The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
10 March 2019
Lent 1, C
Before I’d looked at today’s text,
I knew that it would be Jesus’ temptation
in the wilderness.
In the passage today,
who may or may not be
a fallen angel
or the Adversary or Tempter
comes to Jesus at the end of a 40 day fast.
This devil prays
on the fullness of Jesus’ humanity.
Knowing that Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days,
he challenges Jesus’ role
as the Son of God.
Jesus goes to the wilderness to fast
immediately after he’s been baptized.
He’s led by the Spirit
to cleanse himself
after God’s pleased-ness
has been pronounced.
The devil says
“If you are the son of God,
make some bread for yourself”
Jesus tells him there’s more to living
than eating bread.
Having failed to goad Jesus into a miracle,
Jesus having nothing to prove,
the devil takes him to see all the world’s kingdoms.
“If you worship me,
I’ll give you all this authority.”
Jesus reminds him that the commandment
is to worship only God.
Jesus also knows that
he's come into the world
to claim his authority as God’s son
over and against the devil’s.
As a last effort,
the devil challenges Jesus’ faith.
“Let yourself jump.
If you really believe the scriptures,
you must know that they say you’ll be safe.”
Jesus just rebukes him
about not testing God.
This story of Jesus’ testing and tempting in the wilderness
is good for the whole of the Christian life.
Certainly, about five days in, we might be noticing
the pangs of our fasts
or the unfaithfulness in our prayers
as we cleanse ourselves for these 40 days.
It’s not only when we’re fasting
that we face temptations,
particularly temptations against
our identity, our vanity, and our faith.
We hear this text every year on the First Sunday in Lent,
because facing temptation and relying on God
is essential for building and living
a baptismal faith.
Whether we’re preparing for baptism
or preparing to renew our baptismal promises,
we know that we’ll face temptation.
By knowing that we’ll face it,
we can practice getting through it
with strength from God
following Jesus’ example,
led by the Spirit.
The invitation to a Holy Lent,
which I read and offered on Wednesday,
does a great job telling us why failed Lenten fasts
and misplaced Lenten disciples are good for us.
It’s not because we’re bad people
or even because we’re broken fallen individuals.
These forty days of cleansing
aren't forty days of mortifying the flesh.
They’re penitent to be sure!
Lenten fasts and their fails
remind us that God is faithful to forgive us
when we acknowledge our sins.
Those being baptized make three big renunciations:
Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God;
the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; and
all sinful desires that draw them from the love of God.
They later promise that when they fall into sin
they will repent and return to the Lord.
Hearing the story of Jesus’ temptation
is a reminder that we will be tempted.
Hearing it during Lent,
“the whole congregation is put in mind
of the message of pardon and absolution
set forth in the Gospel of our Savior,
and of the need which all Christians continually have
to renew their repentance and faith.”
For pardon and absolution,
we have to be mindful of our sin.
To be more mindful of our sin,
we have to notice when we’re tempted.
By giving ourselves particular disciplines,
goals try to reach during Lent,
we can’t not notice when we miss the mark.
If we can notice how we miss the mark during Lent,
we may be better prepared
to notice how we miss the mark
throughout our lives.
In this time when people are preparing for baptism
and we’re preparing to renew baptismal promises
at the Easter Vigil
many of us have sought disciples for ourselves.
We’ll have varying degrees of making those commitments.
When we fail at them,
we're reminded that we’re not Jesus.
We won’t always rebuke temptations;
sometimes we’ll give in.
No matter how many times we fail,
God is ready to forgive us.
Over, and over, and over again.
It’s going to happen.
How well do we notice it?
What do we confess during the silence
before the General Confession each week?
What would you say if you were to make a private confession?
Charles Spurgeon once said,
“You are a great sinner,
but he is a greater Savior.”
Martin Luther said,
But believe even more boldly in Christ,
As you face temptations this Lent,
physical, mental, spiritual,
notice when you fail.
When you miss the mark in your daily life
of loving Christ and your neighbor,
When you’ve fallen into sin,
repent, return to the Lord, and rejoice.
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
3 March 2019
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Somehow by the movement of the Holy Spirit — or as a priest friend in Arizona said, the vagaries of scheduling — I have managed to preach on Jesus’ Transfiguration pretty much every year for the last ten years. I don’t know what more I have to say. But, I haven’t been with y’all for ten years, so something might be new for you.
We hear this story today not just on its own. If you notice, the Prayer Book and our bulletins list today not Transfiguration Sunday, which is how some of our sister churches observe it. But today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. I’m in green. The Transfiguration as a feast is observed August 6th.
