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"Bearing Witness" - Rev. Sarah Walker Cleaveland

Posted on March 3, 2019 by Kathy Miller

Luke 9:28-36
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
(This morning’s sermon began with an interactive quiz in which congregation members identified liturgical seasons and holidays, and, as they did so, children and youth held up signs with those seasons and days in order so that at the end we had a mostly-complete liturgical calendar across the front of the sanctuary. You can find the questions asked and the final result (in list form) at the end of this sermon.)
Well done. The quiz portion of this morning’s sermon is now complete. Can we have a round of applause for our children and youth for their very able assistance?
Generally, the liturgical calendar (which is what we just ran through) is relegated to what I like to refer to as 2 for 1 trivia because 1 piece of trivia about this topic will give you both a way to begin a conversation and also a way in which to end a conversation—give it a try. It’s a good way to find out if their are any crickets in the near vicinity.
But, the Transfiguration is a strange story and in order to understand one of the reasons why it is an important story that we read and celebrate every year, it helps to see it in context. 
This season after Epiphany, which is ending this morning, begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism during which a dove descends and God’s voice is heard saying, “you are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” And it ends with this morning’s story of the transfiguration in which Jesus appears to be glowing and God’s voice is again heard saying, “this is my son, my chosen; listen to him.” 
In his baptism, Jesus is revealed to be the Christ, God’s beloved son. For those who are with him, and perhaps even for Jesus himself, the baptism is a revelation—an epiphany, if you will—a realization that Jesus is not just Joseph’s son from Nazareth, he is also the Christ, the one the Israelites have been waiting for. 
When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain, another revelation—another epiphany—occurs. Jesus begins to almost glow. Luke tells us that his face changes and his clothes become a dazzling white. He is seen in company with Moses and Elijah—the great prophets of the Israelites’ past. Again, Jesus is revealed to be more than the disciples knew. 
All throughout this post-Epiphany season, we have heard similar stories of epiphanies, revelations, and transfigurations (though perhaps none as dramatic as this morning’s).
• Last week we heard the story of Joseph being reunited with his family years after they had sold him into slavery. Much to his brothers’ surprise, Joseph is revealed to be a great man in Egypt, no longer the slave they sold him to be. He has transfigured, become who he was created to be and once his brothers’ eyes have been opened, the family is able to reunite and survive the famine. 
• There was Jeremiah, whose depiction of a tree rooted by streams of water reveals the often hidden truth that we are all connected, that we rely on one another and on God to survive in a world where wind and storms often threatens to overwhelm us. And Paul’s image of the church as a body that caused the church in Corinth to realize that each of them had a role, that reminds all of us that whether we are the colon or the eyes, we are essential to the proper functioning of the body we call church.
• There was Isaiah whose vision of God included cherubim and burning coals and the unexpected epiphany that sometimes what God calls us to do is fail.
• There was the story of Jesus being driven out of his own hometown when those he had grown up with saw the truth about who he was, what he was preaching, and who he wanted to include.
• And there was the story of the Wedding at Cana when Jesus’ abilities and powers were first revealed, not to the elite but to the servants.
Epiphany may not officially be a season in the Presbyterian church, but the readings provided for this ordinary time are nothing short of epiphanic (which is a word, I looked it up). 
It’s not for nothing that this pre-Lenten season focuses on stories in which people, communities, and even God are transfigured. Transfiguration means exactly what it sounds like: trans being the Latin root for change and figuration being the root for form or shape. 
If you’re a Harry Potter fan than you will remember that there is a required course at Hogwarts called Transfiguration in which the students must learn to turn one object into another. However I think the biblical writers had something slightly different in mind when they spoke of transfiguration. 
There’s another popular children’s movie that more accurately depicts this biblical understanding of transfiguration. In the first Shrek movie, the princess Fiona is a stereotypical princess waiting in a tower to be rescued by her true love. Over the course of the movie, we learn that she was waiting to be rescued not only from her tower, but from her nightly transformations in which she becomes a large green ogre. 
At the end of the movie, when she finally experiences true love kiss, she is caught up in a whirl of light and transfigured from a stereotypical princess into a large, loving, green ogre. It is not the transfiguration she was expecting, but it is a revealing of her true self—the loving, whole person that she is meant to be. Likewise, on the mountain, the disciples catch a glimpse of Jesus’ true self, the prophetic, glory filled son of God that he has always been and will continue to be. 
