Sermon
March 2, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
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Sermon: A Real Eye-Opener!


Do any of you ever pay any attention to the letters and comments in the paper that complain about people who don’t take down their Christmas decorations and lights in a timely fashion? I don’t pay any attention at all, but I am planning to take down the wreath off the front of the house by Wednesday of this week, a day that truly marks the change of seasons in the calendar of the Christian church.

The Advent, Christmas, Epiphany seasons, which kind of blend together in my mind, come to an end on Tuesday and there is a significant shift of tone and mood as we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday.

We are at a turning point in the worship of the church, and it is matched by a turning point in the story of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels - and the signpost for this turning point is the story that Glenys read this morning, the story of the Transfiguration:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus… Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

The story, you’ll note, begins “Six days later” - well, six days later than what?

It is six days after Jesus tells the disciples that they are done with their work in Galilee and they’re turning around to head for the heart of the Jewish nation, the city of Jerusalem.

It is six days after Jesus warns the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem he must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

It is six days after Peter rebukes Jesus saying this can’t happen and Jesus says to Peter “Get behind me Satan!”

And it’s six days after he calls everyone around and tells them “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

I guess that was quite an ear-full for them to take in, but now they are getting an eye-full as well, a vision that will leave them stunned and babbling nonsense and wondering just what exactly have they gotten themselves into?

The vision of glory is connected with the message of the cross, and that is the heart of the Christian proclamation: For we preach Christ crucified; we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

There are many things in our experience that serve as real eye-openers for us. I have not traveled a lot in my life, but each trip that I’ve taken to a foreign country has truly been an eye-opener for me.

There are also times when you don’t have to leave home at all to experience a real eye-opener - sometimes it can just be the morning light shining on a familiar landscape transforming the ordinary into the luminous that can be a real eye-opener - suddenly the world around us seems transfigured into a glorious place just a step below heaven.

Yes, the world around us can appear transfigured, but then so can the world within us, for the eye not only looks outward, it looks inward as well.

Unfortunately it’s a little harder to have a vision of glory when the eye looks inward, for most of us are keenly aware that there is much within that we struggle to keep from coming out, struggle to keep in control, struggle to overcome and banish, if we could, from our interior life.

Well, I say most of us, but we know that there are those who have no impulse control, who make precious little effort to keep their anger, bitterness, want, jealousy, prejudice, rage, or any other demon in check and who might be put into the general category of menace to society. And as much as we might fear those people we also use them to make the rest of us feel reasonably good about how well we do - sort of like the story Jesus tells of the man who prays saying: I thank thee God that I am not like other men!

It is possible for us to go along comfortably, somewhat assured that the world outside and within is about is good as we can make it, and that’s probably good enough, until something comes along that is real eye-opener; something that makes us shake our heads in disbelief and question who we are and why have we been able to fool ourselves for so long.

And do you know what that real eye-opener is quite often - can you think of what shakes us most completely to our foundations? It is the suffering of the innocent.

One of the turning points in the story of the civil rights movement in America was the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. Black churches had been bombed in Birmingham before, but this one was different, for this blast took the lives of four little girls, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins. The suffering of the innocent caused a spasm of revulsion to reverberate around the world, and many eyes were opened to the cruelty of racism and the cost of complacency.

And down through the generations a story of the innocent suffering of a righteous man nailed to a cross has been a real eye-opener for those who see its truth and understand its significance.

The cross is a call to repentance as we witness the capacity for cruelty in the human heart and the ways in which that cruelty can be formalized, institutionalized, and magnified in scope and tenacity by our social, political, and religious organizations.

The cross is more than a moment in time; it is a theme of history. The cross persists in the world in every place of innocent suffering, and every place of innocent suffering speaks to us of the need to turn our eye inward and recognize the need for repentance.

Repentance is a first and necessary step, but more is required. The suffering of the innocent also calls us to action. Christian repentance goes beyond simply not being involved and doing no harm. Jesus calls us to bear one another’s burdens, to take up the cross daily, to follow his example as a disciple and to engage in his mission as a church member.

But who can bear the weight of this suffering? Who will not stumble and fall under the burden of this cross?

Today, in our gospel lesson, we shared with the disciples in a vision of glory, Christ transfigured and shining like the sun. It is this eye-full of glory that gives us strength.

The apostle Paul puts this very plainly in his letter to the church in Rome: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

We will never understand the greatness of God’s love until we understand the greatness of our need; we will never comprehend the grandness of God’s forgiveness until we appreciate the depth of our sin; we will never come to know the living Christ until we take up the cross and follow.

All this is embodied in some mysterious way around this sacramental table this morning. We repeat familiar words, we follow a familiar routine, we pass the bread and then the cup, we are reminded of the story of an innocent man who faced a cruel death with courage and determination, with a belief that his suffering would come to some good in a world where people remembered him, gave careful thought to his message, and opened their hearts to his spirit.

Today Jesus lives again in our midst as we remember him in his suffering and in his glory.

In the holy quiet of this hour, let us open our hearts and minds to God as we prepare to receive the gift of grace offered in Jesus Christ. This sacrament is for all who wish to know the presence of Christ and to share in the community of God's people. Christ welcomes you. Christ recognizes you. Christ invites you into the circle of fellowship in his name.
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