Last Epiphany B 2021: “You”

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The video format of this sermon can be found by scroll to the end of the text

Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany
and this is a reflection on the “Transfiguration” story
in the gospel of Mark.

I have mentioned this at least once before
but I think it is worth remembering
that Jesus is also a central figure
in the Quran and Islam.

In the Quran, Jesus,
like Elijah in the Hebrew text,
was taken up to heaven without dying.

This is because Jesus is a great prophet
in Islam too,
and it is inconceivable in Islam
that Allah would kill his own prophet.

So, unlike the traditional Christian interpretation
found in the Passion narrative,
the Quran indicates that Allah saved Jesus
from the cross.

Up he went by-passing death,
and he will appear again at the appointed moment.
Muslims believe that when Jesus returns,
he will kill the anti-Christ
and bring a reign of peace and justice.
Then, at the end of his forty year reign,
Jesus will finally die –
because all humans must die.

In fact, there is an empty burial site
waiting for Jesus right alongside
the place where Mohammad
and the first two Sunni caliphs of Islam,
are buried.

While I don’t think that is factual,
any more than I think Jesus hang gliding
on the clouds with Moses and Elijah is factual,
the symmetry is kind of cool.

It is a powerful demonstration that Abraham’s children –
Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad –
are blood brothers.
But that is not why this story was told
the way it was told.
It was not about solidarity
so much as it was about supremacy.
Darn religion.

To a first century Roman citizen living, let’s say,
along the boot of Italy,
this story may have made the sale.
It made Jesus seem like a pretty cool God.

But to 21st century North Americans,
nursed from childhood
on a cocktail made from
one part skepticism,
one part scientism,
and one part rationalism,
this story has Disney or Marvel Comics
written all over it.

To make matters worse,
if the person hearing this story
is hearing it for the first time as an adult –
without the inoculation of Sunday School
or a childhood of looking
up into stained glass windows,
then it makes sharing Christian wisdom
all the more difficult.

Jesus said that we must encounter God
like a child,
or with the mind of a child;
and that may be more true about religion
than God.

We know most religion and spirituality
is not rooted in the rational
and is not dictated by the logical;
both tools and formats
upon which adulthood is constructed.

It shouldn’t be based in emotionalism either,
because that is a retardant of maturity.
Instead, the default setting for adult spirituality
is the imagination
and working with intuition.
But these stories hit us
at the doorway of logic
and rationality,
and we want them to make perfect sense.

So let’s see how this story might make sense
to the rational mind.

The punch line of Mark’s story
is that Jesus belongs in the Spiritual Hall of Fame.
We know that because Mark places him
up on the clouds
next to the other G.O.A.Ts:
Moses and Elijah.

That is one way to deconstruct this story
and unpack its meaning.
You see, whether it is factual or not
it can still express meaning.
It’s meaning, it’s truth,
has nothing to do with whether it
actually happened.
We can even understand that distinction
with our rational mind.

The meaning of this story,
as told by Mark,
is that Mark believed Jesus
was to be elevated
to a status with the greatest of all prophets:
Moses and Elijah.
And so this story links Jesus
to ultimate authority: God.

At his baptism,
at least as Mark tells it,
no one hears God tell Jesus he is “beloved” –
except Jesus.

In Mark, Jesus’ baptism
is  private spiritual awakening.
But as we get ready to hear
about the last week of Jesus’ life,

Mark tells us about this event
and verifies it with witnesses
so that everybody now knows

Jesus is God’s “Beloved.”
The transfiguration is Jesus’ coming out party.

One more thing to note
before we fall off the scaffolding
of logic and rationalism
and land in the abyss|
of the whacko-mystical:
Mark has Jesus as God’s son –
but not his only son.

Jesus is not elevated
at the expense of Moses and Elijah,
at least not in Mark’s story.

The Church, early on,
began interpreting it that way
but Mark, as our earliest gospel,
does not say Jesus is God’s only son.

In Judaism,
a prophet need not be “the only prophet”
in order to be an important presence
or to speak for God.

A prophet,
by nature of being a prophet, voices God.
The trick is in discerning
true prophets
from false prophets
rather than which is the only prophet.

Unfortunately, for a variety of historical reasons,
Christianity painted itself
into a theological corner
by declaring that Jesus is “the only”
or he is nothing at all.
So, if we unpeel the layers of Christian interpretation
on this story from Mark,
we can see it as a more innocent, limited claim
than the one the Church came to make.
Mark’s point was simply that Jesus
belongs in the Hall of Fame
with those other guys.

But the real intent of this story
from the story-tellers point of view,
is simply to say, “Hey, listen up –
this guy speaks with authority.
This guy is the real thing.”

That is where we arrive
when we allow our reason and logic
to unpack the meaning of this story –
to hear its truth
whether it actually happened or not.

Now that we did that
we can jump into the broiling brine
of wiggly, squiggly spooky stuff.

So, there is one experience –
one supernatural,
spiritual experience –
that is accessible to every one.

It is an experience that will,
and surely did,
even if only briefly,
transfigure us.

It is a small moment
not a gigantic one.

It is a quiet moment
not an explosive one.

It is a deeply personal moment
not a public one.

It is an off-handed moment
not a planned one.

It is that moment when you know,
when one day, unexpectedly,
probably for a reason you can’t put your finger on,
that you are beloved.
Beloved of God.
Beloved of God.

When you know,
as surely as you know how to breathe,
that you are beloved of God,
you are transfigured
even if no one is there to see it.

Even if it does not show on your face,
in that moment you are transfigured.

I am not talking about narcissism.
It is not accessed through the Ego.
It comes up through the dark moist soil
of voices and experiences
that blanket our innards.

It comes up
and disconnected
from our own efforts.

It comes up
in spite of everything to the contrary
and is not warranted by any success
or achievement we have had.

It comes up
like the first quiet rays of dawn,
a velvet glow out of the darkness almost unrecognized at first.
It comes up
into our stomach first
and then into our throat
and lastly into our brain.

It comes up
like the recognition in the gaze of another
when the shutter of the eyes opens
and we see INTO each other.

It comes up
almost like a shear veil being removed
and we see what was always there
but now we see it in nakedness.

You are beloved;
you…the beloved of God.
Not just Jesus,
but you.
Can you feel that?

Do you remember it?
If not, can you use your imagination to taste it?

When you know,
in your body, that you are beloved
by someone else, even if not God,
then you are transfigured.

If you have had that experience –
the quiet,
momentary stillness
when you know,
when you know you are beloved –
then you have been transfigured.

That is the primary spiritual experience.

So, don’t go looking for something else –
don’t be greedy
don’t be grandiose.
If you know, even for a fleeting moment,
that you are beloved,
then you have had it all.

That’s all I got.
Thank you for sharing in this,
and the peace of God be with you.