Saturday, February 26, 2022

Transfiguration C 2022

Transfiguration Listen to Him
Praying for Ukraine

Excerpts from a shared statement released by the ELCA on Thursday 24 February. Signatories are mostly national leaders of Christian church bodies in the USA and Canada; Basharat Saleem represents the Islamic Society of NA, Tarunjit Singh Butalia from Religions for Peace USA is Sikh, making this an interfaith declaration.

"All our religious traditions call us to pray and work for peace. We join our voices and hands together. We must open our eyes to those who are suffering, and we cannot remain indifferent to the injustice this conflict has brought on the people of Ukraine and may bring on people of neighboring countries.

"Join us as we pray:

"Oh Divine, most mighty, most merciful, our sacred stories tell us that you help and save your people. You are the fortress: may there be no more war. You are the harvest: may there be no more hunger. You are the light: may no one die alone or in despair. Oh Divine, most majestic, most motherly, grant us your life. Amen."

Interfaith Call to Peace for Ukraine

Luke 9:28-36

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"―not knowing what he said.

34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"

36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Transfigure=to change shape // Transfiguration=change of shape

Today the Epiphany segment of green and growing Ordinary Time concludes. This is the Western Protestant Church's Transfiguration Sunday, or (this year, since it's calendared according to the date of Easter Sunday) the eighth Sunday after Epiphany. The Roman Catholic branch of the church celebrates Transfiguration on the Second Sunday in Lent; Eastern Orthodox and some Anglican churches on August 6th. Transfiguration is an octave of eight days in the East—theologically and liturgically, it's so important they celebrate it for 8 days! Actually…some churches celebrate it twice.

So Far in Luke 9

• Jesus calls the 12 together and gives them authority to heal and cast out demons.
• Sends them out to proclaim the gospel and heal; charges them to find and stay at houses of peace/shalom, with the famous exhortation to shake the dust of any place off their feet if it isn't one of peace.
• Charges the 12 to feed the crowd—"you give them something to eat." 5 loaves, 2 fish.
• Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, the Christ of God.
• Jesus' passion prediction—suffer, die, be buried, raised.
• Jesus calls us to bear his cross, to lose our lives in order to save our lives.
• And now, Jesus transfigured on the mountain top!

Backtracking: read Exodus 34:29-35

Jesus' appearance becomes transformed not simply because he experiences God's glory like Moses did, but because he is the source of divine glory.

More Notes

Just as at Jesus' Baptism, at Transfiguration we experience a Trinitarian theophany: manifestation, showing forth, revelation of all three persons of the trinity. This is the end of the Epiphany season that emphasizes Jesus as light for all the world, not only for God's original people. The "Theo" prefix is God; remember other words that include "phan"? Epiphany, Tiffany, Fantasy. Any other similar words?

"About eight days" could refer to approximately one week, or it could refer to the 8th day of the New Creation. In their parallel passages, Mark and Matthew tell us 6 days, which also is about one week. In scripture mountains are places of special revelation. Both Moses [Exodus 20:1-17] and Elijah [1 Kings 19:12] received revelation on mountains. Jesus' crucifixion on Mount Calvary is the ultimate mountaintop revelation. As often happens in Luke's gospel, Jesus was praying when this revelation happened. Compare Jesus' baptism.

They talked about Jesus' departure: "Exodus" in the Greek. Although all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the transfiguration, Jesus speaks of his exodus only in Luke. Luke's gospel particularly emphasizes a new freedom, new redemption, new liberation from war, violence, hatred, greed, a new way of living together in peace.

They'd just been celebrating the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles or Tents when people remembered and celebrated God's precarious protection during their wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:39-43), so sons of Zebedee Peter, James, and John had the idea of huts or little booths. In Hebrew cosmology, the cloud of the Shekinah was a frequent feminine image for the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

Why Moses and Elijah? What do we already know about them? Moses – Sinai Covenant/Ten Commandments, "Law"; Exodus. Elijah – Prophets.

Listen to Jesus!

Listen to Jesus! not "look at him," despite all the resplendent shiny heavenly glory and bling that surrounds him. Listen to Jesus, not to Moses or to Elijah, who didn't quite get everything right all the time. Listen to Jesus and not to any other (cultural, economic, consumer, 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."

Today we looked at Jesus' transfiguration. A quote from Nelson Mandela: "We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us." So how about us?

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Epiphany 7C

Genesis 45:1-15

1Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.

3Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'"

12"And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.

15And Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

So Far

The church's year of grace has reached the seventh Sunday after Epiphany; this exceptionally long epiphany season will conclude next Sunday with Transfiguration. And then? Ash Wednesday followed by six Sundays in (but not of) Lent.

This time I'm only blogging a brief consideration of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible first lesson that's a small slice of the story of patriarch Jacob's son Joseph and his brothers. The Joseph narrative spans Genesis 37 through 50; this summary includes wonderful contemporary illustrations. You'll notice some backtracking and repetitions because Genesis was compiled from different separate sources.

