This might be the first sermon I’ve written that I think needs a soundtrack. If we were a big megachurch, I’m sure it could have been a multimedia presentation, but that is not us. We just depend on the spoke Word and the hymnbook. The Word this day is one of the mot plaintive passages in scripture – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you…”. The passage is a dance between the necessity of the path that Jesus walks, and the desire of love. And a certain type of pop song, one not made much these days I think, hits all the right chords. The sermon explores those songs and their feelings, and how that represents the weakness and risk of the gospel – a God who ain’t too proud to beg. Who longs to hold you again.
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.
Paul’s extended argument in 2 Corinthians is an argument with what we might naturally want to do in s stressful situation. We might want to fight it, which means defeat and domination of the enemy. Or we might want to avoid it, flee from it, which means by varying degrees denial and disappearance. Paul could flee by just never seeing the Corinthians again. Paul could fight by “defending” his apostleship and proving it all over again. But neither of those things are what an Ambassador of Christ does. The one who has not received the grace of God in vain, is the one who can control themselves and not fight or flee, but submit to what God calls them to be. That may look like all kinds of paradox, and the world doesn’t know how to respond to it. But that is the way of the grace. That is the way of Jesus
The text is the Transfiguration which has become the standard text for the Ending of the Season of Epiphany. As such this sermon is the last in this loosely connected series. The evangelist Luke’s treatment of the Transfiguration is unique. In the parallels it is the Easter before Easter. In Luke it is Epiphany that starts the journey. And it is on the journey that everything we fear we might lose as the epiphany fades, or that we never got because we were sleepy and didn’t see the entire thing, is confirmed in the living. We remember the mountaintop, but that is the symbol for the life. Without the life, the mountaintop loses its meaning.