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

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We, of little faith

This sermon was prepared for the Trinity United Church, Montréal’s for Sunday, October 15th, 2017. The scripture reading it is based on is Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6,19-23 (Year A, Proper 23).

This Exodus story always reminds me of Peter, who, on seeing Jesus walking on water jumps out of the boat, rushing towards him.

But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”[i]

Anyone who has felt bold enough to get on an especially steep roller coaster or an especially long zip-line, and then immediately regrets that decision when faced with the drop, knows what I mean.

When everything is going well, it is so easy to have faith. There’s nothing at risk, everything is good. The line looks sturdy enough…the cars will stop at the red light…it’s a safe bet…. We make countless decisions in our life based on the fact that we, more than trust, the outcome—we are darn sure of what it’ll be.

But, it’s an entirely different matter when what’s important to us is at risk.

It’s in those times when we can’t see or feel something secure, where there isn’t anything that seems sturdy enough to rely on when we really have to bring out our faith and see if it’s enough.

I had the privilege of working as a chaplain at the Halifax Infirmary this past summer, and I talked with patients and families about this exact issue. In crisis, we see what our faith is made of, and sometimes it isn’t enough to get us through hard times.

When senseless violence takes place, or an unexpected diagnosis comes our way, our beliefs can get rocked. Because what we’re living doesn’t match up with how we’ve seen the world so far—the story doesn’t fit anymore.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

The people in Exodus had been very patient. I know they often seem whiney when we read their stories, but we also know how it will all work out in the end. They don’t.

Here they are, in the middle of nowhere, alone and scared. We’ve read how they left an oppressive, but somewhat comfortable place, to follow this crazy man into the wilderness, where they’ll wander around in literal circles with the hope of reaching a “promised land”.

They left behind a life of “certainty”, not a great life but a certain one, for a future based on hope. Where we’re reading today, that hope has yet to be fulfilled. Instead, they got a bunch of rules, at Mount Sinai, and their leader, who wandered up the mountain to talk to this new unfamiliar God and has left them all alone with no more instructions.

So, in the face of uncertainty and discomfort, they revert back to what they know best—they go to the second-in-command, Aaron, and they say, “Look, buddy, Moses left us high and dry, and we need something. Something to believe in.” So, Aaron makes them a god, not unlike other gods they would have come across—something familiar and safe to believe in.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

I have met people who put their faith in the power of medicine, the hands of doctors, the power of prayer, of nature, and the power of their own minds. Some of these folks are able to articulate this clearly and easily, and others might not have used the language I’m using, but they spoke about hopes and certainties.

I have met people who have regurgitated things they thought they were supposed to have faith in. But, were filled with fear and dread, because those ideas, of the world and of God, weren’t strong enough, or real enough to bring them peace.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

I would love to tell you, that when I’m faced with crisis I meet it with total confidence in God’s goodness. No doubts, just total unquestioning dependence on God. But that would be a bold-faced lie.

My faith has been tested, and will likely be tested again, by the circumstances of my life. And, I’m not ashamed to say that at times my faith has been found wanting. At other times, there have been parts of it that have held fast—that have held me up. These are what I call my life preservers.

Life preservers are the little snippets of belief that have always stayed with me—the stuff that works. When I’m struggling I try to reflect on who I truly believe God is and what I see God doing in my life. Then, I try to weed out all the stuff that doesn’t mesh with God’s character as I’ve seen it in our scriptures, our communal tradition, and in my own life.

Even if someone has spent my entire life trying to convince me otherwise.

There’s a really fancy word for this type of work, and it’s constructive theology—it’s very “in” right now so you may hear different writers and ministers talking about it. But, it just means you’ve thought about who God is and whether other parts of your belief system align with that. It’s about finding a way of talking about God that is consistent with God’s character as revealed to us.

When everything is on the line—what do you have faith in?

Our faith, is made up of the things that we sincerely believe are important or true. And, it informs the way we live. How we make moral choices. Our personal and work ethics. Our faith sets the stage for how we receive the wonders and tragedies of our lives.

Sometimes we find ourselves repeating lines, like platitudes, even though we might not believe them.

God never gives you more than you can handle.

God must just be testing you.

God just wants to teach you a lesson.

But, are these ideas consistent with the God we know from scripture and personal experience? What has your experience taught you about who God is and isn’t.

All that reflection is the work of theology—you’re all theologians when you reflect on the character of God. And know, doubting and questioning is what we’re built to do. We see countless stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Testament showing our ancestors in the faith doing just that.

Jesus said to Peter, “Why did you doubt?” I love that question because he’s calling him into self-reflection. He’s asking him about where the fear came from, what about his beliefs wasn’t enough to hold him up.

When you’re in crisis, and your stomach drops, what are those things you struggle to believe in? And, what has your experience taught you about who God is? Is there a disconnect there?

And, what are your life preservers? The ideas that support you in difficult times? What keeps calling you back to God? Do you always come back to God’s love, God’s grace, or God’s compassion?

For me, I always hear a call back to peace. That has been a defining experience in my journey—Christ, for me, will always first and foremost be the Prince of Peace, the nonviolent revolutionary, the God of the Sabbath Day.

I invite you to take a few moments to reflect, for yourself, on who God is. And, do so knowing that God, and Jesus the Anointed, are big enough to handle all of our doubts, all of our questions—waiting, as ever, to reveal their character more fully to us.

Amen.

[i] Matt. 14:30-31, NRSV