Posts filed under ‘feasts and festivals’

Unveiled – Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 2.19.12

”Unveiled”

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

St Paul Lutheran Churches, Loganton and NittanyValley

The Transfiguration of our Lord

(biblical texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

19 February 2012

First atomic explosion, "Trinity," July 16, 1945

The area fifty miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico is a desert wasteland. It was called “Site S” by American military scientists. The native peoples who had populated the desert for years beyond count knew the place as Jornada del Muerto: “Death Tract.”

At Jornado del Muerto, on July 16, 1945, at 5:30 a.m. local time, “Trinity,” the first atomic bomb, was test-fired. The results could not have been imagined, even by those who had designed and built the weapon. Within a mile of Ground Zero, all plant and animal life, including rattlesnakes, cacti, and desert grass, was utterly destroyed. An antelope herd that had been seen from the air grazing miles from the blast simply vanished.

When Harry Truman heard of it sailing across the ocean to meet Churchill and Stalin, he muttered, ‘This is the Second Coming, in wrath.’ A writer who was a witness described the scene: “…It was as though the earth had opened and the skies had split. One felt as though one were present at the moment of creation when God said: ‘Let there be light.’”  Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who had created the bomb, was reminded of two passages from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst from the sky, that would be the splendor of the Mighty One,” and “I am become Death, shatterer of worlds.”[1]

Today we read verses from the Psalms that describe God in similarly powerful terms: Out of Zion, perfect | in its beauty,* God reveals him- | self in glory. Our God will come and will | not keep silence;* before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a | raging storm. He calls the heavens and the earth | from above* to witness the judgment | of his people.[2]

And yet we modern people are not used to thinking of God in this way. Our modern-day Gods have become so domesticated, so tame, that the words of the Gospel of Mark to describe Jesus’ transfiguration and the horrified reaction of Jesus’ disciples scarcely scratch the surface of our limited imaginations: “He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them…”[3] God’s glory was being revealed to them, God unveiled, of whom the Bible said that no one could see and live. No wonder they were overwhelmed and terrified.

Part of the reason we don’t think of God in these terms may be because God seems so distant, so absent. Or maybe it is not this at all. Maybe it is not this, that God is not present, but we are not often present to him – the glory and power of God are always discernible if we but look and listen, but if we refuse to be open to him, the power and glory we deny cannot be revealed to us.

In his book Beginning to Pray, Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom tells the story of a man who came to him and demanded, “Show me God.” Archbishop Bloom said that he could not show him God, but even if he could, the man would not be able to see God, for it was his opinion that in order to experience God, one must have something in common with him. The man pressed him, and the Archbishop asked the man if there was any passage in the Bible which held particular meaning for him. The man answered, “Yes. The story in the 8th chapter of John of the woman caught in adultery.”[4] “Good, that is a beautiful passage,” the Archbishop said, and asked him to whom he related in the story: the woman with nowhere to turn; Jesus, full of compassion and mercy; the older men who knowing their own sins refused to cast the first stone; or the younger men who reluctantly followed their example. The man thought for a moment, and said, “No, I am the only Jew who would not have left but who would have stoned the woman.” The Archbishop replied, “Thank God that he does not allow you to meet him face-to-face.”[5]

“Our God will come and will | not keep silence;* before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a | raging storm.” In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come in power, power more real than an atomic bomb: power not to destroy us, but to annihilate his enemies: to bind the evil One and plunder his house,[6] to rescue from condemnation those who are under the judgment of the Law,[7] to swallow up death forever.[8] Our God is indeed a consuming fire; He comes to consume all that would keep us from him.

On the mountain, Peter, James, and John are given a glimpse of Jesus’ glorious Power, the Power that Moses and Elijah served, the Power that eclipses the Sun, the Power that the ancient Israelites believed it would b death to encounter. Then Jesus once again veils his power in weakness and descends into the valley, into his own Jornada del Muerto, the way to the cross, the place from where we must understand his true power in weakness and humility before we encounter it in the glory of the Resurrection.

In New Mexico in 1945, power could only be measured in kilotons, in the ability to destroy. That’s how human beings understand power, as the power to destroy. The power of God is love which has the ability to create. That is why this power is veiled in weakness, in the God-become-human Jesus, in his words and deeds, and in his character so that we might be drawn to him, not to be annihilated by his glory but to be transformed by it, so that our lives might be translucent with the light of his love.

‘This is my Son, my chosen One: listen to him! the Father says. Indeed, this is our joy, to listen to him, and then to walk through life bearing his cross, preferring Jesus to the power of the world and preferring to bear with others than to cast them off,[9] to proclaim Jesus as Lord and be the servants of others for his sake, to be transfigured into the image of Jesus. ‘For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’[10]

And so God is indeed unveiled in this world, not in the flash of light, fiery blast and swirling winds of death, but in the life-giving words and deeds of Jesus and in the transfigured lives of those who hear and do them. Let us glimpse him, let us hear him, let us taste him, let us worship him today, let us allow his light to shine through us, so that this Transfiguration Day may be an anticipation of the great day of the unveiling of his life-giving glory before the whole world.


