Last Sunday of Epiphany
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
After many years of being absent in Church services, a former member of the Altar Guild decided to visit her Parish for a Sunday Eucharist. Just before the service started, she entered the Church to her surprise how dry and less decorative the altar is. She started to express self pity that the church has not been decorated the way it was when she was the flower chair for the altar guild. She started singing this song, “Where have all the flowers gone, long time blooming, where have all the flowers gone, long time ago.” Upon hearing the song, the priest came out of his office and responded to the woman’s song by singing, “Gone to garden everyone…” Perplexed, the woman responded, “Oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?” To which the priest calmly reminded the woman, “We are now in the season of Lent my sister.”
Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany. In our liturgical calendar, we are now moving to the season of Lent which begins on the day of Ash Wednesday. Lent is also the season which I call, “Flower break” for the Altar guild. They have been meticulous in their arrangement with the altar decors. Now we are moving to a simple and penitent mode where we begin to feel the sufferings, passion, and death story of our Lord Jesus Christ. It may seem odd that we are already hearing the passion of Christ when the feeling of Epiphany is just behind us. We’ve just learned the short story of how the season of Epiphany reminded us that Jesus crossed the border between heaven and earth for the sake of all families, languages, peoples, and nations. It reminded us that the Gospel work is about restoring relationships, with God and neighbor. It reminded us of Jesus giving us example after example of breaking down the walls of our differences. He eats with all sorts of officially unclean people, he talks to women, he touches dirty people, he meets with his enemies, and he invites everybody to the banquet. Now, He invites us to a deeper discernment on the meaning of these experiences in our lives by opening another door to more specific calls on listening, witnessing, and discerning in the revelation of his own mountain top experience.
A voice from the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” These are God’s words at Jesus’ baptism, but the transfiguration story seems to suggest that there’s been an attention deficit in the meantime, as if that simple recommendation was not enough. There on the mountain, the voice adds a simple command….”Listen to him.”
Perhaps the story of the transfiguration is about witnessing. Witnessing that takes at least two forms: The obvious and more common one is telling the story of our experience as a people of God, enacting our story, making it as attractive as we possibly can; The perhaps less obvious way of witnessing is to listen to the other’s story, the neighbor’s story, the world story of today, listening for God’s presence, for Christ in the other. Listening, giving audience, paying attention, may be, after all, a most profoundly magnetic and winsome way of witnessing, listening for the “sound of gentle stillness.”
At our Friday 7 PM healing service here at church, we spent our time listening from the voice of God and each other. We sang songs inviting God’s presence in our midst and in our lives. After the anointing and prayer healing, we had our own mountain top experience with God.
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him.”
It is when we fail to listen to the voice of God that we fall to the pit of profound loneliness. There’s a saying around alcoholic anonymous circles that “boredom is a personal insult.” Whereas, to give ourselves unrestricted, unconditional audience, defines the difference between loneliness and truly creative isolation. As well with our neighbors must be our gift of audience, of truly listening without condition, without planning our next speech, opening from hostility to a true and welcome hospitality. We must offer such audience to God without condition, by opening up from mere illusions about God to attentive prayer, prayer as searching, inquiring of God to discern how God understands us and the ways in which he has imagined us to become.
Famous duo singers Simon and Garfunkel sang their poetic song, “Sound of Silence”. I used to sing this a lot in high school. Let me sing it to you. “And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs that voices never share and no one dared, disturb the sound of silence.”
Deafness comes in many forms: arrogance, pride, compulsive talking, indifferences, aloofness, and so much more through an obsession with always having to be right. The church is called to be a listening community, a community where the deaf can be healed. There is much in our corporate worship to hear great stories of our long family history and thoughtful prayers better than average hymns and of course, each other with mutual and peaceful greetings, exchanges, and catching up.
But our good liturgy also offers us moments in certain of its parts when we can simply be silent, listening, reflecting on what or who we have just heard or seen, surely awed by the majesty of the possibilities of access to God’s grace. We all come to church to listen to God’s words, to bring before him our uncertainties and heavy loads. When we enter to this sacred place, we do the sign of the cross in reverence to God’s presence. We kneel in silence, putting away all that disturbs us from focusing our attention to the voice of God. It is our mountain top experience when we withdraw ourselves from all the busy-ness in life and come to rest our peace before God. Then we hear music, a very soothing melody that regulates the beat of the heart and stills the wandering of the mind. Then we begin to smile and the feeling of being uplifted is revitalizing our souls, reviving our whole being. We begin to share the God given Spirit during peace, where we share our inward smile to each other. We share our common meal in the Eucharist and are charged to go out to the world to love and serve Christ among others. That is our mountain top experience. But of course we cannot deny the facts that the reality of this world is still out there, for Jesus, James, John and Peter came down from the mountain to face the reality of life where God wants them to be, where God wills Himself to be found. The prophet Isaiah once admonished us in one of his more provocative ways to “Seek the Lord while he wills to be found.” Thankfully, God was more gently gracious to those who waited for Jesus on the mount of transfiguration and for those who wait for him here when he said, “This is my son, the Beloved; Listen to him.”
Down below our mountain top experience is our challenge to seek out the transfigured Christ in the world. We are called to listen and to respond with a servant’s heart and in humility. We are called to listen when our brothers and sisters are suffering, when they are in need, when they are disenfranchised and subject to injustices, when life’s challenges seem to them too much to carry and there’s no one else seem to listen. Down below our mountain top experience is a world where lives are victimized by evil forces. It’s a world where humanity is denied. It is all because humanity failed to listen to the voice of God. Humanity wants to take over the place of God that brought chaos in this world. It is with this very reason that God Himself had to send his beloved son to feel our human experience and to reconcile us to our God. By His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven. By His resurrection, we are restored and now have a room in that heavenly kingdom where there’s no sorrow nor pain but life everlasting.
I therefore call upon you all my dear friends, to take a moment to slow down in the coming season of Lent and spend time with God, your family and yourself. Spend time to take a deep breath and relax your whole body and soul and enter into the mystery of God’s love in Jesus Christ, so that when Easter comes, we shall all rejoice for we were all redeemed by the love of God through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.