Monday, 25 March 2019

Sloth- Seven Deadly Sins

We are continuing our examination of the Seven Deadly Sins which are the major diseases of the soul. This week we are looking at the sin of sloth. We usually think of sloth as laziness, but that is only partially true. To really understand sloth you first have to first determine the point of human life. According to the saints, the point of human existence is to love and serve God. This has two different aspects. There is a general reality common to all of us, and a personal reality that is specific to each person.

The common reality we all share is that all Christians are expected to worship God, study Scripture (to learn the way of Jesus), pray, be grateful for their life, love others, live honestly, support a just society, and so on. There are certain basic expectations for how we live our lives and to neglect this basic guidance regarding our lives is to be marked by sloth. We are negligent of our calling if we don’t pursue these things.

As well as the general calling we all share, God has also given us a particular mission based on our own particular location, time, and gifts. We love and serve God by pursuing our particular mission. That love and service looks different in particular human lives. My mission is different than yours. Some will serve God by feeding the homeless. Some will serve God by being the best nurse they can be. Some will serve God by serving their church on the Altar Guild, or maintaining the church building, or serving lunches at funerals. Some of us are dealing with debilitating illness and our calling is to pray for the church and the world. For those of us that are fighting depression, just getting up and dressed in the morning is the battle God is calling you to. Loving and serving God will look different in each of our lives because God has a particular mission for each of us. … Sloth will cause us to neglect that particular mission God has given us.

We can neglect our mission by busying ourselves with other things, or we can sit around and watch TV. Both are sloth. Sloth can look like laziness, or busyness. Really, it is avoidance- avoidance of doing the thing God has called us to do. It can be a lack of personal prayer, or personal Bible study. Sloth can look like a lack of passion around spiritual things. 

Sloth is a refusal to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Sloth is what causes us to be the fig tree that bears no fruit in Jesus’ parable (Luke 13:6-9). Sloth is to bury our coin in the ground rather than invest it (Matt 25:14-30).

There is an old teaching of the rabbis describing a slothful person who has the opportunity to study the Bible with a Bible teacher,

“Your teacher is in a nearby city, go and learn … from him.”
He responds, “I fear a lion on the highway.”
“Your teacher is in your own city.”
“I fear a lion in the streets.”
“Your teacher is near your home.”
“I am afraid a lion is outside.”
“Your teacher is in a room inside your home.”
“I’m afraid that if I rise from my bed the door will be locked.”
“But the door is open.”
“I need a little more sleep.”[1]

The emotional side of sloth looks like a kind of sadness about God, or a boredom with God, or a feeling of indifference to God.  If we extinguish every spark the Holy Spirit sets in us, we will soon destroy our capacity to notice those sparks within us. If our ultimate joy is found in God, then separation from God will steal that joy intended for us. And, if our ultimate goal is to be unified to God then sloth is a serious disease of the soul.

We usually resist God because we focus too much on gratifying our own desires and allow them to overtake our spiritual responsibilities. We desire more to watch TV than pray. Or, we prefer to busy ourselves with meetings, or making money, or with other hobbies, and avoid prayer. We naturally want to resist sacrifice, but the way of Christ asks for sacrifice. We naturally want instant gratification, but our spiritual work demands the sacrifice of immediate pleasure for the sake of the eternal.

The grace that cures sloth is diligence. It is not only doing the right thing, but it is doing it for the right reason- out of love for God. One way to make space to receive this grace is to behave as if you have it. Sometimes if you force yourself to smile you will begin to feel happier. If you force yourself to dance and sing sometimes you will notice joy rising within you. Sometimes our behavior can influence our inner disposition. So, begin to do the things you believe God desires that you do, regardless of how you feel about them. Doing this can help to develop holy habits which will begin to become a part of your character. Doing the behavior will also show some of the good fruit of the action which will help convince you of the benefit.

There is a strange thing that I notice within myself. Sometimes I can feel a pretty powerful reluctance to prayer. Some days when I go to pray it is sheer obedience to make myself. I know I’m not the only one who feels that. I also know that after I pray, I feel much better and I find my original reluctance strange and confusing. It teaches me that my emotions don’t always have my best interest in mind, which is why many of the early saints were so suspicious of those surface emotions.