[1] Manchester, William. The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972. New York: Bantam, 1974, pp. 377-78.
[2] Psalm 50:2-4 (RSV)
[3] Mark 9:2-3 (NRSV)
[4] John 8:3-11 (NRSV)
[5] Bloom, Anthony. Beginning to Pray. Blackstone Audio, 2010. This story is related in Chapter One, “The Absence of God.”
[6] Mark 3:27
[7] John 8:10-11
[8] Isaiah 25:7
[9] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003: “Suffering and the Cross”
[10] 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
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February 19, 2012 at 7:59 am Leave a comment

Thanksgiving For All!

I had a happy Thanksgiving with my mom and dad, Annette and the six children.

We woke up later than usual. We ate a huge traditional Thanksgiving meal and followed it in the usual manner – pleasantly dozing the afternoon away. Those that could handle more had leftovers for dinner.

I wonder how those who had to work Thursday felt about Thanksgiving. And I’m not talking about essential workers – nurses, police officers, ER personnel, firefighters, etc. I’m talking about those people who work so that goods may be sold, so that consumers may consume, so that those with money may spend it. I might even be talking about those who worked so we could watch televised parades and football.  

Certain department stores were open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday. The very day proclaimed by the President of the United States as a National Day of  Thanksgiving. These are some of the things he said:

“As we come together with friends, family, and neighbors to celebrate, let us set aside our daily concerns and give thanks for the providence bestowed upon us.”

Daily concerns, perhaps, such as work schedule? Such as profit? Such as bargains? Such as the health of the consumer economy?

” I encourage the people of the United States to come together, whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors to give thanks for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and to share our bounty with others.”

Many of us followed the President’s encouragement, or our own family and religious traditions. We worshiped God, we gathered with family. Some served free Thanksgiving meals at churches and community centers. 

But for many of us, Thanksgiving Day, and Thanksgiving Night, were simply another work day, and an especially intense one at that. And for some, taught by many years of habit, Thanksgiving was a day not to return thanks for what has been given, but to get the most for the least.  

Despite the proclamations, despite the wishes of ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ there is something missing. We don’t understand that there is something bigger than buying and selling. Our lack of understanding is shown in our simply trusting to tradition that Thanksgiving is a time for family, community, and giving thanks.

The fact that a holiday is not granted to millions of non-essential personnel, people who don’t really need to be working on Thanksgiving so that the nation does not fall apart, means that it’s not really a ‘national holiday’ at all. If certain citizens of the nation, who otherwise wouldn’t have to work, must work – so that profit can be made, so that people can have the freedom to buy and sell – we have to ask: what’s this day all about anyhow? Is there a sense of ‘the nation’ pausing to give thanks? Or do individuals go about their business as they choose: some by upbringing and temperament and financial well-being given the opportunity to relax and give thanks for blessings given, and some for the same reasons shopping and working twice as hard as they normally would?

If we really want a national day of Thanksgiving – to whatever gods we as individuals and families worship – we as a nation ought to say: Close the stores and maybe even the restaurants. At least from midnight Thursday to midnight Friday. We used to do that and have no problem with it. We should do it again for the sake of those who buy and those who sell – so that they too might have a respite from the constant drive to acquire and be able to give thanks with their families and communities.

It’s a pipe dream. It would be screamed that this is a matter of freedom of choice, entrepeneurship, and freedom of religion, etc. If you choose to give thanks by shopping, what of it? And what about those who need to work to make a buck? Shouldn’t they get to give thanks in their own way, for a job that earns them money?

But the true reason we will never do this is hidden. Our consumer economy and the right to buy and sell has become dogma as inviolable as any religious dogma. Frankly, it’s getting harder for anyone to imagine a world in which we don’t have the right, at any time, to get what we want. Many of us can’t imagine that there is more to life than getting and having.  Anyone and anything who would prevent us from getting a bargain is taking from us something that we have come to view as sacred, as sacred as any God ever proclaimed.

That’s why those whom we simultaneously need and denigrate, those who sell us the stuff we want, will be forced to work on Thanksgiving Day; unless and until the wheel turns,and a deeper truth is revealed to us. May that day come soon. Thanksgiving for all!

November 26, 2011 at 9:30 am 1 comment

Reformation Sunday – October 30, 2011

Ecclesia semper reformanda!
The Church must always be reforming!

My brothers and sisters,
Thomas Jefferson said,
“I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.”
But Martin Luther said,
“I rejoice in my soul when I remember that God is just.”

Of course, it took a long time for Brother Martin to get there.
It wasn’t that Luther thought that God’s justice would surely reward him, a just man.
As anyone with a passing knowledge of Luther knows,
Martin Luther struggled with the justice, or righteousness, of God.
He became terrified of God’s justice.
He struggled with it so that his monastic superior recommended
that he become a teacher of Bible.
We can imagine what Brother Martin thought of this idea at first –
kind of like curing a claustrophobic by locking him in a closet,
or ridding someone of their fear of heights by dangling them from a cliff.
The Bible?
Really?
Full of messages of God’s just condemnation of sin,
his anger towards those who disregard and flout his law?

