February 11, 2018

2018 Feb11

Epiphany Last - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

This is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. The Epiphany is of course the time when those surrounding Jesus in the Gospels realize that the man they know or had heard of is not merely a man; He is also God.


Today’s story of The Transfiguration is perhaps the Final Epiphany or final realization of Jesus’ Divinity. Up on that mountain, Peter, James and John see Jesus alongside the great prophets of their Hebrew history, Moses and Elijah.


As we read from 2 Kings, Elijah did not die; he ascended into heaven. It was common thought that Moses also ascended into heaven and did not die, though there is no account of that. In the time of Elijah, death was not something feared, like we fear it today. Death was (and is) the natural conclusion of life. For them, God was the God of Life, and was not in control over what happens after death. For Elijah to be ascended into heaven meant that he was part of God’s heavenly realm, and he would return to announce the coming of the Messiah. This story of The Transfiguration can be thought of as that moment: Elijah and Moses – who were thought not to have died – appear on the mountain top (presumably from Heaven), and God’s voice from Heaven to declare Jesus as His Son.


Jesus’ heavenward journey would be very different than that of Elijah. Jesus did die. It was through Jesus’ death that we were given Resurrection as both a concept and a promise. It was after the Resurrection that Jesus takes His heavenward journey like Elijah, and Jesus’ Ascension is witnessed by many.


Within our reading from 2 Kings and the Gospel, there are two commands that we can learn from in order to have our own Epiphanies of Jesus in our lives: “Keep silent,” and “Listen.”


Twice Elisha is approached by companies of prophets (those in Bethel and those in Jericho) to be told that Elijah was going to be taken away. On both occasions, Elisha responds, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” In Old Testament times, it was thought that miracles tended to happen in times of silence. The silence for the miracle of Elijah’s ascension was when they crossed the river, but Elisha’s command is in keeping with the event.


In the Gospel, God from heaven tells Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus. Putting these two commands together, we realize that one must be silent in order to listen. It is in being silent and in listening that we have the best chance of discovering where and how Jesus is in our lives – our own epiphanies.


Outside of The Bible, “The Rule of St Benedict” is the oldest surviving Western Christian spiritual guidebook, written in about 530AD. ‘Listen’ is the first word of the Rule:


“Listen, O my child, to the
precepts of your master.”


All the elements of Benedictine spirituality require listening: Listening to leadership, to the people, to one another, to the self, and to God. In order to do all this listening, we need silence.


Last week, I mentioned that there are several times that Jesus tries to get away from the crowds. Jesus sought out silence in order to listen. Jesus knew the value of both, finding times of silence, and listening, really listening to what God is saying.


The Men’s Retreat is happening this weekend at a Benedictine monastery in Santa Barbara. The times that I have been on retreat have been at a Benedictine monastery. Part of how the communities live the Rule is to read part of the Rule each day. There are several books that portion the Rule into 30 days, so the follower reads through the Rule every month. Those books have short reflections on that day’s portion of the Rule. That means that every 1st day of the month, the follower will be instructed to listen.


Elmore Abbey, where I went on retreat, was a silent community. The brothers only spoke when they needed to, at meals when books would be read as the brothers ate, and to guests. They went about their daily work in silence, started, ended and punctuated by prayer and The Eucharist.


Imagine if you went about your daily life in silence, speaking or being spoken to only when absolutely necessary? For those of who live alone, there are periods of silence, but that is due to solitude, and they are probably not periods of listening.


I think that being silent in your work – whatever it is that you must get done each day – can accomplish two things: Perfection and reflection.


Perfection: When we are silent in
our work, it allows us to focus on
the task at hand. We can
consider all the aspects of the
task, and improve on how to best
do that task.


My grandfather was a baker and not much of a talker. My grandmother was very accomplished at talking for both of them. As far as I know, my grandfather mostly worked alone in his bakery in the Sandhills of Nebraska. He prepared the bread, donuts and other baked goods, and he sold to the customers who came from hundreds of miles around to get their weekly supply. In a newspaper article when my grandfather was 81yo, he is quoted as saying:


“The best loaf of bread is what I’m after…And even though some people think I’ve made it, I don’t agree. I still haven’t gotten it yet.”


My grandfather’s work was probably very Benedictine – naturally rather than intentionally. He started at 4am, and had a lot of time to contemplate how to create the best loaf of bread during those hours of silence as he did his daily work. That is something that we can all learn to do better.


Reflection: Time doing our daily
work in silence can also induce
the inner reflection, something
we could all use more of.


I kind of think that having started entertaining and having dinner parties in my mid-20s saved me a lot of time and money in therapy. After everyone left at midnight or 1am, I would – and still do – clear up and wash the dishes while I reflected on the things going on in my life: work, issues in the world, deeply personal issues, and even prayer. So, that time clearing up isn’t just winding down from the party, it’s my time to reflect and to pray.


Listening is probably more
difficult to accomplish than
finding the silence to reflect.


What are we listening for, and how do we know that it is God talking to us? I often get asked how I know if God is speaking to someone or they are mentally ill. After Hurricane Katrina, I was asked in an interview with BBC Radio Manchester about prophets. You will remember that there were several evangelical preachers who were proclaiming that the hurricane was sent by God because of the reckless and libertine lifestyles of the people of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They claimed to be prophets.


“Are these people prophets?” asked the aggressive morning show radio host. “No,” I replied. “How do you know that they are not prophets?” My response was that a prophet is someone who is seeking the best interests of God and God’s people, and there was nothing in their prophesying that benefited the prophets themselves. The prophets of the Old Testament were actually putting their lives at risk by their prophesying. These so-called prophets after Hurricane Katrina (and every natural disaster) were seeking fame and notoriety…and possibly power and control over others.


My answer about the prophets is the same for knowing whether or not a person is hearing what God is saying to them or they are mentally ill. Does what God is asking you to do benefiting God’s people and furthering the Kingdom? Or is that voice in your head leading you to either harm God’s people or yourself? When we take the time to really listen to God, we are not only discovering how we may be strengthened to bear our cross, but also how we can be changed into his likeness from glory to glory, as we asked for in our opening Collect.


Being silent and listening are two skills that, when mastered, can help a person in every aspect of their lives. You each probably know someone whom you admire who could be witnessed being silent in their work, rather than preferred constant noise in the background, whether music or chatter, and who listened intently when you spoke, rather than waited for you to finish so they could respond. That mentor may have been a teacher, a boss, a co-worker, or a friend. I have been fortunate to know a few. I also admire those whose lives are busy and chaotic, but who prioritize times of silence, and times of listening. I am certain that their epiphanies of Jesus as God in their lives are both frequent and shared.


As we move away from Jesus’ Birth and His miracles, and we move into our Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, let us strive for more times of silence and of listening.


In the silence, we can witness the
miracles that Jesus is performing
in our lives; in our listening, we
can hear Jesus speaking to us.


The Transfiguration does not have to be the Final Epiphany, because, like Jesus Himself, our quest to discover the true Jesus is eternal.

© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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