Sermon–February 11, 2018


Last Epiphany

February 11, 2018

William Bradbury

2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

My granddaughter Eleanor who is in second grade had a small Ah-Ha moment last Sunday. Stephanie was reading a book to her about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a 12th century Queen of France and England, when they came across a king with an X after his name. Then, there was another king with IX after his name—and Eleanor wanted to know what these letters meant, so Stephanie tells her about Roman Numerals and explains that X equals 10, and IX equals 9. At which point a light goes off in Eleanor and she gets a piece of notebook paper to write down the translation of Roman numerals to our numbers. Stephanie helps her go from 1 to 50, and then Eleanor works with great intensity to go from L to C. She will never look at X the same again. We’ve all had such moments. Good teachers live to see their students have such moments.

One famous Ah-Ha moment is when the third century BC Greek scientist and inventor Archimedes is taking a bath and suddenly realizes the solution to a problem of the displacement of objects in water. He’s so thrilled he runs out of the house down the street buck naked shouting, “Eureka, eureka!” which is Greek for “I found it.”

Eleanor and Archimedes each have an epiphany. On this Last Sunday before Lent we read that Peter, James and john have an epiphany about Jesus. They’ve been living with him for a couple of years, and recently Peter has the insight to say that Jesus is the Messiah, though he misunderstands that insight when he rebukes Jesus for saying the Messiah, the Christ, is going to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed.

Then after six days Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain and there they see the light of God shining through their rabbi.   They are blinded by the light, though Peter, in typical form, refuses to be silent in the face of mystery and offers to build a physical structure for this spiritual reality. They understand that Jesus is completing the work of Moses and Elijah, and therefore that Jesus’ story doesn’t start at his birth but before time in the heart of his Abba.

But even after the epiphany on the mount of Transfiguration, Peter will repeatedly deny knowing Jesus to a young slave girl. Even the greatest revelation, the Resurrection, does not make Peter perfect, but rather sets him on a new path, where he and the others listen to Jesus and walk in what the New Testament calls ‘The Way’.

Of course Paul has an epiphany on the way to Damascus to arrest followers of Jesus, when a bright light knocks him to the ground and blinds him for three days. In Galatians he talks about this and says, “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me”. As he processes what it means that a dead Jesus is capable of interrupting his life he goes to Arabia for three years to continue to understand this epiphany of God in Christ that takes place in him.

Paul would later say that he did his best to be true to this epiphany. He sacrifices everything to follow Christ, because he has been touched by the center of reality.  Would Paul ever sin again? Of course he would. Would he ever make small and big mistakes? Of course. But he confesses his sins and failures and he gets back on The Way, the Way of Christ.

One attribute of an epiphany, small or great, is that it changes the way we look at things going forward. On the day after her epiphany with Roman numerals Eleanor and I are walking in downtown Madison past a large clock on a 10 foot pole. It’s a clock I’ve noticed but never paid attention to, but Eleanor says, “Look, That clock has Roman Numerals!”

Once we see the light, it’s hard to un-see it.

You and I were not on the mount of Transfiguration nor on Paul’s road to Damascus, nor in the upper room on the Day of Resurrection. Most Christians who have ever lived weren’t either.

But because of their witness, we too can experience a shift in how we see not only Jesus but all of life. In the First Letter of John we hear this amazing statement: “Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him….” I John 3:2

Theologically this reads: “Christ became as we are so that we might become as he is”.

Paul therefore is right when he says today, “For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In his famous sermon, “the Weight of Glory” C. S. Lewis processes this insight to the point of realizing that knowing eeing this inner light can change how we see each other.

He writes: “It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship….It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit….”

Our bishop Alan said in a former parish he got into the habit of greeting one older gentleman at the end of the service with the words, “Frank, It’s good to see you.” To which the man always responded, “It’s good to be seen.” Over time this moved from being a superficial way of saying hell-o into something much more profound and true: when we see, really see, a person we are turning them from an object we use into a subject we love; turning them from a thing into a person.

When we forget the light of Abba shining through Jesus we forget that same light of Christ shines in each of us, and we give ourselves permission to see others as less than human—especially the stranger and those whom life has disfigured physically or mentally, economically, or socially.

When we remember the epiphany of the light of Christ we see Christ’s light shining in everyone. And we can say “It’s good to see you” and they can respond “it’s good to be seen.”