Friday, September 14, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 16 September 2018



Mark 8.27-38    Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Reflection        Peter identifies Jesus as Messiah. Jesus shusses him and proceeds to call himself  “Son of Man.” Here’s the thing. The Jews have been waiting for a Messiah to come and rescue them from their suffering. In the Hebrew Testament ‘Messiah’ refers to kings, prophets or priests who are anointed with oil and set apart or consecrated for special missions or callings as chosen for them by God. 
When Peter identifies Jesus as ‘the Messiah’ he is only partially correct. As we saw at his baptism, Jesus is anointed and consecrated, he is favored by God. But, Jesus is more than that. He has not come to overthrow the Romans, rescue the Jews and establish a new political kingdom on earth. Jesus ministry is intended to reveal life on this earth lived in solidarity with God and with all people. 

The Jews hoped for a Messiah who would conquer their Roman oppressors so that they would be the ones in charge. But Jesus calls himself the ‘Son of Man.’ He embodies a new understanding of the relationship between God and humankind.

Jesus proceeds to teach that the Son of Man is not going to conquer the Romans nor be welcomed with open arms. Rather, he will suffer and be rejected by the religious officials. In fact, he will be killed, but, he will not be overcome, which is what, “in three days he will rise again” alludes to. Clearly this does not comport with the generally understood meaning of Messiah. Messiah is supposed to be hero, planting his victory banner on the mountaintop. Messiah is not supposed to suffer and be killed. Peter does not want to hear this, so much so that he basically says to Jesus, “Can we have a word?” Then takes him aside and rebukes his teacher. Jesus returns the favor telling Peter, “Get behind me.” 

Jesus embodies a new consciousness along with an invitation to a new earthly kingdom, an upside down kingdom wherein those who want to follow Jesus must lose life as they know it order to be restored to new life in right relationship with God and all people. Participating in this new kingdom means setting our minds on divine things - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control rather than on human things - pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness. 

The question is, which kingdom are we making now?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has done a multi part series on Morality in the 21st Century. To hear the first program, please click on the image in the upper right corner of your screen. 

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Gospel Text for Sunday 9 September 2018


Matthew 25.35

Mark 7:24-37        Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Reflection        It is in the nature of the human condition to protect ourselves from what or who ever is unknown or unfamiliar because we are not sure that we are safe. It is in the nature of the human condition to hold onto what we have because we fear if we give some away we may not have enough. So, like Jesus, our knee-jerk reaction is to malign the person begging for our assistance and bark, “No, I cannot help you.” This is the first consolation I find in Mark’s text; our self-protective gut reactions are just like Jesus.

The second consolation is this, we need not be bound by our involuntary impulses.  There is no way of knowing what went on inside Jesus between his callous rejection of the mother’s first request that Jesus heal her daughter and her second pitch pleading for favor, but Jesus’ impulsive “no” became an accomplished “yes.” Jesus broke through the limiting ideas of who or how or what he was supposed to be and extended his mercy to a stranger. 

I was a Transitional Deacon serving at St. Mark’s in Berkeley. The rector of seventeen years tenure had retired and an interim had not yet been found. It was the first day I was the only clergy person present for the Wednesday morning Eucharist, the first day I was responsible for this big, beautiful church campus and I felt the full weight of the keys in my cassock.  

A new woman joined the Wednesday regulars for worship. Following the service I welcomed her then showed her the convoluted way through the sanctuary to the enclosed side courtyard leading to the underground parking garage. As we stood chatting I noticed a youngish black man, disheveled dreadlocks, white tee shirt, thick metal chain looped from his hip standing across the courtyard. I nodded to acknowledge him, continued my conversation with the new woman all the while wondering how this man got into the courtyard. 

Being an urban setting with a handful of homeless folk living in the church garage, the entryways to the courtyard were locked, as were all of the church doors.  After unlocking the gate to allow the woman to descend to the parking garage, I turned to face the man in the courtyard. As we approached each other I was wretchedly aware that not another soul breathed on the campus. When face to face I smiled, introduced myself and asked the stranger, “What may I do for you?” He answered, “I want to pray.” I replied, “Shall we sit on this bench?” “No, I want to pray in the church.” 

I would be lying if I did not admit that I was alarmed. “This is the first day I am responsible for the church. What if he destroys it?  won’t leave? attacks me?” At the same time I frantically implored, “God, this is your church and he must be one of your people.” So I led the stranger into the sanctuary, up the steps to the chancel. He sat and closed his eyes. I did likewise. Eight or ten minutes passed in silence, notwithstanding my racing mind,  “Debra, why are you anxious about this man yet did not have a second thought about the new woman - both are strangers? Why are you partial? What is wrong with you?” Eventually I asked again, “What may I do for you?” The man opened his eyes, looked at me and quietly said, “I just want to pray.” 

