Monday, February 28, 2005

Reflecting on the Law: Lent 2005

Exodus 20:1-17

Central to the freedom narrative in the book of Exodus is the Sinai Covenant – the Ten Commandments or Decalogue – with its guidelines for living in covenantal community, for worshiping as the people of God, and simply how to be the people of God. Instead of giving the Commandments during the years the Hebrews existed in slavery in Egypt or waiting until after the Israelites finally crossed the River into the Land of Promise, God wisely spoke from Mount Sinai and gave the Law during the long trek through the desert as the people Israel depended on manna from heaven and water from the rock: despite the wildness of the territory, Israel received the law and learned to live fully and worship with integrity on the way to Promised Land freedom. No, law doesn't redeem, law won't "buy back" – not God's law that guides our morals and rules behaviors in family and society, not humanly invented sacrificial law nor our local motor vehicle or real estate regulations or minimum wage laws! But those laws, codes, policies, regulations, or just plain unwritten "conventions," provide structures within which society can live with freedom and receive grace.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Transfiguration: Until the Day Dawns

Texts – NKJV

Matthew 17:1-9

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

… 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."

2 Peter 1:16-19

2 Peter 1:1916 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, ...but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

19 We also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…

Until the Day Dawns
Son of the Excellent Glory, Whose birth and life among us sanctifies all creation, Creator of the Cosmic Dance and Hope Everlasting: as we celebrate another spectacular vision of your Sonship, may we relentlessly live as signs of the reconciliation of heaven and earth, in service to one another and the world. Amen!

"Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man – the Human One – is risen from the dead!"

Also in some of Jesus’ words recorded by the gospel-writer Matthew, we hear: [12:40] An evil and perverse generation seeks signs, but no sign will be given it except the Sign of Jonah: for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Human One – the Son of Man – be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth!

In the Good News according to Luke:[11:29] And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, Jesus began to say, "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet."

The Sign of Jonah—Death and Resurrection! For two thousand years, theologians and faith communities have struggled to learn and discern what Jesus means to them. We know Jesus as teacher and Jesus as political prophet; doubtless many of us consider Jesus a social activist, too. Jesus as a healer? Probably. But Jesus, the man of Nazareth, who died outside the city on a cross of shame as the Christ of God?

At the very heart of the story of Jesus of Nazareth stands the seven days we call Passion Week: a crucified man – but – then an empty grave, a narrative with no easy answers or clear-cut implications, a series of events so far outside the normally credible many of us would like to dismiss it as legend. But today's lections are not about death and resurrection but about something else altogether—they're about a spectacular manifestation of God's Glory on yet another mountaintop.

"We were eyewitness. We saw...with our own eyes." There on the mountain of the event called Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah and there was that voice...and there were Peter, James and John who saw, who eye-witnessed the meeting of earth and heaven, the holiness of everything created. Within Judaism, clouds, mountains and other expressions of nature were traditional signs of God's presence—you remember the cloud that went before Israel as a sign of God's presence in the Exodus story, and the mountain Moses climbed to receive the law, the Sinai Covenant? In telling about the Transfiguration,

Matthew, the gospel writer and Peter, the author of the epistle describe a meeting between heaven and earth, of the reconciliation of life, spelling God-with-us—of course, then there's the reciprocal of God's presence to us: our presence to God! Heaven comes down to earth countless times throughout the biblical witness, just as heaven and earth meet countless times in this world in which we live.

Jesus cautioned the Mount of Transfiguration Trio – Peter, James and John – to tell no one about the experience with Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, until he, the Son of Man, the Human One, had been raised from death. Tell no one until Easter! "Just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish..."

Matthew 17:5 transfigurationAnother Jonah, Simon bar Jonah, son of Jonah – the fisher of men renamed Peter or "Rocky" by Jesus himself – experienced the vision of Jesus transfigured and for Peter, we know the later reality of resurrection could not remain forgotten or untold! Over and over in the book of Acts and then in the later letter called 2 Peter we keep hearing Peter proclaiming the Risen Christ!

Often we recount stories about gutless Peter, almost rejoicing because he and we are similar in too many ways, but after the events of Easter and Pentecost, when preaching Christ even meant risking life itself, Peter could not help but do so.

Because of the stories of Peter's sometimes reluctance during the time he spent ministering alongside Jesus in the years prior to the crucifixion – especially the triple betrayal – I think if Peter had his human preference, he would rather not have stood up before those institutional religious leaders and assorted "others. But the word of the Risen One was not a philosophical theoretical idea out there but rather it was a word within Peter's heart, from his real-life experience walking and living with a friend who unconditionally loved him even in his weakest moments of total failure, that One he had seen crucified...

"We were eyewitnesses...with our eyes." The eye is the most sensitive part of the body; to be an eyewitness suggests vision and perception. On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter saw Jesus, Elijah and Moses; later Peter eyewitnessed Christ crucified; then he saw and experienced Christ Risen! In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter witnessed the love of God, and how could Peter be silent? Everything his teacher and companion Jesus spoke about had happened, everything – including death and resurrection, the fabled Sign of Jonah – and those events birthed hope in Rocky-Peter, so he began believing, living and proclaiming the hope of resurrection to the world.

Tell the vision to no one until the Human One is risen from the dead. A long time has passed since Jesus, James, John and Peter stood with Moses and Elijah on the Mountain of Transfiguration; a long time has passed since Peter told about seeing with his own eyes the transfigured Man of Nazareth and the glory of the Crucified and Risen Christ. In the centuries since then, far too much other than the boundless and unqualified love of God has been connected with Jesus and laid on the name of Jesus; Peter didn’t need to explain slave ships from Africa, or the Crusades, or the Salem witch trials or the decimation of villages in South America and Central America by unjust church politics; in those days of the nascent church, people hadn't yet suffered under the illegitimate authority of over-formed ecclesiastical clout.

So these days and in our own communities we can hear voices asking why we still proclaim the Crucified and Risen Lord of All!? Still today?! Like Peter? Because we too have witnessed Christ crucified in every life that falls at the hand of hatred, every heart broken by betrayal, every community brutalized by the powerful, every person left for dead; in those situations and far too many like them our eyes have witnessed Christ crucified.

And though many times we may run away like Simon bar Jonah also called "Peter," in the wake of the Day of Crucifixion we have seen and met the Risen One on Resurrection morn! Jesus promises us the Sign of Jonah—death and resurrection; Jesus charges us to "Tell no one until the Human One is risen from the dead!"

Just as the Spirit sent Peter, James and John to the Transfiguration site, the Holy Spirit takes us to places where God meets us, the contemporary people of God; the Spirit send us to places where we witness meetings between heaven and earth and see evidence of God's life-restoring and reconciling presence to us, while the Spirit enables us to be present to God, living in full response to the power of Easter within our once-devastated lives.

Together with Peter, we have been eyewitnesses of Christ's crucifixion but we also know the experience of the paradoxical power of new life born from death; those events birth hope in us—how can we be silent? Now we can believe, live and proclaim the hope of resurrection to the world!

As we prepare to enter the coming weeks of Lent, let us continue living as signs of the meeting of heaven and earth, people ready for Good Friday and eyewitness of Easter Sunday's glorious dawn!

The Word of Life,