Feast of the Transfiguration 2017

Luke 9: 28-36
Church of the Good Shepherd, Pawtucket

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. One of the feasts on the Church calendar deemed important enough that if it falls on a Sunday it replaces the usual readings.  So we take a detour out of our trip through the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus’s teaching over to the middle of Luke.

In this morning’s Gospel we join with Peter, James and John as they accompany Jesus up a mountain for a time of prayer.  And while there they have a profound Kingdom of God moment.  While praying Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, in a moment removed from normal time and space, as Moses and Elijah had each died centuries before. All three are shining with divine glory.  A cloud, a traditional sign of God’s appearing, encompasses them and God speaks, Peter, James, and John have been ushered into the transcendent realm of God, dwelling for a few moments more in heaven than on earth.

They see Jesus in his full divinity, shining like the sun, and God, in an echo of the words uttered at his Baptism, describing him as his Son, with more authority than Moses or Elijah, greater than the Law and the Prophets.

They had had intimations of his divinity before—as he healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed thousands—and if you read back just before today’s passage in Luke you realize that Peter has just said that Jesus is the Messiah.  But on the mountain they don’t get just a hint, or a growing suspicion, or a partial understanding, of Jesus as holy.  They see him in his full glory, and hear him discussing the events which will usher in his glory permanently: his crucifixion.  And when that crucifixion happens, the veil in the Temple is torn—the veil that separated fallen humanity from God is torn in two.  The human and the divine are once again able to be in close relationship.

When the disciples go with Jesus up the mountain, they see the man they had been traveling with for months—the one they’d probably slept under the stars with and traded corny jokes with, the one they’d seen be hot and sweaty and hungry and tired, as well as tender and compassionate—they saw this man they knew to be fully human—they see him alight with the whole glory of God, fully divine.

This complete mixing, one man totally human and yet fully divine, the prayerful miracle worker who goes willingly to his death as an innocent man, this man is God’s Chosen. In this moment Peter, James and John get a true glimpse of the kingdom.

Linda McMillan, an Episcopal lay woman who writes essays about the weekly scripture on the blog Episcopal Café, writes about the Transfiguration:

“Holiness is out there, sort of free-range and unsupervised. It might show up anywhere. On someone’s face, in nature … or the exhilaration of a deep and pure breath.  This week most of us will seek God in a holy place. But the wise among us will be on the lookout, because wild and untamed holiness is out there beyond the walls and beyond the symbols. Where, exactly? I don’t know, but I’m on the look out!”

This summer here at Good Shepherd we’ve all been on the lookout for kingdom stories, kingdom moments, when love and compassion break through into the ordinary. Not ones which come with clouds and shining glory, but more everyday moments in which God’s more subtle presence is revealed to those who have eyes to see. I’ve promised I’d give you regular opportunities to share the kingdom moments you’ve seen

What are some of the kingdom moments you have seen recently?

(Go out into congregation and have them share any recent recent kingdom moments)

I have two to share myself.

A friend of mine is always careful to engage w/ the people around him, counter helpers and the like—addressing them by name and making it clear he sees them as real people.  Sometimes it takes them (and me) aback, as it is so not a part of our American culture to engage w/ strangers in that way, but sometimes it is clearly a blessing to them, to realize that they are seen as individuals, not automatons.

Yesterday I saw Dunkirk.  A marvelous, if hard to watch, movie.  Tells the story of ordinary Britons who sacrificed, to save others.  One of the plotlines was about a British civilian gentlemen who answered the Navy’s call to take his small sailing yacht to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers—accompanied by his teenage son and his friend as crew.  They pick up a shipwrecked sailor from a torpedoed ship in the middle of the Channel and the sailor insists they must turn back to England—that to go on to Dunkirk, where he had just been, is certain death.  But they continue onwards, compelled by duty and compassion to risk their lives to save the trapped soldiers. I saw such nobility, and even a glimpse of holiness, in their willingness to sacrifice themselves as civilian volunteers for people they did not know.

The human shining forth with a bit of the divine.

What do we look like after we’ve seen God?  How does our appearance change?

I see it every Sunday at the altar rail, when I distribute communion, placing the bread in your palms with the words, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.”

When I am on the receiving side of those words, with my palms outstretched, I’ve always heard “the body of Christ” as referring to the wafer in my hands, which I’m about to ingest. And so it is.

But when I stand on the inside of the rail now as a priest, and am the one placing it into your hands, I experience it totally differently.  Each time I say, “The Body of Christ”, I am looking at one of you, in the face.  You, individually.  You are one part of the body of Christ, and I am handing you the bread of heaven. That is my prayer as I distribute communion, that I truly see each one of you as a part the Body of Christ, and that you see yourself that way, more and more each Sunday.

Brother Geoffrey Tristam SSJE has a wonderful prayer he offers for Transfiguration: “So today, as on the day of your baptism, allow God to re-clothe you, to transform you, to transfigure you, that like Christ, you too may shine forth “in raiments dazzling white.”  Amen.