Another way to snap yourself out of sloth is to meditate on the day when we will stand before God and give an accounting of our life. When God smiles at us and asks us to tell Him what we have done with the precious gift of life he gave us and the particular talents he gave us what will we say? … The Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen when contemplating the cross of Jesus and the scars Jesus gained to save us imagines us encountering Christ, 

“On Judgment Day He will say to each of us ‘Show Me your hands and feet. Where are your scars of victory? Have you fought no battles for truth? Have you won no wars for goodness? Have you made no enemy of evil?’ If we can prove we have been His warriors and show the scars on our apostolic hands, then we shall enjoy the peace of victory. But woe to us who come down from Calvary of this earthly pilgrimage with hands unscarred and white!”
 Those are hard words, but perhaps they help us to consider how we spend our energy. Do we spend it on self-centered and temporary goals, or towards spiritual and communal goals.

Or, for a more earthly (and less intense) example we could meditate on how we want our children, family, and friends to remember us once we are gone. Consider what effect your life is having on others. What will your legacy be?

We can build holy zeal within ourselves by seriously meditating on the life and teachings of Jesus. As we fill our minds with holy things the passion will build within us. Music and art can help with this as well. Surround yourself with people who take their discipleship seriously- Maybe join a study group.

Sloth is a disease of the soul that causes us to retreat into a sad apathy about life and God. Sloth wants to tell us that we can have spiritual satisfaction and maturity without having to exert any effort. The slothful person might, at times want to follow God, but is unwilling to take a step and exert effort to follow Christ. Christ will not force us. It is always an invitation. He stands at the door and knocks. Will we turn off the TV, get off the couch, and answer the door?

[1] Schimmel, p.203

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Envy and Greed- The 7 Deadly Sins


Today we are continuing our series on the Seven Deadly Sins- the seven major diseases of the soul and the graces that cure them. Today we are dealing with 2 of the Seven Sins- Envy and Greed. These two can seem somewhat related, and they are sometimes confused, so it might be helpful if we define them alongside each other.

Envy is the pain or sadness we feel when someone possesses some object, quality, or status that we don’t possess. Related to this, we will also feel a kind of pleasure when we see something bad happen to the person we envy. Envy doesn’t necessarily want the thing, they just don’t want the other person to have it.

Envy is different than admiration. I can admire a saint and be drawn deeper into relationship with God. Admiration can motivate me to be better than I am. The Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft says, 
"Aspiration looks up and says, 'I aspire to be up there too.' ...Envy, on the other hand, looks up and says, 'I want you to be below me.' Envy is essentially competitive."

How envy works is this: there is a good that someone has. I am upset that that good is not mine because in my mind it elevates them above me. I then begin to hate them for possessing this good. This leads me to desire their downfall. I want that person to fall on their face in the mud. I am pleased to see the suffering of the person who has that good that I don’t have.

Greed can be related to envy because for us to envy someone we have to value what they have. For example, if we have an intense love for money it is more likely that we will be envious of a person who has more money than us. We can only envy people who possess something we highly value. The difference it this- Greed has to do with a desire for the thing that is valued. Envy values the self-worth or status that comes with having the thing, and we compare their status with our own assuming they are on a higher level than us.

Usually we connect greed to wealth because that’s where many people experience it. Greed is a kind of idolatry. For example, we set money up as a god- we place our hope, trust, and security in it. We believe it will save us from what troubles life throws at us.

Greed manifests in many ways. It can look like an immoral competitor, a workaholic, a thief, a gambler, or a miser. Greed is the inordinate love of money or material possessions, and the dedication of one’s life to pursue them. Greed is love for wealth that goes beyond providing for one’s life and family. It is focused on amassing wealth and not sharing it. … One can be greedy and own little, or greedy and own much, but the state of the heart is the same. Greed leads us to the pursuit and protection of wealth as an end in itself.

Turning back to envy again, we see envy throughout the Scriptures. We see envy when King Saul becomes envious of David as a successful warrior. We see envy in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. We see envy again when we read about Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery and faking his death because their father, Jacob, bestowed favors on him that he withholds from the others.

We see an example of Envy in our Old Testament reading- two mothers are standing before King Solomon and are arguing over a baby. The envious mother is happy just for the other woman to be childless as well, and so she accepts the king’s proposal to cut the living child in two.

Envy is focused on the other person. It leaves us wondering why they have what they have rather than us. Them having what they have feels like an attack on our self-worth. We might feel envious of someone because they received a better grade than us, or they make more money than us, or they have a relationship with someone who is interesting or beautiful, or they have some sort of social prestige we don’t have. Someone is blessed with some good- a beautiful body, a nice car, a new iPhone, a vacation, a new house, musical talent, ... (fill in the blank).... And we can't stand the person because they have been blessed with that good.

