The Glory of the Lord, Written in Capital Letters

A Homily for the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Texts: Exodus 24:12-18; St. Matthew 17:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Transfigured Lord, the Beloved One. Amen.

“The mountains are calling and I must go…” John Muir’s words, written nearly 150 years ago while in exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains, are just as relatable in this year of our Lord 2020 as they were in 1873. For Muir, and for all of us who feel the call to walk the woods, time in the mountains provided insight into the God who laid the foundations of the earth. Reflecting on his time in Yosemite and the majestic expanse of the Mountain West, he wrote:

The glory of the Lord is upon all His works, but here, in this place of surpassing glory, the Lord has written in capitals.

This rugged man of the woods is certainly not alone – even to this day, many Christians of diverse traditions use the term “mountaintop experience” to describe intense encounters with the Triune God, whether it’s the sublime beauty of a national park calling us into deeper relationship with the Creator of the Universe, feeling the Spirit move anew while singing an ancient and well-loved hymn, or simply a tranquil moment lying in bed during the dark of the night, finding our hearts resting for just a brief instant in God’s peace. These moments are life-changing and hold a sort of fascination; in these experiences, something holy, what philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto called the mysterium tremendum, calls to us and holds our attention even as we struggle to comprehend.

Saints throughout the ages have summitted mountains to encounter the majestic mystery who is the Holy One of Israel. Throughout Scripture, prophets and patriarchs have been summoned to climb into God’s presence. Abraham and Isaac ascended Mount Moriah to make an offering to the Lord, and it was there that God stilled Abraham’s hand while also providing a ram to take Isaac’s place on the altar. According to Jewish tradition, this is the same mountain where the Temple was built centuries later, where Jews today still flock to pray at its foundation.

Moses, leading the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Law. On this sacred summit, as we just read, the glory of God was so overwhelming as to forever change Moses’ appearance, his face reflecting the divine light of God’s most holy majesty for the rest of his years. (To this day, Christian monks maintain a 1,700-year old monastery on this holy peak that they might encounter God like the great lawgiver before them.) And after forty years wandering in the wilderness, Moses climbed Mount Pisgah, where he was blessed to see the Land of Promise, though he knew he would not get there with his people.

Elijah, fleeing threats from Ahab and Jezebel, ascended Mount Horeb like Moses before him, and there God promised to appear before the prophet, coming forth not in mighty earthquake, roaring wind, nor blazing fire but in the sacred sound of sheer silence.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve read from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as he has promised divine blessing upon the oppressed and the marginalized and as he has offered a new interpretation of the Law, calling us into a community defined by a sacrificial love for God, neighbor, and enemy.

And the very night before he died, his life once more under threat, the Rev. Martin Luther King, that great prophetic martyr of the 20th century, echoed the life of Moses and the prophetic voices of old, saying:

We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

It was from this mountaintop that Rev. King encouraged striking sanitation workers in Memphis and their supporters to cast their gaze beyond the world as it appears today and behold the coming new creation: the Promised Land and the new Jerusalem – but also a new Atlanta, a new Memphis, a new South built not on the shackles of slavery and the racism of Jim Crow but on the vision Christ put forward in the Sermon on the Mount, where true equality begets Beloved Community.

And yet again today, just days before we enter into the Lenten wilderness, we find Christ calling us to another mountaintop. At this point in the story, Simon has hit one of the highest points in his time with the Lord – he has proclaimed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Christ has in turn given Simon a new name: Peter, the rock, a foundational stone in the Church. But immediately after, Simon Peter hit one of his lowest lows: Jesus began to explain that he would suffer in Jerusalem and even be crucified. Peter didn’t take the news well and tried to correct Jesus, earning himself another nickname. Within one chapter, he goes from being “the Rock” to “Satan.”

So it is that, six days later, we find Jesus leading Simon Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop where suddenly Christ is transfigured. His entire body, even his clothes, radiate the glory of the Eternally-Begotten Son as Moses and Elijah stand on either side of him, and a voice rolls down as thunder from heaven, repeating the words we heard at the beginning of this season:

This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!

In this instant, the disciples glimpse the full glory of the coming of the Lord written in capital letters, a moment where heaven erupts visibly on earth. They have been to the mountaintop and seen the one who sits enthroned in the New Jerusalem, the very one who will lead God’s people through the grave into the Promised Land.

