The Last Sunday of Epiphany
26th February 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
I will never forget the realization I had in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, as I wandered my way through a maze of tiny streets, up to the top of the ridge that overlooks the city.
The sun was about to set in the west, and the last rays of day were illuminating the valleys on both sides of the ridge.
I imagined the boy Jesus making the same climb as he left home to ply his trade with Joseph in Sepphoris, a wealthy Roman city on a major trade route centered in the neighboring valley.
Did he pause at the top of this hill each day to look back to where he had come from, and where he was going?
Did he wonder if there was more to life than work and sleep?
Did he sometimes imagine that there was something more, something beyond Nazareth and Sepphoris, calling him beyond?
As I pondered these questions myself, I looked away from the sun and saw a rounded mountain in the distance, bathed in the brilliant light of the setting sun.
A peak that could only be seen from atop the ridge where I stood, because the closer ridges upon which Nazareth is built obscured it from below.
That shining mountain was the mountain of transfiguration, the place the church remembers as the site of today’s Gospel events.
I was dumbfounded.
There I stood, on the ridge halfway between Jesus’ home and work—halfway between home and Rome—halfway between a past Jesus knew and a future he could only imagine.
And it was in that place—that liminal, pregnant space—where the Mount of Transfiguration could be seen in all its glory.
A peak where everlasting change would wash over Jesus and his disciples, and where their shared destiny would be altered in one shining moment.
Could he foresee the change that he would undergo, or the change that the world would undergo as a result of his stepping off the path that led from work to home, and instead taking the one that led to the top of the mountain?
There was a powerfully creative tension for me as I saw it on the horizon.
I wondered: What change might I be called to embrace in the space between my normal routines?
What might we be called to look up and see as a community of faith?
I did not receive clear answers that day, but the questions have stayed with me…almost as if the vision dwelt within me that day and has sought to be realized ever since.
Jesus’ Transfiguration was partly about giving the disciples a glimpse of the glory that awaited him and them, and partly about showing them that the road to that journey’s end would be paved with much change.
Jesus was changed in front of them, and as a result, they were changed too—challenged to set their faces toward Jerusalem and a showdown with the powers that be, without resorting to the easy paths of zealotry and violence or apathy and disengagement.
All the calling, teaching, healing, and miracle working Jesus had been doing was so that they and the whole world might be changed into the people of God and help heal creation in its march toward its fullest realization.
The Transfiguration showed them where this whole Jesus movement was headed.
The challenge for them, as it has been for generations of followers of Christ, and most certainly for those of us who are part of this Jesus movement in the 21st century, is that we don’t really like change.
We want the fruits of change without investing in the hard, sometimes tedious work of change.
If you doubt me, just look at how many new year’s resolutions get abandoned by February, and how often people resort to old habits when struggling to create new ones.
Fear and resistance to change is part of being human!
But the strength to overcome those fears and our resistance is what Jesus revealed to us in his Transfiguration
We hold the past and the future in creative tension, and if we embrace change fully, we build upon the past (rather than simply memorializing it) and we keep the future promise ever before us while recognizing and celebrating the changes and mini victories that occur on the journey.
As is often the case, we struggle with the balance between looking back wistfully and looking forward hopefully—and we often run away from the pain of the present moment in which all change happens, in favor of the escapism in the past and future tenses.
On this Sunday of Annual Meeting, I see this same creative tension not only on the personal level for each of us, but on the communal one as well.
What kind of community are we supposed to be, and what changes are we to embrace in order to move from where we are to where Jesus calls us to be?
What of our past can help us construct a better future, with God’s help?
What resistance might we encounter within our community and within our own hearts to the transformation that Jesus asks of us?
As a practical response to these questions, I have asked our vestry to invest in some particular initiatives this year, in the hopes that they will allow us to become more connected and more able to change in the way God intends for us to do so.
We will say more in the Annual Meeting after the service, and I truly hope all of you who are members of this church will be there (and visitors you are welcome to come and share food with us as well).
But in brief, change happens on two fronts— an interior level and an exterior one.
On the interior level, within the church, we are called to be more connected to each other—to grow stronger together and to grow more numerous in order to better share the message of change that Jesus has entrusted to us—and we are seeking to do so through shepherding groups and shared meals.
On the exterior level, outside St. Paul’s, we are called to reach out and help heal the broken places in our world.
This is why we invest so much time, energy and resources in the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, and why we encourage other outreach efforts from helping earthquake victims to supporting orphanages.
We need both as a community of faith, and each one of us needs both as individuals as well.
Jesus’ transfiguration benefited those closest to him, and they witnessed what was yet to come.
But his change was meant to benefit the entire world.
So should ours.
On this last Sunday of Epiphany, in which we meet as a gathered community, let us hold the creative tension of change for one another, and choose once more to follow Jesus upon the path that leads to life.
As we will see throughout the season to come, the road will not always be the easiest, but it will be God’s path.
And it will eventually be glorious.