Benediction Online

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Today we have come to the last Sunday of Epiphany – the season of revelation – “epiphany” means to come to a sudden and profound understanding. Our gospel readings have all been about who Jesus is and how people around him came to understand his gospel, his ministry and his personhood. It started with the three magi worshiping the infant Jesus, and ends today with the three disciples befuddled at the Transfiguration. It started on the first Sunday in Lent with Jesus being baptized in the River Jordan  hearing the voice from heaven  “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased,” and ends today with his Transfiguration and for the second time a voice from heaven, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him!”

The Gospel of Mark is short and has a sense of urgency. Often – actually 47 times - it tells us that “Immediately” Jesus did this, and “immediately” he did that, so it’s interesting that this short passage starts “Six days later…” Six days after what? Six days after Jesus had asked his disciples who people think he is and Peter had named him as the Christ. And six days after Jesus began to teach them about his impending death and resurrection, ending with the words, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it…”

All three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, include Jesus’ conversation with his disciples about his identity. It is a turning point in his ministry as now he starts to prepare himself and his followers for his eventual rejection by the authorities, his death and resurrection. Just as his baptism was the beginning of his time preaching the coming of the reign of God, so his transfiguration seems to mark the start of his movement towards the cross.

One of the questions about his baptism is why the God-man who was without sin needed to be baptized. We often answer that in terms of his obedience to God’s call – that it was not necessary but in order to be obedient to his calling he needed to fully identify as human and connect with our need for deliverance from the sin matrix.  And when he did that, the Holy Spirit was seen descending upon him and the voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.” As a human Jesus had free will – it is conceivable that he could have chosen to take another route and not be obedient to his calling. But he chose to be baptized and to start his mission in earnest.

So perhaps a similar thing is happening with the Transfiguration. Perhaps this is a confirmation of his self- identification with the Messiah as the one who is to suffer. In his conversation with his disciples, Jesus was acknowledged as the Christ. Then he began to teach them about his impending death. Then he had this amazing mountaintop experience witnessed only by three of the very first disciples he called, and once again God confirms his identity, “This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him!”
And as if to underline that we have to understand this theophany in terms of the cross, Jesus ordered the three men  “to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” It isn’t included in our reading selection, but in the next verse we are told “they kept the matter to themselves discussing what “rising from the dead” might mean.” I am reminded of Mary “pondering all these things in her heart.” God’s ways are different from our ways and sometimes all we can do is watch and wonder.

Why Moses and Elijah? There are at least two different ideas;  one is that since Elijah did not die but was assumed up into heaven, and that since in the time of Jesus it was said that Moses had not died but had also been taken up, their presence is a foreshadowing of the glory of Jesus’ resurrection. The other idea is that Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets which Jesus came to fulfill and so the bright whiteness of him is a foreshadowing of his glory on the cross. Of course the cross was not physically glorious, but all that it represents as revealing the emptiness of the apparent victory of the sin matrix and the forces of darkness over God makes it full of glory. It represents the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation which was started by the law and the prophets.

Moses was himself transfigured – when he went up Mount Sinai to meet with God and receive the ten commandments, his face shone so brightly with the reflected light of God’s presence that he had to wear a veil so that other people could look at him. Jesus’ transfiguration is different – he is completely white. Mark doesn’t mention his face but the other gospellers do. He was transfigured from within. Perhaps he was assuming for a few moments his Christ body – the vehicle for the trans-historical Christ, no longer grounded in the human body but in a totally different spiritual form.

The light of Christ enveloped him completely whereas Moses only reflected the light of the divine. I think this is an important distinction which we need to make in this era of egoism. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” is misleading. The light within us is the light of Christ, and as we draw closer to God so the Christ-light shines brighter. But it is not my light; it is not your light. It is the light of God reflected in us. We are called to be the light of the world, but only because we abide in Christ who IS the true light of the world.

The Greek word translated here as “transfigured” is the same word that Paul uses in the letter to the Romans when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) We are transfigured by the renewing of our minds; like Jesus we step gradually into our full calling as the daughters and sons of God. As we mature, the Holy Spirit teaches us what it means to be the beloved children of God, the servants of the most high and a royal priesthood. The Holy Spirit is as present and active today as on the day of Pentecost, renewing our minds to the extent that we are willing to be renewed.

The more that we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and the more we progress in our own process of sanctification – of being made whole and complete – the more we will be transformed and reflect the light of Christ, and so the more we will be the light of the world, bringing healing and transformation, not just to ourselves but to those around us and through the web of interconnection to the whole planet.