There is a reason why we need to hear this odd and unusual story every year before we enter the season of Lent. For the season of Lent is a season that brings to the cross and then to the empty tomb until we stand with the disciples before a risen Christ, scared out of their wits at the disconnect between the reality that they have experienced and the truth of Christ in their midst. We need these stories of people being more than we thought, of God being more than we realized, of ourselves being more than we knew to help us prepare for the work that will come on Easter morning.
There are a number of Lenten devotionals out on the bookcase in the Gathering Space that you are invited to peruse and borrow as you are so inclined, but I want to ruin the end of one of them for you. It is the last entry of the devotional put out this year by the United Church of Christ and it is titled “Be a Witness” by Marchae Grair. She writes, 
“After the resurrection, Jesus reveals himself to people who are consumed in grief by his crucifixion. They are startled by him and believe they are seeing a ghost. It’s difficult for them to immediately reconcile the miracle of Jesus’ presence with the seeming finality and devastation of his death.
This is one of the first glimpses of the challenge of being a witness to the promise of Easter. The world can be seemingly failing apart, and we’re called to believe that salvation is still possible. Our loved ones die from diseases we can’t cure. World leaders start wars that never end. The greedy have plenty and many of us struggle to survive. 
And yet we still believe that grace and mercy will keep saving us. 
We’re still called to embody the grace and mercy of the One who died save us.” 
Just as Peter, John and James were called to bear witness to an event they could not find a way to understand or words to describe, so too will we be called to bear witness to a Risen Christ when we all know that death is final and resurrection is impossible. Just as Isaiah was called to preach to a people who would never listen, so too will we be called to witness to a death-defeating love that the world is unlikely to embrace. Just as Joseph’s brothers had to set aside their memories of who their younger brother was in order to see who he had become, so too will be called to set aside the realities we have experienced in order to be open to the new reality that Easter proclaims.
Lent is a season of preparation. Forty days and six Sundays in which we are each called to find our way to the cross, to walk through the empty deserts of our lives and our world in order to learn once again that the way to new life always requires passing through death, that finding God requires first acknowledging our own humanity and inability to fix the world, our lives, anything really, on our own, to remember that we cannot pick anything up until we let go of what we’re so desperately holding on to, to realize that what we think we know may not in fact be the Truth.
But as we prepare to enter this season of preparation, don’t discount the work that we’ve already done, the practice we’ve already begun of being open to seeing things in a new light, to bearing witness to events, people and situations that we do not fully understand, and cannot always find words to describe. And when Easter morning arrives, may you be able to say with all hope and foolishness that Christ has indeed risen, that love has defeated death, that God is real, and that what appears to be the end is sometimes just the beginning. 
1. Who can tell me the two major celebrations of the Christian year? Christmas & Easter
2. What season in the church year both leads up to Christmas and marks the beginning of the Church year? Advent
3. How long is Advent 4 Sundays (22 to 28 days)
So Advent culminates in Christmas.
4. How long does Christmas last? 12 days
5. And what do we celebrate at the end of the 12 days of Christmas? Epiphany (the coming of the magi who saw the star in the sky)
Great, we’re going to jump ahead and then come back to Epiphany in a minute.
6. What season leads up to Easter? Lent
7. How long is Lent? 40 days plus 6 Sundays
So Lent takes us to Easter,
8. And how long does Easter last? 50 days
9. What do we celebrate at the end of  Easter (after the 50 days)? Pentecost
The season after Pentecost is sometimes called the season after Pentecost and sometimes called Ordinary Time. 
10. How long does that season last? Until Advent
11. And this time between Pentecost and Advent begins and ends with Special Sundays, does anyone know what Sundays those are? Trinity Sunday (begins)
Christ the King Sunday (ends)
Okay, let’s go back to Epiphany for a minute. We know Epiphany occurs 12 days after Christmas and celebrates the Magi who saw a star in the sky and followed to find Jesus. The season after Epiphany, like the season after Pentecost, is variously referred to as the season after Epiphany or Ordinary Time. 
12. Does anyone know how long that section of time lasts? Until Lent begins
13. The season after Epiphany begins and ends with two special Sundays, does anyone know what Sundays those are? Baptism of the Lord &
Transfiguration of the Lord
Liturgical Calendar in List Form
4 Sundays
12 Days
Baptism of the Lord
Until Lent Begins
Transfiguration Sunday
40 days + 6 Sundays
50 days
Trinity Sunday
Until Advent
Christ the King Sunday

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