In envy there is a twisting of our sense of fairness and equality. Something inside us can't stand that someone has something we don't. It's not fair. Envy hates the idea that we are living in a world where people have more money than us, and are more talented than us, or are in a happier relationship than us. Envy hates that some people can conceive and have children and others can't. Envy hates that someone can travel to exotic places and we can’t. Envy hates that some of us have to grow up without both our parents in our lives. Some of us deal with tragedy and trauma and others don't seem to. And envy hates them for it. To feel envious is to feel inferior.

Envy is essentially a selfish state of mind. Rather than rejoicing at the blessings of those around us, we feel contempt for them. … Contrary to Envy, God calls us to rejoice when something good has happened to our neighbor. Peter Keeft points out that, we are to 
"'rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep'.... [but] envy weeps at those who rejoice and rejoices at those who weep."
 Envy denies that God is sovereign to deliver good gifts to whoever He likes. Envy causes us to be ungrateful for what we have been given, and focuses our attention on what has been denied us and given to another.

There is an old Jewish story about an envious man and greedy man who stand before a king. The king says he will give to the other twice what the person asks. The greedy man doesn’t want to go first because he wants to ask for everything (which can’t be doubled). The Envious man thinks, but can’t stand the thought of the other man having twice the amount, so he finally turns to the king and says, “pluck out one of my eyes.”

Turning to greed now, we see it described in Jesus’ parable.
In our Gospel reading Jesus tells a story about a man who focuses completely on his wealth and builds bigger barns to hold all his possessions, but who then suddenly dies and can take none of it with him.

We live in a hyper-consumerist world where there are forces that encourage us towards greed. We are surrounded by advertising that is continuously trying to convince us that we are in need. We live in a culture that allows greed to run amok. It was greed that caused the near economic collapse just a few years ago.

The system we live in encourages us to be the man in Jesus’ parable who is able to make the system work in his favor. We accumulate so much that we need to tear down our barns and build bigger barns to hold all our wealth. We accumulate so that we can say to ourselves in retirement, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

We are told to be this person, but what does Jesus say in the parable? God says to the man, 
'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." (12:20-21).

Anyone who loves Jesus and has any savings in the bank is a bit bothered by that parable. … We have attached to wealth notions such as security, power, success, and happiness. And there is some truth there, though it is a partial truth. We have become convinced that all we need to make our life better is more money. You don’t have to be rich to be consumed by wealth. Anyone who places their ultimate trust in wealth- rich or poor- has fallen pray to greed.

It is an especially deep trap because it is insatiable. There is always more to have. I read that John D. Rockefeller, who I’m told was once the wealthiest man in the world, once expressed to a reporter that he was not really happy or satisfied. When the reporter asked how much money it would take to make him happy, Rockefeller replied, 
“Just a little bit more”.[1]
The ability of wealth to satisfy all our desires is limited. Like Rockefeller, we will eventually reach the limits of our wealth to give us security, happiness, success, and power.

If the diseases are envy and greed then the graces that cure them are kindness and charity. To some degree these treatments overlap. Both diseases are helped by a strengthened faith In God as the provider of our needs and that God is ultimately where we find worth and treasure. To cure greed it will help to contemplate the impermanence of material things and even our own lives. There will be an end for us, just as the man who built new barns died before he could enjoy them, so we will someday die and we will not be able to take what we own with us. … We are called to use our wealth as something that has been entrusted to us by God. Practicing generosity and giving to charity will help cure us of greed. It is by acting this way that Jesus says we will be building treasure in heaven, rather than on earth.

Looking at envy now, part of the cure is first to realize the irrational nature of envy. Envy makes assumptions about the ability of something like wealth to make a person happy, or give fulfillment to life. It also tends to diminish the blessings we have in our own lives. Envy causes us to compare ourselves with those who have something we don’t, but we often possess many things that others do not.

When addressing envy within ourselves it is important for us to remind ourselves that God is sovereign. God has things under control.

We can also practice compassion and empathy towards the person we are envious of. We can learn to shift the focus off ourselves and learn to celebrate the blessings others have.

We can remind ourselves that God loves us, not because of any good that we possess, but simply because we are His creatures. If we can learn to believe that God truly does love us, then we can trust Him to care for us. Then, we can learn to be content with what God has given us.

The best example of God's love poured out is Christ on the cross in his willingness to suffer for the benefit of others. He becomes our example. When we grow in Christ-likeness and learn to love as he loved, then we will be able to suffer in love for others as well. When we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of others our soul will be free of envy and greed.


