Archive for Truth

“Jury Duty”–An Easter Message

Posted in Articles & Essays with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following letter was sent to the students, faculty, staff, and administration of Ascension Episcopal School in Lafayette, Louisiana on Friday, May 5, 2017 in my capacity as school chaplain. It focuses on my recent service as a juror for the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana and how my civic obligation reminded me of the message of the cross and significance of Christ’s resurrection for all of humanity. 

Dear Ascension Family,

Some of you may have noticed that I was absent from the school throughout much of the last two weeks. As our students and my faculty and administrative colleagues were returning to school from the Easter Break on April 24, I, on the other hand, was at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse reporting for jury duty. For eight days, I was one of 12 jurors for a civil case in the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana. Not only was I selected for the jury, but was selected by my fellow jurors to serve as the foreman.

The experience of jury duty was both good and frustrating. Good in that it gave me a renewed appreciation for the law as the system by which justice should be impartial and objective, regardless of any form of human differentiation. When exercised rightly, both law and authority reflect freedom and the fact that all of us are created equal one with another. To have been able to perform my civic duty in the American legal process was, in many ways, an honor to do.

Yet, the inconvenience this obligation caused, particularly in my ministry to you all, was the source of much frustration. Because of jury duty, I missed several important events—the first school Eucharist after Easter, as well as the Senior chapel service, both at the Downtown Campus; the River Ranch Campus’s last Wednesday morning chapel for this academic year; and the Junior Ring Ceremony out at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus yesterday morning. Having had to miss these events not only was frustrating, but also made me feel sad and, at times, angry.

All of these feelings, in some way, brought me back to Jesus and the purpose of the cross. It is said that “freedom is not free.” The author of Hebrews proclaims that Jesus took on our humanity so that by His death He could destroy death, whereby we have been freed from the bondage of sin and death (Hebrews 2.14-15). Jesus’ death on the cross was for all of us, done so that we who now live through Him would no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5.15). The freedom we now have in Christ was not free; it came at a cost that we could not afford. From Christ’s death on the cross have we been declared ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, and free. And from Christ’s resurrection have we been given a new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1.3-4).

My jury duty service helped remind me that Christ’s death on the cross showed just how unconditional God’s love is for all of us and how we are all now called to use our freedom to love and serve others in Christ’s Name. It has made the significance of Christ’s resurrection become meaningful to me in a whole new light. And now that I am back at my office, all of you, the Ascension family, have become even more special to me than you already were.

May Almighty God, who has redeemed us and made us His children through the resurrection of His Son our Lord, bestow upon you the riches of His blessing. Amen. Happy Easter!

Peace,

Father Montgomery+

“Anamnesis” (April 13, 2017: Maundy Thursday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on April 13, 2017, being Maundy Thursday, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35 

Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before He suffered, instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”–1 Corinthians 11.26[1]

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”—John 13.15

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 I was talking with a colleague at the school earlier this week, during which the subject of Holy Week came up, with me noting how busy a time it is for us clergy types. In response, my colleague, somewhat kidding, but also serious, asked, “Why do we have to go through all that? We already know how it ends. Isn’t that enough?”

Yes, we already do know the end. And while we are thankful for that end, in recalling the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday year after year, we do that which the Lord tonight commands: “Do this in memory of Me.” Enacting those events from long, long ago reminds us of “the love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”[2]

Three crucial events occurred on this night. The first was Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present of His unique sacrifice in the Church’s liturgy.[3] It is the Church’s principal act of worship, through which, as Saint Paul tonight proclaims, in our partaking of the Bread and drinking the Cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death until His Second Coming.