The Revised Common Lectionary, and the Common Lectionary before it, thought it important in the cycle of the church year to continue the pattern of preparation, celebration, growth, quick celebration…before going back into preparation. We start our church year in Advent getting ready not just for Jesus’ coming as a baby, but his coming in glory at the end of time. We celebrate Christmas: the whole of the Incarnation…not just Jesus Meek and Mild, but Jesus fully God and human. The Magi arrive, and then we have some time growing in those mysteries, wondering how we continue to be formed by the stories of Jesus.
Wednesday we go into Lent with Ash Wednesday, back to preparation for forty days. Then fifty days of celebration at Easter. Then 26 weeks of growth on how the resurrection changes us. At the end of that time we celebrate the reign of Christ, on the last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29. Today is our blip of celebration between growth time and preparation time. It’s a Sunday when we hear the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. It’s a story that’s in all three of the synoptic gospels, each with their own take.
It’s a story though, that’s very consistent. Jesus goes up to a mountain to pray with James and John and Peter. They’re all sleepy but they fight through their sleep and see Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets for an oppressed Hebrew people. They not only represent the Law and the Prophets, they represent freedom and liberty. Moses who led the exodus…and justice for the oppressed. Elijah the prophet who brings people back to God’s command for justice. Justice for the poor, justice for the hungry.
These three disciples hear Jesus talking with the forebears of Judaism about what Jesus is to accomplish at Jerusalem. Not only do we hear this text today as a blip of celebration, we hear it as we’ll hear later in Lent, as Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, and as we set our faces toward Jerusalem…penitence on Wednesday, and preparation to reaffirm our baptismal promises at the great vigil of Easter.
While Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah, his clothes become dazzling white. Dazzling white. I don’t really think our language and the whiteness captures what’s happening in the Greek here. I know that because I got a C on my Greek final using this text. Really more than dazzling is something akin to sparkling, maybe something like Dakota or Cheyenne would wear that’s covered in sequins and glitters. That’s what happens to Jesus’ clothes. They’re not just OxyClean’d and bluing’ed white. They’re radiant. They reflect the light.
Then Peter, always Peter, acts before he thinks, speaks before he thinks. All three of the gospel writers say in this instance he talks without knowing what he’s saying. He says, “Jesus, it is good for us to be here! Let’s stay!” None of the gospel writers says that they had planned to go camping or brought building supplies with them, but Peter’s ready to build some booths. They don’t do that.
A cloud comes over them, and in this part of the country we know about clouds coming over us. A booming voice says, again, what is said at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “This is my son, my beloved, my chosen. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Today in Luke’s version of the gospel no one speaks of these things in those days. That’s different from Luke’s likely source material — Mark — where it’s not that they don’t speak of them, it’s that Jesus tells them not to. In Luke they’re just waiting for the right time.
They’re waiting for the right time to talk about Jesus who went up on the mountain and stood with the liberator and justice-bringer of his own faith tradition, and talked about how he would be bringing liberty and justice to the whole of creation on his trip to Jerusalem. They talked about how in Jesus the Christ, God’s call of freedom for all people from oppression, from hunger, justice for the poor has been and is being fulfilled.
Peter, James, and John — despite being sleepy — have to stay awake to see it. For four weeks in Advent every year we’re told the same thing. We have to be awake to see how God is changing the world through Jesus the Christ and through Christ’s body the Church. I’m sure that I said last year — maybe not on this Sunday, but multiple times through Lent and will again this coming year — that Ash Wednesday is the day of penance, making apologies, making right. The rest of Lent has a tone of that but it is not an extended Holy Week nor an extended remembrance that we are dust.
It’s preparation for baptism, for being restored to right relationship with one another, right relationship to God and God’s church, and it’s preparation to remember that we have been transfigured, that in our baptisms we have been joined to Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension. In Lent we evaluate how we have failed to keep our baptismal promises so that we can make them again and try to do better at Easter.
Every year the Sunday before Lent, the last Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear a version of Jesus going up the mountain, praying, being transfigured into sparkly clothes, his call and ministry being affirmed, and him coming back down — and people not talking about it immediately.
How are we being transfigured? How are we hearing God’s voice that we are God’s beloved with whom God is well-pleased? How are we talking, when we don’t know what we’re saying, like Peter, and needing to listen to God as we go into this Lent?
The Transfiguration is a text that I have preached on more times than I can count, unless I count the Word documents in folder. It’s a text that is holy, that is set aside, that is scripture, because every time it tells us the same story that we need to hear again — just like the Crucifixion and Resurrection, just like the Incarnation.
Through Jesus the Christ God has changed and is changing the world. We have to be awake to notice it, and we have to ask ourselves how we’re being changed like Jesus.