and provide working papers for living together as community and out in the world beyond the gathered church. In our Deuteronomy reading, via Moses God insists the word of life is so close by it is in our heart and in our mouths; it is part of us. The NRSV translation says we can observe the word, but better ones say we can do God's word. In his Message translation, late Pastor Eugene Peterson says... Just Do It!!! Moses presents stark if-then contrasts of life/death // blessing/curse.

Matthew's gospel never lets up on justice and righteousness. God created us in the divine image, so God's attributes of justice and righteousness are among characteristics that reflect our divine nature. For us as people of God, justice and righteousness, love and forgiveness for all – including our enemies – permeate everything we are and everything we do. The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to shalom and wholeness for all creation. Everything is relational in both vertical (toward God) and horizontal (toward our neighbors) directions. Jesus calls us to treat everyone as a significant other, to practice the neighborology we especially talked about during Luke's lectionary year.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Epiphany 5A

Matthew 5:13-20

13"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

On the first Sunday of Advent Matthew's lectionary year started again. Matthew is one of the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus in a somewhat similar manner. Matthew never lets up on justice and righteousness; Matthew particularly presents Jesus as the new liberator Moses, the new king David.

So far in Matthew: the first sentence announces a new genesis/new creation; genealogy that includes non-Jewish foreigners; Jesus' birth; visit of magi from the East; Holy Family's flight into Egypt where they become refugees from injustice and danger; Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist; 40 days of wilderness desert solitude and temptations; Jesus calls disciples Peter, Andres, James, and John.

Last Sunday was February 2nd, so we celebrated Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Churches that didn't observe Presentation/Candlemas heard the familiar blessed are beatitudes that open Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as the New Moses.

We're still in the Ordinary Time season of Epiphany that emphasizes Jesus as light of the world, redeemer for all creation everywhere. Next Sunday will be the last Sunday after Epiphany, then it will be Transfiguration, followed by Lent's season opener Ash Wednesday. Today is about us as light of the world – people who radiate like a city on a hill! – and about us as salt of the earth.

Maybe you're heard Kari Jobe's song, We Are

Every secret, every shame
Every fear, every pain
Lives inside the dark
But that's not who we are
We are children of the day

We are the light of the world
We are the city on the hill
We are the light of the world
We gotta let the light shine
Let the light shine
Let the light shine.

By the way, I no longer link to videos because YouTube content changes so rapidly. You easily can find some good performances of "We Are."

This week continues Jesus' sermon on the mount he began by proclaiming attributes or characteristics of people who follow him. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them makes demands for our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are how we are to be, how God calls and enables us to live. Unlike Luke, who has Jesus giving a similar talk on a plain or level place, as part of his "Jesus the new Moses" Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times so it reached different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people... flash mob, anyone? As we've discussed, we're welcome to speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and we sometimes need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own lives.

Over the past few weeks we've talked about light. The song "We Are" calls us Children of the Day. We can parallel that with the OT "Children of Israel/Jacob" and the NT "Children of Abraham": offspring, descendants, people who carry a particular DNA and therefore those traits. We are stardust, we are golden...

Having talked about light over the past few weeks, we focused on salt. The word salary we get paid derives from salt. In some places and times, salt has been a form of currency you can exchange for desired goods or services. Like gold, salt is a fungible currency that has intrinsic value rather than value arbitrarily declared by the government (as happens with paper bank notes or federal reserve notes).

Salt is an easy and interesting topic. Salt adds some of its own flavor, but even more, salt brings out other flavors in the dishes we add it to. Making ice cream. Salting sidewalks to melt ice or so ice won't form. Similar to ways we use sodium chloride, the particular salt Jesus references, we can sprinkle or pour happiness, prayers, concern, gifts, recognition, services, and other graces to people and communities we encounter in ways we use salt. A whole lot at once might be overwhelming, so it's often wise to begin with a few shakes.

verse 20: ...unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees...

Though they often get a bad rap, in this context consider scribes and pharisees good leaders who wanted justice in the community, who tried to keep the commandments to the letter, did everything possible to make the world around them a better place.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Presentation–Candlemas

Luke 2:21-40

21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
      according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
      31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
      and for glory to your people Israel."

33And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

February 2nd famously is Groundhog Day in this country. Other February 2nd events include the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary in the Jerusalem Temple. Today is Candlemas—a word similar to Christmas, but rather than Christ's Mass it's Candle's Mass, a day to bless candles for the coming year. In addition, today is St Brigid's Day, and Imbolc falls on approximately February 01, 02, or 03. Imbolc is one of the cross-quarter festivals in Celtic spirituality, in the nature practices of some pagans. Cross-quarter refers to the mid-point between seasons, and conveys a sense of special things happening in creation during those mid-points.

The church's year of grace still is in the season of Epiphany when we celebrate Jesus as light, redeemer, savior for all people everywhere, all creation; Candlemas is a specially festive day of light. Although on Advent 1 we began RCL (Revised Common Lectionary) year A that features Matthew's gospel, today for Presentation-Purification-Candlemas we hear from Luke.

Because it's also appointed for the First Sunday of Christmas in Luke's lectionary year C, so you may have heard it a few times, today's gospel reading brings us a very Jewish Jesus with his parents fulfilling the requirements of the ceremonial (sacrificial, ritual) religious law that Luke refers to as "Law of Moses." Please take note that in this passage law doesn't refer to the Sinai Covenant of the Ten Words or Commandments. Although all the gospels and everything about Jesus is about Jesus as light, savior, redeemer, of all the world, unlike Mark, Matthew, and John, Luke doesn't get very specific about that kind of universalism until the book of Acts, his volume 2. People often cite Acts 10:10-15 when Peter is told no food is off limits, but Acts generally expands into universal salvation as the narrative unfolds. However, here at the outset of Luke, we hear Simeon announcing "...salvation ... in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke uniquely brings us three canticles or New Testament psalms; each of these has a particular place when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours / Divine Office / Canonical Hours.

• Luke 1:46-55 Magnificat – Mary's song in response to the angel's announcement she will become the mother of Jesus. This canticle belongs in Evening Prayer or Vespers, typically sung at nightfall. On Saturday, March 7th we'll sing Holden Evening Prayer because the LA Marathon will run past the church building on Sunday morning. Come to church at 5 for Vespers, followed by supper, bible study, and dessert bake-off!

• Luke 1:67-79 Benedictus – John the Baptist's father Zechariah's song in response to the news of his son's upcoming birth. We sing or chant this canticle at Morning Prayer, a variable format that generally combines elements of Lauds and Matins.

• Luke 2:29-32 Nunc Dimittis – Simeon's song in response to recognizing the presence of the savior of the world before him. Nunc Dimittis is the canticle for Compline or night prayer, and we sometimes sing or pray this canticle as we conclude the Eucharist. Martin Luther and John Calvin both include the Nunc Dimittis in at least one of their Eucharistic liturgies.

From the actual bible text we know the ages of some characters in scripture, but as Pastor Peg pointed out there's no mention of Simeon's age, but most artists illustrate him as an old man, probably because Anna really is quite old?