This segment aligns well with the overall Epiphany theme of revelation, unveiling, clarification of God's presence in Jesus, light of the world, and also in us, as we reveal Jesus' ongoing presence in the world. Please feel Joseph's and Benjamin's joy-filled tears! This story often brings up the fact it's always possible to forgive, though forgiveness frequently is a process. In many cases, we humans need to have some clue about why the other person behaved as they did. Joseph's story frequently starts discussions concerning whether or not it's healthy to reconcile with an individual, situation, or organization in the wake of forgiveness. Sometimes it is; sometimes it's not. At least in this particular vignette, life again is healed and whole between Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph as a Type of Christ

This passage is about forgiveness, reconciliation, and new beginnings. Joseph's behavior and attitude is similar to Jesus' charge to us in his sermon on the mount (in Matthew) and his sermon on the plain (in Luke). We often refer to scriptural characters as "types" or images/icons of Jesus Christ. For example:

• Adam is firstborn of the old Creation // Jesus is firstborn of the new creation

• Moses with Exodus from Egyptian slavery; Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb/Mount Sinai // Jesus with a new Exodus of liberation from several types of bondage; Sermon on the Mount

• David the shepherd who later becomes king // Jesus the new shepherd, new king

• Jeremiah the weeping prophet // Jesus weeping over Jerusalem

• And there are more! Martin Luther read Jesus into almost every sentence of the OT!

Joseph – God – Resurrection

Joseph's brothers had intended serious harm (as in killing him) to Joseph, but Joseph was wise enough to recognize the action of God's Spirit of life in redeeming an incredibly bad situation. in today's reading, Joseph keeps giving God the credit; in fact, in the last chapter of Genesis, chapter 50, Joseph again credits God.

In spite of us, in spite of other people, in spite of circumstances, God ultimately heals, mends, renews, resurrects. Today's second reading from 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 includes the apostle Paul's formal theological assurance of resurrection from the dead. For Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection!

Living in Empire

The story of Joseph and his brothers also is about living well under empire (in this case Egypt). We've discussed Ezra, Nehemiah, and the people they served living purposefully under imperial Persia when they returned to Jerusalem after Babylon. For the past few millennia It's been impossible to avoid the influence of empires, whether they're national governments (Babylon, Persia, Rome, Spain, Great Britain) or transnational corporations (Bayer, Walmart, GE, Nestle… entities like Hyundai and Samsung aren't much different). Because we can't escape into a bubble or to a remote island, we need to find ways to live and maybe even thrive, whether by resisting or even some degree of cooperation. At the start of Joseph's story, with famine all around, they had no choice but to go to a place where crops would grow and they could be fed.

Final note: God even redeems (literally takes back, buys back) death into new life!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Epiphany 6C

Luke 6:12-26
12Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

17Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."


Comparing Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12) and Luke's Sermon on the Plain or a Level Place (pasture, meadow, savannah, farmland) is a classic move that helps us understand differences between Luke's and Matthew's gospels. Jesus' "Blessed" list often is called The Beatitudes. The Greek almost always translated as "Blessed" approximately means happy, well-off, content, fortunate, but not quite, because there's no exact English equivalent.

Matthew's Jesus goes (trudges?) up the mountain and from there he proclaims a series of prophetic if/then possibilities. Among other emphases, Matthew's gospel brings us Jesus of Nazareth as a new Moses. Moses went up Mount Sinai (or Horeb, same place, different name) to receive the Ten Commandments or Words.

Luke's Jesus and his disciples come down the mountain before Jesus gives this talk; that's also like Moses who came down Mount Sinai or Horeb to deliver the Ten Words/Decalogue he'd received from God.

The Gospel According to Luke

Unlike Matthew, Luke parallels four blessings with four "woe" statements. Woes disrupt and disturb our comfortable complacency, tell us to pay attention, to listen up! They're exactly like diamond-shaped warnings along a roadway: it's important to know about falling rocks, dead end, slippery when wet, because if you have the information you can avoid the negative consequences of those dangers. These woes aren't about misery, pain, sorrow, or distress. Luke's Jesus doesn't line out blessings versus curses – these aren't Divine favor versus God's judgment – not realm of heaven versus depths of hell.

Matthew's Sermon on the Mount includes only blessings (no woes or warnings) that result from certain human attitudes and behaviors. In Matthew, these blessings are strongly spiritual; in contrast, Luke reports earthbound, physical benefits.

Earlier in Luke we've seen social and economic leveling in Mary's Magnificat as she celebrates news of God's arrival in our midst (Luke 1:39-55). In his first act of public ministry when he reads Torah in synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:14-24), Jesus picks up Mary's theme; he reads from Isaiah and promises jubilee good news (gospel) to the poor, liberty to imprisoned and oppressed, economic and social justice.

Consistent with Luke's focus on distributive (who gets what, when, where, how, and even "why") justice, common-wealth, and our neighbors' well-being, in Luke's gospel Jesus gives this talk from the same level or elevation as the listening people.