[1] Good and beautiful life, James Bryan Smith, p. 157

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Lent- Seven Deadly Sins- Pride and humility

Today we are starting a sermon series for Lent. We will be looking at the Seven Deadly Sins- 
Greed, and 
Sin isn’t very fashionable to speak about. Maybe you even had a little internal cringe when I said we were going to be looking at Sin. Preaching on Sin brings to mind the stereotype of the pulpit pounding preacher. … So why talk about sin? … 

The goal of the Christian is to live a life infused with the life of Christ. Our goal is to have our minds renewed and brought into union with his. … This isn’t to lose our individuality. It is actually to find out who we truly are. Sin is what stands in the way of this union. It is sin that leaves us estranged from God. It is the disease of the soul that prevents us from coming to full health. Sin is to be out of sync with God and the world He has made. Sin separates us from God. 

God grants the virtues as antidotes to counteract sin- 
humility cures pride; 
kindness cures envy; 
charity cures greed; 
diligence cures sloth, 
temperance cures gluttony; 
chastity cures lust; and 
forgiveness cures anger.
Sin starts in our heart and it results in outward actions. So the problem isn’t ultimately bad actions we do. The problem is a heart turned away from God. 

The archetype of sin is the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggested to Eve that God is a liar and that eating the fruit of the tree would result in something good that God wanted to keep from them. When Eve grabbed the fruit we read that she saw “the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen 3:6). When we sin we don’t do something wrong because we believe it is bad. We do what is wrong because we actually believe it is good. We come to believe (even if it is subconsciously) that God has lied to us and is trying to keep us from something good. 

The archetype of sin is the Fall of the first human couple. The root of that sin is pride. Adam and Eve, in their pride, decided that they knew better than God. St. Gregory the Great believed that pride was the source of other sins. For that reason, it makes sense that we deal with pride as the first sin in our series on the 7 Deadly Sins. 

Before we get into this we should say something about our culture’s view of pride. The Methodist bishop Will Willimon says, 
“pride has moved from being the chief of the Seven, the root of much evil, to being the root of all virtue, a positive good to be lovingly practiced and cultivated. … Our political life seems dominated now by the politics of self-assertion, and our therapies are mostly the relentless psychology of vaunted self-esteem. The great sin for us is not Pride, but low self-image” [1]
Our culture has come to value high self-esteem, and has called humility un-healthy. Pride has become admirable. Entitlement is common, and a person’s right to pursue self-fulfilled happiness leaves responsibility and relationships in the dust. The human potential movement that began in the 70’s has placed the fulfillment of the self at the center of a successful life. Pride has become a virtue. 

So obviously we have some cultural obstacles to deal with as we try to define Pride. … Pride is an obsession with the self. The theologian Peter Kreeft says that 
“[pride] is the first and greatest sin because it is in violation of the first and greatest commandment, ‘you shall have no other gods before me.’ Pride puts self before God. Pride loves your self with all your heart and soul and mind and strength rather than God”[2]
Pride is an exaggerated love of our own ability or being. It is the pleasure we get when we feel we have no superiors. It is when we exaggerate our own importance. It is a lust for power- for my will to be done. 

Pride is not something we usually see in ourselves. Pride is especially dangerous because we can even become proud of our good deeds. It is hard for us to hide from our lust, or anger, or greed, but pride is illusive. It is the sin that convinces us that we are not sinful. It is pride we need to confess when we get to the confession and no sin comes to mind. 

Pride can sometimes be a cover-up for feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. The person over-compensates and tries to convince themselves and everyone around them of their importance. … Usually what people feel inferior about, however, has nothing to do with a sense of moral or spiritual lack. The Jewish psychologist Solomon Schimmel says, 
“Although many people suffer from feelings of inferiority, it is not usually because of their sense of moral or spiritual inadequacy. They don’t typically ruminate about how unkind, dishonest, or insensitive they might be, but about how incompetent, ugly, or professionally unsuccessful they are. They do not aspire to greater virtue but to greater recognition. This sense of inferiority and self-deprecation is not what the moralists want to cultivate as the basis for humility. On the contrary, the person who feels inferior about his social status, wealth, or looks is accepting values which from the religious point of view are inappropriate as a criteria for evaluating true self-worth. What the moralists want us to feel inferior about are our ethical, moral, and spiritual faults.”[3]

While pride is hard for us to pin down in our own souls we should be diligent to deal with this disease of the soul. We read in Psalm 34:19 that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, those crushed in spirit he delivers”; and in Proverbs 16:5 we read “Proud men, one and all, are abominable to the Lord”. Jesus’ sharpest words in the gospels were directed against the religious people who were full of pride. He spoke about the prideful Pharisee praying next to the sinful tax collector and declared the tax-collector forgiven (Luke 18:9-14). He said to them ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. (Matt 21:31). He called the religious Pharisees and Sadducees proud hypocrites who like to be seen by others to be holy, but who are inwardly full of sin. 

