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Posts from the ‘Moses’ Category

Clothed in God’s Light

Transfiguration Sunday C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Today’s gospel is like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, but in reverse. Getting up close and personal with our greatest heroes is often a disappointing experience –isn’t it? In the iconic 1949 movie, the great and powerful Wizard intimidates a quivering Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow shouting, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Dorothy’s little dog Toto pulls away the veil and the true identify of the Wizard is revealed. He is an old, somewhat tired looking ordinary man, trapped in Oz just like Dorothy.

This lifting of the veil parallels what happens all too frequently today. One by one the penetrating light of modern media exposes our heroes’ all-too-human flaws. The veil between public and private is gone. In many ways, our cultural innocence is shattered. Cynicism abounds. Celebrities famous mostly for being famous have replaced our heroes.

But it’s not all bad. Perhaps personal integrity has deepened these past 65 years. Personal humility is strengthened. 500 years ago, Luther said, simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously saints and sinners. “No one is good but God.” (Luke 18:19) We all know that now.

None of us looks good once the veil over our inmost self is pulled away. If we could see what God sees, enmity and malice runs deep in the human heart. But a glimpse of the inner life of Jesus reveals the full brilliance of God’s grace that even now, invites you to be clothed in new life. On the mountain of his transfiguration, what we learn is not only spectacular news about Jesus. It is the good news that transforms all of us who, like the poor wizard of Oz, look better than we are. How does this startling metamorphosis occur? The gospel of Luke tells us over and over again: our transformation in Christ comes through prayer.

Jesus called the disciples to prayer –not so that they might become perfect —but so that through their prayer practice, they might cling to grace for God to create in them a clean heart and place a new and right spirit within them. (Psalm 51) This is how God’s love is unleashed in the world. Clothed in prayer, God’s work is accomplished through our hands.

Jesus taught the disciples, who were all ordinary people, that they too had power (dynamis) and authority (exousia) over evil (Luke 9:1). Jesus sent them out from village to village to preach the good news and they healed many (Luke 9:6). He challenged them to respond to the needs of five thousand hungry people. “He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat’”(Luke 9:13). He asked each of them to tell him who they thought he was. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked (Luke 9:20). Jesus was teaching them about the cost of discipleship and about the cross six days before he invited Peter, James and John to walk with him up a mountain to pray. (Peter Woods, I Am Listening, 2010)

On the mountain and on the way to the cross, Jesus showed the disciples the proper source and use of their power. On that mountain, Jesus showed what makes us strong doesn’t come from our muscles. It doesn’t come from prized skills and unique abilities. It doesn’t come from the muzzle of a gun. True power cannot be bought. Power to heal and re-make the world doesn’t flow from the ability to dominate, but to connect. True heroism comes from the courage to live our faith and follow Jesus’ way of the cross.

At his baptism (Luke 3:22), a heavenly voice spoke to Jesus “You are my Son. With you I am well pleased.” On the mountain the voice addresses itself to the disciples and declares, the imperative, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him,” (Luke 9:35).

On the mountain, Jesus becomes the New Moses. Paul calls Jesus the mediator of a new covenant in which we all become living members of the body of Christ. “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, ‘the veil is taken away.” So we, ‘with unveiled faces each reflect the glory of our Lord Jesus, and are being transformed into his likeness.” (2 Corinthians 3:13 &16)

The power of God begins in prayer and ends with our own vulnerability. “The more open we are to God, and to the different dimensions of God’s glory, the more we seem to be open to the pain of the world.” (N.T. Wright)

Today we live in a society that the novelist David Foster Wallace has described as one of Total Noise. The Super Bowl is only one example of hyper-stimulation and information overload. Total Noise, said Wallace, is both euphoric and numbing. It’s way too much to organize or understand. Which is to say that it obscures or veils all those things in life, like the realm of the spirit, that are necessary for being fully human. (Daniel Clendenin)

Transfiguration Sunday marks the threshold between Epiphany, which began with the journey of the magi, and Lent, which begins Jesus’ journey to the cross. Standing in the doorway is characterized by ambiguity and openness. We are called to try something new or to give something up in order to grow. Lent is an invitation to walk out the door of our noisy, numbing modern life and into the grace and peace of God. Lent represents an opportunity for ordinary people like us to once again be clothed in the extraordinary power and authority of God that is for the healing of the nations.

Jesus arose early one morning. He took the disciples on a walk up a nearby mountain. It was a day like any other. It was a day just like today. The secret revealed on that mountain was that God is already always hidden within the ordinary moments of our lives. Our inmost self is enlightened grace. Now, we bear the light of Christ into the world. Often, we do not understand how it is that we do this. Often, we cannot see the light that we bear. But in the name of Jesus, we find joy in the discovery that God pours out power through us to bring new life to the broken-hearted –power to help the cowering stand tall. (Kate Huey) Like the disciples, we listen to Jesus in prayer. We follow the path illumined by the light of Christ advancing the Spirit’s call to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.