I began to relax, be still and present. I have no idea how much time passed before I heard him stir, and opened my eyes. He stood up, looked me straight in the eyes and said “Thank you.” I stood up, looked back and asked, “What is your name?” “Jesus.” My tears erupted. He said no more as I walked with him to the door. I have no idea how he exited the locked courtyard. 

Like Jesus with the Gentile mother, my involuntary impulse was to malign the stranger as  a scavenger or enemy harboring ill intentions.  Like Jesus I wanted to withhold God’s blessing. Much as the persistent mother refused to be turned away, the man on the St. Mark’s courtyard prevailed, turning my fear into humble supplication and transforming my heart from stone to tears. 

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Hebrew and Gospel Texts for Sunday 2 September 2018


                                                  

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Reflection        This morning I joined millions of people, physically and virtually, worshipping in thanksgiving for and celebration of the life of Senator John Sidney McCain III at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Family, friends and political figures representing every star and every stripe of humanity;  Orthodox Jew and Jesuit, Republican and Democrat, everyday human and president, all gathered to pay tribute to a man who “embodied the best in humanity.” 

The Democrat turned Independent Joseph Liberman described Republican McCain as a “defender of dignity of all human beings,” and declared, “the actions of man are the sources of hope for people.” The controversial elder statesman and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paid tribute to McCain as a man of honor, explaining, “Honor is an inward compulsion free of self interest,” and it was honor that compelled McCain to action intended to assure “decency and freedom for all.” 

Republican President George W. Bush characterized McCain as “a model of the combination of courage and decency.” Democratic President Barack Obama said, notwithstanding their myriad disagreements, McCain “embodied the best,” because, “McCain was committed to something bigger than himself.”

In the eulogy that began the service and perhaps should have been its capstone, McCain’s  daughter Meghan stated, “John McCain was not defined by prison, by the navy, by the Senate, by the Republican party or any one of the deeds in his life. John McCain was defined by love.”

As the heart felt tributes proceeded a distinct theme emerged, a theme captured in a quote from John McCain’s favorite book, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. “Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.” The theme is action. Everything depends on what we choose to do. Which brings us to our Biblical texts.

“Listen to me, all of you, and understand,” God wants our hearts. That’s what Jesus is telling the self-righteous keepers of the law who keep pestering him with divisive issues of who has proper eating habits who does not, who is worthy who is not, who is in who is out.

God desires us as individuals as well as a community and proposes that we come away from our habitual ways of fighting for security, safety, esteem, power and control.  Come away from our zero sum mentality that in order for you to have more I must have less. Come away from our inordinate desire to win.  Come away… to a new life committed to something more than ourselves, love of God and one another.

Like any proposal, ”Will you marry me? Will you apply for this position? Will you volunteer for this ministry? Will you seek dignity and decent lives for all people? Will you come away with me?” there are two parts; the invitation and the response. “Arise, my love, and come away….” In other words, don’t just sit there and wonder, “Is this real or true? Do I deserve it? How can little me possibly do this?”  Stand up and step away from your incarcerating thoughts and self defeating habits.  Act now and commit to something bigger than yourself because love is realized in actions.

By all accounts the late Senator John Sidney McCain III’s life was defined by love, love that compelled him to commit and act for something greater than himself. I believe John McCain accepted God’s proposal and “embodied the best in humanity.” His life and all of ours are better for it. Dare we choose to act likewise? 


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Friday, August 24, 2018

Christian Testament Text for Sunday 26 August 2018






Ephesians 6:10-20        Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Reflection      In the spring of 1963 following much nonproductive discourse, civil and otherwise, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized one of the most influential campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement, the Birmingham Campaign. It involved a series of lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall and boycotts on downtown merchants to protest segregation laws in the city of Birmingham. These peaceful demonstrations were responded to by violent attacks involving fire hoses and police dogs. Ultimately President John F. Kennedy wrote,  "The events in Birmingham... have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them." This was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and there is no question, embodying this new reality required engaging in more than polite conversation. It required courage, persistence and peaceful action.

Writing from his cell in the Birmingham jail The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

I believe this is our culture’s great failing. Most of us are the moderates and we are conflict averse. We do not want to step on anybodies toes and we do not want to compromise our privileged positions.  We prefer to sit in a shallow spool than swim upstream. Perhaps it is because we forget Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness…”  In other words, our struggle is against the keepers of the status quo. Who better than Paul, the reformed persecutor of Jesus’ followers, knows how our struggles to embody the alternate reality of Jesus are condemned and thwarted by the rulers and authorities protecting the current order? 

