Sermons That Work

Companions in Transformation, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C) – 2004

February 22, 2004

Whenever Moses was with God on the mountain he was transformed. Likewise Jesus was transformed upon the mountain as he was with God, joined by the great prophets of God, Moses and Elijah. The countenance of Jesus was altered and his raiment became dazzling white.

The human reaction to this transformation was initially fear, or we might say awe. This was a glory so stunning that only one as impetuous as Peter would utter mere words in the presence of such holiness. Most of us would respond as the prophet Habakkuk wrote, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Law in his hands, all the people saw his shining face and they were afraid to come near him. This fear, this reaction of drawing away from the full manifestation of God’s glory, is an involuntary reaction of mere mortals. But as we take heart and draw near to God through Jesus, we are also transformed. God is still inviting us to become companions with Jesus and one another in God’s mission. To the extent we draw near in faith to join this mission, we will also be transformed.

As Paul wrote to the community at Corinth, “we are emboldened through Christ to draw near to God.” And as we join in the great mission of God to transform the entire Creation, we likewise are changed, as Paul put it; changed “into his likeness.” Not all at once, but “from one degree of glory to another; for,” he further explains, “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Last month, on the third Sunday in this season of Epiphany, we saw Jesus coming home to Nazareth. Fresh out of the wilderness, he had just embarked upon the mission entrusted to him by God. He entered the Synagogue and read the passage handed to him for that day. It was the great mission of God in the words of the Prophet Isaiah and the passage began with the announcement, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” As Jesus closed the book and gave it back to the attendant he felt confirmed in his call, emboldened in his chosen path; filled with God’s love and yes, transformed for mission.

The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him, doubtless in expectation and possibly because they had caught a flash of the glory of that pronouncement in the face of this son of Nazareth. Jesus began to unpack the passage, and speaking of his own call to that very mission of God, he declared that the holy text had been fulfilled right there in their hearing. At first the assembly was so moved by his gracious words that they didn’t resist. But as he reviewed the history of Israel, how they loved the words of God but resisted God’s mission to the world, the mood shifted dramatically. By the end of the morning they were hauling him out to the edge of a cliff to throw him over. From awe and affection to fear and rejection. Such is the pattern of human passion. How quickly that crowd moved through the all too predictable stages of rejecting one who threatened to disturb their complacency; whose self-offering exposed their selfishness. We are no different, especially with those we love – for they have a unique power over us.

Nothing has changed and everything is changing. We still live in a suffering world and God is still transforming the world by means of divine love. The mission of God continues. To the extent that we draw near in faith to receive and respond to this love and join God in mission, we are transformed and God’s transforming mission continues through us. First God transforms us through love. ” For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in the Son might have everlasting life.” God needs us to accomplish this mission. Indeed, Jesus told his disciples that they would do “grater things than he had done,” because he would go to the Father and send the Holy Spirit to help them further the mission. God needs apostles, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, language translators. All the skills that human industry has developed can be pressed into this holy service. And all are.

The missionary programs of the Episcopal Church employ more lay people with the skills listed here than ordained people these days, as companions with local church communities throughout the Anglican Communion: to preach the good news, teach, heal, administer, translate, communicate, preserve local environments, build houses, connect computers, grow crops. All the stuff of life is integral to God’s mission. But all that activity comes to nothing if it is not inspired and sustained by love. Relationships grounded in the Love of God will be the means of peace, justice, and redemption. Projects – however excellent they may be – when accomplished by the ambitious and competitive zeal so energetically inspired by human pride will be the means of fragmentation and alienation, an all too familiar story in the history of the Church.

Love. There is no other way to explain why mere mortals join this costly, risky, sacrificial mission. We have all noticed, either in ourselves or in another, the transforming effects of human love. Faces light up in the presence of a laughing baby. The countenance of a harried senior executive softens and glows when his beloved enters the room. And most astonishing, as many have experienced, is the strangely peaceful radiance of the dying at that point when we know they have seen the reality of God’s presence in the blessed invitation of love fulfilled.

God offers each of us a chance to put our skills to work in the splendid redemptive plan. But if we undertake this work as an opportunity to triumph over others, to exalt ourselves, to seize power and control, to prove ourslves or our party right, to justify our personal or political cause, we should go home. Nothing less than love will do here. Unless we are first and always caught up in God’s transforming love, we are not, in fact, involved in God’s mission.

Not only does God transform the world through our faithful service in the Church. But we are transformed through God’s love. Unless we love, we will not endure in mission. Love and conflict are close companions because to love is to care about another — to invest one’s self in someone beyond one’s self. Love is costly because is draws us away from the basic human impulse to protect one’s self. Heedless in love, we give our very self away. With such a cost, the potential for conflict seems equal to the level of investment in the beloved other.

Isn’t it interesting then, that at this point in our Church’s history when we are in great conflict, we seem more compelled to be involved in God’s world mission than at any tine in the past several decades? In January of this year, more Episcopalians were trained for mission service than at any one time in the past 40 years. This response in the face of dire predictions of schism and the reality of painful discord within our Church should alert and encourage us: God is up to something in the Holy Spirit. God was up to something in the missionary life of Jesus, even as the conflict intensified around his mission. What is happening here? Are we offering ourselves to God for mission with renewed intensity? Have we been stirred by a complacent lover’s sudden fear that he or she is losing the Beloved? Are we being shaken out of self-righteousness and arrogance by the prospect of God moving on in mission without us?

Let us hope so! We struggle over many things in this beloved fellowship of Episcopalians: sex, money, biblical interpretation, geography, real estate and just plain power and control. Money is useless here if we cannot give ourselves in love. Who is in charge here? May we pray that God will be in charge. If that is to be so, then we must draw near to God in faith, rcnewed in love and transformed as companions in God’s mission Let us struggle not to be right, but rather to love more perfectly. For even if the Episcopal Church USA is known as the most educated, the wealthiest, the most liturgically splendid and politically correct of all the mainline denominations – and has not love, we are nothing. Worse, we are a scandalous failure. For we who have been entrusted with so much, are responsible for much more.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Mission requires this caliber of love. And God requires us to accomplish God’s mission; requires our very presence. May we become ever more faithfully and fully companions in this great transformation. Let us love one another as God has loved us and given himself for us in Christ. “Look to him,” writes the Psalmist, “and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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