Year C, Last Sunday after the Epiphany February 7, 2016 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“…Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Good morning everyone! Welcome to this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the last Sunday we have together before the Lenten season arrives. We mark this time of transition in our commemoration of the Transfiguration of Jesus. That dazzling white, Elijah and Moses with Him and the voice booming out from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Transfiguration for sure. It is a fitting commemoration for the day because the Transfiguration story and the links the Lectionary readings make are a story of lineage, of continuity and tradition on one hand, and it is a story of great change, newness and of transformation on the other.
St. Luke’s narrative also carries these themes, as it is in this moment that Jesus first begins talking about His “departure”, and that “…which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” This shift from life to death mirrors our move from the Ordinary time of the Epiphany season to the penitential season of Lent, the season of our own descent together into the darkness of death before the brilliant light of Christ is rekindled in the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter. Continuity and change. Tradition and transfiguration.
Our readings for today start in Exodus with Moses, and Moses bringing the Law to the people of Israel, and his transformation, the shining skin of his face. The presence of God was so dazzling that Moses shone, and he shone so brightly that he had to cover his face with a veil. And in that state he delivered the Law.
St. Paul speaks of this in his second letter to the church in Corinth. He writes a bit more in the vein of saying how Jesus and His revelation overshadows the ancestors, that the old way was a veil hung between the people and God. This doesn’t ring true to many of us today, the need to prove that our religion is better then another, comparisons like that are beyond meaningless, they are destructive, but Paul holds up the very real importance of where we came from, lineage, history, tradition, and of how change, transformation and continued revelation also happen.
That is what Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus represent. Jesus is right there with them, the greatest of the ancestors, the deliverer of Israel out of bondage and the bearer of the Law, Moses and the greatest of all the prophets of old, Elijah. And then they disappear and He, Jesus is left, and God said that he is the Chosen: a Chosen one from a Chosen people. Tradition and transformation.
Our story is important. Abram was chosen to father a people: a covenant was made; a people were chosen. Then Moses came, set Israel free and through him the Law was given. Then prophets, Elijah being the greatest, they followed, rebuking and exhorting Gods people to keep God’s law with God’s own words on their lips. And from this chosen people a chosen one, Jesus Christ came, to reveal the glory of God and bring salvation, the offer of mercy from that same God to everyone, to proclaim that all are welcome at God’s table. That is our story. Woe be to those who forget where we come from. Tradition and transformation.
That brings us back to Lent. It starts on Wednesday. Are you excited? I love Lent because it is a time of practice, of overt religious practice. We could always do that, but Lent is an entire season where we are supported in our practice. Supported by each other, yes of course, hopefully more by encouragement to maintain our observances than shame for not measuring up. But there is more, we can be supported just as much by the two thousand years of our ancestors who have fasted just like we are about to. We are supported in our practice by our tradition. Doing something that has been done for thousands of years is just wonderful; there is weight behind it, a blessed gravity. We are supported and encouraged and challenged in our practices and through those practices were are changed. We are converted. We are transformed. Tradition and transformation.
We’re not going to talk about the theology of Lent today, we have six Sundays in Lent to do that, but rather, we are going to talk about the practice of Lent. That is because it is here, Lent. And I really want to encourage you to do something this season. What is, are the purposes of the tradition of Lenten fasts and disciplines? What are we trying to do?
- Share in the suffering of Christ. (His death and His own fast).
- View the world from a different perspective.
- Offer a sacrifice (Religion without sacrifice is a deadly sin and giving up something for the sake of giving it up is somehow helpful).
- (Taking on a penitential practice to atone for sin).
- A practice to focus our attention on God in Christ.
- And that is far from exhaustive
There are many roads to our Lenten austerities, but they all have a common feature: all of these practices in one way or another cultivate our awareness, our mindfulness, attentiveness and intentionality to how we are conducting ourselves in the world. The biggest sin that we all commit all the time is settling with experiencing the world through the same tiny aperture. Assuming that what we see through our minute perspective is all there is to see. And that is primarily a sin of habit. We live like that because we live like and the more we live like that the more we live like that. Practices that cultivate awareness, mindfulness, that encourage us to be more attentive and intentional in our lives are necessary for us to break the sinful cycle of the everyday.