To embody the alternate reality of Jesus is disruptive because Jesus is a revelation of how God is present and acting in the world; healing the sick, comforting the afflicted…. and…. this is the part we prefer to overlook…. afflicting the comforted. Jesus is a thorn in the side of government and religious officials. He upsets anyone who is inclined to protect the current order at the expense of justice. 

I believe Jesus has the courage to persist with healing the sick, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted in the face of pervasive opposition because he finds his strength and power with God.  Empowered with God, Jesus puts on the “whole armor of God,” speaks truth out loud, demands fairness and respect, seeks reconciliation, and “with all of these, (takes) the shield of faith”

“Taking the shield of faith,” means standing in the conviction that God is with us rather than wallowing with uncertainty and cowering in fear of those that resist change. You see, when we put our faith in God with us rather than in our uncertain selves, we have the courage to embody Jesus’ alternate reality; healing the sick, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted.

History reminds us that change comes as a result of unsettling the status quo and that tends to require more than persuasive civil discourse. But the majority of folks are indifferent, if not overtly hostile, to conversations about change. Rather than slaving for persuasive civil discourse, perhaps it is time for us to take seriously Jesus’ revelation that actions are more powerful than words. Let me be clear. Jesus is not a proponent of violence. Rather, he exemplifies living for an alternate reality that begets dignity, respect and access to decent lives for all people. 

How can we embody the alternate reality of Jesus? This week we can take time to learn about the candidates running in the primaries. Find out how their behaviors line up with the behaviors exemplified by Jesus; healing the sick, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted. Then vote for the candidates we believe best represent Jesus’ values - regardless of whether they are Republican, Democrat, Independent or Green. Rather than capitulate to partisan politics, let us have the courage to live Jesus’ alternate reality using actions that are stronger than words; healing the sick, comforting the afflicted and, yes, when necessary afflicting the comforted. 

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 19 August 2018

John 6:51-58        Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Reflection      Jesus is adding a dimension of nourishment, spiritual nourishment, to our diets. He never says, “Don’t eat bread made with yeast or meat or vegetables.” In fact, his messages is quite the opposite. When your body is hungry, feed it even if it means picking grain on the Sabbath or eating food that is reserved for the priests. Take care of your physical body AND take care of your Spiritual body. 

Everything about the revelation of Jesus is both - and or non-dualistic. First and last, new and old, one and many, body and spirit, mortal and immortal, human and divine. Much as we need to supply nourishment to our bodies so too must we provide nutrition to our Spirits.  

Bread is not a symbol that signifies or represents something else; a cross, star of David, red circle with a diagonal line across it. Bread is a sacrament. Its life sustaining property renders it naturally sacred. When Jesus aligns himself with “living bread” from heaven he is saying, “The message I bring is of a Spiritual nature intended to nourish your Spiritual life.”  

During his final meal with his friends Jesus speaks words that we hear during our celebration of Holy Eucharist. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this wine, remember me.”  Let us not forget that Jesus blesses, breaks and shares bread in the context of a meal with his friends. Meals are occasions in which we all participate, meals that consist of both the bread of earth and the bread of heaven. Meals are everyday life, the context in which the realization of our Spiritual lives occurs. **

Jesus reveals a way of life that transcends separation of the secular and the sacred. He shows us The Way to live that is essential to our flourishing. Jesus does not instruct us to “Think about this bread and what it means.” He invites us to “eat this bread” because it is not about understanding all of this, it is about doing it. Jesus is inviting us to incorporate the fullness of our divine humanity, our human divinity.

Like Jesus, we are bread made of two ingredients, the physical and the Spiritual. Inevitably our physical beings are challenged, diminish and die. If the only way we find meaning and value is through our effectual actions and avoiding the annihilation of our small selves, well, all that remains for us is to become stale, moldy and disintegrate. Only when we receive, consume and embody the bread as revealed in Jesus are the physical and Spiritual possibilities of life unleashed in us.

If we do not eat, we do not live. That statement is as true with regard to our physical lives as it is for our Spiritual lives.  When we hear John’s Jesus say, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven…” he is telling us that he brings to us that which we require to nourish our spiritual lives. If we do not eat of this Spiritual bread our Spirits will not flourish. 

