Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cheer up!

Be of Good Cheer

Our hope for Spring is not in yet another dreary weather forecast for later today and tomorrow. Certainly not. We are so done with this winter. As the old saying goes, “Put a fork in me, I’m done!”. Our hope for Spring is in the signs and portents of the heavens; Daylight Saving Time begins in seven days, the official start of Spring begins in only 18 days, and opening day for the Red Sox is only 29 days away! Cheer up, yes, there is hope!

Of all the doctrines of the Christian Church none is more central to our faith in an age of epidemic depression and anxiety, than the doctrine of the Christian Hope. In point of fact of the Five Mighty Acts of God, the Christian Hope is the final and ultimate hope we have in God. 

Let us review the material class; what are the Five Mighty Acts of God as described in our Catechism?
  1.   The Creation
  2.   The Exodus
  3.   Jesus Christ
  4.   The Church
  5.   The Christian Hope 

In the words of the Catechism on page 861 in the Book of Common Prayer, we read,
What is the Christian hope?
The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness 
and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in 
glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the 

Imagine living with such a confidence. Imagine living a Transfigured life, born anew in the living hope of an abundant life with the Risen Christ, in such a way that all our relationships are transfigured by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

But the present is very much with us. Things did not work out as we had hoped during the Arab Spring in Egypt. Neither are they working out in the Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula as we had hoped. We are holding our breath now as Vladimir Putin and the Russian parliament authorize the use of military force in Crimea. The President of the United States has warned the Russians of serious consequences if they continue to raise tensions in the region. 

There are days when the search for hope, especially the hope of peace is but a very faint glimmer in a darksome sky. Events have a power of their own, and our efforts seem so feeble and human in the face of history.

Whether it is in the matter of international relations, or those more close to home, or even within our own internal spirits, the search for hope can seem at time like a search for a needle in a haystack.

Enter Jesus Christ now onto the stage of sacred history. Enter now the Feast Day of the Transfiguration. In the Christian Calendar in Anglicanism, it is recognized for its importance on both August sixth and on the Sunday next before Ash Wednesday.

The event is described in today’s Gospel. Six days previous, Jesus and his disciples were at Caesarea Philippi far to the north of Israel in what we now know as the Golan Heights. I was amazed when I visited the area during my first Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There at one of the three sources of the Jordan River was the Temple of Pan. Pan was a very popular Greek god in the region. He was god of the wild, of shepherds and flocks, of nature and mountain wilds, rustic music and a companion to the nymphs. Pan was a very popular god indeed.

With this Temple as a backdrop, you will remember Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. Jesus pressed on, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Jesus said an interesting thing then, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

The recognition of Jesus as the Messiah did not and does not come from a theological treatise or debate, or of one convincing argument or another. It comes from a direct encounter with the living Christ. It comes from deep within and in the presence of God made flesh and blood in our midst.  And it is still the case that our faith is founded more firmly on who we are and what we do, than on what we say or what we think. It is in the doing of our faith that we make a difference in our own lives as well as in the lives of others. When we come to our Eucharist today, please do not miss the joy and the mystery of Christ made flesh and blood to us in the bread and wine we share.

It was then that Jesus took his disciples up a high mountain, probably nearby Mount Hermon, 9,000 feet high. I’ve seen that mountain. It is an impressive sight. It is there that Jesus is transfigured in their sight, made whiter than any bleaching agent on earth could make him we’re told, a brilliant and radiant source Light, like that which is spoken of in John’s Gospel. “I am the Light of the world”. 

Alongside Jesus there appear Moses and Elijah; representing the Law and the Prophets of course. These great figures of sacred history teach us again and again of the influence of God’s action in history. Moses brings us from slavery to freedom and God’s Law becomes our Grace to guide us into all truth, and it is this Law Jesus is said to fulfill. Further into sacred history, the Prophets came to deliver all God’s people into Justice, and to warn us that our tendency will always be to fall back again and again into relationships of oppression and oppressed. We will seek other gods whether Pan or or the Golden Calf or the Bronze Bull on Wall Street. Make no mistake, many worship the “Almighty Dollar”, “The bottom Line” and no matter how far the divide separates the haves from the have nots, many there are who will cling to the gods we make on our own. The Law and the Prophets warn us again and again that such a posture will doom a nation. 

Moses and Elijah appear and the disciples suggest they build three “booths” or what we might call “lean to’s”. After all, it gets cold and windy high up upon a mountain like that. 

Jesus is Transfigured, in the Greek he undergoes a “metamorphosis”. He is entirely changed, much like he was at his baptism, and again much like he will be in his death and resurrection. The disciples thought “lean to’s” might help capture the moment. But they were in for a grander bargain by far than a moment or two with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Now they and we live a lifetime with him, in him and through him. The bonds of sin and death are broken. We are entirely changed in our baptism, our transfiguration, and indeed in our death and resurrection. 

Thus we live with confidence in the knowledge of a reasonable and holy in the joyful expectation of eternal life with all those we love both in this life and in the life to come.

Yes. Confidence. Hope. Eternal Life. These great words given to us by the power of God in the Person of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit give us the confidence to live with enduring confidence and hope. 

When Moses went up upon the mountain to receive the Law or when he went in before the Presence of God, he too was enveloped by the Glory of God. His face shone like the sun. God knows he had his challenges day after day, and after all he did for God, Moses died on Mount Nebo and he never got to step foot in the Promised Land.  In the memorable words of Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. “My dear, all life is a series of problems which we must try and solve. First one, then the next, and the next, until at last, we die.” 

I suppose those of a lesser mettle would find such an assessment of life to be discouraging, but not when lived by one with a sense of backbone and character. The confidence and the hope with with Jesus lived, or any number of those we look up to and there are many, it is their confidence and hope that encourage us. 

In the words of the Apostle Paul, we have a more theological take on the notion, “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It is this that keeps up going. 

Yes, be of good cheer! There is hope!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of The Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul

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