Particularly in a world where our primary sin is excess, where constant material indulgence is a cultural duty even (shopping would get us through 9-11), finding some way, a supported way to be counter-cultural in this respect is extremely valuable, for all this stuff, all the suffering reducing stuff we are surrounded by, as comfortable as it may feel, it gets in the way of us encountering the true nature of things, it obscures our vision of everything, most importantly of God in Christ and the love they shine forth, the love that they are. What we do in Lent can help shake us out of it, a bit. Can reboot the habitual side of ourselves, can remind us that we are actually alive and actually in relationship with God and Neighbor. How are you going to do that this Lent?
First, it isn’t important what you do (or don’t do), what is important is that you do or don’t do it! In this season we have the invitation to fast, to abstain from doing or consuming something, and we have the invitation to a discipline, an intentional doing of something. There is a third traditional category of Lenten practice, alms-giving, offering gifts, charitable gifts to those in need. What are you going to do this Lent?
Fasting and abstinence are common Lenten practices. Giving up a certain food or activity. There is the traditional fast of a light breakfast, a full meal at lunch time and a small meal in the evening, and the traditional abstinence of removing meat from your diet for the season, but there are so many ways to fast. A Netflix, or TV fast is a good one. Someone I know gave up sarcasm last year. No sex; that’s very traditional. Fasting from alcohol, sweets, caffeine or other intoxicants; a legion of benefits there. It is not just giving up something decadent, but something we will notice. That’s the value of the practice, noticing. You have a daunting five minute wait in the grocery line and as you reach in your pocket to check Facebook to fill that eternity you remember, “hmmm… I’m fasting from Facebook in Lent.” You have a micro-suffer, and in that moment, in making an intentional choice to stick to your fast you are brought right back to center. Right back to right now where God is. Maybe just for a moment, but those moments add up. Fasting.
And there are all sorts of disciplines that do just the same thing. Quite a few folks took up the practice of saying Compline each night before bed last year. We said it aloud at adult ed on Wednesday and it took eight minutes, five when said to yourself. You’re sleepy, mind is busy, but you remember, “I’m saying Compline in Lent,” and you pick up the BCP or iPad and boom: you are right there, just like in the fast, right back here in this moment where God is. You could be here, right here with God every night. That is the boon of intention. Of discipline.
Say Compline, or Morning Prayer, or just pray when you get up, or go to bed, or while making coffee. You’ve got five minutes to wait for your coffee each morning. Use it! Or join us for adult ed, on Wednesdays we’ll be learning and practicing Centering Prayer, and/or on Sundays at 9:15 we’ll be reading St. Luke’s Passion. Pick up your bible at home. Read 28 verses of Luke’s Gospel each day. (That will get you through all 1151 verses by Easter). Or before church each week, read one of the Passion narratives. Or pick up a Forward Day by Day and read the scripture and the meditation, religiously. They are in back. Come to church. Be here each Sunday in Lent, or come to each Wednesday Mass or the Stations of the Cross on Fridays of Lent at 9:00. (We had a crowd last year). The Prayerbook says that is our bounden duty, to come to church, that’s a good Lenten discipline.
Then there are the works of mercy, Spiritual and Corporal. Doing good works from converting the sinner (bonus points for that one), comforting the sorrowful and forgiving injuries to feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and burying the dead, good works, intentional good works are another great practice. Come to Second Sunday breakfast next week. Come to Home Starter Kits on Wednesday afternoon and learn how to fill kits. Keep a bunch of bananas in the car and give them to folks on street corners. And with each kindness you offer, with each act of mercy, again, if done intentionally, with an intention towards God instantly you are here, right here, right now where God is, waiting for you to return.
And of course there is the tradition of alms-giving. I could make a joke that writing a check to the church is a great way to intentionally encounter God. I won’t say that, but I won’t discourage you from experimenting with that practice! Actually, it is true. Giving, religious motivated giving is the heart of stewardship, a sacrifice of our first fruits to God. I’ve heard of people doing all sorts of blessed things with their tax returns.
And when we lapse, when we don’t meet our expectations, which many of us will and won’t, see it not as a failure but as another opportunity to increase our dependence on God (or notice our dependence on God) and then get right back on that horse. Don’t let a hot fudge sundae on Lent 2 ruin your entire fast. Enjoy the sundae, then get back to it.
Fasts and disciplines. Traditions and transformations. I encourage you with all excitement and urgency to do something this Lent. Lent and my practice last year changed my life. May this one change yours. Blessings to you as you discern your Lenten practices. AMEN