Sunday, February 14, 2010

Last after the Epiphany, Quinquagesima 2010

Exodus 34: 29-35; Luke 9: 28-43

A rough couple of weeks for all of us and continuing here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, as we manage as best we can the aftermath of two major snowstorms and all the challenges that make even just going to the market for a gallon of milk a physically and emotionally and even spiritually exhausting and depleting effort. Kids out of school.

Amazing to me, to see all of us working so hard. Making it to work, as best we can. Doing what needs to be done. And if I have some complaints about public administration and management during this time here in the city—and I do—certainly no complaints about the public works and public safety guys out there working twelve hour shifts in very rough conditions day after day after day. And our own Becky Usner and Dan Michel and his crew, who have worked so hard through storm after storm here at St. Andrew’s. May God bless and keep them, and keep them safe. And maybe we could be done with this snow for a little while?

So with all that: Happy Valentine’s Day. Put down the snow shovels long enough to say “I love you”—maybe even find the time for a candlelight dinner. If you didn’t use up all your candles in power failures last weekend . . . .

And a day we begin our February participation in the annual Have a Heart for Hunger fundraiser in our partnership with the East End Cooperative Ministry. Even though our major "Have a Heart" Coffee Hour reception is being postponed a week, the basket is out this morning and will remain available for us for the rest of the month, and our contributions along with the contributions from all our fellow member congregations, to be matched by an exceptionally generous donor and devoted to the hard work of providing resources and service and support for the hungry and the homeless in our part of the city.

A huge project, especially at this time of year and in this era of economic dislocation, and too much for any of us as individuals or even as congregations to take on effectively. But with 50 congregations working together, a great deal can happen, and a wonderful witness we in our congregation are able to give to the transforming love of Jesus Christ and the power he gives us to be his hands and his feet continuing in the world, to bring to life in him healing and renewal and refreshment even in the most remote and hard-to-reach corners of our world.

A witness to the power of God in Christ Jesus. The lessons appointed for us on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, on the old calendar "Quinquegesima," marking 50 days until Easter, are all about that. As we come now to the end of one great seasonal cycle in the calendar of our Church Year. A season with these major festival highlights, the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, and finally the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin. A season to bring to the center of our life the great theological theme of Incarnation. All to unfold the mystery of that verse from St. John that we heard at midnight on Christmas Eve: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth.

In just a couple of days now we will come together again, Tuesday evening for Mardi Gras fun and Shrove Tuesday pancakes, and then on Wednesday morning the next great season to begin, with Lent and then Holy Week and then Easter ahead to open the next great theological theme, Atonement. From Incarnation and the Life of Christ to Atonement and the Work of Christ. Two themes inextricably linked and intertwined and in a deeper sense a unity of expression about the character of God and his love. Really to say Incarnation and Atonement as one, the central message and identity of Christian faith.

But what we are about. Here and now, this snowy weekend. As we help a neighbor with a sidewalk. As we share what we have with those who are served by the East End Cooperative Ministry. In our relationships. In outreach to Haiti or Five Talents. As we sing and worship. As we break bread and share the cup. Over and over and over again: to be a witness to the power of God in Christ Jesus.

When Moses came down the Mountain his face was still shining so brightly with even the reflected light of the Shekinah of God, his radiant glory, that he had to wear that veil to protect the eyes of those who might see him.

No veils needed, apparently, but it is that same radiance that shines on Mount Tabor that afternoon in Luke’s gospel, as the gates of heaven open just a crack, as the brilliance of Divine Light seems to flow out from him, in the vision there of the visitation of Moses and Elijah—those two mighty men of God’s work in ancient days. A moment of such power that Peter thinks they should build a shrine, put up an altar.

In the writings of the Celtic monastics of Ireland and Scotland there are references to what are called “thin places.” Where the wall of separation between this earthly realm and the transcendent reality of the Kingdom of God is not stone or masonry or wood, but paper thin. Almost transparent. Where if you look hard enough, with an inner discernment, you can see through to the other side, at least a glimpse. But more than a “thin place” here, for this moment. The wall is down. Light brighter, richer, purer than any seen before or since, anywhere. For this breathtaking moment, heaven and earth come together.

So what it’s all about, as we come to the end of the Incarnation Cycle. The Word became flesh. Full of grace and truth. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father.

Where we lived in Northern California years ago there was an ecumenical Christian women’s group called “Women Aglow.” The word for us this morning, and as we turn the page now to Ash Wednesday and Lent later this week—the word for us is all about being “people aglow.” To open the eyes of our hearts and imaginations to see in the face of Jesus the brightness of the Father, the brilliance of his love. And like Moses to shine with the reflection of that radiance day by day by day. Whether by contributions to EECM today, as one small example. By the prayers and songs we offer. By the kindness and generosity of our lives, as we would seek to be agents of his healing, his forgiveness, his kindness and generosity. To shine brightly. To shine brightly.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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