Each to Their Own—Our Special Edition Gospels

Prepared for the Ecumenical University Chaplaincy’s Cathedral@6 (cathédrale18h de l’Aumônerie œcuménique universitaire) Sunday evening service on March 3, 2019 (Year C Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke 9:28-36), preached in French and English.

Cathedral Evening Service 2019-03-03
Selina preaching under a photo of her dad’s moustache, Christ Church Cathedral Montreal

Pendant la majeure partie de mon enfance, mon père avait une merveilleuse moustache.  On était iconique.

Mais, après quelques années, il a rasé sa belle moustache. Quel dommage! J’étais inconsolable. Pourquoi? Parce que mon père était méconnaissable. Soudainement, il n’était plus mon père. Le visage de mon amour et ma confiance étaient déformés.

Maybe you have seen videos on YouTube of babies after a parent has shaved their beard. They become distraught because the face of the person they trust who is the most familiar to them is suddenly alien.

It is an alarming thing to see someone you love so changed before your very eyes that you can hardly recognize them.

I’ve been reflecting on this Luke passage since January, and the thing that keeps coming back to me is this: this man, on the mountain top, is not my Jesus.

Au moment de la transfiguration, je ne reconnais pas cet homme. Je ne reconnais pas Jésus.

And, how was it for the sleepy disciples, to suddenly see the man they had been travelling with so altered? Luminous like a flash of lightning! Suddenly in the midst of two others, when he had been praying quietly alone only a moment before.

Probablement, les disciples se frottaient et clignaient des yeux!

Et, après un instant, Pierre dit à Jésus: « Maître, il est bon que nous soyons ici. Nous allons dresser trois tentes, une pour toi, une pour Moïse et une pour Élie. »[i]

“Wow, Master, this is so great! We’ve got you, Moses, Elijah… Let’s start a construction project!” How different my response is to Peter’s!!

I like to think that James and John stood dumbstruck, like me, thinking: Who is this guy? Where did Jesus go? Is this the same teacher who came to meet us on the shore at our boats?[ii]

Because all three of them have been with Jesus since the start of all this, since he returned from the desert and began his teaching. And, James and John have been putting up with Peter’s obnoxious brown-nosing this whole time!

Peter, who’s always so quick to say something, to fall down on his knees, to cry “Lord”, to want to build a frigging tent.

**

Last time we gathered together Kaeden preached a little bit on Luke’s “blessings and woes”, Jesus’ sermon on the plain.

Now, there’s a Jesus I recognize.

We all have our own versions of the Gospel texts, the stories we prioritize over others, the ones that come to mind when we’re asked to recount the story.

If you were going to commission a new stained-glass window for our church, what depiction of Christ would you want the artist to render?

Chacun et chacune de nous a ces histoires préférés de Jésus. Quelle est l’histoire qui décrit le mieux l’image de Jésus que vous adorez ? Quel est le vitrail dans votre esprit ?

Because we all have moments that make us say, “Yes! That is the Jesus I follow.” We all have a Christ that makes us feel comfortable—safe. We all have a vision of Jesus that is familiar to us.

**

But, then Jesus will go and do something alien and uncomfortable.

For you, that might be the image of Jesus in the Temple courtyard yelling at money changers, flipping over tables.[iii] Or, it might be him arguing with the Syrophonecian woman, when he uses the slur “dog” to refer to her and her child.[iv] It might even be the resurrection, like Kaedan mentioned last time.

Pour moi, le moment où je me sens mal à l’aise devant l’image de Jésus c’est lors de la transfiguration. J’aime mon Jésus un peu plus humain. Un peu plus proche de moi. Je ne reconnais pas le Jésus transfiguré.

The transfigured Christ feels alien to me, uncomfortable. I want the Jesus preaching on the plains, healing, praying silently to God because he feels anxious and alone. That Jesus mirrors me; he feels so close—so real.