Next (and what immediately follows in tonight’s liturgy), Jesus “began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.” In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus, God in human flesh, humbled Himself and became like a slave, displaying pure humility and service. It was an illusion to the sacrificial death He would soon endure on the cross. In Jesus’ washing of feet is found the summary of the Christian duty

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall [also] love your neighbor as yourself.[4]

And lastly, represented in the Stripping of the Altar after Communion, was Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus “was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”[5] It is in His agony that we see Jesus at His most human. Make no doubt about it: Jesus was really afraid; He knew what was coming. He could have commanded the entire Heavenly company to whisk Him away to safety. Instead, Jesus chose His Father’s will: “Not my will but Yours be done.”[6] He knew that He had a purpose to fulfill, to be the “expiation for our sins…for those of the whole world.”[7]

But, again, why do we have to go through all this? The answer comes from one word—anamnesis. Meaning “reminiscence,” anamnesis is a word that originates from Plato’s philosophical thought, describing the remembrance of things from a supposed previous existence.[8] In Christian theology, it refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist, as well as the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It is through anamnesis that we enter fully into the Paschal Mystery, the ceremonies of the liturgy actively bringing into our time elements of those things done in the past.[9]

Anamnesis is the word that is used in the Greek text of Jesus’ commandment, “Do this in memory of Me.” Through His mandate, Jesus is saying to us, “Do these things to make Me present.” His mandate speaks to His relational nature, how He yearns to gather His people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.[10] That’s the heart of what Jesus commands. We are to go through these things in that Jesus may dwell in us and we in Him.

Tonight’s ceremonies render all human concepts of time irrelevant. We are, in a mysterious way, experiencing these ceremonies as if they are actually happening in real time. Through anamnesis, we become fully present with Christ in these events. We see first-hand how “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”[11]

Of the Eucharist, Jesus says

“This is My body that is for you. This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.”[12]

In the Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God

“To send Your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and His Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to Your Son in His sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through Him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”[13]

All of this connects us in real time to Christ. Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist connects us all, one with another, both with those in the here and now and from ages past.

In the Washing of Feet, we see the unconditional love of the One who stooped down to do an act that not even the lowliest Jewish servant performed. Jesus did this because He loves us. Jesus said

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.[14]

In return, “whoever claims to abide in Him ought to live [just] as He lived.”[15] Jesus says to us tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This is what Jesus calls us to do for one another.

We have an obligation to obey Jesus’ commandment. This obligation comes from the fact that “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.”[16] It brings to light the reality that in Christ, all of us, regardless of any form of difference, are no better than anybody else. It forms our hearts in being more gentle, generous, truthful, and kind towards one another. And whenever we fail in doing what Jesus commands, because of what happens at the end, there will be no need to fear. Because of grace, we can repent, learn from our mistake, and be given another chance. “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.”[17]

 So, let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.”[18] In the Church’s liturgy, may we make Jesus present, right here, right now. Let us do what Jesus commands: “Do this in memory of Me.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New American Bible (Revised Edition), copyright © 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] 1 John 3.1

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994), ¶1362.

[4] Matthew 22.37, 39

[5] Luke 22.44

[6] Luke 22.42

[7] 1 John 2.2

[8] R. E. Allen. “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo.” The Review of Metaphysics (Volume 13, Number 1, September 1959).

[9] Ernest R. Falardeau. A Holy and Living Sacrifice: The Eucharist in Christian Perspective (The Order of Saint Benedict, Inc., 1996), p. 27.

[10] John 13.34

[11] Romans 5.8

[12] I Corinthians 11.24-25; John 6.54-57

[13] The Holy Eucharist—Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer B, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 368.

[14] Mark 10.43b-44

[15] 1 John 2.6

[16] Psalm 33.4 (New International Version)

[17] 1 John 2.1b

[18] Ephesians 5.1-2

“Once Blind, Now Seeing” (March 26, 2017: The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Laetare)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 26, 2017, being the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare).

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: I Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41

“He was born blind so that’s God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”—John 9.3[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Like last Sunday, we have just heard a substantially long Gospel lesson, this time of Jesus healing a man born blind from John 9. While doing my study for tonight’s sermon, I stumbled upon this quote from Saint Augustine of Hippo

“We have just read the long lesson of the man born blind, whom the Lord Jesus restored to the light; but were we to attempt handling the whole of it, and considering, according to our ability, each passage in a way proportionate to its worth, the day would be insufficient.”[2]

Therefore, like Augustine

“I ask and warn your Charity not to require any words…on those passages whose meaning is manifest; for it would be too protracted to linger at each.”[3]

We will consider the mysteries of today’s Gospel in two ways: 1) broadly explaining the Gospel’s actions, then 2) it’s significance.

