St. Patrick and the Transfiguration

2nd Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27 1-14; Philippians 3: 17-4:1; Luke 9: 28-36

Our Gospel today is one of those passages that you need a key to open. By that, I mean that it is written in symbols, a kind of Biblical code. Let’s go thru it, piece by piece.

“They went up the mountain to pray” –In the Old Testament, if God is in the sky (the “heavens”), then the higher you go up, the closer you are to God. In the scriptures, people often receive revelations from God on mountains.   Moses was given the Ten Commandments on a mountain; Elijah talked with God on a mountain.

“Jesus face changed and his clothing became dazzling white” – Jesus is portrayed in Luke as the New Moses. Remember that Moses’ face glowed after he came down the mountain with the tablets.  Now Jesus is radiant.  But, Moses just reflected God’s glory/light.  But Jesus actually radiates light; not reflecting God but he himself was the source of the light, just as God is. Also, remember that people with nothing but candles for light treasured light beyond our imagination.

“Moses and Elijah…appear.”- Moses represents the Law, while Elijah was a prophet who brought God’s words to the people- together they brought what was know about God.  They “spoke of the exodus Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.”- It is important to know that the transfiguration occurred immediately after Jesus’ 1st prediction of his death and rising to the apostles.   Moses and Elijah discuss it as a planned event. It is an “exodus” in the sense that Jesus leads us, just as Moses led the Israelites from “slavery and bondage” to “newness of freedom”. Only we experience slavery as things like addictions and materialism.

“Peter, James & John had been overcome by sleep.” – I have a granddaughter who, when she was little, would fall sleep whenever curtain girl and her mother would visit. The girl was loud and rough and having her visit totally overwhelmed my shy, gentle granddaughter.  The apostles were overwhelmed, understandably unable to make sense of the scene in front of them.  Is it a dream? A hallucination?  Had they lost their minds?mountai  What is happening; what’s it mean?

“Peter suggests making tents and staying here” – but he misses the point; he’s so like…us. Later, after the resurrection, he will grasp the meaning of this experience and understand who Jesus is and what he has done.  Also, later Peter will have the Words that Jesus spoke and find that the Word is the same as the Jesus’ presence in a body or in a cloud. He will always have Jesus with him.

“A cloud came and cast a shadow” – another reference to Moses. A cloud covered tabernacle tent of the Israelites and filled it, and it was the presence of God.

“This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” – God is telling the apostles to listen to what? To the prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection. Now it has been spoken by Jesus & witnessed by Moses, Elijah, and God. The apostles have seen the Godly radiance of Jesus, and entered the cloud that was God.  Hearing, sight and touch have declared the truth of Jesus to them.   Their silence will end when they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they will spend the rest of their lives teaching and testifying about Jesus to the ends of the earth.  Luke writes this to teach us what the apostles learned, and wants our reaction to be the same as theirs.

This passage is read during Lent to remind us of some things. While we don’t need to climb a mountain to pray, we do need space and time set aside for prayer.  Prayer is often when God reveals things to us.  We need to pray every bit as much as to sleep or to eat.  God gives us to revelations as we read scripture or hear things as we listen to religious programs, movies or lectures. We can touch rosary beads or a pocket cross, or other religious articles.  But Jesus is always with us, and learning to see or hear or touch him is necessary. We must take the time to open ourselves to him.

I would like to hold up for you today St. Patrick, for today is his memorial. We have a short spiritual autobiography he wrote, the Confessio.  From this we have some facts, while many of the popular traditions about the snakes and the shamrocks may be legend.

St. Patrick was kidnapped as a slave by Irish raiders in Britain when he was 16, and held as a slave for 6 long, hard years.  He chose to rely on his faith to get him through that.  By a dream, he was shown the way to escape, nearly starving to death before getting back to his family.

He then studied under St. Germanus, who consecrated him later as a Bishop. Again he had a dream, and was literally called to return to Ireland.  For a long time, he struggled with that call.  He felt he was not up to the task, not worthy and certainly scared.  But once he went, he was very successful teaching the faith, baptizing and confirming the native Picts of Ireland as well as the Anglo-Saxons.

Which is not to say that he was safe all the time. He wrote that he lived in constant danger of martyrdom.  Daily he expected to be violently killed or enslaved by the non-Christian Irish.  He had to endure charges by British Clergy who claimed he wanted to be a Bishop only to inflate his pride.  In fact, his writings prove him to be a most humble-minded man, continuously giving thanks to God for sending him to the same people who had enslaved him as a boy.

His Latin was poor, and it took much effort to translate his book and to align what he wrote with known history. But his writing shows a man of truth and simplicity of the rarest quality.  He bared his soul in an unusually frank and honest way.  Even D.A. Binchy, a scholar who is one of Patrick’s most severe critics, wrote, “The moral and spiritual greatness of the man shines through every stumbling sentence.”

