2008-01-31 by Bill Carter
Thanks, David. I'd love to hear your sermon!
I'd like to imagine a sermon that told this story from a perspective of awe, and didn't rush to find anything "helpful" in it. There is no human analog to this story, and a wise preacher won't try to find a lesson or a tip for tidy living. These days, I hear a story like this and I realize my weariness of cheerful sermons that try to close down holy moments and make them "useful." Bah, humbug! This is such a big, enormous text.
Do know what kind of sermons I think we ought to avoid this week? They reduce the Mystery and say things like, "We need to pay attention to those moments when we see things in a new way. Like when we observe the butterfly we never saw before. Or the children's smile. Or when we have a new thought that changes our perception." Ah, be quiet! Don't tell me about me or you or the butterflies. Speak to me of God. Tell me something that makes my jaw drop. Bend my knees in worship; and should I refuse, show me again all holy splendor.
I imagine a sermon where the issue is awe, and the sermon itself evokes awe. I want to hear about a God so holy that my eyebrows get singed during the sermon. I want to know about a Jesus for whom it is no big deal to bust down the divisions of time and space, so that he can talk with Moses and Elijah. I hunger for a kind of preaching that knocks me on my tail, precisely because it points to the Presence which I cannot manage, control, or even count on with any predictability. Is that too much to ask?
A final word from a Byzantine theologian about the celebration of the Transfiguration: "This feast is a source for endless writing and meditation, and is best approached in a spirit of prayer, and profound awe."
Point to the Mystery
2008-01-30 by David von Schlichten
In light of the responses to my blog entry below, including from our guest blogger Bill Carter, I may preach in a way this Sunday that will help people to experience the enigmatic effulgence of the transfiguration. Then I may just shut-up and sit down.
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Festival of Homiletics: New Hotel
2008-01-29 by David Howell
With over 1200 pastors already registered, the hotel blocks are almost full. So we have added another. (Early conference registration deadline is January 31. Go to Homepage, scroll to the bottom and click on Festival of Homiletics to register.)
Embassy Suites, 800-362-2779, 612-333-3111, 6 blocks from churches, connected to Sky Way, 7-10 minute walk to churches, full American breakfast, manager's reception in evening, all rooms have microwaves, coffee makers, refigerators; hotel has: fitness center, business center, indoor pool, hot tubs, saunas; $139.00 (up to quad), $20 for overnight parking, 2 blocks from Lite Rail station, 2 blocks from Metrodome, reserve by April 19.
I know that you believe you understand what you think I said...
2008-01-29 by Stephen Schuette
At our lectionary group study today we were, perhaps not surprisingly, struggling with the verse from 2 Peter that says, “…No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by human will…” (1:20-21) Someone offered the suggestion that perhaps Peter himself was on a learning curve. What he tried to control and explain in the Gospel has lead to a more mature faith in which he now can admit that much is beyond his ability to control or explain. I thought to myself, “Ironically, I like that interpretation.”
Perhaps we preachers are prone to the trap of trying always to interpret for the Church exactly what God means to say. And it’s then….while Peter (and we) are “…still speaking…” that we are interrupted by some good advice: “Listen to him!”
Of course, Peter (and we), like people engaged in familiar conversation, are prone to believe we already have heard (and grasp) what’s going to be said and so already have our wheels spinning figuring out our response instead of truly listening. We are prone to continue our patterned behaviors even when holiness breaks upon us. We want Jesus to be “our” Jesus – the one we think we already know, and the one we think we need, the one who fits into a booth.
But Jesus is transfigured (metamorphothe) before them, and then, just as quickly, is headed back down the mountain again. If only we could get out of the way and let Jesus be Jesus (beyond our interpretations) we might eventually catch up to who he is….and through our openness and listening be transformed ourselves.
…L’Engle is right. The art of art is letting it speak beyond the familiar of what we already believe it to say so that it opens us to a real encounter.
A few thoughts on weirdness...
2008-01-29 by Bill Carter
Thanks, David, for your thoughts! I will confess to years of transfiguration aversion. In fact, a long term colleague once pointed out that I usually assigned her to preach on Transfiguration Sunday. I chuckled and said, "Well, since by now you're an expert on the text, maybe you'd want to preach on it one more time." She declined with a smile and said, "No thanks."
I jest, of course, but this does raise the question: do we have to be "experts" on every text? Do we have to master them, control them, reduce them?
In a way, this is like so many mountain-top epiphanies in scripture. They are awesome, even terrifying! Do I really understand the demand of God for Abe to sacrifice Isaac? Do I "get it" when God inscribes the Ten Commandments on stone with a lightning-bolt finger? Can the three disciples comprehend Jesus when he begins to glow?
Maybe all we preachers can do is circle the base of the mountain, point up there, and say, "Whew! I don't have it all figured out, but let me tell you what I see." Then we can sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" and sit down. We could do worse than to maintain the awe!
Here's what the late Madeleine L'Engle wrote about the text in her book, Walking on Water (1980):
As I read and reread the Gospels, the startling event of the Transfiguration is one of the highlights. You'd think that in the church year we would celebrate it with as much excitement and joy as we do Christmas and Easter. We give it lip service when we talk about "mountain top experiences," but mostly we ignore it, and my guess it that this is because we are afraid.
A summer or so ago, some Congregational ministers decided that they would like to go to a church service on the Feast Day, and checked out the three nearest Episcopal churches. Not one of them was having a celebration. So my son-in-law, Alan, who was on vacation, held a communion service in the tiny chapel of their home, for the Congregational ministers and some family and friends.
We are afraid of the Transfiguration for much the same reason that people are afraid that theater is a "lie," that a story isn't "true," that art is somehow immoral, carnal, and not spiritual.
The artist must be open to the wider truth, the shadow side, the strange worlds beyond time. And because God has given his creatures the difficult gift of free will, the artist has more temptations to abuse the gift than - say - the banker or the accountant . . .
We are afraid, and we back off, and some ministers looking for a church service on the Feast of the Transfiguration can't find one.
The Christian holiday which is easiest for us is Christmas, because it touches on what is familiar; and the story of the young man and woman who were turned away from the inn, and had a baby in a stable, surrounded by gentle animals, is one we have known always. I doubt if many two or three-year-olds are told at their mother's knee about the Transfiguration or the Annunciation. And so, because the story of Christmas is part of our folklore (we might almost say), we pay more attention to its recognizableness than to the fact that the tiny baby in the manger contained the power which created galaxies and set the stars in their courses.
We are not taught much about the wilder aspects of Christianity. But these are what artists have wrestled with throughout the years.
 Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1980) 80-1.
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