And that is our calling – to be a living epiphany – a living expression of the profound and immediate presence of God in this world. May God bless you with a deep experience of her loving presence that will sustain you in times of trial and will enable you to fully embody Christ’s limitless light and love.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

Question Authority

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 

You’ve all seen the bumper sticker – “Quest ion Authority.” Apparently it was Socrates who first encouraged his students to “question authority” but it was Timothy Leary who made it popular in our time. When Jesus started teaching there were many people who questioned his authority and throughout our readings from Mark this year we’re going to be hearing ways in which Mark underlines his authority. The word authority has the same root as author so it means the power to act closely connected to the ability to create.
In our liturgy we often talk of Jesus as the author of our salvation. This doesn’t mean that he wrote about it but that our salvation stems from his life, death and resurrection. We also wait in hope for the day when Christ’s authority over all the nations will become apparent. That is the day when conflict will end and a new order will be created in which we are able to live in peace, harmony and justice and according to the prophets, even the violence of the food chain will be broken and the lamb will be able to sit down with the lion. He is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – the author and completer of creation.
Yet when we think about authority we most often think of it in terms of power-over.  The authorities are the ones who have the power to make and enforce laws, who make decisions which effect how we live. The tax authorities make and enforce the rules about taxes, local authorities decide which roads will be repaired and how people can use land and property, here in Los Osos we might think especially of the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. In some places the authorities have the power to govern how you think through control of the media and repression of free speech.
That picture of authority feeds in to the image of God as completely external to creation, sitting on a throne wielding power and, yes, authority; listening to our prayers and making decisions about the lives of his subjects from an objective distance. But what happens to this idea of authority if instead we imagine God as a fluid Spirit moving in and around and among creation? What happens to this idea of authority if we think of God as co-creator, working with the circumstances of our lives, rather than pulling strings from outside?
Now the authority moves into the creatorship – the Christ, the God-impulse is that which pulls all things towards their intended completion or perfection – that for which they were intended from the very beginning. The Alpha and Omega.
So the authority of Christ is not that of a distant legislative body or a distant ruler, but the authorship of all that is happening to unfold the greatest love within even the smallest cell, even the minutest or most distant quark. The authority of Christ works in us, the cells of the body of Christ to transform us into members of the divine being. But we too have authority, we too are creators with ability to act and so the secret of the spiritual life, of the life lived with God, is to surrender our authority to Christ’s.
The question that the church in Corinth had raised about eating meat offered to idols is more a question of authority than a question of diet. If they were as Christians acknowledging and surrendering to the authority of Christ was it right to eat food which had been blessed to acknowledge the authority of another? Paul’s response is that it doesn’t matter since the idols have no authority – they are but empty shells with no ability to create. However, he cautions, if eating the meat causes a difficulty for someone else, then don’t do it. In loving community, people’s differing sensibilities need to be taken into account. When we are followers of Christ, when we surrender our personal authority to his, then we seek to use our creativity in ways that we are in line with Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ example.
Whenever humans work together we have to give authority to some people to act as leaders because otherwise we would be unable to move forward. We question authority to make sure that t is being used in ways that are consistent with our values. The church in Corinth acknowledged Paul’s authority as a teacher and leader of the new movement.
The people in the synagogue in Capernaum were amazed by Jesus’ teaching because it was new and different. Whereas the scribes could only refer to the tradition and teach that which had been taught before, Jesus taught something new. And he taught it with authority – with power. He was not just teaching what he had been taught by his rabbis – his teaching came from his own knowledge of God. For him, the reign of God was not a concept in a book but a lived reality.
When we are living our lives with Christ then our words too will have authority because they come from an inner knowing. When you write a letter or a poem or a book, it is the creativity that you bring to the subject which communicates because you have given it your own authorship – you are not just reciting a string of facts or facile opinions but bringing something out of yourself. This was the difference in Jesus’ teaching – he brought his own deep inner knowledge of the ways of God. So he spoke with authority.
People in our time are eager to hear the ways of God taught with authority. Too often they have heard the prejudices of preachers masked as the word of God and so they are wary. But when we speak from our own deep knowledge of God’s love and God’s gentle transformation then there are always those who are hungry to hear.
In order to do that, we need to have a deep walk with Christ ourselves. We need to acknowledge Christ’s authority in the depths of our being and follow the Spirit’s lead. This is not giving up our own authorship in a submissive way, but acknowledging that for us to have authentic authority in our own lives we have to be living in the way we were created to be – in loving surrender and co-creation with the divine.  It’s a difficult relationship to describe, and I think that is why Jesus often used “Abba, Father” in an attempt to communicate the deep connection where God’s authority is honored and his will is listened to, and from that place of oneness, our own authority springs anew.
When we are willing to listen and willing to be changed, then we will be ready and open to hear Jesus’ teaching with the newness and the authority that rang clear in Capernaum all those centuries ago.