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Explaining the Action

Jesus and His disciples pass by a man blind from birth. Seeing him starts a theological discussion amongst the disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” As it unfortunately still is in many places, there was the view in Biblical times that to suffer from any sort of disease and/or handicap was a sign of God’s condemnation for a past act that either they or an ancestor did that greatly displeased Him. This kind of theology radically distorts God’s nature and not only is it dangerous, but greatly heretical.

Jesus, of course, provides the right answer: “It is not that this man or his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.” Jesus directly challenges the time’s prevailing view. He spits on the ground, makes a paste, spreads it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Siloam Pool. This all happens on the Sabbath, the appointed day for abstinence from all work, a fact that does not sit well with the Pharisees. The blind man does as instructed and returns as one who sees.

The neighborhood is shocked. Some believe, while others simply can’t fathom it. The man confirms his identity: “The man once blind who used to sit and beg—that’s me!” He told them about Jesus and what all He told the man to do. “Where is He?” the neighbors ask. “I don’t know,” the man says.

The man’s neighbors escort him to the Pharisees. They want answers and want them now. The disciples’ question becomes their question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” Only now there are some added questions: “How is it that a man that was born blind can now, all of a sudden, see?! If this is somehow God’s doing, what exactly does this mean?”

The man, again, tells his story. His parents confirm “that he is our son, and that he was born blind.” Then they throw him under the bus, afraid to acknowledge any connection with Jesus: “Ask him; he is of age; he will speak for himself.”  The Jews were banning from the synagogue those acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, for they labeled Him a sinful man for having healed on the Sabbath once before, thus, in their view, not properly observing it. To their charge, Jesus said, “My Father has never yet ceased His work, and I am working too. Therefore the Son of Man is sovereign even over the Sabbath.”[4] 

 The Pharisees’ interrogation becomes increasingly abusive: “Speak the truth before God. We know that this fellow is a sinner.” But the man, for the third time, relays the same story, his testimony becoming a profession of faith regarding the One who healed him. “Who are you to give us lessons, born and bred in sin as you are.” Because of the audacious challenge of their perceptions and refusal to believe that which has clearly been shown them, the Pharisees expel the man from the synagogue.

Jesus says

“How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of the right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light.”[5] 

The man once blind meets Christ again, seeing the visible face of the invisible God. He believes in the Son of Man, who takes Him into Himself. The man’s faith has made him well.

Now on to the significance of today’s Gospel.

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The Significance of Today’s Gospel

 The significance of today’s Gospel is found in Christ’s answer to the disciples: “He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”

As a school chaplain and teacher, one of the questions I am often asked is, “How can a loving, yet omnipotent God permit evil, sickness, and suffering in the world?” I do not claim my answer to be THE right answer, but my answer always acknowledges the reality of human nature. Blindness, diseases, and all other ailments and handicaps and natural death are a result of the simple fact that we are broken human beings.

Yet God does not allow such things to have the final say. Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman last Sunday

“Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst anymore. The water that I shall give him will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.”[6]

Jesus, in healing the man born blind, proves that he, too, as well as others who suffer, are included in that “whoever.” Jesus challenges our preconceived notions with the fact that physical conditions, diseases, and suffering do not come as God’s punishment. God is not a God who has His arms crossed looking down on us condescendingly, ready to zap us at any moment. Rather, God offers us relief with the fact that even through those who are suffering, His truth and good purposes come through.

