Sunday, February 11, 2024 – Last Epiphany

Category: Weekly Sermons

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6;

2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

Timing is everything. As a story-telling device it furthers the suspense. Boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, boy falls for girl and they keep waiting for just the right time to express their feelings missing opportunity after opportunity until finally, the folly of love is realized. Shakespeare’s Midsummers Night Dream uses this device to weave a tale of mischance and misfortune of star-crossed lovers that has entertained and entreated audiences for five hundred years and never seems to grow old. 

Timing is more than a rhetorical device; it is a truth that can have significant implications for how our lives unfold. If you wrecked the car as a teenager, you might understand what I am talking about—you certainly want to tell your parents before they actually see the damage, but you also want to make sure they are in a good frame of mind when you do so. Or, if you decide to ask your boss for a raise, you know it’s better to do so when you’ve done something worthy AND your boss is in a good mood. Actors, entrepreneurs, politicians all know that the success of something is related to when it happens. Learning that discretion is part of what makes a person successful in their professional and personal life.

Timing matters in history as well. As we look back to the things which have transformed civilization, we can see how timing played a role—not necessarily in direct cause and effect relationship but through shifts in systems and thinking and the ways in which people begin to understand and relate to the world around them. Movements happen that way. One need only consider a tired woman’s desire to sit down on a bus, sparking a shift in society with enormous implications. Rosa Parks didn’t change the course of history on her own, but the timing of her simple act of defiance could not have been better.

The story of the Transfiguration is a matter of good timing. Not the kind of rhetorical timing that makes a good story, or even an individual’s timing that is a marker of success, but the kind of timing in history that points toward the something big that is about to happen.

In Mark’s Gospel, the story of the Transfiguration happens about midway through the telling of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus, Peter, James, and John will descend from the mountain and turn toward Jerusalem—they will point toward the something big that is about to happen—Jesus will turn is face toward the cross. Jesus’ mission and ministry will become more intentional in the training of his disciples. And though he will continue to heal and perform miracles, it is his words and actions of sacrificial love that will draw him to the cross. It is almost as if Jesus’ passes through the gate of transfiguration on his journey from baptism to crucifixion.

On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we always read the story of Jesus’ baptism. Today, the last Sunday of this season after the Epiphany, we always read the story of the Transfiguration as we prepare our hearts for Lent. The stories of Jesus on these two Sundays and all the Sundays in between tell of the divinity of Christ, the revelation of the beloved Son of God. They are revelations as to the true nature of Jesus—fully man and fully divine. The transfiguration becomes a gate that we pass through as we turn toward Good Friday. It is a high, holy moment historically, seasonally, and liturgically. In this moment of revelation, we are offered a witness to something more than we can understand and bigger than we can appreciate; something that affords us hope in the shadowy days of Lent that lie before us and the turning of our own hearts toward Jerusalem.

Rosa Parks’ story was not her own—even if her timing was. She sat down when told to stand up and transformed laws that had kept her people oppressed. She sparked a movement that created giants. But those Civil Rights giants were not the first, there were those who had gone before them that gave witness to their hope of transforming the world. The Episcopal Church will celebrate one of those giants in just a few days and though we will feast on pancakes and call the day Fat Tuesday, in truth it is the feast day of Absalom Jones.

Absalom Jones was born a slave and became the first black man ordained to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church. He was bright and taught himself to read, saving his pennies as a young boy to but “the Testament” where he learned his words. His master would move him from Delaware to Pennsylvania, where he would eventually marry and purchase his wife’s freedom while his own emancipation would take seven more years. With the consent of the Episcopal Church, he would go on to start St. Thomas African Church in Philadelphia where he would be ordained as a deacon and then priest by Bishop William White. He denounced slavery from the pulpit and warned oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves” as God was a Father who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” Within a year, he grew this newly planted church to over 500 members. Jones believed in the church as God’s instrument and was an example of a persistent faith. He was a prophet. He named the sin of the world and spoke to the righteousness of God.

When Jesus climbed that mountain with three of his disciples and shown brighter than the sun, he was visited by two giants of the Jewish faith—Moses and Elijah. Moses who set the captive free, who had stood up to his people’s oppressors and would bear the law of covenant with God. And Elijah the prophet who offered a righteous witness to the faithfulness of God. The timing of the transfiguration pays homage to that which has gone before—the law and the prophet—even as it points toward the new thing God will do. It takes the witness of the past and the laws of the people to transform injustice through sacrificial love.

God is always doing a new thing. That is the beauty of God. The church, as the body of Christ, continues to be God’s instrument in the world. We get to witness to the revelation of God in all the ways we see God revealing God’s self. 

As we look at the world around us and are inspired by the witness of such giants as Moses and Elijah, Rosa Parks and Absalom Jones—law and prophets—I wonder what God is revealing to us.  The prophet and the law through the revelation of Jesus Christ is always about offering us something new. Will we get distracted like Peter—terrified in the moment and wanting to make some sense out of this chaos that we do not understand, such that we miss the vital message of God acting in the world? 

Peter is told that Jesus is God’s beloved son, listen to him. The words of the Christ impart love and justice—holding up each; unable to ignore the evil done in this world and yet, never abandoning the love God has for his children. That is a God who brings hope even in times of darkness and doubt. That is a God we can trust in, especially in times of chaos and the unknown.

Timing is everything. And on that mountain in that moment of transfiguration, God is revealed. I want to yell, “Peter, stop! Don’t miss it.” And then I realize, that is because we are all so like Peter—distracted by the world and our desires to control that which we do not understand rather than bearing witness to the revelation of God all around us. The Transfiguration is about Jesus, but I cannot help but to think of Moses, Elijah, Rosa Parks, Absalom jones, and all the giants who have borne witness to the God who is revealed here in this world.