Peter's Denial by Michael D. O'Brien
Peter’s Denial by Michael D. O’Brien

But Peter, what does he see? He sees Moses both in the glowing image of Christ and standing next to him. He sees Elijah, the prophet whose return has been hoped for passing on the mantle to Jesus. There’s so much in this image that comforts him. A comfort that will dissolve the closer we get to Good Friday.

Peter—the one so quick to fall to his knees and cry “Lord”—we will discover seems disturbed not by the transfigured Christ but by the battered and bruised Jesus on the way to his execution.[v]

The Gospel stories are not about making us feel nice and safe, they confront and discomfort us. Sometimes to a point where we ask ourselves: Who is this I’m even reading about?

**

And then I began to wonder about how someone else felt in this story. The disciples are not the only ones encountering their beloved here.

How did Jesus? Did he recognize his father in the cloud that overshadowed the group? Did it look like the same as the one he saw on the day of his baptism? Did it feel familiar and comforting, or did it disturb and disorient him?

We don’t get to hear his response.

Then I began to wonder about all the different times Jesus reached out to God in prayer, these little moments the Gospel of Luke captures for us. How did he feel praying in the desert during his retreat? Or when he was praying, in agony, in the garden of Gethsemane?

Luc écrit que Jésus priait d’angoisse, il priait avec encore plus d’ardeur. Il dit « Père, si tu le veux, éloigne de moi cette coupe de douleur. Toutefois, que ce ne soit pas ma volonté qui se fasse, mais la tienne. »

Did even Christ feel unsure about the father he prayed to? If he did, what does that mean for us? For me?

Si Jésus est invité à présenter son doute et ses incertitudes à Dieu, sommes-nous aussi invités?

**

This week we mark the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday.

Lent is an invitation to journey with Jesus towards death and new life. We’ll explore stories we find familiar and ones that itch at our uncertainties.

Dans la saison du carême, nous allons accompagner Jésus sur sa route au Calvaire. Nous allons revivre les histoires avec lesquels nous sommes à l’aise ou mal à l’aise. Nous verrons un Jésus familier et étranger.

Notre espoir dans la foi est que Dieu continue à nous rencontrer même quand nous avant des doutes. Le carême est une invitation à contempler cet espoir.

Lent is an invitation to contemplation and prayer, a space where God welcomes us with our frustrations, our agonies and our doubts. Just as God welcomed Jesus, we are welcomed to this place. That is the hope in the midst of our skepticism and discomfort, that God continues to extend herself to us even when we’re unsure.

Human parents often reflect the stubborn love God offers us as her children—persistent and patient in the midst of our hesitancy or rejection.

That is the grace we are offered on our Lenten journeys: a grace to embrace the mysteries of our faith as a gift, not some stumbling block we have to overcome, or some personal fault we need to fix.

Jesus was welcomed to the garden to pray earnestly and honestly with God, and he invites us to do the same.

My hope, these next six weeks is that your Lenten journey will highlight new uncertainties in you, question you haven’t yet asked about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. And be encouraged in that wondering, that a God who is not cowed by our doubts waits within those mysteries to reveal herself to us anew.

J’espère que vous avez hâte à votre voyage du carême, et que vous allez rencontrer Jésus de nouvelles manières cette saison.

Amen.

 

[i]Luc 9:33 BFC

[ii]Luke 5:1-11

[iii]Matt. 21:12-16

[iv]Mark 7:24-30

[v]Luke 22:54-62

Rocks Can Be Hard of Hearing

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on February 25, 2018 (Year B Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38).

Immediately preceding the Gospel text we read today, we see Jesus challenging his students, asking “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter seems to get it right when he replies… “You are the Messiah.” An astute answer.

Jesus then begins to teach his students about what will happen to him, he speaks about rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. He shares how…

…he will not be recognized as a political leader by the established powers…

…he will not be heralded as the instigator of a new Jewish kingship…

…he has not come to take on the colonizing power of Rome…

…instead, he will be rejected, suffer, and die.

Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”

“Surely, this isn’t what a Messiah does?”

You see, Simon Peter, like the rest of the disciples, has a lot on the line here. Jesus isn’t just some spiritual leader whose inspirational videos he likes to watch after work while he’s on the elliptical.