So we come full circle to a Saint who also “shines” with the glory of God. He, like the apostles, after a period of fear and reluctance, took the Word of God to people, exposing themselves to harm and violence. They all cultivated their deep relationship with God and clung to their faith as a way to sustain their lives, and changed the history of the world as a result.  When they might have slept safely at home, they awoke and followed God’s call.

We tell the stories of transfiguration and of Saints not only to learn how to follow Jesus, but to question our own lives. Are our lives a time of sleep to avoid the truth and trials we are meant to face?  Do we miss the meaning of what we see?  Do we focus on our troubles or do we focus on God when we are troubled?  Do we really listen to God?  Do we love our enemies? God “frees” us in the most unusual ways to do things we would have never considered otherwise.  Peter had one thing right – “It is good that we are here.”  Where you are supposed to be?

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See Both Sides Now

 

All Soul’s Day 11-2-2018

Isaiah 25: 6-9; Ps 27: 1, 4, 7, 8b, 9a, 13-14; 2Cor 4:14-5:1; John 14: 1-6

The celebration of All Souls Day is a day in the life of the Church that is unique. What other day better shows the result of Easter, the long –term impact of the resurrection? The joy of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning is the other side of grief and loss.  The difference the two is beyond our imaginations; and Biblical writers in our readings today use several approaches in attempting to describe it.

In Isaiah, the joy of the resurrection is described for us in symbols. “On this mountain”, it starts.  The Temple in Jerusalem was built on a hill – the “temple mount” it was called.  Living in Virginia, I have come to better understand this.  There is Bluemont, Thurmont, Philomont, Airmont, so many villages that use the suffix “Mount” in their name.  “Mount” does not necessarily mean a rocky peak that must be scaled with special rock climbing equipment, although life often feels like that.  A Mount is a high place where you can get new perspective from seeing the valleys around you.

So the temple mount is a symbol of heaven, a place above us, where God “provides for all peoples.” What does God provide? The heavenly feast, a banquet, a place where there is no hunger, no needs that go unmet, where all are welcomed, where no one is subjected to prejudice and no one is marginalized.  But first, a veil, like a heavy fog, must be removed.  The veil is loss, pain, misery. When it is lifted, we see the reality of God and God’s love.  We are given real freedom, which includes freedom from death and tears.  And we will know who has saved us; it is the Lord that we had searched for, and who came to find us.  Then we can rejoice and be glad that we are finally truly with God.

Our Psalm is a song of joy for that day of freedom. We will be in the house of the Lord all the rest of our days –for eternity, and we may simply look on the loveliness of the Lord.  We will be in the presence of God and know that from the day that God first “knit us together in our mother’s womb” God has been our light and our salvation.

But St. Paul had faced death and writes in this 2nd letter to the Christians of Corinth some words encouragement, telling how God renews us each day with grace.  As Jesus lived after death, so will we, and grace is given to us abundantly now, in the same way that our needs will be met abundantly in heaven.  Paul goes so far as to call the difficulties of life “momentary light affliction” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.  As the Psalmist (84) says, “One day in the house of God is better than a thousand days elsewhere.  It is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in the tests of the wicked. ” No matter what happens to our earthly bodies, our eternal wholeness is ensured.  Life does not end, but changes.

Finally, Jesus offers us a promise of certainty. “Don’t worry,” he tells us.  “Have Faith!”  In our Bible readings we encounter “Fear not” and “Have faith” so many times. The promise is real, all that we have told about -and more- is waiting for us and those we love.   Jesus adds that he will return to see that we are safely shown the way to the presence of God.  Jesus purposely came to earth for us, to teach us, and to better show us the way to eternity.  He opened the door, he shows the way, he evens gives us the desire to follow him.

All this is not a “description” of heaven as such; it does not provide the GPS coordinates that we might find eternity in our own way or at our own time. It is not concerned with golden streets or jewels or thrones.  Instead it tells us eternity it will be very different from the sickness, the violence, the striving for material goods, and the status and power games of earthly life.  It reminds us of how far we have to go to be like God in our love of each other.

And finally, it eases the pain we feel for the loss of those we love. Knowing that the present pain is transitory, but the goodness that is to come is eternal, our hearts dare to hope that suffering will end and be replaced with loveliness.  Carry that message with out with you- take the copy of the readings as well as the hope, as you leave today, for it is the message, the Good News, which the cornerstone of our faith brought to us. For the good news is the resurrection, that other side of loss and grief.

Focus on God, not food!

 

17th Sunday Ordinary Time,  7-29-18

2 Kings 4:42-44; Ps: 145:10-11, 15-18; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15

This Sunday starts a series of 5 readings taken from the Gospel of John. This is year B, when we expect to read from Mark, so why are we in John for 5 weeks?  It’s no great theological issue, just practicality.  Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, and there simply isn’t enough of Mark to read all year.  So John supplements our readings.

But the Church hasn’t simply found 5 random readings from John. All of them come from the 6th chapter of John, which has been called the “The Discourse (discussion) of The Bread of Life.”    And it starts with the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a story we have probably all have heard.  A large crowd followed Jesus to hear his teaching and see the healing of the sick, so Jesus went up on a mountain, where the sound of his voice could be best heard.

