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Witness to the Glory - Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 2015

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Sermon delivered at United Lutheran Church of Oakland
February 15 - Transfiguration of our Lord

"Witness to the Glory" - Lectionary text from Mark 9:2-9

Greetings to you this day my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God. 

In 2004, a six year old boy named Alex was riding in a car with his father when they suffered a horrible traffic accident. Alex's father, Kevin, survived the accident relatively intact by being ejected from the automobile, but Alex, suffering a severe impact that paralyzed him, and he went into a deep coma, doubtful that he would survive.  For two months his family prayed for him, never losing hope entirely, although the prognosis looked grim

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And then, two months later, Alex returned from the coma with a surprising and incredible recounting. After he had suffered the impact, he floated out of his body and watched his father ejected from the car, only to be caught by angels. He then traveled all the way to heaven, going through its tall gates. He heard unearthly music which surprisingly, irritated his young ears. And, most incredible of all, he spoke to Jesus.

With the help of his father, the paralyzed boy got the memoirs together. Over the years, struggling to get the book published, they found ways to get Alex the treatment he needed, in 2009, Alex became the youngest person, at age 10, to receive the same treatment Christopher Reeve had in order to breathe freely without a ventilator. That same year he became able to stand upright.  

And in 2010, his memoir, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven was published. It received critical acclaim as being a real and believable account of  a miraculous journey. It sold fairly well over the next few years. 

And then, last month, Alex, still quadriplegic and now 17, admitted that the entire account was fabricated and that he only did it to receive attention. This account that was so vivid, so exceptional, so ready-made for Christian audiences in the 21st century, turned out to be nothing more than attention-seeking behavior of a sorely injured young boy. 

And what was it that inflicted the human consciousness so much that people of all shapes and sizes wanted to read this story? What was it that made The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven able to work on many people in order to be a story of hope? 

As spiritual human beings, living often mundane and ordinary lives, we long for knowledge of the way beyond. With all the happenings in the world around us, the cruelty that people can all too often inflict on one another, we want to be undeniably certain that there is a meaning behind all of it, that our existences are more than just meat and chemicals and electromagnetic pulses of brainwave of movement from cradle to grave. As humans, we long to be witness to a supernatural transfiguration that we can memorialize and put down in the books as central evidence for our faith and trust in God. 

And so it becomes easy for people to give in to deceivers and let themselves be carried along by their false witness until the rug gets torn away beneath them.  And basing their faith on such false idols can trap people into letting go of their faith in God.  And the church suffers, and the people of God mourn. 

But God calls us into our faith in something that is already rooted deep within our collective consciousness. As we journey down the path of Epiphany and we understand how Christ becomes revealed to us slowly, steadily, moment by moment, we also awaken ourselves to a deeper revelation of Christ, this shining Messiah we have been hoping, wishing, and waiting for.   

And here we find thisIAnd it is vital we put this in the context of the entire gospel, despite the fact that we've had a short Epiphany season and have not had the privilege of reading through very many passages.  At the end of Chapter 8 Jesus has asked Peter who people say he is, and Peter responds Elijah or John the Baptist returned, and then when asked who Peter thought he was, Peter responds "The Messiah."  Jesus tells them to say nothing to anyone.

Then, Jesus tells the disciples about his coming suffering and resurrection, and when Peter objects to this less than ideal future of the coming Messiah, Jesus rebukes him with the caution to concern himself on heavenly rather than worldly things. 

Then, after telling the crowds that in order to follow him, they must take up their own crosses, we enter into today's gospel reading, wherein. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up onto the mountaintop. And he is revealed for all to see as the glorious one that he is.  No longer is he simply teacher, healer, miracle maker, messiah but being seen in shining raiment in the presence of these two illustrious persons, and the significance of who they are is of no small matter.  We have, not only Elijah, we know in our Second Kings passage, was taken up directly into heaven, but also Moses.  And while no biblical account exists speaking to us of Moses living passage into the realm of heaven, we are certain based on Jewish scholars who lived at the time of Jesus, that they understood he too entered heaven whole and living at the end of his life.  

And so what must Peter think when he sees his Lord and master revealed in such glory, standing with the Law and the Prophets, their very presence declaring that this was someone who would fulfill the law and the prophets, who had a direct connection to God and heaven.  How could we blame him, being awestruck in fear and wonder, for wanting to erect tents... not to hold Jesus and Moses and Elijah in place at all, but to memorialize the event, because it was here that this took place.  

Who, in their own human experience, not want to find a physical, human solution to such a miraculous event?  And would we not want to experience an event like this, to be able to see Jesus in shining raiments and have a firm evidence that our lord and savior is there before us, revealed to us in a way that can no longer be denied.  

But having been gifted the faith in God that he gave us through his victory over the power of Satan, death and the grave we find God's holy spirit within us and am able to see the miracles of the lives around us. 

Sisters and brothers, in my work in San Quentin prison, I sit and talk to men who have committed some awful crimes, who at some younger point at in their past done some great harm to society, some theft, injury or death. And while I don't begrudge the state the need for punishment, I find myself speaking with men who have been in their own ways victims, first of society, and some of their families whom they ought to have trusted, and later on of a penal system that so often one that treats all of its wards arbitrarily often furthering abuse and encouraging discord among prisoners. 

But I also speak to men who despite what they have done and what has been done to them, have been changed by having come into contact with the divine. And I see the face of God in them, I feel the outpouring of Christian love between them and I see Jesus's shining raiments in the prison blues that they wear, and I know God is among us and loves each and every one of us. 

So what evidence do we need to know that God is among us? People following in the footsteps of Jesus and their lives are transformed. As we have journeyed these short six weeks of Epiphany, from Baptism to Transfiguration, we have seen Jesus revealed, in scripture and around us in our lives and the people around us. This wondrous day, this transfiguration, is here to show us that we can and do have Jesus here with us now, among us, in shining raiment as evidence of his divinity.  

And the young boy, Alex, I am left to ponder. While he recanted his story of having been to heaven and back, we are left with a young man who ought not to have survived an auto accident, through the caring and loving prayers of his family and community, and against hope, he recovered from a debilitating coma. And even today, as he, in his own private shame, retracts the story he told as a small child, still underscores it with his love of Jesus Christ.  

This transfiguration... this movement from epiphany to lent... this movement from Jesus being teacher, healer, prophet, counselor, Messiah and Son of Man and Son of God, goes into introspection about ourselves and what it means to have a savior who has paid for our salvation with his own love, and a god who has made himself flesh in order that we may live forever. 

  This is indeed the good news that we can carry with us into our lives in the coming season of wilderness, to the cross, to the glorious resurrection and salvation that he holds for us, to come. 


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on February 15, 2015 2:45 PM.

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