But Brother Martin had to obey.
And so he did.
His superior recommended he start with the book of Isaiah.
And in Isaiah, and Psalms, and most especially in Paul’s letters to the Romans
and the Galatians,
he found in the Bible the gracious God he was looking for.
Jesus, who he had always regarded as a harsh judge,
Instead appeared in the Bible as the forgiver of sins, the one who called sinners like him ‘friends.’
He found in the Bible the message that the heart of God’s justice is not a retributive justice,
one that rewards and punishes according to the worthiness of the person,
but the heart of God’s justice
is that God makes his own people just because he is just,
God himself makes his own people righteous because he is righteous,
and sin, death, and evil cannot keep God from his own.
This is what we call ‘justification by grace,’ and we say we grasp it through faith.
Anyone who is burdened by sin, anyone who knows that they cannot escape it,
that try as they might, they are in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves,
may return to believe in this Gospel,
this good news,
that God freely justifies us, ‘makes us right’ with him, as a gift,
by the redemption that is in his Son Jesus Christ.

It was this insight, this liberating insight,
that led Brother Martin, who was baptized with the name “Ludder,”
sometime in the late 1510s to begin signing his name “Luther,”
after the Greek work eleutheria, Freedom.
Freedom to be God’s child, after all.
Freedom to be God’s child before God had finished working with him,
Before God had eradicated all the sin in his life,
for he trusted the promise that God by the power of his Holy Spirit was working on that.
He trusted the promise that simply by ‘naming’ him a righteous person,
by giving him the name of Christian,
God had accepted him.

This message resonates today in a world that needs it more than ever.
For teenagers struggling with who they are and how to please others,
and yet who wonder how God fits into it all,
this message that a just God loved them enough to give his own Son for them
may yet give them the power to stand against the tide
which would suck them into living the life of trying to constantly please
whoever on earth has the best offer.
For people who are old, who live with the guilt of things they have done and cannot take back,
or who even feel guilty about things they could not control.
For people who are in the midst of life,
in the hurly-burly of parenthood and work and responsibility,
making decisions every day which can be attacked, which can be wrong, which can be misunderstood.
For people who are in the shadow of death,
Wondering whether they will land on the right side of God’s justice.
This world needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever.

The Church needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than ever.
Because it is not only individuals that need God’s justification,
It is the Church that needs God’s justification.
The word of righteousness that says, You people are to bear my message to the world,
You people are to forgive each other and live under my Word,
You people who are by all appearances dying away yet will rise to be my witnesses.

The historical Reformation in the 1500’s was a return to the central message of the Gospel,
that for Christ’s sake God forgives sinners and sets them free,
and that the Spirit is given to them to form them in holiness.
The continuing Reformation, which will always be,
whether or not in God’s good time he brings the separated churches once again to visible unity,
The continuing Reformation will always be people and communities returning to the grace of God.
When evening comes, we reflect upon the day.
We reflect on the good that God has done for us.
We reflect on whether or not we have offended anybody, by our thoughts, words, or deeds,
and perhaps even before the day is out, we strive to begin to make amends.
We go to bed secure in the promise that God has forgiven us in Jesus.
We rise from sleep, as we will in the Resurrection,
to live in the new day of God’s grace,
striving to be open to the Spirit of his holiness,
and returning to the baptismal promise of forgiveness whenever our brokenness gets in the way.
That’s the life of Reformation.
That’s the life of Baptism.
Thank God that God is just, and because of his justice he will show mercy,
not giving up on any one of his children,
because they are as precious to him as Brother Martin,
they are as precious to him as his own Son, Jesus.
Thanks be to God that the promise of freedom is for us, even us,
and though many things may change,
God’s Word shall be ours forever.

Ecclesia semper reformanda!
The Church must, and will, always be reformed.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

October 31, 2011 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Sermon Easter Sunday

Into this world of hopes that are dashed,
this world of dreams in which we win and realities in which we lose,
comes Easter morning.
Easter morning, if it is about anything,
is about God’s grace.
God’s grace extended to those who have lost everything.

Continue Reading April 5, 2010 at 5:35 am Leave a comment

The Baptism of our Lord

“Today the Source of all the graces of baptism comes himself to be baptized in the river Jordan, there to make himself known to the world.”

http://liturgy.slu.edu/BaptismLordB011109/theword_journey.htmlbaptism_of_jesus

January 10, 2009 at 10:10 pm Leave a comment

September 29 – St. Michael and all Angels

raphael9.jpg

Raphael.  St. Michael. c.1503-1504. Oil on panel. Louvre, Paris, France.

 Daniel 12:1-3

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

From Homily 34 of St. Gregory the Great, Pope (540-604)

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature.  Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits.  They can only be called angels when they deliver some message.  Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels…

 

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform.  In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known.  But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they come among us.  Thus, Michael means, “Who is like God?”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”

 

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power.  So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High.  He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment.  Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel. 

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary.  He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers.  Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

 

Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness.  Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals. Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

September 27, 2007 at 2:44 pm


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