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.
We are moving into the second half of an Epiphany Season. And this is turning into a little longer series of at least semi-joined sermons. This second half often just gets dropped, when Easter is earlier, so we don’t always get to these lessons, which is a shame. Because it is these that ask the important questions of how do we respond to an Epiphany. If we have seen God, what do we do?
Last week showed a couple of broad wrong paths and the narrow right path. This weeks lessons walks us through the deeper give and take. Epiphany, Repentance, Reassurance, and Call.
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
In Last week’s message we pondered What is an Epiphany answering that a Biblical Epiphany was seeing God. Following the Star is not just about a mental change or even a change of habit, but it is about meeting God. The question then becomes how does this happen? The texts of the season answer that for us. This message ponder’s Luke’s unique portrayal of the baptism of Jesus which is one that cares little about the actual baptism but instead pairs it down to the simplest presentation- The Word of the Father and the Presence of the Spirit. How do we see God? In the Inspired Word.
Our common answer to that question I think would be something of a snoozer. We have dime store epiphanies. This sermon looks at what a real epiphany is. And then it looks at what an Epiphany demands of us. If we see the star, are we willing to follow? Openness to that answer makes all the difference.
The texts in “year C” of the lectionary and when Epiphany proper falls on a Sunday make for a wonderful series. Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a good look at how the light enters and grows in the Christian life.
Biblical Text: Mark 1:4-11, Romans 6:1-11 (and the general Epiphany Texts of the Magi, Cana and the Transfiguration) Full Sermon Draft/a>
Holy Days, like Epiphany, often come with a phalanx of texts associated with them. The day itself is a concept, and over time various texts carry that theme with slightly different emphasis. For Epiphany the texts are: The Magi, The Wedding at Cana, The Baptism of Jesus and then the Transfiguration. Stars, and lights, and voices and glory manifest. The actual text of the day is the baptism, but the sermon is a pondering of all of them, and really of the season. How do we see the glory? How do we see God? Is it all at once? Are we capable of understanding that? The sermon points at two expressions of the glory that are manifest in waters of the Jordan. And then how that glory is given to us and how it is manifest here and now, and in the world to come. At some point along that trail of Epiphanies, we do really “get it”. Be rest on the promises of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us and one day sanctify us.
Above was the “King’s Cake” for this year. Below was the start of the sermon. (I don’t have a recording for this because I typically don’t do these smaller groupings from the pulpit.) Hope you had a wonderful Epiphany of Three Kings day…
On the one hand you can’t talk about Epiphanies without sounding like a pretentious schmuck, on the other I’ve been thinking about how the core texts of Epiphany and the what the season itself is about is quite meaningful today.
Here is what I mean by that. Each season of the church year has a general feeling. Lent is penitential. But to be in a penitential mood, one has to have accepted a certain story about what humans are. Advent is about hopeful waiting, but again, unless you’ve accepted a story about God, hopeful waiting can be Waiting for Godot. Christmas and Easter are proclamation seasons. Christ is here! Christ has triumphed. There are no preconditions to the proclamation. It is just good news. But you don’t need to receive the good news. Maybe it just falls off the front page tomorrow, or by the 6 PM news. Pentecost is about how we live, but it requires having received that good news.
Epiphany sets itself up in that liminal space. We’ve heard the proclamation in some way. “We saw his star in the east.” We witnessed the first of his signs, when he changed the water into wine. We heard the prophet say “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” right before he dunks Jesus in the Jordan. We’ve heard the proclamation, and with our inner eye we perceive that something is different, but what we do next isn’t sure…
These special services I tend to treat homiletically different. If I’m exegetical meaning more surely grounded in the text on a regular Sunday, in the special services I tend to the personal and reflective. Part of that is audience, part of that liturgical settings. One theme of Epiphany is coming to know the truth. We live in an age that is constantly experiencing what it thinks are epiphanies. Also, as a Lutheran minister, I’m the heir to an epiphany of sorts – Luther’s recovery of the gospel. The gospel itself according to Paul is an epiphany – “hidden for the ages and now revealed”. This sermon is my reflections on spiritual discernment. How do I sort out true epiphanies from false claims of truth. As I say in the sermon, I think every Christian must develop some of this on their own, but this is mine.
The day on the Church calendar was the Baptism of Christ and the text recognizes that. I think in the sermon there is recognition of baptism. If not, all the hymns of the day picked up on it as their connecting theme. But as I was preparing the sermon verse 18 (“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”) combined with a comment by Origin (2nd Century Teacher quoted in the sermon) made me look at John the Baptist himself. What was the gospel, the good news, that John preached?
As he would say, “Christ must increase, I must decrease”, so as a preacher the core of that Good News was simply the bridegroom has come – Jesus. That is the core of any preaching. But John’s good news, just from this brief snippet (Luke 3:1-22), is expansive. And Luke’s version of John has a striking and touching emphasis. After pointing out the bridegroom – the kinsman redeemer of Israel, John preaches against a false in everyway redeemer, Herod. Jesus & Israel are the bridegroom and sanctified bride. Herod and Herodias are the mocking of that redemption. John calls him out, and pays with his freedom and life. John’s preaching of good news, includes the role of suffering.
I didn’t make the connection in the sermon because the sermon itself is more breadth than depth. Pulling together all the threads of levirate marriage that this text relies on would have been explaining too much for a sermon. Better suited for a study. But marriage as the symbol of what God does for his people, and the mocking of marriage made by the state, and John’s suffering caused by that confrontation, seems applicable.
Recording Note: I have left in our opening hymn Lutheran Service Book 405 To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord. The congregation sounded great, and that hymn really captures the core message of the festival – “This man is Christ our substitute!” Also, they sang it post the OT reading, but I’ve moved it after the sermon here. These recordings can’t really capture the full service. We don’t really have the recording equipment for that, so the focus is really on the spoken parts (i.e. texts and sermon). But, I included our Choir singing a wonderful Epiphany piece. I included such things as markers to the full live experience. Worship really is about being there.
The picture should be the King’s Cake, a galette de rois, which is a French Almond pastry with a feve or baby hidden inside. The person who finds the baby gets luck for the year (and has to bake the cake next year). Although here we don’t so much hold to that second part. The cake was the after Vespers treat for Epiphany.
I don’t have a recording. Things like Vespers tend to be, how do I say it, more intimate. So I typically move the pulpit down to the main floor. But the sermon as roughly given is in the file. For me, if there is a correct time to give that altar call, it is Epiphany. Epiphany is when you’ve seen “it”. “It” in this case is God. And of course having seen “it” is not the same thing and opening your treasures (or your heart) as the magi do. Epiphany is all about the odd roads we take first to seeing, and also to opening our treasures to the Christ child. Epiphanies are dangerous times of choice. You’ve seen, now what are you going to do?
You’ve seen the incarnation (Christmas), now what are you going to do?