Sunday, March 6, 2011
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Preacher: Dave Beuerman
A funny thing happened to me on the way to this homily, funny in the sense of strange. The funny thing was this: this Gospel brought to mind too many introductions. I was going to mention the last one which came to mind – but this morning yet another came to mind as I remembered my original inspiration. So, we begin with two wonderful moments: in Cairo the army refused to shoot the protestors; in Wisconsin the Madison police refused to move the protestors out of the State Capital Bldg. For those of us inspired by the non-violence of our Lord Jesus Christ, those are two moments of joy, two moments to remember, and two moments of great promise. Just as The Transfiguration was a theophany, a manifestation of God, so, to me, were these two incidents.
Today’s Gospel continues the great theme – which began already with the Creation story – the great theme of LIGHT, as in Light and Darkness. God seems to be fixated on Light. How come? What is the big deal about light? What’s the problem with darkness? Simply put, Light is good because it enables us to see what is going on – well, at least it makes it possible. Darkness is just the opposite: in the dark, we can’t see what is being done to us, let alone who is doing it.
If anyone is still singing “Everything’s all right, yes … “, if anyone is still chanting “we are number one!,” I can only recall the RVS of an old saying. If you can keep your head when all those around you are losing theirs, then, my son, you probably don’t understand the situation! But who can blame us – we are kept in the dark and/or distracted or simply are somehow kept from knowing who is doing what to whom.
In many ways, these are dark times. Let’s focus primarily if not solely on one issue: the economic cost of war. Unlike some other issues, we can be non-partisan about this; after all, neither major party is willing to even talk about this. For another thing, we can easily – if not pleasantly – contrast the Way of Jesus with Our Way. I try not to be negative; after all, there is much light be seen. But – and you could look it up — over the past ten years the total cost of our wars has averaged over 100 billion dollars per year. This does present an economic problem. The solution to this sort of economic problem? Cut teachers’ benefits; after all, they only work part time. And we surely can’t afford Head Start; we will have to cut social security; etc, etc and so forth, ad nauseam indeed. But finally, we can look at a country’s budget as a moral statement about the country.
Still, let’s try to be positive and look for Light under three headings: Jesus our Light, Light from the East and Light from Madison, Wisconsin; I would not be surprised if you were surprised by the last of these or if you wanted me to leave out the second. While we will find much positive in these, we simply cannot ignore the negative, if only by way of contrast.
So, Jesus our Light or Back to the Bible. In today’s Gospel, The Transfiguration, we see Jesus for what He is: the LIGHT of the World. Not to quibble, but I prefer Our Light to The Light because we need to be open to light from any source. A quick first example: for me modern physics sheds some light on the dual nature of Jesus: just as we learn in physics that light is of both particle and wave nature, so we can better understand that Jesus is both divine and human.
OK, back to the bible again. One of the great neglected lines of all time is “Listen to Him” – and consider the source! Mary says much the same at Cana. And so we should listen to Him; in fact, we also should also watch what He does and watch how He does it! What should we have heard, what should we have seen? The Way of Jesus is the Way of Compassion and the Way of Non-violence. Fans of the 4th Gospel will want to add, The Way of Truth; cf. JN 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Compassion, non-violence and truth are the hallmarks! I’m sorry to say that I find little of these in contemporary American politics. What we find here is violence and indifference, together with 57 varieties of ignorance, deceit and just plain lying.
In today’s Gospel we find very welcome guest appearances of Moses (hint, hint: The Law) and Elijah (hint, hint: The Prophets). Jesus, remember came neither to repeal The Law nor to trash the Prophets! We must always be mindful and respectful of our Jewish roots. Knowing that Jesus was a Jew helps us understand Him. Two major mistakes of some Christians here: ignoring the Prophets and thinking that The Old Covenant is off. But perhaps the major way some Christians go wrong is misreading the Law! Contemporary American religion would be much brighter without these.
We begin our brief journey to the East with Buddhism. While there are great differences between Christianity and Buddhism, in the end I feel that the common ground is most important, as does our very own Canon Theologian Marcus Borg. In any case, the Buddha can be a light for Christians as well – and, again, we need all the light we can find! I would like to give three examples, the first two from Buddhist Scripture, the third from Buddhist practice.
The Buddha’s “Questions Which Tend Not to Edification” helps me to center on the basics of the Way of Jesus. His words in “The Twin Verses” help me to follow the teachings of Jesus on Forgiveness. Finally, Buddhist emphasis on Meditation practice has helped me to open to this somewhat neglected aspect of the Christian tradition, which is not just for Monastics.
Moving west, how about a brief visit to Istanbul – well, really Constantinople or Mt. Athos? Eastern Christianity can shed some light for Western Christians; it has for me. Their view of the Transfiguration gives us The Light of Mt Tabor, where traditionally The Transfiguration is said to have occurred. This Light of Mt Tabor they understand to be the light that Paul saw on the Road to Damascus and the light which every Christian is to seek. Here we rediscover Centering Prayer and related Christian meditation and mysticism and are encouraged to give these greater emphasis. Historically, appreciation and celebration of the Transfiguration started in Eastern Christianity, died out for a time in the West and was rediscovered for Anglicans by us, the Episcopalians. May we also lead the world-wide Anglican communion to a better reading the Law of Moses, in particular the Sodom & Gomorrah story.
On the way to Madison, a brief visit to Cairo is in order. The protests here were covered pretty well even by our mainstream media. These protests seem to be bearing fruit, thanks be to God! Whatever the final outcome, we can rejoice that these protests were non-violent and they represented the people seeing the light about their particular political situation.
Finally – and briefly, thanks be to God! As with Cairo, the protests in Madison were non-violent and they represent the people seeing the light about their particular political situation. My grand-daughter was among the very many and very diverse people who came out in support of the protests; in her case, it was as a student in support of her teachers.
On the dark side, we find propaganda denying the non-violence from the usual suspects and little and poor coverage of the protests by the mainstream media for whom Cairo was easier and safer to cover. Having a free press is needed for a functioning democracy. It is also very troubling that money is such a large factor in elections, this with great help from the Supreme Court. But let’s close on a more positive if still critical note from The Episcopal Bishop of Milwaukee; this is from a piece “What Religion Looks Like, Wisconsin Edition” on Religion Dispatches.
“I believe we can all agree that our baptismal vow to “respect the dignity of every human being”
is not served by a majority simply pushing through legislation because they have the votes
necessary to do so. As Christians, it is our duty and call to make sure that everyone has a place
at the table and every voice has the opportunity to be heard. Respecting the dignity of every
human being requires taking the time to have honest and faithful conversation that respects
the rights and freedom of all.”