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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion December 11, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Last Sunday after the Epiphany Year A RCL March 6, 2011

Exodus 24: 12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1: 16-21
Matthew 17: 1-9

 This Sunday, we leave the season of Epiphany, with its focus on light and mission, and move into the season of Lent, in which we walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord. The Epiphany star gives way to the Cross of Christ.

 In our opening lesson from the Book of Exodus, God calls Moses to go up on Mt. Sinai and to wait there. Moses goes up the mountain with his assistant, Joshua. During their absence, Aaron and Hur will lead the people and settle any disagreements among them.

 The holiness of God is emphasized. A cloud covers the mountain. The glory of the Lord settles on Mt. Sinai.  The revered biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The glory is light, the light of God’s sovereign will and presence.” (Texts for preaching, Year A, p. 66). The glory of the Lord appears like a devouring fire. God is so holy and so powerful that only Moses is allowed to go up further into God’s presence. He is there for forty days and forty nights, a way of saying he is there for a very long time. And then he comes down with the Ten Commandments of the law, the framework that is going to hold God’s people together.

 Our epistle for today was written by a disciple of Peter. In those days, as we have noted before, it was common to claim the name of the teacher, in this case, Peter, in order to emphasize that, if Peter were here, this is what he would say.  Scholars tell us that the letter was written sometime between 100 and 150 A.D. We can imagine that this disciple of Peter spent a great deal of time with Peter and tried to learn everything he could from this great apostle. Peter had told this disciple about his experience on the mountain as Jesus became transfigured right in front of Peter and James and John, and, to the disciple, this experience became as real as if he himself had experienced it. As we move into Lent, one sentence rings out very clearly from this epistle reading: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” We who live in this age of electricity may have trouble understanding how much this image of light meant to folks of the first or second century A.D. During a hard night of struggle, if you had a lamp to help you get through until morning, that was a great blessing. The memory of Christ transfigured on the mountain will shine in our hearts all through Lent.

In the verses of Matthew’s gospel just preceding our passage for today, some very important things have happened. Jesus has asked the disciples that crucial question, “Who do you say that I am?’ and Peter has answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And then Jesus has begun to tell the disciples what he is going to have to go through, that he is going to suffer and die and then rise. And Peter can’t take it, and he draws Jesus aside and says, Lord, this can’t happen to you. This is too horrible. And that’s how all of them feel, And that is how all of us feel.

 Then he takes them up on the mountain and he is transfigured. He is transformed. And Moses and Elijah are there, two great prophets who also went into God’s presence on the mountain, and they are talking to Jesus. And Peter blurts out that thing about building three dwellings, which I take as a very human attempt to preserve the mountaintop experience. And then the overpowering light of the presence of God comes with the cloud , and God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples are terrified; we remember that they would have believed in those days that you could not look into the face of God and live. So they fall to the ground and are overcome by fear.

 They are terrified. They are cowering on the ground expecting to die at any moment.  They have gotten very close to the awesome power of God. Too close, they think.

And then what happens? Jesus comes over and touches them. He says, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And when they dare to look up, Moses and Elijah are gone. They see only the familiar, beloved face of Jesus.

Imagine what it would have been like to be Peter or James or John, and to have had that experience.

 Just before the transfiguration, when he is talking with his disciples, Jesus tells them and us that we are going to have to take up our cross and follow him, that we are going to have to lose our lives in order to save our lives, in other words, we are going with him to the cross.

 And on our way, and when we get there, we are going to learn how the awesome power of God is exercised and used. Not in gathering armies, not in overpowering people or nations, not in any of the ways we might think power is ordinarily used.

 It is the way of compassion, of letting go, and letting God, of emptying ourselves and letting God come in and transform us so that Christ lives in us. The way of the cross is the way of transformation. At this pivotal moment as we leave Epiphany and prepare for Ash Wednesday, we have before us the vision of our transfigured Lord because he wants to transfigure and transform us so that we can become more like him.

 This can seem quite terrifying to us and we can feel like falling to the ground in fear. And we may do that. Or we may try to run or avoid in some other way his call to transformation. But then he does this simple thing. He comes over and touches us and invites us to stand up, and he reassures us. He tells us not to be afraid. After all, he is with us. He is leading and guiding us. He is walking with us. We are walking with him.

 On a journey to the cross. On a journey to new life. And the vision of our Lord transfigured is “like a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [our] hearts.”