So what do we do with it? How do we deal with it?... Something that might be helpful is applying the same standard we use on others to ourselves. … We are usually quick to notice the faults of others, but fail to see our own faults. We might ignore them, or laugh them off, or make excuses for them, but we will dwell on another’s faults with more seriousness. We will see their fault as evidence of a serious character flaw, but when it comes to our faults we are more likely to call it a “whoops” and move on without giving the matter a second thought. We have a tendency to accentuate the faults of others and minimize our own, while at the same time accentuating our good. Sometimes we will evaluate a person’s entire being on how they have interacted with us and how they treated us, even though that might be an extremely brief part of their life. … We would benefit from treating our own faults with the same seriousness we treat the fault of others. 

This is one way we might become open to receiving the grace of humility, which is the root grace of all virtue. … Humility is not a tall man believing he is short. Humility is the recognition of truth. It recognizes gifts and talents as coming from God and as working for God’s purposes. This also means seeing our faults clearly and with seriousness. Ultimately though, humility will lead us to not focus on ourselves. Kreeft says that 
“Pride has ingrown eyeballs. [but] Humility stares outward in self-forgetful ecstasy”[4].
 Genuine humility should lead to a kind of healthy self-forgetfulness where we act as God’s agents in the world. Genuine humility will imitate Jesus as he washes the feet of his disciples (John 13). Genuine humility will lead us to seek the mind of Christ, as the ancient hymn from Phil 2:5-8 states, 
“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross”. 

So we come each week and we humble ourselves before God as those who are dust and who will return to dust, but who are also made in the image of God. And we dare not forget either the dust or the image. We come like little children opening our empty hands and begging them to be filled with God’s grace. Peter Kreeft said it this way, 
“Spiritually, our strength is our receptivity, our active passivity to God, our emptiness … if we come to God with empty hands, he will fill them. If we come with full hands, he finds no place to put himself. It is our beggary, our receptivity, that is our hope.”[5]
The humble recognize that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). AMEN.

[1] Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian 20
[2] Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 97
[3] Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins, 43
[4] Kreeft, 103 
[5] Kreeft, 105

Monday, 4 March 2019

Transfiguration- Who do you say Jesus is?

Today we have reached the end of the season of Epiphany. “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning something like “manifestation”. Many medieval calendars used the Greek name “Theophany” for this season, which means ‘manifestation of God’. This season is about how God was made manifest in the person of Jesus, and how he was shown to be both fully human and fully divine. Throughout this season we have read about different ways that Christ has been made known to the world. The season is bookended by two major events. The first is the visit of the Magi to Jesus and his parents. And the event that ends the season is the Transfiguration. … This season has been all about the revelation of who Jesus is. We have seen his early miracles and some of his central teaching, and all of that is about getting to know him.

Right before our Gospel reading today Jesus asks his disciples the question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answer, “John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again” (Lk 9:18-20).

If you asked people on the street who Jesus is you would get a variety of answers. Some would say he is a mythical figure who never existed. Some would say he was a magician. Some would say he was a teacher about morality. Some even think he was an alien in disguise. Others think he is a kind of enlightened being like the Buddha. Still others think he was an idealistic young man who was trying to change his society, but who was crushed by the political powers of the day.

After the disciples answer, Jesus turns and asks them a more important question. His second question is not about what people say, but what they say as his disciples. He asks, 

“Who do you say that I am?” (Lk 9:20).
 This is the more important question- For the disciples, as well as for us. We can spend a lot of time theorizing about who Jesus might be without actually committing ourselves to an answer. There is a big difference between thinking a lot about Jesus in a theoretical and academic way … and committing ourselves to him as our Lord. … Peter, representing the disciples answers, “The Christ of God” (Lk 9: 20).