There is another crucial point to remember. I remember my former bishop once saying, “We all have some sort of handicap. It’s just that for some people the handicap is just a little more noticeable.” We, too, are not perfect, not just “them.” All of us, at some point, were spiritually blind. Saint Paul makes note of this quite well in tonight’s Epistle

“For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth.”[7]

Yet Christ, out of His grace, delivered us from our spiritual blindness into His light. Christ’s love lifted us up when nothing else could. Like the man once blind, in being healed of our own spiritual blindness, God’s power is being displayed through us.

We know all this to be true. We know it to be true because of Christ Himself

“Yet on Himself He bore our sufferings, our torments he endured, while we counted Him smitten by God, struck down by disease and misery; but He was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities; the chastisement He bore is health for us and by His scourging we are healed.”[8]

And being that it all worked out for Christ, it does for all of us, too. I conclude this point, and this sermon, with a story.

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Special Session

For one week during four summers in my former diocese[9], I served as one of several chaplains for Special Session, a summer camp experience for people with mental and/or physical disabilities. It was started 20+ years ago by the now diocesan bishop to provide a space of unconditional love and acceptance for people who, throughout much of the year, were hardly given such treatment. To be a part of this special time whereby the Good News of Christ was conveyed as including them, too, was both joyous to see and humbling, as a Priest of the Church to help proclaim.

The crown jewel of Special Session was the Thursday evening talent show. Every camper performed a talent, having their chance in the spotlight. Some of the talents perform were, for you and me, normal rudimentary things, like how to make a bed and how to tie a shoe. There would be classic acts, like singing songs, playing musical instruments, and dancing. There would also be some very special acts, like skating around on stage and singing a specially composed song called “Christmas In the Hospital Is Not Christmas At All.” No matter what the talent was, however rudimentary or extravagant, the exclaim of the audience brought forth from those campers the light of God’s glory that for so long had been covered. The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile. Jesus was in the midst of it all.

Jesus, the Light of the world, “shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered [Him].” [10] Amen to that!

The Lord hath manifested forth His glory; O come, let us adore Him! Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New English Bible, copyright © 1961, 1970 by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.

[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44 ¶1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John 5.17; Mark 2.28 (cf. Matthew 12.8, Luke 6.5)

[5] Matthew 5.10, Matthew 11.28-30

[6] John 4.14

[7] Ephesians 4.8-9

[8] Isaiah 53.4-5

[9] The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama

[10] John 1.5

 

“Hail Mary!” (March 25, 2017: The Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached during the 2017 Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana Christian League of Episcopal Youth (CLEY) Conference Eucharist at the Chapel of the Holy Family at Camp Hardtner Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Pollack, Louisiana on March 25, 2017, being the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Collect: Pour Your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by His cross and passion be brought to the glory of His resurrection; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 7.10-14; Psalm 40.5-11; Hebrews 10.4-10; Luke 1.26-38

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'”–Luke 1.38 (NRSV)

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Originally, the plan was for us to celebrate the eve of the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) by keeping the Sunday propers appointed by the lectionary. But after waking up this morning and seeing that it was the Solemnity of the Annunciation on my calendar, the original plan was instantly scrapped, the hunt for white vestments was successful, and a completely new sermon was written. So, how providential it is that our weekend together includes this important Lenten festal celebration!

We all know the story well. The archangel Gabriel appears to young Mary and tells her that she will give birth to Jesus, who “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Wondering how this could happen, being that she hasn’t done anything with anybody, Mary is told that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Assured of the angel’s word, Mary says yes to God’s will: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Throughout our time together, with our theme being “The Gospel According to the Simpsons,” we have explored three principle topics: skepticism, prayer, and how good always wins in the end. In tonight’s Gospel, we see all three of these. Mary is, at first, skeptical, because what Gabriel proclaims to her defies all sorts of natural law. Yet, all with all the Hebrew people, Mary prayed for the Messiah to one day come and believed God to be truthful in His promise. And it was from her faith in God’s promise that her “yes” helped bring into the world the Ultimate Good that always wins in the end. And not only would Christ come to ransom Israel, but ALL the world, including you and me!

