Fr. Bill Carroll – The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 11, 2024
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The entire season of the Epiphany is wedged between two mysteries. On the first Sunday, we witness the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. And, today, on the last Sunday, we behold his glory on the Holy Mountain. Both stories involve a cloud and a voice from God. To the penitent crowds gathered at the river, on the one hand. To the innermost circle of Jesus’ friends, on the other.
In both stories, the voice reveals Jesus as our Lord and Savior. But, in the Baptism, the message is more comforting. We overhear the Father (and we are meant to do so), but the words are addressed to Jesus himself, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well-pleased.” That was the lesson when we baptized Granger Mitchell. On that occasion, I emphasized our adoption as God’s beloved children, to whom God has given great power, as well as great responsibility. “Every baptism reveals God’s new world of grace. And so, we see God loving this child, before he could possibly earn or deserve it.”
Today, God’s voice is more challenging. God is speaking directly to Peter, James, and John. And we are the ones who overhear the message. Right before our lesson, in the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus predicts his suffering and death for the first time. Peter famously resists this teaching. And so, Jesus rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan! (he says). For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human ones.” And then he says that we must take up the Cross and follow him.
Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus stresses the challenge and the costs of discipleship. Following him demands profound personal transformation. This is confirmed by what God says to us from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.” Listen to him. And do whatever he tells you. Follow him. Do what you see him doing. God is calling us to forsake our sinful, self-centered ways. God is calling us to follow Jesus in the new and better way of love. Every time I preach about this lesson, I am reminded of a quote from Rowan Williams: “Looking at Jesus seriously changes things. If we do not want to be changed, it is better not to look too hard or too long.”
The word “transfiguration” comes from the same Latin root as “crucifixion.” The verb, “figo, figere, fixi, fixus,” has to do with being fixed or fastened–pierced or nailed.
Today, we see the flesh of Jesus pierced and transformed by glory. His disciples, who are astonished and scandalized by the message about the Cross, are given a glimpse of his divinity. All of it to strengthen them for his coming suffering and death.
Today, we climb the Holy Mountain to see the face of God–and we are changed by what we see there. Today, we see the unveiled glory of Jesus Christ, so that we might be strengthened to carry his Cross. The light of Jesus exposes the hidden corners of our lives. It shows us things we would rather deny or forget about ourselves. His Spirit comes to us as a purifying flame–as painful as it is liberating.
And so, on the eve of our Lenten pilgrimage of repentance and renewal—and on the last Sunday of this season of God’s mission to the whole human family—let us recommit ourselves to Jesus and his life-changing message of love.
For we are not among those who are perishing–for whom the Gospel is veiled. We are followers and friends of Jesus. And we are being changed into his image by his Spirit, from one degree of glory to another.
And so, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on the one who gives us life. And let us ask him to open our hearts. We must ask Jesus to change our hearts–and to give us hearts for each other.
For we live in a world at war, where people do unspeakable things to one another. We live in a world where our neighbors (people right around this church) are often poor and hungry–or even living on the streets. We live in a world of deep isolation and despair–where violence breaks out, again and again, in our homes and schools and streets. And we live in a world where racism—together with other forms of bias, privilege, and hatred—harms our relationships and prevents God’s dream for us all.
As the old hymn reminds us, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” In another place, he says this: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Throughout the Holy Scriptures, Jesus gives us his example. He doesn’t just tell us to love other people. He shows us how. He dies on the Cross, and he rises again, to set us free from every form of violence, hatred, and sin–ultimately, from death itself. “Looking at Jesus seriously changes things. If we do not want to be changed, it is better not to look too hard or too long.”
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness…Amen.