Archives: Last Epiphany

Why Is God’s Revelation So Unhelpful?

It’s the Last Sunday of Epiphany, which means we read the story of the Transfiguration.

“Transfiguration” is the fancy church word to describe this story of Jesus being transformed before his disciples on the mountaintop, his clothes becoming dazzling white as he talks with Moses and Elijah. The voice of God speaks out of the cloud and proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Why do we always end Epiphany with this story?

We end Epiphany with the Transfiguration, or “The Fig” as it’s affectionately known among preachers, because it is the closest anyone on earth has ever come to seeing the fullness of Christ in his divine nature.

Peter, James, and John get to see the end of the story, Jesus in all his heavenly glory, while they’re still in the middle of the story.

It’s a revelation to them about this man they’ve been following around for the last few years. They’ve seen him do amazing things—heal the sick, feed the thousands, and walk on water—but this surpasses it all.

The season of Epiphany is all about revelation. It’s about the world coming to understand who Jesus is and why he came to earth.

During this season, we read of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple as a baby, of his baptism in the River Jordon, and of his first miracles.

The Transfiguration is the pinnacle, quite literally. It’s a mountaintop experience for the disciples.

But here’s the thing. It’s revelation, but it’s not particularly helpful revelation.

What do we learn about Jesus in this miracle?

What lesson for living an ethical life does it teach us?

How do we come away from seeing Jesus in dazzling white clothes better able to love our neighbors?

I don’t think we particularly do, which is why I hate the Transfiguration.

Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong a word. Let’s just say it’s not among my top ten miracle stories from the Gospels. I moan and groan about having to preach on it every single year.

What I want out of my revelations from God, whatever they are, is something practical.

“What am I supposed to do next?” I ask God. “What’s the right path forward? How do you want me to change?”

Reveal that to me, God, if you’d really like to be helpful.

And that, I realized this year, is precisely my problem. Continue reading

We, The Body of Christ, Hate Our Bodies. Maybe We Could Stop?

Do you hate your body?

I know I hate mine, and my best guess is you hate yours.

And that is a tragedy.

We are members of an incarnational faith.

We celebrate and stake our very souls on God coming to Earth in a human body, and then giving that body to us, in life and in death.

We consume the Body and Blood of Christ every Sunday.

We call our collective self the Body of Christ.

And yet we hate our own bodies.

We hate our very incarnation, call it ugly and feel shame at its appearance and functioning or lack thereof.

What is wrong with this picture? Continue reading

What to Do When You’re Squeamish About Miracles

The great twentieth century mystic, Thomas Merton, was standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in downtown Louisville when he had a great revelation.

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I have the immense joy of being [human], a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Walking around shining like the sun.

That is apparently what Moses was doing after his encounters with God on the mountain.

And that is what Jesus was like in the Transfiguration.

Jesus put aside his glory because he had a lot of specific work left to do in the world and he couldn’t do it if people were so awestruck by him in his glorious form that they fell on their faces and trembled at the sight of him.

It was hard enough to avoid doing that when he healed people and multiplied loaves and fishes looking like a perfectly ordinary person.

Not twenty minutes after the Transfiguration Jesus was back down in the marketplace healing a young boy with epilepsy and going about his good work.

Jesus didn’t need the appearance of physical glory to get people’s attention. The goodness that flowed out of him nonstop did that all on its own.

But why did Moses hide the evidence of his encounter with God?

Why did he veil himself when his face was shining? Continue reading

Saying Goodbye

It’s easy to get caught up in the supernatural fireworks of our stories today from 2 Kings and Mark.

People are flying around in the air, there are clouds and lightning and chariots of fire and prophets appearing and disappearing—it’s very Hollywood.

But the truth is that these stories are really about human relationships, and they have a lot to teach us about God and ourselves.

The story of Elijah’s departure from earth, taken up to heaven as Elisha watches, is incredibly poignant, partly because of the events leading up to it.

This is a long and drawn out departure.

They travel together from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the banks of the Jordan River—all powerfully symbolic locations for the people of Israel, and probably places Elijah and Elisha had traveled together to many times before in their prophetic partnership.

They weren’t alone.

The company of the other prophets was with them, and they kept asking Elisha over and over again, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?”

And Elisha replies, “Yes, I know. Keep silent.”

Elisha doesn’t want to hear it, hates the truth he has to admit that his beloved teacher and friend is about to leave him forever.

We don’t know what the tone of the company of prophets was.

They could have been mocking Elisha, taunting him about his pain.

Or they could simply have been trying to get through to a friend, seeing that he was in denial about what was coming and trying to prepare him for reality.

This gets to the heart of the human truth of this story: it is so hard to say goodbye to someone we love. Continue reading

The Transfiguration: Moses’ and Elijah’s Side of the Story

I love it when God laughs at me, not in a mean way, but in a “you are adorable and I must tease you” way.

I think that happened this week when I drew the Transfiguration as my preaching scripture.

I am not a fan of fluffy miracles such as the Transfiguration and the Ascension.

I’m not really into the scenes in the gospel when Jesus flies through the air with lights and fireworks and stuff.

I prefer him to walk either on the ground or on water, and work with concrete things such as bread or fish or mud.

But no such luck, Jesus really went big this Sunday in the Gospel of Matthew, and it appears to be an important part of the story because it’s in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was the greatest miracle in the Bible, so I guess maybe we should look into it.

If you’re like me, you definitely identify with Peter in this story.

He’s walking along with his friends James, John, and Jesus when this totally crazy thing happens. Continue reading

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