|The lessons today speak about God’s call
to each of us to be a disciple of Jesus. And of course there are many times
throughout the year where, in one way or another, we are urged to respond
to the call of God. But maybe on this Sunday of Lent, as we continue our
Lenten journey which is really a journey to deep renewal of everything
that it means to be a baptized disciple of Jesus, we’ll hear more deeply
and be able to follow more faithfully what God is asking of us if we are
truly to be a disciple of Jesus.
In the first lesson, you see the very extraordinary
call of Abraham. As I mentioned before in that lesson, Abraham was a person
who was quite elderly. He had lived a very long life in one place and family
and so on. And, suddenly, God says to Abraham, “I want you to leave all
that, let go of everything and go where I guide you.” God made a promise
to Abraham that he would be the beginning of a whole new people of God.
It’s so clear how God says to Abraham, “Go where I tell you. Let go of
everything, follow my call.”
Also, in the second lesson, if we think that
the call of Abraham was something quite unique that God gave only to Abraham,
we hear Saint Paul telling Timothy and all of us that we ought not to be
ashamed of testifying to Jesus. On the contrary, we must do our share for
laboring for the gospel because God saved us and called us – a calling
which proceeds from God’s own holiness. This did not depend on our merits,
but on God’s generosity and God’s initiative. Each of us has to realize
that God takes an initiative toward me and toward every one of us.
He calls us. It is important then to try to see what this call would
be and what it means to have a real change in our lives to follow Jesus.
We get a sense of this from reflecting on what
happens to Jesus and the disciples as they ascend that mountain.
Jesus is, as we usually say, transfigured before the disciples.
Actually, the word that is used there in the
scriptures is a word that would not really be translated as ‘transfigured’
which means you exchange one figure of a person for another. The word suggests
something much deeper as a complete transformation.
What happens to Jesus evokes words from Paul’s
letter to the church at Philippi where Paul has told those Christians:
Have in you the mind that was in Christ Jesus. For though he was God, he
emptied himself and was completely transformed and became human - so human
that he was even subject to death, even that disgraceful death of the cross.
The Son of God is totally transformed to become
one like us. And then what happens on the mountain, the transformation
is reversed and the disciples see Jesus as the Son of God. That same kind
of transformation is supposed to happen to us.
I discovered from commentaries on the scriptures
that there are only two other places where the word that is used to describe
what happened to Jesus is found anywhere in the whole Bible.
One of those places is in the letter of Paul
to the Romans where Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be
transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Paul is urging us: Don’t
be just like everyone around us, people of this age, this world, this time.
But, rather, be transformed by a deep renewal of your mind, of your whole
understanding. God is asking us to enter a deep kind of renewal of ourselves.
The other place where that word is used is
in the second letter of Paul to the church of Corinth. Paul tells what
could happen: With unveiled faces, we must all reflect the glory of Jesus
while we are transformed into his likeness. In other words, have this mind
in you, which was in Christ Jesus. Be totally changed so that you become
like Jesus in your mind, your attitude, your heart, the way you think,
and the way you act. Be like Jesus.
As we go on through the season of Lent, I hope
that we might each day think of someway we can model ourselves more closely
on Jesus or maybe work at for a week. There are many, many different things
that come to mind. One of the things that occurs to me about Jesus is how
he was so compassionate, totally compassionate.
I was thinking as we made the Way of the Cross
this morning at the eighth station where Jesus is being led to death:
He’s already been tortured and he’s suffering humiliation and physical
suffering. Yet, what does he do at that station when he meets the ones
we call the women of Jerusalem? He reaches out to them. He doesn’t think
about himself. He’s concerned about them. So even at a moment like that,
Jesus has compassion and reaches out in love.
There are various ways that we could do that.
I thought of one very good example for us because it is something that
is written about in our bulletin today. I don’t know if you’ve noticed
it yet, but there’s a beautiful letter from one of our parishioners who
is a shut-in. She says, “You’ll never know how good I felt when I received
your card for Valentine’s Day. As you know, my son passed away this year
and he was the only person I had to care for me. He always gave me a card
on Valentine’s Day. This is the first one without him. I just thought there
would be no card for me. So you can imagine how nice this was for me. Thank
you many times and may God bless all of you.” That’s written to our Christian
Service Commission and to all of us through them.
It’s a small act of kindness to write a card
to a widow who lost her only son this year and what it meant to her. It
really is beautiful. But that’s the kind of thing that we have to do, all
of us, each day. Simply reach out to those who are hurting, who are in
need, and be compassionate.
