This sermon is a bit more philosophical that I typically get. It is also leaning of a work of systematic or dogmatic theology I’ve been reading by the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson. Classic theology is build around what in Latin are loci. In English it is much less impressive, merely subjects of focus. And the classic first loci is God.
There is a blatant problem with that. Absent revelation we can know nothing about God. Most everybody would disagree with that. That is the inspiration for every rational and forced mystic quest for God. It is the thinking behind “seeking”. And all those quests seem to have the same goal, to get under or behind or beneath our existence to the eternal timeless reality. But the God of revelation is not timeless; He is the creator of time.
This sermon invites us not to be driven by fear into seeking some unchanging reality, but to hear Jesus is risen as the invitation to a way through time, through God’s good creation from alpha to omega.
Today was Transfiguration Sunday which is the last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany. Lent Begins mid-week with Ash Wednesday.
Transfiguration to me is a tough preaching assignment because it is fundamentally a visual experience. Parables are about words. Miracles are just as often about reactions to the happening. Both of those are easily pondered and preached in words. But with the transfiguration, it is an icon. What I mean by icon is that it is a picture that invites you to ponder fundamental reality, to contemplate and enter eternity. What this sermon chooses to ponder of that reality to time. We live, especially we moderns live, in a culture that at a minimum emphasizes tick-tock time. It sometimes goes as far as to deny there is anything but. But all icons are invitation to see beyond or underneath that press of the everyday. The transfiguration as the ultimate icon invites us to see all of eternity in one moment. The alpha and omega present on a mountaintop.
The sermon moves from the lessor to the greater. It posits hopefully a couple of more common icons in our lives that telescope time into an icon. Then it moves to the transfiguration. Finally it moves on to the demands and promises of knowing any icon. The what I put it here is that knowing eternity, we are freed to live in the moment. Not for the moment or obsessed with tick-tock time, but fully present in it. We are so freed to be truly present in good and ill because we are part of Jesus exodus. In Christ our time has been redeemed, reconnected to eternity. We have eternity, so we are free to enjoy time.
Worship note. Can I share a pet peeve? I understand the point of copyright. I believe that musicians and composers need to get paid. But copyright just kills the culture of hymns and sacred music. Here is what I mean. Today as a close we sang Lutheran Service Book number 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. It is a very modern song. The text is copyrighted 1994; the tune (Love’s Light) in 2000. To me this hymn is one that I’d put in the list of all time greats that every Christian should know. Think Amazing Grace or A Mighty Fortress. The tune is gorgeous, contagious and singable. The words are deep, emotional and challenging. And part of the magic is that they fit together. That is a hymn that should be shared. I can’t. It’s copyrighted. Church music, like preaching, isn’t really a commercial endeavor. You do it for the good of the church.
…Americans of faith—and according to Gallup that includes 92 percent of us—thus must face unflinchingly the question of who are Dr. King’s rightful heirs.
Powerful critics argue that Americans should not tolerate public advocacy on “social issues” by my fellow Christians and by individuals and communities of faith according to our understanding of our sacred texts. In his letter, Dr. King wrote that he too was assailed by critics—including white Christian clergy—who claimed that a minister of the gospel had no legitimate business advocating on social issues.
Other powerful voices argue that social changes that violate traditional and biblical values are inevitable and that those who oppose such changes will end up “on the wrong side of history” and thus should be swept aside. Dr. King, however, wrote to his critics from jail that such views grow “out of a tragic misconception of time,” including the “strangely irrational notion” that time inevitably progresses toward good, never toward evil. The truth, he wrote, is that “time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively.”
One of my recurring themes is how we experience time. And the way I like to talk about it is human and inhuman ways of marking time. Here is a perfect example of the inhuman calendar. Fuller articles here and here.
Note the reason we need a new calendar.
The Hanke-Henry calendar would streamline financial operations, they write in an article republished by the libertarian Cato Institute, because Gregorian calendar anomalies make a muddle of interest-calculating conventions. Sunday-only Christmas and New Year’s holidays would also eliminate their mid-week appearances and “get rid of this zoo we’re in right now, when the whole economy collapses for two weeks,” Henry said.
God forbid the human rhythms of life interfere with the market and economic activity.
I’ve done two things in this sermon that I don’t usually like doing. I’m not sure either of them really worked, but I had reasons for them. Also, the Thursday Bible study got a preview of this sermon subject. I’m pretty sure it played better there. I’m also pretty sure the reason is just time.
First the time issue. Most of my sermons are 10 – 12 minutes or roughly 1400 words. This one was a little longer at almost 1700 words. It is really hard to talk about the theology of the cross and the reality of the law in the Christian’s life in 12 minutes. On Thursday, we explored it for about 90 minutes in two way communication with a 1200 word itself supporting story we read. We really only stopped because we were just exhausted, or at least I was exhausted and they were exhausted of hearing my voice. It it that kind off topic. Another reason why every christian should be engaged in some regular group study. This could be a really bad analogy, but worship is the cardio workout. It is the base of any healthy regimen. Those group studies are the weights. That is where growth in spiritual muscle happens.
The two different things.
1) While I do use political examples from time to time, I try to be balanced. Those examples today were not. I think this goes to a fundamental and dangerous direction in our American political body. A small c conservative – of which there are very few in politics at any level – understands Romans 7. The human creature is fundamentally flawed. In Paul’s words, in my flesh I serve the law of sin. And, that sin in my own members is very strong and devious. The older American political order understood this and was reticent to pass any sweeping law or sweep away traditional ways of doing things. Laws, because of the human creature, invite corruption. Sweeping laws invite sweeping corruption. We are that corrupt and we are not that smart to see it all beforehand. When the law is kept small and local, the stakes are not as big. But that is the not the society that we have structured today where everything is big. And where the law gets big, corruption proliferates. According to Paul that is the very function of the law – to show how sinful we are.
2) The second thing was that I ended the sermon on what was probably a cliffhanger. Romans 7 naturally leads to Romans 8. Romans 7 is a true description of the role of the law, but it is not the complete picture. There is something else that supplies power and fights the law of sin in my members. And it doesn’t come from me. In myself, I can’t win. But I am not alone. That is the Romans 8 story continuation. I chose to stay textual and have a two part sermon. Those who were present on July 3rd probably will be present the next week. Preaching through Romans is more like watching Lost or any story drama. Missing an episode might leave you scratching your head. The gospels seem to be more episodic, or more like Law & Order. I think that is because Romans is essentially a long argument and not a collection of stories telling one larger happening.