Jesus almost definitely gave many different versions of this homily in many different places, so there's no need to ask which version is more accurate. People back then probably memorized more easily than most of us do now, and for sure Jesus and his peers had committed huge chunks of scripture to memory, but particular events from Jesus' ministry got recorded by the gospel writers because news of those significant actions and encounters constantly made rounds because they were such "gospeled" great news.

I especially love that Luke records the time Jesus offered these promises after he'd been praying with his disciples (taught people) and from a larger group chose twelve apostles (sent people). Notice that he spoke to many persons all told; each one would have understood to a different degree and grasped a somewhat different perspective.

Where we Live: Blessings & Woes

Without a doubt Jesus' Beatitudes were very different from ways most political and religious leaders usually behaved; they subverted the status quo most regular people routinely experienced, too. You know where I'm going?! What blessings and woes can we announce? COVID mostly could have been history by now if only more people and the leaders of those people… If. Only.

I'll insist blessed are those who take their own health and the well-being of their neighbors seriously enough to get vaccinated, to mask up whenever they venture out, and *even* to avoid sizable gatherings whenever possible. Blessed are those who realize every facet of existence intertwines, so the overall economy can't thrive if the individuals who move and shake the goods and the legal tender through the system can't be there to do their things.

Woe to those who don't and won't acknowledge my freedom limits yours – yours limits mine and if I test positive, your cohorts are more likely to do so, and each social and economic move impacts a few hundred in its path.

*Even* from someone (me, your blogger!) who loves worshipping with the people called church in the building we also call church:

Blessed are those ecclesiastical leaders who trust science enough and love their people enough to navigate previous unknowns of Zoom and live streaming, who are more than willing to give up their druthers for everyone's future.

Woe (be careful, people) to those who correctly explain Christianity is embodied and incarnational and sensory, so digital electronic versions cannot ever be faithful. Alternatives?

What Blessings and Woes do you declare?

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Epiphany 5C

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of God's robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God's glory." 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."

8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

Epiphany 5

The Epiphany season continues with its focus on revelation, light, and Jesus for all people and all creation. God self-reveals in many different ways—scripture, circumstances, dreams we have when we sleep, dreams and visions when we're awake, memories, hopes, creation, sacraments… Epiphany also is about God's people in turn revealing God's ways of inclusive grace to the world, which makes stories of God calling people so appropriate to the season.

Isaiah is 66 chapters long; it spans at least two centuries with writings from at least three different people. Today's passage is from early in the first section of the book from the writer we refer to as Isaiah of Jerusalem or First Isaiah. Like Jeremiah's call we discussed last week, Isaiah's call is mostly about God's action.

Today's Reading

Seraphs or seraphim are snaky creatures with wings; elsewhere in the bible, cherubs or cherubim have lion faces. Neither one is the chubby baby angel figure of Renaissance and other paintings, of Christmas and Valentine's Day greeting cards.

Although this is one of the texts for Trinity Sunday, Holy, holy, holy in this passage is not trinitarian—it's an artifact of Hebrew and other semitic languages. English adjectives have basic, comparative, and superlative forms, so we say good-better-best, pretty-prettier-prettiest. If I were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic and really enjoyed a meal, I might say it was good-good-good or tasty-tasty-tasty; In English I'd tell the chef or my lunch companion today's menu was the best or the tastiest. In the first reading for today, God is holy-holy-holy or The Holiest.

This scripture outlines some essentials of worship:

• Proclamation of God's holy and glorious presence throughout creation: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God's glory."
• Isaiah's confession of sin: "Woe is me! I am lost; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
• Absolution: "The seraph touched my mouth with a live coal and said: 'Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.'"
• Invitation/call: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'"
• Response: "Here am I; send me!"

COVID. The Future.

As COVID_19 remains a thing worldwide, like all people and every organization, the church needs to trust God with the future God has been preparing for us. Jesus Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension along with the witness of scripture are our main guides as we pray and hope into the unknown. In exactly the same way a holy God met Isaiah in the temple in linear time – "the year that King Uzziah died" – God meets us in particular longitude and latitude, year, month, day, and hour. Right now it's "In this name of place in the beginning of the third(!!!) year of the worldwide COVID pandemic." God self-reveals in scripture, circumstances, dreams, memories, hopes, creation, sacraments… How is God calling the church into the future?

At the start of Leviticus we hear, The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." Holy people? Holy God? Leviticus 19 then outlines the Ten Commandments, with added details. The baptismal hymn in 1 Peter announces to us:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people of God's possession,
So that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into marvelous light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people;
Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Epiphany reveals Jesus as light of the world, Jesus as savior of all. Epiphany is about us in turn revealing God's inclusive grace to the world. For us as holy people of a holy God, holiness means being baptized, set apart, and called; holiness means being pure or forgiven; holiness means responding with loving, merciful, justice-seeking lives.