last sunday after epiphany (transfiguration)
I preach about Jesus Christ a lot. On one hand, not that surprising. We are a Christian Church. Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith. We sing songs about Jesus’ love from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. If you identify as a Christian, then you (hopefully) think about Jesus Christ, think about the Good News that has been given to us in the form of his life, and consider how to best live out this Good News in your life. On the other hand, it can come across as a bit evangelical to invoke Christ’s name with regularity. To invoke the name of Christ is to publicly declare that you whole-heartedly believe in what you are saying. To invoke the name of Christ is to declare, in some fashion, legitimacy for yourself, telling your listener that what they are about to hear holds truth, and hopefully passes the test when held up with the life of Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This is the balance line that I try to walk, particularly in my sermons. Here, in this pulpit, I have a responsibility and a power to expand upon the words of Christ, to expand upon the stories about Christ, to lead you to respond to the Good News of Christ in a manner that I feel reflects the message we are receiving.
When I preach about Christ, my goal is to not just answer the what we are called to do, the why Jesus acts or speaks this way, but to develop a deeper meaning that takes into account the entirety of the story, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Desert Fathers to NT Wright. When I preach about Christ, it is my goal to share what I think this message means to me, what I think this message means for us, and to what action it may be calling us to. But, this preaching of Christ, this message that places Christ in the center, makes of Christ the foundation upon which we build up and out, deepening our faith, deepening our belief, exercising our soul and guiding us along our journey, falls apart if we do not understand the why of Christ, if we do not understand where we put Christ in our hierarchy of importance in this world, and in this place in particular.
This Cathedral is unique, just like every house of worship is unique. The gathering of faithful people that call this place home is in constant flux, but this gathering of faithful people carries with it a common bond, a shared core that can absorb gains and survive losses. The uniqueness of this place is inherently tied to the people currently in this place, and yet, the uniqueness of this place is also just as inherently tied to the history of this place, the culture of this place, the traditions of this place. This place has been shaped as much by scandals big and small as it has by joyful occasions and well-loved leaders that have enabled us to be in our relatively healthy state as we engage in another year of doing the work of the Church, which is to say doing the work of Christ. It is in doing the work of Christ that we see the truly unique talents of this place rise up to meet the call. It is in doing the work of Christ that we honor those who have come before in this place and set this place up to be here long after we have gone.
But, we must constantly ask ourselves if the unique aspects of our culture truly reflect the Good News of Christ or are instead traditions held for the sake of holding traditions. We must constantly ask ourselves, where do those who are not us see the work of Christ in us. And, we must constantly ask ourselves, where do those who are not us see us perpetuating our own ideology over the work of Christ in this world. It is not that we are intentionally promoting something other, but we have to understand how others view us because that tells us a lot about where Christ is in the hierarchy of our community.
God reminds us today where Christ should be in our hierarchy. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
“Listen to him!”
Don’t listen to the disciples, they clearly are having a hard time getting it. Don’t listen to the rumors that run rampant through the community. Don’t listen to the religious authorities of the day. Certainly don’t listen to me, or Bill, or any priest or theologian or religious authority of this day. Listen to Christ. Listen to God’s Son. Listen to the unique message that has drawn you here today. Listen to the unique call that goes out to this unique gathering of people in this unique moment of time and place. Listen to Jesus because it is only through Jesus that we can have salvation realized. Listen to Jesus because it is only through Jesus that our understanding of the world can be truly shaped in the mold of the Good News that has been shared with us by God’s Son.
And, what do we need to listen for?
I think it is fairly clear from my preaching so far that I hear Jesus calling us to a life of social justice, reaching out to the marginalized, the looked-down upon, the other, and that living into the Good News, at least from my perspective, means modeling ourselves after Christ in a way that is unambivalent, clear that we too will minister to and heal the outcasts of our time.
I hear from Bill an often more refined approach to much of the same issues that I leap head first in addressing. And in Bill’s preaching I hear a call from Jesus to truly understand the deeper meaning of the text that is before us, to wrestle with the allegory, to develop a deeply founded faith, to understand the true purpose of the death and resurrection.
Perhaps when you listen to Jesus you hear of how we are to develop our relationship to God, to Christ, and how that relationship exists without any work on our end, as long as we can simply admit our brokenness as a part of this creation, and seek to bask in the glory of Christ, experiencing the saving grace and redemption that is a life that listens to Christ.
It is this redemption, the redemption of God, of Christ, that is on full display on the mountain. Moses and Elijah, prophets of God, keepers of the promise of God to God’s creation, appear with Jesus to pass on that mantle, to signify that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the redemption of creation. In the completion of Christ’s ministry, the redemption of creation is fully realized. In being fully realized, the redemption of creation becomes our launching off point, our firm foundation, that promise that is always there, that love of God that welcomes us home with open arms.
What a gift that is bestowed upon us. And, unlike the disciples (or maybe just Peter, who always seems to be speaking before thinking), we get to know this now. We don’t have to hear every word as new, we get to hear every word anew each and every year. Even if we are sitting in this place for the first time, even in a church for the first time, we know that Christ will die and rise again. We have the benefit of knowing that redemption has been completed, all we have to do is live into a practice of faith that holds this truth preeminent and asks us to continue seeking to spread this Good News with the world.
We are about to enter into a season of introspection. Listen to Christ in these next few weeks. Listen to what you are uniquely being called to do with your life. Listen to what we as a community are uniquely being called to do with our collection of gifts, talents, energy, expertise, and passion. Listen to your heart when Christ is crucified. Hear God’s grief in that moment and observe the completion of the redemption of the creation even as creation rejects God. Understand the why of this season, and experience the rebirth that comes each year in the resurrection of Christ.
I preach about Christ a lot. And I preach about Christ a lot because I can’t not. God makes that clear in declaring, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” But even more so, I preach about Christ because that means preaching to the truth that I know in the Good News. I preach about Christ because that means preaching about salvation, that means preaching about redemption, that means preaching about sin, repentance, forgiveness, and that ultimate love that is always there, waiting for us to accept it again. So, I will continue to preach about Jesus Christ, and I will continue to preach both of Jesus and the Christ, because I hear the call to share the duality of God present in God’s Son, to enable us to connect with God, with Jesus Christ, enabling us to live into the fullness of our faith and do the work that is required of us as a unique community of believers. I do this because it means living fully into the call that I have received from God. Hopefully, in living into my call, I can help you realize your call and enable you to live fully into it, with the knowledge of the Good News that you need to share with the world. Go forth, and unlike the disciples we see dumbfounded today, share the importance of the Good News with all whom you encounter, with the confidence that you are fully loved and fully redeemed in God’s eyes because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.