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Transfiguration: The Power of Love

A Sermon Preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany Texts: Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

February 23, 2020

The Rev. Charlie de Kay

God of Grace, help us to unleash the power of love. Amen.

Oh, how marvelous, how terrifying, how much simpler faith must’ve been when God actually appears and speaks directly to you.

Moses – once again – for this was not the first time (nor would it be his last) – encounters the living God, here embodied within a cloud, upon the summit of a mountain – Mount Sinai – and to the people of Israel, assembled below at the base, “like a devouring flame.” Note that Moses was on the mountain for how many days? [Forty, exactly.]

Centuries later, having himself earlier spent a 40-day period in the wilderness immediately following an encounter with a heavenly voice (that sounded to some hearers like thunder) at his Baptism, Jesus takes Simon Peter and the Sons of Thunder, brothers James and John up an unnamed high mountain, where – after being transfigured into a figure of brilliant radiance and speaking with Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets, the voice of and covenant with God), a brilliantly radiant cloud (can you picture it?) overshadows the band of travelers and “that voice was conveyed by the Majestic Glory”[1] – as ever words clearly fail to capture the specifics – God Almighty speaks. God identifies Jesus a second time as God’s son, God’s Beloved, calling the disciples to recognize God’s human incarnation and to listen to Him, to Jesus: the Word of God.

Oh, how marvelous, how terrifying, how much simpler faith must’ve been to when God appears and speaks directly to you!

The focus of our reflections on Transfiguration Sunday often centers on how Jesus is changed – transfigure – in this moment. Today, though, I wonder how the disciples were changed, transformed as a result of these moments? How might the experience have changed us? Would it be different to be a first-hand witness than to be the one the witnesses first told? How have the years, the decades, the centuries, the millennia separating us from this event and these witnesses colored our capacity to hear this story? What would it take for us to be changed by it? What would need to happen for us to proclaim this story ourselves?

Might we need to have our own spiritual experience of God – some profound dislocation and reorientation as the three disciples must’ve known? How might we create the conditions for that to happen?

For centuries, people who’ve sought this kind of direct first-hand experience with God – a connection or communion with God – fled the world and all its noise and distractions. Christians – for seekers of the divine appear in every religious tradition – Christians who seek a life of communion with God often live as hermits, nuns, and monks, setting themselves apart for God.

Many Christian religious orders – such as Benedictines and Franciscans – began when their mystical leader wrote out a set of guidelines which novitiates and oblates vow before God to follow, these guidelines order their waking hours and are commonly called a Rule of Life. With the New Monasticism movement, there’s been renewed interest over the past 25 years among the spiritually curious and adventurous in building a Rule of Life outside of established strict religious order. The Julians, something akin to the Episcopal Peace Corps, for instance, named after 14th Century Anglican mystic Julian of Norwich, are recent college graduates who wish to explore communal religious life covenant to live in a house together agreeing to certain constrictive general rules and make a point of creating a Rule of Life for each house. Some may remember when, in 2013, St. Matthew’s welcomed 26-year-old Julian Andrew Wheatley as our youth leader.

The ”Way of Love” – the curriculum we’ll be exploring at the Deanery Retreat next Saturday, February 29th– please note that Registration will close after Tuesday! – as well as the Thursday evening Lenten Programs – and as springboard for preaching during Lent – was created in the aftermath of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s beloved Royal Wedding sermon. Bishop Curry preached,[2]you may remember, “There’s power in love. . . . There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love. That’s why we’re here.” He goes on[3] to describe the nature of love: “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change the world.”

He invited the Royals and the more than one billion watching around the globe to “Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where love is the way. Imagine this tired, old world where love is the way.” Bishop Curry painted a vision of a world transfigured by love: a world where justice, real justice is unleashed, poverty and warfare history, the planet a sanctuary, and all people family.

The Way of Love curriculum is a response to the question of how might we – real people alive today in this very real world – how might we get there? The answer is a new twist on an ancient idea: building a Rule of Life, using an explicit set of spiritual disciplines. These practices: turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest – when used together with sincere intent and with integrity are intended to bring us closer to God – to create the conditions – in which we might experience God’s love for ourselves, once again or for the very first time. Going deeper than we can in an hour of worship on Sunday morning, the Way of Love offers us a path that we might travel this Lent.

As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, Bishop Curry reminds us, we follow the Way of Jesus. His way is the Way of love, and that love has the power to change lives and to change the world. The experience of the transfiguration, like Moses’ time with the Almighty on Mount Sinai, changed a small group of people. Those people then forever changed the world.

How you choose to spend your time is between you and God. This Lent, some will take on a new practice or give one up. Some will decide to do nothing at all. There is no judgement here: only a simple invitation.

This Lent, St. Matthew’s joins Episcopal churches around the globe in inviting each of us on a journey that offer the possibility of a life-changing experience with Jesus, with God, with the unstoppable, never-ending, always-and-forever love. We cannot say where it will take us, but experience teaches that no honest effort spent seeking God is ever truly wasted. If you’re ready to take your spiritual journey to the next level, this might be right for you.

Oh, how marvelous, how terrifying, how much simpler faith must’ve been when God appears and speaks directly to you!

His letter makes it clear that Peter (or one of his disciples) had the transfiguration on his mind when he wrote: “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.”[4]

Wherever our Lenten journey takes us this year, may we rediscover the formidable, transformational power of love and may we unleash it in our homes, in our communities, and in our world. Amen.

[1] 2 Peter 1:17. [2] The Power of Love. Bishop Michael Curry. Avery, 2018, pp. 7-8. [3]Ibid., 11-12. [4] 2 Peter 1:19b

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