                                                                    Amen 

Epiphany 7 February 20, 2011

Leviticus 19: 1-2. 9-18
Psalm 119: 33-40
1 Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

 The Book of Leviticus deals with the laws which govern all aspects of the life of God’s chosen people Israel. Some parts of this book can seem quite irrelevant to people of our time. For example, the Book of Leviticus forbids wearing garments of two different fabrics and also covers detailed aspects of the dietary laws.

 This portion of Leviticus, however, meshes in spirit with the Beatitudes of Jesus. This is the law which governs the community life of the people, and it is solidly based on love of God and love of neighbor. For example, when the people are harvesting their fields or vineyards, they are to leave some of the crop so that the poor can have food. People should not steal or lie. They shall be honest and considerate of others. They shall take special care of those who are deaf or blind. In sum, the people are called to show others the love and care which God has shown them. This is quite startling when we remember that these words were written thousands of years ago.

 In today’s epistle,  Paul is using the metaphor of a building to describe the life of the Church.  Paul laid the foundation and others are building upon it. The foundation is Jesus Christ. One commentator says that this passage makes him think of the church as a busy construction site with all the workers doing their part. Each of us is using our gifts to build up the body of Christ, the Church. It is not the human leaders who are important, whether Paul or Apollos or whomever. It is that we as the Church carry out the ministry of our Lord.

 And once again we turn to our Lord’s expression of the core of our faith in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” From our modern vantage point, we think an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is rather primitive and gory. But actually, this rule, called the lex talionis was designed to keep people from going too far in their retaliation. It was actually designed to control violence, so that, if somebody hurt someone’s arm, for example, the opposing side could not kill him. The comment about, if someone forces you to go one mile, go the second mile refers to the fact that Palestine was occupied territory. If a Roman soldier asked you to carry his pack for a mile, you had to do it.  Turning the other cheek and giving the coat as well as the cloak also fit into this approach of going the extra mile. The law says that we should love our neighbors, but Jesus is saying that even our enemies are our neighbors.

 Then he ends with that statement, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” If we were reading the Beatitudes in Luke, we would have an easier time. Luke says, “Be merciful as your father in heaven in merciful.” But we are faced with Matthew’s version, so let’s try to think about it together.

  As we all know, we are far from perfect. Is Jesus asking us to do the impossible? These Beatitudes can be seen as so impossible as to be deeply depressing or so impossible as to be ridiculous, so we’ll just have to sweep them under the rug and ignore them.  But let’s try to persevere.

 Let’s start with “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” The Greek word translated as “perfect” is teleios. Teleios means, according to Bishop Frederick Borsch, “to come to the goal or purpose, to become what one was created for, to reach full growth, potential, maturity.”  Ephesians 4, Borsch writes, “presents the vision of all Christians attaining, ‘To the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to mature (teleios) humanity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’”  Borsch goes on to say, “In relationship to God, there are no limits on who we may become morally and ethically.” He says,  “ But we may also see ourselves as people just beginning to realize the power of love that is God’s gift. We become who we are meant to be—God’s children—as we more maturely reflect the character of the divine parent.” (Proclamation 4, p. 49.)

 The Beatitudes are our goal as a community of faith, the goal to be channels of God’s love and healing.  We are called to actively and energetically extend love and generosity. These are the principles which guided Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

 I always have to say that this vision does not mean that we are condoning or accepting abuse of any kind. In this fallen world, we are not telling the battered woman to go home and take another beating, and we are called to protect children from those who would hurt them in any way. But when Jesus talks about loving our enemies, there is a truth there.  In this very small world, we need to be very careful not to demonize our opponents. We need to focus on learning how to find common ground.

 I once saw a demonstration of what Jesus may have meant when he talked about turning the other cheek. It was a martial arts demonstration—Aikido, I think. The attacker came on, the person doing the demonstration skillfully absorbed and redirected the energy of the attacker in such a way that each of them ended up where the other had been, and with their bodies having rotated so that their cheeks were indeed turned.

 Nothing is as powerful as love. All of these lessons are talking about how to live together as a loving community, whether it is the people Israel, the congregation in Corinth, Grace Church, the United States of America, or planet Earth.

 Jesus was a revolutionary. He was a radical, meaning he went to the roots of things.  His vision is not business as usual. It is difficult to embrace and transform negative energy rather than simply to retaliate.

Thanks be to God for people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They are our icons for these lessons. And these lessons are, in the words of Bishop Borsch, “the invitation to an unlimited human adventure in holiness.” (Proclamation 4, p. 52.)

 May we be inspired by the vision of our Savior and our brother, Jesus.

May we put love above all else. May we be channels of God’s love, peace, and healing.    Amen.