Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, March 3rd, 2019
We have come to the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, a Sunday wherein each year we get a gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, that moment in the life of Jesus when three of his disciples got a glimpse of the true glory and power that was within him. Now I should add that this is not the Feast of the Transfiguration, that is in August, but each year right before Lent we hear this story of a few disciples on their way to Jerusalem, on their way to what we already know is going to be Jesus’s death and resurrection, these few disciples get a glimpse of who this man really is, and it’s scary. They are powerless and dumbfounded and they don’t know what to say. That is what we hear on this Sunday right before Lent begins. And I think that this story might just serve as a warning to us, to be careful about how we spend this next forty days and to be careful about how close we get to God.
So as your priest and pastor, I am hear this morning to tell you to be careful how you decide to spend this Lenten season. Be careful what disciplines you take on, and what forms of piety you explore, because this Jesus that we follow has some real power and if you are not careful he might actually change you.
Be careful with planning your Lent this year.
Be careful with disciplines like fasting or abstaining from something. If you are going to give something up, stick to things you don’t really like, or things you don’t really eat that much to begin with. Stick to abstaining from or giving up things that you already have control over, because if you pick something that is really hard, if you pick something that you really love, or something that has control over you, you might actually struggle with it. And if you struggle with it, you are liable to realize that you can’t do it on your own, and then you might be tempted to ask God to help you with it. This is dangerous territory, because if you lose control and ask God to help you with something, he might actually do it. And then you will be stuck with this dual realization that you need God and that God can actually help you with things. And you are going to have to keep carrying that around, probably even past Easter, so be careful what you try to give up.
And then, if you choose to give something up that you pay for on a daily basis, like lunch or donuts and coffee, be sure to keep the money. Because if you just give alms or give money away you don’t know what that charity or that church is going to do with it. You could be throwing your money away, and then what are you going to do when you realize that your life went on anyways? That you actually had enough to get by without it? If you aren’t careful and if you give God the chance to take care of your needs, what are you going to do if he actually does it? What if you discover that there really is something spiritual about sacrifice? You are risking changing the way you look at your stuff, and the material world…that’s very dangerous.
Now some people don’t want to give up things in Lent they want to take on things, but you have to be careful with that too. You want to be sure to pick things that have definite steps and goals where youcan see the progress youare making, like finishing the chapters in a book, or cleaning out the garage, or working on a project. Make sure that you are accomplishing something that will make you feel proud of yourself. Again, stick to things that you have control over. Be careful with prayer and just being in the presence of God. Learn a lesson from Moses here. You have to be careful when you are spending time with God. Spending time with God can be dangerous, because you might be changing and not even know it. You can’t see your progress. You can’t take credit for it. You don’t have something to point to to feel proud of. If all you do is pray, when Lent is over, what are you going to have to feel proud of? And then, if you spend all that time with God, and he does change you, and people do notice, you’re going to have to figure out how to put on a mask and hide it. You don’t want people to start thinking that it was God that changed you; you want them to think it was your good choices and your hard work. Because if God changes me in ways that I didn’t intend or even want, then how am I going to get to take the credit for being virtuous? I mean, if I’m going to put all this effort into observing a holy lent, I want to be able to walk out the other side confident in my ability to change myself; I don’t want to have to recognize that just being in the presence of God changed me and I had very little to do with it. So if you insist on malking prayer a discipline, at least make sure that you are the one doing all the talking.
And if our gospel lesson teaches you anything this morning, let it be this: be especially careful when spending time with this Jesus character. If you insist on listening to him, then make sure you pay really close attention to what you think he has to say to others. Make sure that you can identify the ways that Jesus can fix the other people in your life, but don’t let him start talking to you. You may sing “what a friend we have in Jesus,” you may think Jesus is your friend, until starts calling you out on your stuff. You got watch him. Be very careful when you stand with him when he starts calling out people for being sinners, because he is a slippery character. He’ll start talking about sin and calling out hypocrisy and you will be with him telling him to preach on and if you aren’t careful he’ll turn it right back around on you and calling out your sins, and you’ll be left wondering: “whose side am I on?” Be careful with Jesus and if you do happen to get a glimpse of his glory, be sure you keep it contained. Keep it on the mountain or in your private prayer space or in the church, don’t let it get out into the world, because if people become aware of how much power this man Jesus really has, they might be tempted to ask him to use it. As a matter of fact, he might even give you a little share of it, and ask you to do something with it. Other people may start asking you about where this power comes from, they may see a change in you that you don’t even see yourself, they may get a glimpse of God’s glory in you, and if you are honest, which at that point you may be inclined to be, you will be stuck pointing up to the mountain, up to the cross, or up to the heavens above and saying: there, that is where the power comes from. It’s not from me.
Friends, Lent is a dangerous time in the church; it’s dangerous, because if you don’t take control over it, God just might. Be very careful with practicing things like fasting and almsgiving and prayer. Be very careful spending time with this Jesus, because if you get too close, you just might see his glory, and others may see it in you, and then what are you going to do?