O Wondrous Type


Sermon for February 19th, 2023


On this, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, as the Church is preparing to make the turn into our Lenten season and the journey which leads us symbolically both to the cross and to the resurrection of Our Lord, we hear the familiar gospel passage of Jesus on the mountaintop, transfigured before a few of his disciples. They have a vision. It is an experience; an encounter with something mysterious. For a moment, Jesus’s appearance changes right before their eyes. They already loved him and respected him. These disciples had been following him for a while now. They knew that Jesus was a wise teacher, that’s why they were there, but now they saw something else: they saw glory. They saw light, radiance coming from him. They saw power. It was a strange power too, because it both terrified them and comforted them. It brought them to their knees, but then immediately said to them “do not fear.” 

But then they saw something else too, as Jesus’s image was transformed or transfigured before them, they also saw two very familiar figures beside him: Moses and Elijah. Now I don’t think that the Bible had pictures in Jesus’s day, so I don’t know how Peter and James and John recognized that this was Moses and Elijah; I doubt that they were wearing name tags. There must have just been something about them that made the disciples realize “oh wait, I know who you are! I recognize you!” Sort of like walking through a church and looking for symbols in the stained-glass windows that help you figure out the story that is being told. You look for the clues that tell you who this is. Maybe Moses was carrying a couple tablets and looked like Charlton Heston. Maybe Elijah was riding on a chariot of fire. These are details I would like to know, but sadly the scriptures don’t give them. What the scripture does tell us though is that there is this profound moment when these disciples recognize that there is this mysterious connection between this man that they know, Jesus, and these two men that their ancestors knew, Moses and Elijah. There is some intimacy, there is some dialogue between these three figures.  They are related. That is what this vision reveals to them: there is a connection here. Pay attention! God is showing them something.

You may or may not be familiar with the word ‘type’ as it is used in reference to scripture or religion, but it pops up now and then, even in our hymns, and it is a very important concept to understand, not just for when you are reading the Bible, but also to help you see God at work in your daily life. 

“O wondrous type, o vision fair of glory that the church may share” we sang in our opening hymn this morning. Type. There is also the old Latin hymn Tantum Ergo that we sing at special services here that celebrate the Eucharist: “Therefore we before him bending, this great sacrament revere. Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here.” Types and shadows. So, what is a type? What does that word mean in this context? 

Well, I don’t usually use props in the pulpit, but in this case, I think it is genuinely helpful to use a visual. We all know what this is. It is an arrow. An arrow is a symbol or a sign that points you in a direction. It says to you, “go this way,” or “go that way.” We see arrows all the time. Our lives are filled with arrows that guide us and direct us. They point us to where we want to go and hopefully move us away from places we don’t want to go. They show us the way. Well, the easiest way to understand a type, is to think of it as an arrow. A type is a symbol that points you in a direction. A type is revealing something to you. It is directing you to something else. 

Our scriptures are filled with types; symbols that direct. Scriptural passages that point you to other scriptural passages. Arrows. For Christians, what all these arrows are ultimately pointing to is God. Specifically, the God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ. The arrows are revelations of God, that point us to the supreme revelation of God in Jesus. Sometimes those arrows are people, great heroes of the Bible: Jonah, Moses, Elijah, Joshua, Noah. All of them, in their own way, arrows pointing to God. Jonah calling the people of Ninevah to repentance and offering them God’s forgiveness. Moses and Joshua, leading God’s people out of slavery into the promised land. Elijah, calling the dead to life. Noah, saving humanity by carrying them through the waters. All in their own way, these figures pointed to what God was going to do in Jesus, but they also reveal to us little glimpses of who our God is, and what he is like and what he is up to. Beginning with those three disciples on the mountaintop, the early Christians looked back at their scriptures, their history and their faith, and they began to realize that all along the way there had been these arrows, symbols, that had been directing them to Jesus. Before Jesus was ever born, God had been revealing himself to his people. Showing them his character. Peter and James and John had this great moment of revelation, but part of that revelation was the realization that God has been directing and guiding and pointing us to himself all along. 

And see, part of what is amazing about types, is that they are each encounters with God. It is as if every time you find one of these arrows in scripture, it is being held in God’s hand. God is directing YOU to where he is. God is revealing himself to YOU. Not just to the people in Ninevah, or the Hebrews in Egypt, or to people living in distant lands and ancient times. God is revealing himself to you. You are being given the chance to see Jesus for who he really is, just like those disciples on the mountaintop. 

Some of the early Christian leaders believed that the world could be filled with types. Not just the scriptures, but the world you and I live in today. I’m inclined to think they were right. Who is to say, if you encounter someone or something that points you to God in Jesus Christ, well who is to say that you haven’t just had an encounter with God? Who is to say that God isn’t constantly trying to point us and direct us and guide us along the way? The way, of course, which leads to him. That is after all, where God is leading us. God is leading us to himself. God is pointing us to himself. Our opening hymn this morning reminds us, that this isn’t just about the past; it is about the future as well. When these arrows point us to Jesus, when they show us the face of God, they show us the Father who will someday hold us in perfect peace. 

With shining face and bright array, Christ deigns to manifest today

What glory shall be theirs above, who joy in God with perfect love.