Peter has the same response as anyone who has been to the mountaintop: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Please, let us stay, if only for a few moments more. The world down in the valley is not nearly so majestic, and yes, maybe it reflects the glory of its Creator, but that glory is hard to see through all the sinful greed, hatred, and violence. We know what’s waiting for us just off the mountain, when we once more enter into the Lenten Wilderness marked by that ashen reminder of our mortality. Once we leave this summit, it’s back into the barren desert where sin and death destroy, where prophets are made into martyrs, where tyrants rule by the power of the sword. Once we come down from this place, we will re-enter the ordinary world where our best intentions fall short and where we will go back to laboring for a Kingdom we may not see fully realized. Outside these walls, there are hungry mouths to be fed, captives to be set free, powers and principalities to be toppled, and racial division to be overcome; outside these walls, a holy but difficult mission awaits us.

But here, in this holy moment, we can rest in the assurances of God as we gaze out at the Promised Land and behold the glory of God. So yes, please, we would like to stay a bit longer before returning to the world with difficult days ahead, knowing that we are called back into to the challenging work of proclaiming the Good News in thought, word, and deed.

Today we are on the mountaintop, and the glory of God is written before us in capital letters. If we have eyes to see, we may glimpse the coming of the glory of the Lord. Today, the Transfigured Christ is pointing us toward the Promised Land, and Lord knows it is good for us to be here. Soak it in, shout out your Alleluias, and rest easy for a moment. Let this experience hold your fascination, change you forever, and strengthen you and set you free from fear.

But we cannot stay. Something even better awaits us, and now we have to make our way through Lent to Jerusalem. There is difficult but holy work to be done. The Wilderness is calling and we must go.

Amen.

A House Divided, A Body United

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: I Corinthians 3:1-9*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us through his Crucifixion into one Body. Amen.

“A House Divided.”

It’s the source of turmoil, of angst, of in-fighting, and sometimes of hurtful words you wish you could take back.

You know what I’m talking about.

You’ve seen the license plates: “A House Divided” between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Continue reading “A House Divided, A Body United”

Fulfilling the Law

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Matthew 5:13-20*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, whose light shines through us into this world. Amen.

In this season leading up to Lent, we are reading through the first chapter of Christ’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount, his first – and arguably best known – teaching that covers everything from the swearing oaths to anger and violence to instructions on fasting and prayer. Last week, while we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord and read from the Gospel according to St. Luke, the lectionary provided a second set of readings including the Beatitudes, that famous list of promised blessings that intros the Sermon on the Mount. This week, our Lord continues as he tells us to be salt and light for the world. Next week, we’ll hear the first in a series of new interpretations of the Mosaic Law as Jesus tells his listeners, “You have hard it said…but I say….”

These passages have been read and re-read so often, have become so familiar that, as with so much in the Gospels, we almost tune them out, hearing only what we think we already know. Continue reading “Fulfilling the Law”

A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations

A Homily for the Presentation of our Lord

Text: St. Luke 2:22-40


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, a light to guide the nations and the glory of Israel. Amen.

Ok, I lied.

Kind of.

A few weeks ago, I told you Epiphany is the end of the Christmas season, which it is – but also sort of isn’t. Continue reading “A Light to Reveal God’s Glory to the Nations”

Come and See

A Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. John 1:29-42


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

Last week, I mentioned that Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord mark not only an end of Christmas but also the start of Christ’s public ministry. Jesus was born, yes, but as both the Nicene Creed and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby attest, while we might like the Christmas Jesus best, Jesus did grow up. He wasn’t always an “eight pound six ounce newborn infant.”

Continue reading “Come and See”

“It Is Good for Us to Be Here”

A Homily for the Transfiguration of our Lord

Text: Exodus 34:29-35; St. Luke 9:28-36


transfig

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Transfigured Son, the Chosen One. Amen.

“It is good for us to be here.”

Have you ever seen so something so beautiful that it overpowered you and fascinated you to the point that you couldn’t pull yourself away? Maybe you were standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, watching the dawn break over the ocean, seeing the Rocky Mountains glow in the lays rays of the setting sun.

