Final Sunday of Epiphany


Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God,

Fall down before Him.

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God,

And worship Him upon His holy hill.


Some years ago, I read Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.” Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, lived during the years of the Nazi regime and strongly opposed it. For his efforts he was imprisoned for several years and finally executed by the Nazi’s in the last days of World War II. In reading this book I would ask myself what would I do in a similar situation? What would I have done if I had been him? How would I resist – or would I even resist –if such an evil were to come to power?

In the days before completing this message there has been much talk that Russia may annex the parts of Ukraine it has not previously taken. I’m writing this message about a week before today. I’m guessing that by the time I do bring this message there is a good chance that Russia will have started the war. My further guess – and dread – is that there will be considerable destruction, injury and loss of life.

So how does one go about normal, day-to-day routines in the face of that?

Well, I guess we will find out.

Our Old Testament reading recounts Moses bringing the Tablets of the Law down from Mt. Sinai after having received them from God:

“Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin on his face shone because he had been talking with God…”

Our Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke tells of Jesus Transfiguration:

“Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. …Just as [the two men] were leaving…, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone….”

I would add one other reading, this from the Gospel of John, 20:17. Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb after Jesus’ Resurrection. In the early morning darkness, she meets someone she assumes is the gardener: this “someone” speaks to her:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father….’

I guess what these three readings have in common is that they are “hints and guesses” about the presence of what might be called something beyond the ordinary, beyond the human, among us. Moses receives the commandments from God – “talks to God” – and that visitation physically affects him – his face “shines.” Three of Jesus’ closest disciples go with him on the mountain – and his appearance physically changes – and there are two men with him that the three “know” to be Moses and Elijah, and, finally, Mary Magdalene encounters Jesus after his Resurrection, and in her joy would hug him, and Jesus says to Mary, “Do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father…”

Peter – the one who seems to be always be getting in trouble for what he says – opens his mouth – and then immediately realizes this is one time he needs to keep it shut. This is really one of those times he doesn’t need to say anything. Yet it’s one of those honest details that suggests this is a story about something that actually happened, something that is real, that we, too, probably should not get carried away in volunteering “what all this means” beyond the plain words the Gospel has given us.

These readings are, I think are at best what might be called “hints and guesses.”

“Hints and guesses” is a phrase I have borrowed from the poet, T. S. Eliot. And for us on this side of the great Divide these words are about the best we are going to have to approach any understanding of the Holy and Divine in our life here on earth. They are “hints and guesses” of the coming into our life as humans on earth of what we can only describe as a great mystery and the evidences of the Holy and Divine.

Some may have noticed that I have not talked about the second story in our Gospel reading. The lectionary even indicates that it is an “optional” reading. Among other things that allows the preacher on this particular day to not include this reading with the first part of our Gospel reading.

That would be a shame in my view.

The first part of our Gospel reading talks about a great and holy “Mountain-top” experience of which three of Jesus closest disciples are witness.

The second story tells what happens the next day after the mountain-top experience.

The next day Jesus and the three come down the mountain, there to be met by a large crowd. Apparently, a loud, noisy crowd. One man shouts from the crowd, “Teacher, I beg you – look at my son; my only child. Suddenly a spirit will seize him, and he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not.”

Not in the best mood and not the kindest reply, Jesus replies, ‘you faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and put up with you/’The words of the old creed say Jesus is “fully God and fully Human.” Here, maybe our first reaction to these words is that they suggest that Jesus is fully human – in his irritation and exasperation.

But then the Son of God, the Holy One, quickly says,

“Bring your son here!”

On the way to Jesus, the demon throws the boy down to the ground in convulsions.

Even if you had never heard this story, you know how it will end:

Jesus lovingly takes the little boy in his arms, calms him, smiles at him… and as our reading continues:

” Jesus healed the boy and gave him back to his father.”

What are we to make of these stories?

What are we to make of this one we call Jesus?

He was a man. He was a teacher. His words, his insights as a teacher challenge us to this day as a radical insight into how we are to live together, how we are to love one another. Words we heard as recently as last Sunday – his Sermon on a Level Plain.

Soon we will recite words from our creed:

“We believe in one God…

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

The only Son of God,

God from God, Light from Light…

And this is the great paradox – the great mystery. He is both fully human and fully God. It is not logical; it is not rational. It is a great Epiphany – maybe that is why we read this story on our last Sunday of Epiphany. That God Himself in the form of the Son, has Himself visited us. And the good news is that He loves us, He wants the best for us. And that sometimes when we scream, we holler, we hurt, we are broken, we are lost…He would take us in His arms as He took that little hurting child in the midst of the crowd at the foot of the mountain… and He would love us and He would heal us.

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God,

Fall down before Him.

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God,

And worship Him upon His Holy Hill.