Jesus is the man that he left his family, his livelihood, and his hometown for. Jesus is the man who was supposed to fulfil all of his expectations of political liberation!

**

We first see Simon, in the Gospel of Mark, fishing with his brother Andrew. Jesus calls them, and they drop their nets to follow a man who tells them he’ll show them how to “fish for people”.

We then find Jesus at Simon’s house, where he witnesses, first hand, Jesus’ miraculous powers. Simon’s mother-in-law is sick and Jesus heals her.

If Simon has a mother-in-law we can also presume he has more family—a wife, maybe some children. He then leaves to travel with Jesus throughout Galilee—maybe he leaves his family behind, or maybe them come with him—we’re not sure.

But, leaving your hometown is no small feat, in a world where family ties were the social welfare system; where livelihood meant life or death—it was a serious thing to unanchor yourself from your kin, and Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, spends time unpacking what it means to find a chosen family in Christ.

As he follows Jesus throughout the Judean countryside, Simon, who is renamed Peter, watches Jesus teach scripture, tame demons, command the weather, heal the chronically ill, and multiple bread!

Then we arrive at our text for today. Jesus has just told Simon Peter that he is not going to be the liberator that Simon Peter was waiting for. Can we blame him for his bewilderment? For his anxiety? How could this man, who Simon Peter gave so much up to follow, not be what he was expecting?

Have you ever taken a big risk, only to find it wasn’t what you thought it was? Do you remember the clammy coldness that spreads throughout your body when you realize what you’d done? What you’ve given up?

This is how I envision Simon Peter.

Because, he had good reason to believe Jesus was the person he expected: Jesus had taken on the scribes and Pharisees in religious debates, he taught with authority, and preached a radical message. Sure, he wasn’t from a royal lineage, he was some Carpenter from Nazareth—Mary’s son. And, yes he kept inviting the wrong kind of people to dinner—tax collectors and sex workers—but Simon Peter was also the wrong kind of person. He was an uneducated fisherman from a backwater town.

Jesus was going to usher in a new political reality! The oppressed were going to liberated from their chains of bondage, and Rome was going to be pushed back! Jerusalem would be restored to its old glory!

But here he was, here Jesus was, the messiah—the anointed one, telling Simon Peter that he wasn’t there to usher in a new era of liberation for Israel—instead, he spoke of rejection, suffering and death.

Is it any wonder that Simon Peter, who had just gotten so much right, pulls Jesus aside, to say, “Surely, not like this?”

**

Jesus rebukes Simon, harshly. He calls him “Satan”, which means adversary—but adversary isn’t the only name Jesus gives him.

Simon, his given name, means “he has heard”, but earlier in the story Jesus renames him “rock”. He is the thick-headed disciple, who never seems to get it right. Peter, the too eager. Peter who falls asleep in the garden. Peter who denies his teacher. Peter, the one who doesn’t listen. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go easy on him.

**

Our expectations can cloud us from seeing things as they are.

My mother used to like experimenting with recipes when I was little. And, I remember distinctly this bright orange soup she made us once. She explained that it was called Four Potato Soup. Obviously, it had carrots in it because it was pylon orange, and I tucked into a bowl, taking a big spoonful. …it was awful. It was really gross tasting, and I told her. She was very used to this because she was always concocting new foods.

“Mom, this is the worst carrot soup I’ve ever tasted!” …she looked at me, puzzled. “It’s potato soup…there’s no carrot.”

It took a few moments for the cogs to turn—for me to realize that it was orange because of the sweet potato! …I took another bite… it was really delicious potato soup.

Mark’s Peter is too preoccupied with how he thinks Jesus should be, to be able to see him fully as he is. He isn’t listening to the “Son of Man” statements in Mark, these are the statements where Jesus reveals who he is.

**

Now, it can be hard to read this story and not want to criticize Simon Peter—I believe the author has written him as a foil for us. But we’re watching it all unfold on the page, from a distant place. We have a different understanding of messiahship, crafted from two-thousand years of Christian reflection.