Of course, the image of a mountain should bring up an image in any Bible student’s head – the image of Moses meeting God on Mt. Sinai, the gift of the Ten Commandments and the covenant.  Moses led the people to freedom, and here is Jesus, with the gifts of God for the people, to lead them to new life.  John uses these images and comparisons often in his Gospel to help people understand the importance of Jesus, his teachings, and the role he will play in our lives.

I need to say up front that this Gospel was not given to us to teach about sharing. Sharing is important and most of us are to some degree infected with the greed of materialism that is an epidemic in our society.  I would love to see a more even distribution of food and resources in this world, but that’s not why John wrote this passage.

Sadly, I also have to add that this is not about feeding hungry people particularly. Hunger is only the setting in which John tells his message.  Feeding the hungry is a terrific and urgent need in this world.  The most recent numbers tell us that every year more people die from preventable hunger than died in the Holocaust, yet the food to feed them is available in this world.  Clearly hunger is a huge and pressing problem, but that is not what John is trying to tell us here.

So, Jesus turns to Philip, asking where to buy food for the people. Philip is the go-to guy here because Philip was from Bethsaida, which is where the story takes place.  Oddly enough, it would seem some scribe was startled by this question, and not wanting Jesus to appear as less than the “Son of God”, assures us that Jesus is just testing Philip.  It is a humorous and enlightening line in the story which serves to remind us that the Bible is not always a book you can simply pick up and read with understanding without studying the background information, the culture, and a sense of the point of the passage.  Trillions of hours of study have been spent comparing the many manuscripts we have and knowledgeable scholars can sometimes trace where a scribe’s comments have altered the text.

But Philip is not concerned with where to go shopping, because the cost would far exceed possibility. Then Andrew appears with a boy who has 5 barley loaves and 2 fish.  What does this seemingly simple verse tell us?  Well, three important things actually.   First, where have we heard about barley loaves before?  In our first reading – the story of the 20 barley loaves feeding 100 people!  That story would have been a classic story well known to the audience John wrote for.  Bingo!  We know this story has something to do with the power of God.  There is a miracle going on here.  But Jesus is not a prophet, like Elisha, but far greater, and will feed 5,000 people with 5 loaves.  A multiply of 1,000 tells us we have surpassed human ability to provide food, and moved into the range of divine.

But secondly, barley was an important crop in Jesus’ land. It was drought resistant, grew well in the heat, and ripened quickly.  The harvest would have been at Passover time, and Passover has some very important implications in our story.

Passover was near, John mentions. It was the event that began the escape from Egypt for the Israelites, one of the cornerstone events of the Jewish faith.  Passover is about the death of the cruel slave holders and the freedom of the slaves.  Part of the journey to freedom for the Israelites included the bread (“manna””) which God gave the people to eat as they traveled to the Promised Land.  It was not just bread, but “supernatural” bread, the “daily bread” which Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer.  John’s Gospel is full of Passover references, linking the Jewish history to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  And where else does our eternal life with God begin but with the resurrection of Jesus?  A barley loaf may sustain life, but the gift of life is in the resurrection.

Our Psalm says, “The eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” John wants us to stop focusing on a desire for food, and focus on our natural and necessary desire for God.

After the people reclined to eat, Jesus gave thanks, blessing the food, and they ate as much as they wanted. Will God only portion us out small allotments of grace and mercy?  Will God weigh out tiny morsels of love?  Are we permitted only a few drops of joy in God?  No, no; God gives us grace and mercy, love and joy in abundance!  God is a God of plenty, of more than we ask for.   Luke (6:38) has a wonderful way to put it:  “…give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

And what about the fragments? The early Christians had a collection of teachings called “Didache”, which tells us how they understood the fragments of left-over food. It says, “Concerning the fragmented bread, ‘We give thanks to you, our Father.  As this fragmented bread was scattered on the mountains, but was gathered up and became one, so let the Church be gathered up from the four corners of the earth into your kingdom.’”  Still today, we treat the crumbs left from our Eucharistic bread as precious creations from God’s hand, as the Body of Christ, and we do that as we remember how God gathers people, more numerous than bread crumbs at the table, as precious lives that would have yet another life in the light of  God’s Kingdom.

But our passage ends on a somber note. The people saw the sign, the miracle of the food, and called Jesus, “the one who is to come into the world”.  Moses had told them of the “one who is to come” back in Deuteronomy (18:19), but John is warning us that Jesus is not just a replacement for an earthly military king like David.  John wants us to understand the true meaning of why the Son of God came to earth.

So our task today is to remember why we “do” Eucharist. “The very word, “Eucharist” means to give thanks.  We remember Jesus, and we give thanks for his love for us, his sacrifice of himself for us, for what he taught us and for how he showed us the way to live fully, deeply, and with love.  We remember that he is the Son of God, the Holy One who came to fulfill a prophecy from long ago, the One who had victory over sin and death, the One who changed everything.