One of the greatest things about the Annunciation is that it occurs during Lent. In Lent, this day serves as an important reminder of the fact that redemption is coming and all will be well in the end. In the Annunciation is seen the foreshadowing of Easter. So, we are, once again, being reminded: Have no fear!

Another important aspect about the Annunciation is that it shows us that having faith in the irrational can lead to something that is gloriously splendid and rational. The fact that the God of the universe loved us so much that He would come down to us in the Person of Jesus, subject Himself to great suffering and a horrendous death all for our sake, and defeat death so that we, all broken sinners, could be redeemed and have everlasting life with Him baffles the mind. But yet, it makes God all the more interesting and alluring. And the more God draws us in, the more true we see Him to be. The mystery that is God’s love is a most glorious mystery.

And, perhaps, among the chief purposes of Annunciation Day is that it teaches us about Christian discipleship. At the heart of the Annunciation is the response of Mary to Gabriel: “Let it be.” In saying yes to God’s will, Mary reminds us that it is not about us, that we are not the one’s who are in control. Our Lady teaches us to trust the Lord’s will, that the plans He has for us are better than what we could have ever conceived for ourselves. Mary trusted God; she believed what others would say was impossible. In the Annunciation, Mary becomes the epitome of Christian discipleship. Because of her “yes,” all generations call her blessed.

It is my hope that all of us will have the courage to say “yes” to God’s love and will for our lives just like Mary. In doing so, the Holy Spirit will come upon us and the power of the Most High will overshadow us. To say “yes” to God is to be made holy in His sight. Like Mary, we will become full of grace and Jesus’ presence will be ever with us. Let us allow God to transform us with His love. Let us, like Mary, show the world that Jesus is love and in Him can be found peace and salvation forevermore.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

“On Gesimas, the Transfiguration, and Grace” (February 26, 2017: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was originally prepared to be preached at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on Sunday, February 26, 2017, being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima. As a result of human imperfection and misreading the clergy preaching rota, I ended up not preaching the sermon that follows. I offer it in the spirit of putting forth what I would have said had I, indeed, been the day’s preacher.

Readings: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1.16-21; Matthew 17.1-9

Collect: O God, who before the passion of Your only begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’’”—Matthew 17.9[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 In the pre-1979 Prayer Book days, today, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the two preceding were known as the “Gesima” Sundays, today being “Quinquagesima,” meaning “about 50 days,” the previous being “Sexagesima,” “about 60 days,” and the one before that “Septuagesima,” “about 70 days.”  Their purpose was two-fold.  First, functioning as a transition period from the Epiphany season and beginning the countdown to Easter, the Gesimas put the faithful on notice: Lent is coming!  As today is the last of the Gesimas, Lent begins this Wednesday.

Second, the Gesimas, by way of the lectionary, were a corporate catechesis on God’s grace.  They examined grace from specific perspectives: grace undeserved, grace passively received, and grace not easily understood.[2]  With Lent being a penitential season, the Gesimas were a reassurance to the faithful that there is grace and that it was coming.  “For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”[3] 

 There have been some joyous events these last few weeks—the birth of Jesus, His naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find Him, and His baptism.  But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy.[4]

 

+               +               +

In today’s Gospel

Three of them saw that glory.  Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain.  His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes.  Sunlight poured from His face.  His clothes were filled with light.  Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with Him.[5]

The Transfiguration of Christ is nothing short of amazing.  Jesus’ humanity and divinity were on full display.  What Peter, James, and John were witnessing on that high mountain was the glory of the Holy Trinity: God the Father’s voice, God the Son’s face, and God the Holy Ghost in the light.  “The disciples…fell on their faces and were terrified.”  I would be, too.