Desiring God: sermon for Proper 12 A 2017

I did not record the sermon on Sunday, July 30.  Here are the notes from which I spoke.  The Scripture texts were

Romans 8:26-39

Matthew 13 selections 

  • Silent retreat: what is it?  My trainer was shocked when I said that’s what I was going away to do
  1. 8 full days. Jesuit retreat house in Gloucester MA with ocean view.  If I was going to be silent for 8 days I wanted a good view!  Only talking w/ spiritual director for 45 min daily and making the responses at Mass, though you could go off the property to talk
  2. Silence is seen as gift to self and others on retreat. Different from Trappists or other silent monastic orders, the Jesuits themselves do not keep silence—very active order, and the directors on the retreat did not keep silence among themselves.  It is simply seen as a tool to use in specific times.
  3. Clears away noise so that you can hear God speaking in various ways
  4. Dedicated time to explore different forms of prayer you might not in daily rush.
  5. I spent time praying w/ Scripture, but I also spent time paying attention to God through nature, through drawing, through listening to music, through journaling, through reading
  • Silent and Ignatian: focused on teachings of St Ignatius of Loyola.  Start every prayer time telling God your desire for that prayer time.  Not asking God what God’s desire is for your prayer time, but stating your  desire.  A reverse from what we would expect.

 Paying attention to our desires is a crucial part of our prayer life in the Ignatian tradition.  This is a surprise to many folks who assume that in religious life desire only has bad connotations: sex or material wants.  I desire that person.  I desire that Maserati.  Women especially are taught that paying attention to our desires is selfish .

James Martin SJ :”Why this emphasis on desire? Because desire is a key way that God speaks to us. Holy desires are different from surface wants, … Instead, I’m talking about our deepest desires, the ones that shape our lives: desires that help us know who we are to become and what we are to do. Our deep desires help us know God’s desires for us and how much God desires to be with us. And God, I believe, encourages us to notice and name these desires,…. Recognizing our desires means recognizing God’s desires for us.”…..Desire leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do. On the most obvious level, a man and a woman feel physical, emotional, and spiritual desire for each other, and in this way they discover their vocations to be married. A person feels an attraction to being a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, and so discovers his or her vocation. Desires help us find our way. But we first have to know them. The deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires. … the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life. And our deepest desires, which lead us to become who we are, are God’s desires for us. They are one manner in which God speaks to you directly, one way that, as Ignatius says, the Creator deals with the creature. They are also the way that God fulfills God’s own dreams for the world, by calling people to certain tasks. Desire is a key part of Ignatian spirituality because desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And ultimately our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God. [From Ch. 3 of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything”]

  • One of the passages I read was from Julian of Norwich.  I’ve talked about Julian before—the 14th Century Anglican mystic who was the first woman to write a published work in English
  1. “Our Lord showed me in a vision how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is to us everything that is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing that out of love enwraps and enfolds us, embraces us and wholly encloses us, surrounding us for tender love, so that he can never leave us.  And … I saw that he is everything that is good, as I  understand it. …. Our Lord God also revealed that it is a very great pleasure to him that a simple soul should come to him a bare, plain and homely way.  For …this is the natural yearnings of the soul touched by the Holy Spirit.  “God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I cannot ask for anything less that would fully honor you.  And if I do ask for anything less, I shall always be in want, but in you alone I have everything.”  [selections from Revelations, Long Text, Ch. 5, Barry Windeatt translation]
  • Ignatius and Julian are talking about the same thing that we heard in our lessons today:  those great assurances from Paul in Romans
  1. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
  2. This is what it means to pray from our desires—praying from those emotions deep down within us that we can’t even put into words.
  3. And Julian’s imagery of Christ being as close to us as our clothing and skin—she knew Paul’s promise  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  
  • Matthew: Disciples should desire the kingdom like that merchant desired the pearl, like the landowner desired the treasure.  As we spend time with God in prayer, our desires gradually begin to align w/ God’s desires, and we become more sensitive to God’s desires  which are already planted in our heart
  • Terrance Klein SJ https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/07/26/want-know-who-you-are-ask-what-you-wantsays our desires help tell us who we truly are and who we want to be.
  1. “To see what it is that you want of the world, ask yourself questions such as these: What pursuit gets most of my time? Why? What tends to be my primary cause of anxiety? What do I enjoy doing when I able to choose my activity? Reading? Exercise? Time with loved ones? Of course, once you know who you are by asking what you love, there is one more Gospel question that desperately needs be posed: Is this a pearl of great price? Is it worth my life?
  2. You have to ask, because life expends itself on its desires, even if they are not acknowledged.

Trinity Sunday, 2017

Here is my sermon for Trinity Sunday.


Sources quoted:

Thomas G. Long, “Homiletical Perspective on Matthew 28:16–20,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A (ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor; vol. 3; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 345.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Fount Paperbacks, London:1997, p.135

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Long Text, chapters 73 and 86. (Quoted in Amy Laura Hall, Love in Everything: A Brief Primer to Julian of Norwich. The Princeton Seminary Bulletin,  Vol. 32, New Series 2015.)

With additional inspiration from  Eric Funston (thanks for the C.S. Lewis quote), David Lose (the Great Promise), Karoline Lewis “Dear Working Preacher” for Trinity Sunday 2017,,  and Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding (and class lectures).  And hopefully the Holy Spirit.