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** For more on this nondual perspective listen to Fr. Thomas Keating speaking about “The Little Way of St. Teresa of Liseaux”  at https://youtu.be/7wBBOAORoSY

Friday, August 10, 2018

Gospel text for Sunday 12 August 2018

John 6:51-58        Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Reflection            On Sunday morning we gather not only for our personal sustenance and transformation but also for the sake of the world. Each Sunday morning we participate in the liturgy, leitourgia, the Greek word that actually means “work of the people.” It is our work to come together to manifest the presence of the One God much as single grains of wheat are gathered to manifest one loaf of bread. We are the body of Christ that is revealed in the world as the Church. We are sacraments pointing beyond our small selves to something more.

Preaching to the early fifth century Church in North Africa, St. Augustine of Hippo directs our attention to the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist and says, “Be what you see, receive what you are,” (Sermon 272)  Or in other words, “Behold what you are, become what you eat.”  I believe Augustine was trying to articulate the potent reality of  sacraments.  We live in a sacramental world wherein objects can embody meaning that words are insufficient to convey. For example, think about being in love. The way we embody love is by giving gifts, writing poetry, singing love songs, making love. How often do we say to our lover, “Let’s sit down and have a discourse on the meaning of love and how it is embodied?” Neither can we grasp with our mind the meaning of ingesting the sacramental bread and wine.

I hear the echoes of my seminary advisor, the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil, one of the few outstanding liturgists living today. I can see Louis standing at the chapel altar and hear him proclaiming, “Bread and wine are not just symbols we use to remember the historical facts of Jesus’ death (unlike the Protestant reformers). Bread and wine are means by which we participate here and now. Bread and wine are signs that embody a reality. Holy Eucharist is a meal without which we cannot live.” Pausing for emphasis  Louis continues, “People, where else in this world does everyone receive the same gift?”

I believe the reality embodied in our Eucharistic bread and wine is the reality of our oneness with God and our desire to create the social conditions wherein all people are welcome, respected and have access to the resources necessary to reach their fulfillment. When Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven… Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” he is inviting us to claim our full inheritance individually and collectively, as sacramental beings imbued with more meaning and value than reason can convey. 

We are bread. We are blessed. We are broken. We are given for the good of all people. See what you are. Become what you eat.


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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hebrew & Gospel Texts for Feast of the Transfiguration Sunday 5 August 2018






Exodus 34:29-35        Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 

When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Luke 9:28-36        Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Reflection        Bursting through pillars of cloud my plane descended to skirt the snowy ridge of the Washington state Cascade Mountains and the crowning vision of their holy hill, the fourteen thousand foot Mt. St. Helen. Tears of awe and wonder wrung my throat and washed my eyes. Surely it was sunset scenes such as this that tuned Michelangelo’s brushes to paint the hand of God reaching across the sky to touch the hand of humanity. Like many folks who have confessed, “I feel closest to God while admiring the vast night sky, wandering in the wilderness, or inhaling the desert after the rain…” last Sunday evening while peering through the postage stamp plane window, I felt aglow in the presence of God. And when my friend met me in the airport the first thing she said to me was, "Your face looks so bright, full of life." Hummm?

Recently another friend sent me an article written by Robert Barron, a widely respected Roman Catholic Bishop who ministers to people who identify themselves as “Nones,” people affiliated with no religious tradition. Barron argues that to speak effectively to this rapidly growing group of people, (according to a Pew Research survey, fully twenty-five percent of the country or eighty million people), we need to speak more fluently about God. Barron writes, “I would suggest the best biblical image for God is the burning bush - on fire, but not consumed - which appeared to Moses. The closer the true God comes to a creature the more radiant and beautiful the creature becomes. It is not destroyed nor is it obligated to give way; rather it becomes the very best version of itself.” (First Things, January 2018, p33) 

When Moses came down from his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai the skin of his face was shining such that the people who “saw him were afraid to come near him” so Moses covered his face with a veil. When Jesus took “Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray,”  while he was praying “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” When people people get close to God they become spiritually illumined, they become the “very best versions of themselves.”

The story of Moses and the burning bush is a story of the radiance and beauty of creation in communion with God. The story of Aaron and the Israelites who saw the skin of Moses’ face shining and were afraid, is a story of the awe inspired radiance and beauty of humanity coming close to God.  The story of Peter, James and John witnessing the dazzling transfiguration of Jesus is a story of the radiance and beauty available to faithful disciples in intimate relationship with God. Each of these is a story of the radiance and beauty available to anyone who is open to receive spiritual illumination and be changed, transfigured. 

Here is what I believe about transfiguration. A real event happens in the physical world, toward which we turn, pause and pay attention and through which the hand of God reaches to touch and transform us. Should we long for such an experience all that is required is our willingness to pause, pay attention and be surprised by God. The illumination we receive freely.  “The closer the true God comes to a creature the more radiant and beautiful the creature becomes… it becomes the very best version of itself.” I believe this is transfiguration, available to all of us.

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