Beloved and Never Left Alone

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

The written version of the sermon is here:  

As I’ve talked and listened to people over the last week or so, I’ve heard similar words from friends, from parishioners, from family, and even from a person I met in the snow, as we were walking our dogs. Folks are getting tired.

We’re tired of the pandemic, tired of not being able to be with people, tired of having to keep our distance, tired of stores and restaurants and services closing. We’re tired of politics and bickering and we’re tired of leaders who don’t lead. We’re tired of people getting sick and we’re tired of people dying of Covid–or of anything else, for that matter. We’re tired of having to invent new ways of doing just about everything. We’re just tired. And a little bored. And a little cranky.

But here we are, on this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, about to begin a new Season of Lent, which will lead us into our second Holy Week and Easter during the pandemic. Rather than dive under the covers or put ourselves into a chocolate coma (it is Valentine’s Day, after all), we’re here. We’ve come to church—physically for some, through the internet for others—but we’re here together, listening for God’s Word. There’s hope even in our hope.

Both of the scripture readings we have heard today have full, fantastic, dramatic stories in them. And sometimes I hear them for their theological weight: In the first reading, the spirit of the great prophet Elijah is passed on to the junior prophet Elisha. In a similar way, in the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, we hear how the spirit of Elijah AND the power and authority of Moses are passed on to Jesus. And so, theologically, the Transfiguration works like an exclamation point that answers the yearnings and prayers for God’s presence that weave their way through the history of faith, right into the life of Jesus. And so, moving with the flow of scripture, tradition, and reason, we also are kind of brought to a mountain with Jesus, an overlook, almost, that allows us to see across the next 40 or so days of Lent. We can see the rough outline of where we’re headed. All this history of prophecy and law culminates in the life of Jesus. It will seem to go dark in the crucifixion. But it will explode in light with the Resurrection.

That’s all true for this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, but how does that meet us where we are today? Tired, confused, and not real sure where we’re going to get the energy or the faith for all that follows?

Well, I think these scriptures are ESPECIALLY relevant for us today, this year. These stories promise us that just as God gave Elisha what he needed to carry on—yes, the mantle of Elijah, but also a lot of interior and exterior gifts that Elisha wasn’t even yet aware of—God will give us what we need, as well. It might be a memory that sustains us. It might be the felt presence of a mentor who we haven’t thought of in a long time. It might be that call out of the blue. The unexpected note. The interruption that reminds us we are not on our own.

A similar thing happens in the Gospel: perhaps the disciples don’t even realize it at the time: they think the Transfiguration is about Jesus, even as the voice of God thunders out of the cloud, “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.”

But these words are not for Jesus, but for the disciples and for us. They come with additional words of God—perhaps not spoken out loud, but spoken through the lives of all the saints who have gone before us. The words of God remind us, “Jesus is the beloved, and we should listen to him,” but the Spirit of God adds three more little words, I think. The Spirit adds, “no matter what.”

“This is my son, Jesus. Listen to him, no matter what.”

The disciples hear some version of this, as they find encouragement and strength. And even after the Crucifixion and Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, they keep on going.

Listen to Jesus, no matter what.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll journey with Jesus through the desert, through the towns, toward Jerusalem, the cross of Good Friday, and the rising of Easter Sunday. Through it all, we’ll be encouraged to listen to Jesus.

When in the wilderness, surrounded by temptation and doubt, listen to Jesus who put the devil in his place and moved on in faithfulness to God.

When we’re feeling weighed down by crosses of our day, listen to him who carried his cross and triumphed over it.
When we’re facing dishonesty and corruption, listen to him who called out the moneychangers and overturned their tables.

When we just don’t know where the energy or the resources or the stamina will come from… when it seems like everything around us is about death and decay, listen to him who was raised from the dead and brings new life to us.
Listen to him. Pray to him. Follow him.

The Good News of the Transfiguration is not so much about Elijah, and Elisha, and James, and John, or even Jesus. It’s about you and me. It’s about our life. In the stories, traditions, and sacraments of this coming season, our lives can take on new meaning and purpose as we hear God say to us: You are my beloved. Follow, trust, and believe.

May the Transfiguration work its power of us to remind us that we are God’s beloved and that we are never left alone.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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