Next Sunday, we’ll be having our regular Haiti
Sunday, a day when we think about our brothers and sisters at Saint Jerome
parish in Haiti. Perhaps, we haven’t really participated in Haiti Sunday
so much before, but maybe now during Lent we’ll be even more aware of people
like those in Haiti who have nothing. So, during the week, we will
make sure to save our alms - maybe through our rice bowl? But however
we do it, be ready to make a donation next week and to participate in the
celebration of Haiti Sunday.
We must now look again at Jesus transformed
on that mountain and think about what had happened just before. As you
noticed in Matthew’s gospel, it says six days after that Jesus went up
the mountain. What had happened before was that Jesus was teaching his
disciples and asked, “Who do you say I am?”
I’m sure that we all know that passage well.
Peter says, “You are the Christ, the son of
the living God.” Immediately following this, Jesus in effect says to his
disciple, “Yes, I am the Christ, the son of the living God. But now I must
go up to Jerusalem and there I’ll be tortured and put to death and on the
third day rise again.”
Peter at that point gets upset and says, “No.
That should never happen. It should never happen.” It’s one of those times
in the gospels when we read how Jesus gets angry at Peter and says, “Get
behind me, you Satan. You’re thinking with human thoughts, not with the
thoughts of God. You’re not even trying to understand the mystery of death
and suffering, and you’re rejecting the whole idea that the world could
be transformed through love and forgiveness.”
What Jesus was trying to show them was that
through his death and by responding to hatred and to violence with love
and goodness, the power of love can transform everything.
This may be the hardest part of trying to follow
Jesus - rejecting the ways of the world - as when Jesus says, “You’re thinking
human thoughts,” the way that we ordinarily respond to violence with violence,
hate with hate, and so on. Jesus says, “No, you must never do that.”
The power of love can change everything. We
all need a deep renewal of mind and heart to accept that and to try more
and more to live that. It is so hard and yet Jesus shows us that
it is the only way to really change our world.
When you think about Jesus on the mountaintop,
many of us might recall the mountaintop sermon of Martin Luther King Jr.
which he preached the night before he was shot to death. It’s an amazing
sermon, one of the most powerful and moving of his whole life. In fact,
in a way, it sums up his life.
He was at a point where he was very upset and
having severe self-doubts about all that he had been doing. He was
wondering if he was making a mistake. You may recall that at this point
he was in Memphis, trying to work with the garbage workers who were on
strike and were exploited and deprived. People were criticizing him from
every side. He had already experienced a very close call where he had almost
been stabbed to death. And on the morning when he was leaving from Atlanta
to go to Memphis, there was a bomb threat on the plane. So they had
to hold up the flight because people were saying they were going to kill
Dr. King. He was frightened of that and he did not want to die.
In this sermon, he spoke of the hopes of his
people and you’ll like these words, “…not only for long white robes over
yonder, but for suits, dresses and shoes to wear down here.”
Martin Luther King was working for justice,
trying to change things for the poor. In fact, this is the point at which
he had begun to plan for his poor people’s campaign to try and go to Washington
with tens of thousand of people and demand what is right for the poor.
That is why he was being so terribly criticized. So many people were up
in arms against him and he was frightened and doubtful.
Yet, as he spoke that night, he went on to
say, “Now it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t matter what happens now.
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got difficult days ahead. But
it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned with
that now. I just want to do God’s will and God has allowed me to go up
onto the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as
a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried
about anything. I’m not fearing any person. Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord and with this faith I will go out and carve a
tunnel of hope from a mountain of despair. With this faith we will be able
to achieve the new day when all God’s children, black and white, Jew and
gentile, protestant and catholic, will be able to join hands and sing with
the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last, free at last,
thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
Dr. King was really transformed and speaking
so powerfully in the way of Jesus. He was ready to accept his death and
still to respond with love - the power of love that could change this world.
It’s a dramatic example of what we have to
reach for, strive for in our own lives, starting with our relationship
with our family, in our communities, at our workplace, at school, and wherever
we are. To always respond to hate with love, to violence with nonviolence,
and to always follow the way of Jesus as Dr. King showed so clearly in
his own life - even matching Jesus in being executed for his efforts.
It’s a difficult call, isn’t it? But we must
pray deeply, fervently, asking God that we might hear in my heart what
God is asking of me. And if we listen deeply and pray carefully and fervently,
God will hear our pray and our call will be more clear, and we will have
the strength and courage to follow it.
Yesterday, in reading the scriptures, I came
across a passage that I think is a beautiful way that God responds to us
when we answer the call. This is in the book of Revelations. It’s an appearance
of Jesus where he says, “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear
my call and open the door, I will come in and have supper with you and
you with me.” So the promise is that Jesus will be very intimately joined
with us, coming into our hearts, being with us, to give us the wisdom and
courage always to follow the call that he gives to us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.