What we say about Jesus might effect our life. If we say, “Jesus was a kind and idealistic young man who lived a long time ago” our lives won’t be that altered. We can feel free to ignore his directions as mere suggestions. … But, if we declare Jesus to be the “image of God on earth and our Lord and he remains alive even now” … well, that will change everything because what he says is actually the final word of authority on all subjects he addresses. For us to call him Lord, and ignore what he says about living life is to make ourselves vulnerable to the accusation of hypocrisy.

Immediately after Peter’s declaration Jesus begins talking about how he has to suffer, be rejected, and then killed. He then extends this to anyone who desires to follow him- they must deny themselves and pick up their cross. … In Matthew’s Gospel this is where Peter rebukes Jesus telling him that he doesn’t have to die. It’s not very hard to see why. Why would you want your leader to suffer and die, and why would you want to follow him into that suffering?

This issue of the suffering of Christ, and his disciples’ suffering (by extension), is central to these issues of identity- Who is Jesus? Yes, he is the Christ of God … AND he will have to suffer and be rejected because of it. …  This is not easy to accept. The image of the messiah at the time was a kind of warrior king, like King David, who would remove the oppression of Rome and restore the dignity of the nation of Israel. Suffering and dying wasn’t a part of that image, so that’s a lot to swallow. They might very well be asking themselves if this is really the Messiah they believed the Scriptures spoke about.

This is when we get to the transfiguration story. Jesus brings three of his disciples up a mountain to pray. Mountains to ancient people were almost like suburbs of heaven. That's why they are often the place where people go to meet with God. And our modern minds might think that's a bit silly, but when you stand on top of a mountain you can start to get a sense of why people might have thought that way.

Suddenly they see Jesus transfigured. His face is changed and his robe becomes white and glistening. He looks like a heavenly being, which is of course who he is. He came from heaven, he existed before his own birth. …

The Eastern Orthodox Church sees the transfiguration as a huge deal. They see this as Jesus revealing his divinity- Jesus is God. This is It is the revealing of who he actually is. Divine light shines from him. Something hidden is revealed and the disciples see Jesus as he truly is.

This is a bit of a side note, but this is also important to the Orthodox because we are supposed to be constantly growing into the image of Jesus. Getting a clear image of Jesus also gives us an image of God’s desire and goal for our life. There are many stories about Orthodox saints that begin to shine with a divine light. The 19th century Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, was being interviewed by a man named Nicholas Motovilov when light began shining through his face. Nicolas recounts the experience saying, 

“Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: ‘We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don't you look at me?’ I replied: ‘I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.’ … After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!”[1]

The Orthodox see the goal of human life as being filled with divinity. They will describe it like a piece of iron that is placed in the fire and begins to glow with the energy of the fire. It is still iron, but it has taken on qualities of the fire. So we remain human, but are filled with divine energy and take on qualities of divinity.

 … Back to the transfiguration.

Two others appear with Jesus- They see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Their appearance shows that what Jesus is doing is in line with what God has always been doing. What Jesus is doing is supported by the representatives of both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Jesus is not starting a new religion, though he is leading God's followers to a new covenant- a new stage in their life with God. And what are they talking with him about? His “exodus” (the word used in the Greek translated as "departure") that he would accomplish in Jerusalem.

Peter, not knowing what to do, but feeling he should do something speaks up. "Should I set up three tents- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah?" Peter still isn't getting it. Peter might be thinking that his image of the messiah as the warrior-ruler is coming true. Tonight they set up camp and tomorrow they head to Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah to set up the kingdom on earth. Maybe they can even leave out that whole unpleasant suffering bit.

While Peter is still speaking a cloud overshadowed them. Think about the Glory of God that rested on Mt. Sinai and filled the temple- It surrounds them, and they hear a voice, "This is my beloved son. Hear him!" They hear the voice of God the Father and he declares that He has a special and intimate relationship with Jesus. He is His beloved Son. These words echo the words we hear at Jesus’ baptism. The disciples are reassured that Jesus is indeed in line with God's will.

There are parts of who Jesus is that we sometimes don't want to see. There are parts about Jesus we want to emphasize and follow, but there are also parts we are just unwilling to incorporate into our life. At that point we have to ask ourselves what we mean when we call Jesus our “Lord”. Is it just a word? Or, do we actually believe he has the right to tell us how to live our lives. Does he actually know the best way to be human? Or do we know better than him?

Perhaps as we prepare to enter into Lent we could hear the Father's words with a new kind of gravity, “Listen to Him!” Perhaps we can allow those words to change how we hear every Gospel reading as we hear with hearts that desire to live out his teachings. AMEN


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