What is it?

Proper 13B-15

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Last Sunday Jesus invited them to ‘come and eat.’ So naturally, the very next question becomes what is it? We’ve all been there. Could there be anything more universal than the dinner table and the interchange of excitement and apprehension between cooks and those they cook for?

Try it you’ll like it. It’s good for you. Isn’t that what our parents said? Sometimes it worked. Other times we flat out refused.

The Israelites asked Moses. What is it? They had been through so much together. God set them free from their lives as slaves. But how quickly they began to long for what they had back in Egypt. Pangs of hunger conjured memories of meat and bread. Wasn’t it better than wandering in the wilderness on some endless camping trip? So they grumbled. They complained.

Scripture says God heard the Israelite’s complaining and rained down bread from heaven. Manna. Scholars believe manna was the sweet substance secreted by insects on the leaves of the tamarisk shrub. It drops to the ground and becomes firm. Gathered early each morning, it can indeed be a tasty treat.

When the people saw the food God had provided, they asked what is it? The root of the word manna is man huwhat is this? Despite their obvious skepticism this manna was a hit. The people liked it. But with this strange food came a new spiritual challenge. Manna was perishable. It only lasts a day before it spoils. Try to gather more than you need for the day, it would rot. Give us our daily bread, we pray. But we want more. How easy it is to try to stockpile and hoard the gifts of God, the gifts of life.

It takes us a while to learn what’s best, what food satisfies and what leaves us empty. We confuse needs and wants. Our economy is market-driven. Give the people what they want! Whatever people will buy is good. But any cook knows that isn’t true. Anyone who has gotten sick eating too much cake and ice cream knows what we want isn’t the best gauge for what we need. We have more and more, but our hearts still go hungry.

We have 21 candidates for president (and counting) gorging themselves with record amounts of money from newly created Super-PACs. But democracy is undermined when according to news reports, “Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.” (Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving, Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish, The New York Times, 8/1/15)

Empty calories, foolish consumption, shallow politics, hungry hearts. Jesus fed the five thousand beside the sea, afterwards the clamoring crowd followed him. They wanted more of that miraculous wonder bread. But they missed the point. Jesus told them, Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. It wasn’t Moses who gave you the true bread from heaven, but my Father. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:27; 32; 35)  For a month of Sundays, literally, this will be our message at worship. Jesus implores us to see that our spiritual hunger for the bread of heaven is satisfied only as we join with God in providing bread for the world.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus roamed the gentle hills of Galilee. He went among the cities of ancient Israel. He saw people were hungry—just like us. The people attempted to fill the God-shaped longing within them with whatever they could find—wealth, power, fame, alcohol, drugs, uncommitted sex—but nothing worked. Jurgenn Moltmann (via St. Augustine) wrote, ‘the God-shaped space in ourselves can only be properly filled by God. When we try to fill that God-space with something else we become ill.

Grace is to human life what yeast is to a good, fragrant loaf of bread. Yeast, a tiny one-celled organism that grows and metabolizes its own food with great speed –work the dough—slightly fermenting it and releasing gases so that the bread begins to rise. Jesus, the bread of life, is released and energized in each of us through the work of the divine yeast of the Holy Spirit at Eucharist.

For a month of Sundays (through August 23rd) our worship takes us into the kitchen with Jesus learning how to prepare and to eat food that builds our body. Each week, we share in the Eucharistic meal of bread and wine as a source of nourishment, sustenance and transformation.

What is it we’re eating? It is a diet rich in forgiveness and tender-heartedness, to quote Ephesians. It is a diet rich in gratitude, filling our lives and this community with thanksgiving for the blessings of life. It is a diet rich in stewardship, calling us to use well what God has given us. It is a diet rich in sharing, inviting us to share our bread with the hungry; our love, our resources, our hope with those in need. It is a diet rich in struggle for justice and peace as we become united in one body with the marginalized, the oppressed, the profiled, the unjustly prosecuted and persecuted, the demeaned and dehumanized, with both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. In solidarity and humility we feed one another this bread of life that makes us all stronger, wiser, less anxious and more balanced within ourselves.

The Sri Lankan evangelist and hymn writer D.T. Niles wrote, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread”. What is God trying to say to us today through this gospel, if only we had ears to listen? Where are we to find the true Bread of Life? We must help one another find Jesus.

“I am the bread of Life”, Jesus said. Let my life become yours. Do like I do. Feast on my gospel. Let God’s holy Word re-fashion and transform you deep within. As a baker kneads dough, so my words, my life shall re-work you. Give me what you are able. Give me your trust and your faith, and I will multiply it. See, I return your life to you with your heart filled to overflowing. Jesus satiates and satisfies us with the good things of God we crave body and soul.

We come together each Sunday for bread that gives us energy for the tasks ahead and hope for whatever is to come. We feast on Christ, our living bread, our daily bread. Christ lives among us, in us, through us, and for us. Come, eat and live!

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