In one single moment, Jesus’ entire past, present, and future came together.  Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Testament Prophets and the Law, reflected Jesus’ past.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said.  “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”[6]  But Jesus’ past extends further back beyond Elijah and Moses.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God said to the serpent in Genesis, “between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”[7]  And even further back than that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[8]  Jesus Christ is the Word that is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Within Jesus’ past was also His future.  “Moses and Elijah…were in deep conversation with Him.”[9]  They are talking about His Passion, all that Jesus must suffer and endure in Jerusalem.  In this is also our future.  “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[10]

For Jesus, His suffering on the cross was no matter of force, but a voluntary and willing submission to His Father’s will.  The Transfiguration reveals Jesus, who is without sin, choosing to suffer for the redemption of sinners.[11]  “And a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’”  God makes it pretty clear: Jesus is in charge and we, who are sinful, are to do everything that He, who is sinless, says.

+               +               +

“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”  Peter’s wanting to stay on the mountaintop is understandable.  What he, James, and John saw there was the glory of God in its complete fullness.  To use the words of the late great Johnny Mercer, it was “just too marvelous, too marvelous for words.”  Peter wanted this mountaintop experience to last and never change.  But, alas, that could not be.  They had to descend from the mountain.  “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son is raised from the dead.’”

That is where we see God’s grace, coming, yet already present.  The grace of God is an energetic force that cannot be contained in a tent, or a box, or in any other particular place.  What Peter, James, John, all the other Apostles, and all of us will soon see is that the fullness of God’s grace will come through sacrifice.  Jesus looks through death to the certainty of the resurrection.  His resurrection from death will be His (and our) ultimate triumph.[12]  We cannot experience the joy of the resurrection without first going through the darkness of Christ’s crucifixion.[13]  When we do, God’s glory will “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”[14]

So on this final Sunday before Lent, the Good News we see in the Transfiguration, in Christ’s dazzling white light, is that there is grace and it is coming.  “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says.  “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[15]  “Rise, and have no fear.’  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  Jesus Christ is the Savior of all.  By His cross and precious blood He will redeem us and bring to us grace and life forever.

Alleluia!  Grace is coming!  Alleluia!  Grace is here!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] “Lent & the ‘Gesima’ Season” (http://www.historiclectionary.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GesimaInsert.pdf).  Web.  February 14, 2017.

[3] Psalm 30.5

[4] Paul T. McCain.  “What’s a Gesima?  The Church Prepares for Lent.” First Things.  Institute on Religion and Public Life, January 31, 2010.  Web.  February 15, 2017.

[5] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress, 2005).

[6] Matthew 5.17

[7] Genesis 3.15

[8] John 1.1

[9] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

[10] 1 Timothy 1.15

[11] Norval Geldenhuys.  Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 281.

[12] Leon Morris.  The Gospel According to Matthew (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 442.

[13] Stan G. Duncan.  If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Life and Faith and a Journey Home (Lulu Enterprises, 2006), x.

[14] Ephesians 3.20

[15] John 8.12

“Firmly I Believe and Truly” (April 19, 2014: The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter–Canterbury Episcopal Chapel, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama; April 20, 2014: The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day–Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tuskegee, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on April 19, 2014 by montgomerybrandt

“He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said….”—Matthew 28.6[1] (The Great Vigil & First Eucharist of Easter)

“…I have seen the Lord….”—John 20.18 (The Sunday of the Resurrection: Easter Day)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

When I woke up on October 14, 2013, I did so expecting it to be just a regular kind of day. Being that it was a Monday, I was on Sabbath, which usually entailed such activities like watching a black-and-white movie on Netflix or Turner Classic Movies, reading a biography, busting out the old trumpet to practice some favorite jazz standards, or just getting out and about in the town. But my expectation was radically removed when, shortly before 8:30am, I received a phone call from my mother. “Brandt…Brandt, I’m calling to let you know that your grandmother has passed.” After taking a little bit of time to soak in the news that I had just heard, I packed a suitcase, got in my car, and made the 109-mile trip back home to Talladega, Alabama, where the duty fell upon me to arrange, officiate, and preach at my grandmother’s funeral and bury her. “This is what your grandmother would have wanted,” my Uncle Darryl said in asking me to be my grandmother’s funeral officiant and preacher.