Or perhaps something very ordinary appeared more vibrant than ever before – a spring flower covered by a March snow, every last flake reflecting the sun’s brilliance. Maybe a flash of lightning illuminated your lawn in some new way. Or even more simply, it could have been the smile on your friends’ newborn child or looking up on a cloudless day to take sudden notice of just how blue the sky really is.

This is the sublime – a display so beautiful that it overpowers us, gives us a sense of just how big and intricate the cosmos really are, and holds us in place, demanding our attention. It’s so powerful want to fall on your knees, with our face on the ground, in sheer awe – and yet so transfixing you can’t take your eyes off the scene.

In these moments, you want to stay as long as you can, to let this moment overwhelm your senses, to take in every last ray of light, to remember every faint fragrance, to feel the gentle breeze, so that you can remember it all and escape back to that moment in the future. Continue reading ““It Is Good for Us to Be Here””

#Blessed Are the Poor

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; St. Luke 6:17-26


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the fount of all blessing. Amen.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says.

This passage is strangely familiar to us, like a verse from a half-forgotten song.

Today’s Gospel lesson has a parallel text. In Saint Matthew, we read the Beatitudes – a famously popular passage, one memorized by children in Sunday School and read at confirmations, ordinations, and funerals.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” reports that other evangelist. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But not so for Saint Luke. In today’s Gospel reading, Christ’s teachings aren’t just about spirituality. No, they have real-world, lived consequences. This isn’t just about hearts and souls but bodies.

Christ’s ministry, Saint Luke tells us, is incarnational – it’s about human poverty, human stomachs, human lives, human flesh. Jesus became one of us not just to cure sin-sick souls but also to rescue human bodies from death.

Blessed are the poor, says our Lord. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the oppressed.

But do we believe him? Continue reading “#Blessed Are the Poor”

Gone Fishin’

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 5:1-11


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out to fish for people. Amen.

miraculous catch of fish 3
Miraculous Catch of Fish, 17th cent. Italy

When I was younger, I loved fishing. Or at least, I thought so.

On summer days, my sister and I would hop in the truck with our grandpa and drive out to a local pond to try our hand. Even in the July Georgia heat, we would beg and beg and beg to go fishing. Mind you, neither my sister nor I were very good at it; my sister recalls that we went fishing more than we went catching. And like any small child at the pond, we were loud, quick to pester each other and unlikely to leave our lines in the water for even a second before re-casting. But my grandpa was never one to scold us for our impatience or being loud enough to scare away every fish within five miles. And growing up, our Gospel reading today connected  with those memories of summer days with grandpa, sitting under the tree. Fishing for people? Sounds great. Continue reading “Gone Fishin’”

Bearing Witness

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: St. Luke 4:21-30


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has come to proclaim freedom to the captives. Amen.

The lectionary has dropped us today in the middle of a chapter and in the middle of a story already in progress. Think back with me to a few weeks ago. We read St. Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism where the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord in the form of a dove. And then – well, then Luke interrupted the story with a list of Jesus’ ancestors. But the next event, which starts our present chapter, follows closely on the heels of Christ’s baptism. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Jesus endures these demonic assaults, and Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”

“Then,” as we read last week, Jesus, still “filled with the power of the Spirit” began teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee. He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He gave the scroll back to the attendant, sat down, and gave one of the world’s shortest sermons: “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And this brings us up to date for today. How did the people react to such an odd sermon?

Continue reading “Bearing Witness”

One Lord, One Faith, One Body

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; St. Luke 4:14-21


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into his Body. Amen.

The church in ancient Corinth, the recipient of today’s letter from Saint Paul, was situated in a context not so very different from the Church today in Macon. Corinth was a city divided. The population split along social and economic lines, along religious lines, along ethnic lines. These divisions seeped into the church, where those who had converted from the polytheistic religions of the day clashed with those who had been raised in the Jewish community. These early Christians argued about who was baptized by whom.  They debated whether one could eat meat butchered in pagan temples. They even argued about proper hair length. The rich valued themselves above the poor, so much so that the wealthy, who didn’t have to labor long hours and who would pay for the food and wine used in the Eucharist, would gather before the working class could depart their places of employment, feasting on the bread of life getting drunk on the blood of Christ while leaving only scraps for their poorer siblings. Continue reading “One Lord, One Faith, One Body”