But, we do carry our own expectations of who Jesus is—expectations that filter how we see him. We privilege some stories over others. It’s pretty easy to ignore the parts we don’t like—the things we’re not comfortable with.

Things like…

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I don’t want to hear that, that’s hard, that’s uncomfortable. I want to skip the rejection, suffering and death, and move right on to resurrection!

But, we are in the season of Lent, and in Lent we make space to focus on the uncomfortable parts—it is when we reflect the most on rejection, suffering, and death.

It is easy to become like Simon Peter, whose last words in this gospel account are “I do not know this [Jesus] you are talking about”. It is easy to ignore the parts we don’t like, that don’t match up with who we see Jesus as—instead of wrestling to hear him in the text.

We miss hearing him say that to follow him is also to be rejected, to suffer, and to die—but that new life is found there—an unexpected liberation is found there.

Can you hear these words being read aloud in an early house church, where believers were experiencing persecution and death at the hands of Rome?

Can you hear the words now, as Jesus proclaims that we can be made whole by exchanging the expectations of this world, for those of our creator?

My hope is that throughout this Lenten season, your ears will be attuned to the difficult things—but that by wrestling with them, you will experience more fully the liberation of Easter. Amen.

Love, an attitude of justice – A Reflection on Luke 13:31-35

This article first appeared Feb. 18th, 2016 on the KAIROS Canada Blog as part of a Lenten series. All verses quoted in the New Revised Standard Version.

Reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Luke 13:31-35, I was struck by the image of the pilgrimaging Christ standing on the road towards Jerusalem. In this chapter of Luke, we meet Jesus in the midst of his travels, begun in Luke 9, as he is warned by a group of Pharisees about the danger he is moving towards. The Roman sponsored King, Herod, was issuing threats against Jesus, threats which most would take seriously considering his recent beheading of Jesus’ friend and colleague John the Baptist (Luke 9:7-9). Yet, this gruff roaming rabbi greets the threat of violence with this response: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” (v. 32)

This statement tells us Jesus has no intention of halting his travels because of a threat by the governing powers, a threat of violence, a threat that has been channeled into action in the past. He emphasizes his words by assuring his listeners the work he is doing will be done today, and then the next, and the day after that—alluding, in our minds, to his greatest work demonstrating redemption in his crucifixion and resurrection. He then repeats himself, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’” (v. 33)

He goes on to say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (v. 34) This story of Christ, journeying forward despite the great danger he is walking towards is always juxtaposed, in my mind, by the story of the Prophet Jonah. Jonah who did not want to go, who had no love for the people he was sent to, who spoke God’s words of grace but received the Ninevites’ repentance with indifference. Jonah who wanted wrath, and violence; Jonah who was controlled by fear (fleeing his mission) and inclusivity (his rejection of God’s call to extend grace to the Ninevites).

As justice seekers, in our contemporary context, I often wonder whom we are most like. Are we the angry Prophet who heads towards danger controlled by fear and seeking vengeance? Or, are we like Christ, spurred by love, which fuels courage in the face of fear; a love that renders violence powerless, and refuses to heed the threats of the “powerful”.

My constant hope, and prayer, is that I am journeying towards Jerusalem, a heart full of compassion that will not waver in the midst of violence and injustice. And yet, pilgrimaging is hard, and our small acts of justice will not always bear the fruit we want to see. Jesus’ ministry and death did not immediately change the political and social systems he was fighting against. He tells Jerusalem in Luke 13:35: “See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Christ knew that hearts and minds, and destructive systems are not changed overnight. Although, I like to believe he understood the righteous impatience many of us feel—bred from a sacred desire for the world to be righted.

In this Lenten season we journey as a faith community along that road to Jerusalem, walking beside Christ, reflecting on his actions. We have seen him rebuke evil in the desert already, and now we see him walking towards forces of violence and oppression in the city. As we journey with him, taking time to examine our own hearts, I would ask you to reflect on the attitude you are seeking justice with.

May love inspire in you courage to overcome fear, to seek justice from a wellspring of compassion. Amen.