February 11, 2014 would have been my grandmother’s 82nd birthday. Emotionally, on that day and the two days following, I was not in a good place. It was the most raw that I had felt in quite a long time and the farthest away that I felt God was from me. While sleeping during the early evening of February 13, I had a dream that I was sitting in the downstairs living room of my townhouse reading, when, all of a sudden, at the top of the stairs leading down into the living room, appeared my grandmother! I couldn’t believe my eyes. She looked the way I remembered from the time of my first conscious memory of her face. She was wearing one of her trademark pantsuits that I oftentimes saw her wear when I was growing up. She walked down the stairs, her limbs moving with fullness of vigor, her movement having a spring-like quality. She walked right up to me and said, in a pristine and clear tone, “How are you, baby?” The dementia was gone! She cognitively knew exactly who I was. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have to reintroduce myself to her. Amazed and filled with joy, I replied, “I’m OK, Granny. How are you?” “I’m doing just fine,” she said, saying it with the biggest smile that I ever saw her have. Of all the things that occurred in this dream, it was her smiling that communicated the most powerful message, for from her smile, I could visibly see the truth of our Lord’s words to His friend, Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[2] From my grandmother’s smile, I received a renewed assurance that everything that our Lord said is true and that she was, indeed, living, raised to new life by the glory of Jesus Christ. After she smiled at me, the dream ended and I woke up. I kept saying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!” No longer was I feeling raw; no longer did I feel God far away from me. From just one short dream, all was made well.

Usually, I find it hard to recount details of the dreams I have, but not this one. It was so vivid, so clear, so striking that it seemed to be more than just a dream, but a glimpse into that of which was part of a greater truth. What I felt my grandmother doing was showing me a form of visible proof that the claim that Jesus having risen from the grave on the third day was absolutely true and that she, who possessed a great love for Him while alive on Earth, was now, in the words of Saint Paul, “raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”[3]Because of my grandmother’s witness to me in a dream, I stand before you, with a conviction stronger than it has ever been, proclaiming my belief that the news we have just been given—that Jesus Christ has risen—is true! The message of the angel: “He is not here; for he has been raised…”; Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples: “…I have seen the Lord…”; our creedal profession: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures”[4]—I believe it! I believe all of it! Jesus Christ has risen and we, who have died with Christ in His death, now live with Him in the power of His resurrection![5] Thanks be to God: alleluia, alleluia! 

Several months ago, I was talking with one of my younger fraternity brothers, a firmly committed atheist, about Christianity’s claims about Jesus, during which he said: “I remember sitting in Sunday school as a kid, hearing all of these stories about Jesus walking on water, healing people, being raised from the dead and stuff and thinking to myself, ‘I don’t believe any of this. It’s just not natural.’” The prophet Isaiah declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”[6]For me, knowing that I am imperfect and prone to the proclivities of sin, the Person of Jesus gives me the ability to trust Him as Someone that is perfect and able to save me from that which seeks to do me harm. His “unnaturalness” gives me the ability to trust that in the midst of all my brokenness, Jesus is the only perfect Source that can bring healing to that which is broken within me; who is able to be my Refuge in the midst of trouble. Because I believe in Jesus, I believe in His resurrection. I believe that all of us have been saved from the sting of death, that Christ protects us from sin’s quest for dominion over us, and, because of what Jesus has done, that we are truly free.

I know that most of what I have said has come from my own personal experience, but let me assure you that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just for me, but is for all of us. Saint Paul states: “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[7]The message of the angel—“He is not here; for he has been raised…”—is for all of us! Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples—“…I have seen the Lord…”—is for all of us! Jesus was crucified, dead, buried, and rose for all of us! We have all been changed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[8]  

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia! 

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] John 11.25-26

[3] Colossians 2.12

[4] From the text of the Nicene Creed as approved by the First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

[5] Romans 6.8

[6] Isaiah 55.8

[7] I Timothy 1.15 (Translation found in the Holy Eucharist—Rite I of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church)

[8] I Corinthians 15.54b-55, 57