Sermon for February 5th, 2023

Annual Meeting Sunday


I received a love note from the altar guild last week. It was stuck to my computer screen and read simply: Holy Water. It was a gentle reminder to me that we were running out of Holy water in the sacristy and that I needed to bless some more. Now of course, because I think antiquated rituals are the best kind, the blessing that I use to make holy water here is a very bold one. Not just old…bold. It doesn’t mince words about casting out demons and evil spirits, and it confidently proclaims that there is power, real spiritual power, in blessing things in Christ’s name. I like that. When it comes to our own power and abilities and understanding and righteousness, we Christians are called to be humble; but when it comes to Christ’s power, we don’t need to be humble. We need to be bold. And that holy water blessing is bold. 

And a funny thing if you have never observed it, the blessing also involves salt. Quite a lot of salt actually. When you make holy water in this very traditional way, you mix salt with it. You exorcise (yes, exorcise!) the salt, then you bless it. You exorcise the water, then you bless that. Then you mix the salt and the water together, and bless the whole lot of it again. Now there is some biblical symbolism to this mixture of salt and water. Elisha the prophet cast salt into water in the second book of kings to purify it and give it healing properties. But pouring salt into the water also has a very practical benefit: it is a preservative. Salt keeps things from growing in the water that you would rather not have growing. Leave some untreated fresh water in a container for a few weeks and you will see what I mean. It can be pretty gross. But throw in some salt and the bacteria and algae just have a harder time growing. I love it when the physical world and the spiritual world intersect like that. The salt isn’t just a symbol; it properties are real.

Salt meant something to our ancestors that I fear we are losing touch with. It has gotten a bad rap lately. We think of salt as something that is bad for us, that we should avoid, but the truth is, without salt we would all be dead. Salt isn’t just something you sprinkle on your French fries, it is an essential nutrient. Our bodies need it. And before we had refrigeration, we had salt. Salt preserves food. Ham, bacon, salami, corned beef, pickles, sauerkraut, and almost everything that comes in a can or a jar, is salted. The salt makes the good stuff taste better, but it also makes it harder for the bad stuff to grow. That is part of the essential nature of salt. It enhances AND it preserves. It increases flavor and it decreases contaminants.

Now, I have about a dozen different types of salt in my kitchen cabinet. They weren’t all expensive, and I’m not trying to brag here about being extravagant or having super refined tastes. For the record, I have a box of cheap generic iodized table salt that I use all the time. But as someone who loves food and loves to cook, over the years I have discovered the great diversity of salts in the world and their different characteristics and uses. So in addition to table salt I have kosher salt, and sea salt. And even sea salt has different types: there is fine salt from the Red sea, coarse salt from the French Mediterranean. There is pink Himalayan salt, pink Hawaiian salt, Dead Sea salt, grey salt, black salt, smoked salt, celery salt, garlic salt, truffled salt. I think Maldon flaked salt is one of my favorites. Different salts have different qualities and uses, but they all have that essential nature of enhancing and preserving. If salt doesn’t do at least one of those things, then it is completely useless. It doesn’t matter how many types of salt there are, if they aren’t each in their own way salty, then they aren’t good for anything. There is a reason why we don’t go around sprinkling beach sand on our food: it wouldn’t do anything. It wouldn’t enhance or preserve, it would just be gritty and gross. Salt changes things. That is why we use it. 

What does church do? Does belief in God change your life in any way? Does Christianity make life richer and more beautiful? Does faith in Jesus help to inhibit the growth of some dangerous things? What is it good for?

In our gospel this morning Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth. They would have understood that he was referring to something that is vital; an essential element of life. Something of great value and great use. He wasn’t just talking about a little salt shaker on the table that maybe you use to give your dinner a little extra flavor, but probably should avoid. Salt, real salt, was a powerful life-giving, life-preserving thing. It changes things. But then Jesus poses an interesting question: what happens when salt loses its saltiness? If it doesn’t enhance flavor, if it doesn’t preserve, if it doesn’t change anything at all and essentially becomes like sand, then what would you do with it? Well you would just throw it out of course. It’s not good for anything. What happens if Christianity loses its life-changing power? 

What good is a Christian that doesn’t believe in God or a church that doesn’t pray? What good is it to be vaguely ‘spiritual’ if you don’t actually demonstrate or experience any of the actual fruits of the spirit in your life? You remember what the fruit of the spirit is, don’t you? Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. If you don’t have any of that in your life, then why on earth would anyone be interested in the God you worship or the church you attend? If you don’t believe that your God has the power to change things, and if faith doesn’t have any real effect on your life, then why should anyone else bother with it? 

Jesus also called his disciples the light of the world. He told them to let their light shine before the world. How does that light shine? Through Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. The fruit of the spirit is the saltiness of the Christian life. It enhances it. It flavors our lives with purpose and meaning. It inhibits the growth of some things that don’t have any business in our lives. The fruit of the spirit is the light in our lives that other people see that draws them to give glory, not to us, but to our God. None of this is for us or about us. It is for and about God. There are probably more types of Christians and churches in the world than there are types of salt, each may have their own unique characteristics and uses, but underneath the differences should be the same essential element of a living relationship with Jesus Christ that changes us; a relationship that both enhances life and preserves it. 

Our style of worship here and the way we do things here in this church, it’s not going to be for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. There will always be some people who just don’t get us. That’s ok. We don’t need to be like everyone else. What we need to be is salty, bold, a bright light to others. We need to be people who have faith not in our own abilities and plans, but in a God that has power to change things, and bless things, and heal things, and yes even cast down demons with water blessed in his name. We aren’t called to be perfect. We aren’t called to be everything to everyone. We aren’t called to have all the answers. We aren’t called to save the world, but we are called to be a people whose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and a witness to the savior who does.