Lent 2 Sunday B: Transfiguration

Fr. Tony Kadavil:

1) Transformation from pro-choice to pro-life :

Dr. Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, tells a dramatic story about a woman who glimpsed the mystery of her unborn child. The young woman was seeking an abortion. She simply could not handle having a baby at this time. But she agreed to an ultrasound. When the baby appeared on the screen, the woman was amazed to see the perfectly formed body, the tiny legs and arms moving inside her womb. But the woman kept saying, "No, no, I have to have an abortion." Dr. Hartshorn felt sad. She knew that seventy-five percent of women who see an ultrasound decide to keep their baby - but that a quarter, nevertheless, still have the abortion. It seemed like this woman would be in that twenty-five percent. All of sudden, Dr. Hartshorn's assistant said, "Reach out and take your baby's hand." Dr. Hartshorn thought, "Oh, gosh, why is she saying that?" But the woman raised her hand and touched the monitor. As if by some divine cue, the baby stretched out his arm to the exact place of his mom's hand. On the screen his tiny fingers met hers. She kept her baby. There is a mystery inside each one of us - the mystery of the image of God. Today’s gospel tells us how three of the apostles saw a glimpse, a tiny glimpse, of who Jesus was. That would transform them and sustain them through some dark moments following Jesus’ arrest. 

2) A Death That Gives Life:

A few years ago, the television and print media carried the story of a seven-year-old boy who died in tragic circumstances while on vacation with his family in Italy. Armed thieves, attempting to take the family’s car and valuables, waited in ambush in the Italian countryside. As the car passed, the thieves sprayed a shower of bullets at the vehicle. Although the family was able to escape, some of the bullets had hit the young boy, while he slept in the back seat. A short time later, the child was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. People were shocked and outraged as the sad news was reported. But public outrage was soon replaced by wonder and admiration. The boy’s family arranged that all of their son’s vital organs be harvested and donated. As a result, the lives of eight Italians, each of whom received one or more of the child’ healthy organs, were forever changed. For some it meant being able to see again; for others death was postponed because a young vital organ had replaced an aged, defective one. Because organ donation was such a rarity in Italy, the gift of life was all the more remarkable. This story reminds us of the death of another son, whose dying brought life to so many. It is the life-giving death of this other son, namely, Jesus, which is the focus of our scripture readings for today.  

3) "It's kind of hard to explain."

A little boy asked his mother, "Marriage makes you have babies, doesn't it, Mom?" The mother reluctantly answered her son, "Well, not exactly. Just because you are married does not mean that you have a baby." The boy continued his inquiry: "Then how do you have babies?" His mother, not very enthusiastic about continuing, answered, "It's kind of hard to explain." The boy paused and thought for a moment. He then moved closer to Mom, looked her right in eye, and carefully said, "You don't really know how it works, do you, Mom?" (Pastor's Story File, October 1995 Submitted by Jim Pearring, New Harbor Community Church, Benicia, California). Believe it our not, this is one of the most dreaded Sundays in the Christian year for folks who use the Lectionary for their preaching. Why? Because it deals with the Transfiguration of Jesus. Generally, this is one of those "What does that mean and how am I supposed to explain that?" sort of passages.

4) "The March of the Ducks."

On the side of the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, Florida, there is a cutout of a large duck symbolizing what came to be known as "The March of the Ducks." Each day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., the hotel people lay down a dazzling red carpet across the lobby. Then one of John Phillip Sousa's famous marches is played over the intercom. Whereupon, ten ducks, in single file, march down the red carpet in perfect harmony with the Sousa march. The ducks take a dip in the hotel fountain and then march out again in single file, down the red carpet, keeping perfectly in step with the beat of the music. For those who have witnessed "The March of the Ducks," it is an event so vivid and real and uplifting and fun-filled that it's difficult to find the right words to describe the wonder and the beauty of it -- much less try to convince someone that it is true. Today's Gospel Lesson describes an event called “transfiguration of Jesus” so wondrous and so beautiful as to defy all description (Watch:

5) Noah and the ark:

Two men were standing on a big city waiting shed, on a rainy day, trying to hire a taxicab, not an easy task, since it was raining very hard. One man turned to the other and started a conversation which went as follows:

First man: "If it keeps raining like this we'll all have to build an ark."
Second man: "What's an ark?"
First man: "You mean you haven't heard about Noah and the ark, and the great flood and all those animals?"
Second man: "Look, my friend, I've only been in town for a day, and I haven't even had time to read a newspaper." Today's Gospel Lesson includes Mark's version of the Transfiguration story. Did I hear someone ask, "What's a Transfiguration?"

6) Metamorphosis of a revolutionary:

The word "Transfiguration," means "a change in form or appearance". Biologists call it metamorphosis, the same Greek word used by the evangelist. There is a beautiful story told by Fr. Anthony de Mello in his book Song of the Bird, about the prayer of an old man who had experienced such a metamorphosis. ‘‘I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without my changing a single soul, I modified my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start I should not have wasted my life.’’ 

7)"I have seen the face of the pilot.”

Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story about a ship that was in serious trouble in a storm. A passenger on that ship, defying orders, made his way to the pilot, who seeing the fear on the passenger's face gave him a smile of assurance. Relieved, the traveler returned to his cabin and said, "I have seen the face of the pilot. He smiled and all is well." There are times in life when we need to see our pilot face-to-face. That's what happened in this mystical story that the Church calls the Transfiguration of Christ. Peter, James and John were there. Moses and Elijah showed up from the past. They have an experience that is mystical and out of this world. "Turn you eyes upon Jesus Look full in his wonderful face." What would a glimpse of Christ himself mean to you today? 

8) Could your soul use a lift today?

People pay big money for radiant faces these days. Face lifts are a thriving business. The only problem is that the soul has a way of seeping through. Maxwell Maltz is a plastic surgeon. He's in the business of lifting people's faces, but, Dr. Maltz says, "Even though I get marvelous results, patients are often not happy. I have come to realize that inner scars are much more difficult to remove than outer ones." Could your soul use a lift today? Have depression, difficulty, duties and daily routines caused your soul to sag, your spirit to falter, your heart to sink? Christ came to lift us. Our reflections on the transfigured Christ will give us a spiritual lift.  

9) “I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end."

William Booth. He was a Methodist preacher, too, you know. "Willful Will" they called him, but Booth became disillusioned with the political wrangling of the Methodists. So he left the church and started a Christian mission in the poverty-stricken East Side of London that reached out to the worst. That Christian mission became the Salvation Army, which declared war on poverty and homelessness. Or, as William Booth said: "While women weep, as they do now. I'll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight. While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end." That was one hundred years ago. It seems like the kind of war all of us could get behind, the war on poverty, the war on homelessness. Maybe it's time for another William Booth. If you have a heart, help us. Discipleship is a matter of your heart. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face” as Peter did on the mount of transfiguration. He'll give you a lift. He'll give you a life. 

10) An army of green giants who kept on coming and coming.

The legendary football coach Knute Rockne knew the power of fear. Today we call it "psyching out your opponent." Notre Dame was facing a critical football game against a vastly superior Southern California team. Rockne recruited every brawny student he could find at Notre Dame and suited up about a hundred "hulks" in the school uniform. On the day of the game the Southern California team ran out on the field first and awaited the visiting Fighting Irish. Then, out of the dressing room came an army of green giants who kept on coming and coming. The USC team panicked. Their coach reminded them that Rockne could only play eleven men at a time, but the damage was done. USC lost. They did not lose to the hundred men. They were beaten by their own fear. [A. Philip Parham, Letting God, (New York: Harper & Row). 3. W. Howard Chase in Vital Speeches.]  

Today’s gospel says: “[Peter] hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.” Witnessing the transfiguration of Christ was not the only time the disciples were fearful in Jesus' presence. 

11) “I meet God about 1 in every 8 worship services”:

A young woman asked her older co-worker: “Why do you go to church every Sunday? Does something happen there that can’t happen somewhere else? And does it happen every Sunday?” The older woman replied, “What happens is I go to meet the God whom I’ve come to know in Jesus. God meets me in other settings than at church. However, I must confess that I’m sure I miss most of God’s appointments with me. I find that I live most of my days in a daze – as though I’m sleepwalking or on autopilot. I go to church to be reminded that that’s true.” The younger woman then asked, “So you go to church every week and God meets you there?” The older woman answered, “I go to church every Sunday and for reasons I can’t explain, I meet God about 1 in every 8 worship services.” The younger woman asked, “Then why do you go every Sunday?” “I go every Sunday,” said the older woman, “because I never know when that one Sunday is going to be.” Peter, John and James had that experience on the mountain of transfiguration.  

12) Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay:

Those of us who are old enough certainly recall that amazing story of almost sixty years ago, May 29, 1953. A New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, were the first ever to reach Everest's summit. Here was a mountain - unreachable, tantalizing, fearsome, deadly - that had defeated 15 previous expeditions. Some of the planet's strongest climbers had perished on its slopes. For many, Everest represented the last of the earth's great challenges. The North Pole had been reached in 1909; the South Pole in 1911. But Everest, often called the Third Pole, had defied all human efforts - reaching its summit seemed beyond mere mortals. (Don George, "A Man to Match His Mountain," Now, success. And heightening the impact even further was the delicious coincidence of their arrival just before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and of the dramatic announcement of their triumph on the morning of the coronation. A "mountain-top experience"...literally. Today’s gospel presents the mountain-top experience of Peter, John and James.  

13) "Well, what is it?"

H.G. Wells once told a fascinating story. It is about an Episcopalian bishop, though he could have been a cleric in any denomination. He was the kind of man who could always be counted on to provide a pious platitude. He had a favorite answer that always served him in good stead. When troubled folks came to him, he would assume his best stained-glass voice and ask, "Have you prayed about it?" If said in just the right way, no more needed to be said. The bishop himself didn't pray much. After all, his life was quite uneventful. He felt quite self-sufficient. One day, however, life tumbled in on him, and he found himself overwhelmed. It occurred to the bishop that maybe he should take some of his own advice. So, one Saturday afternoon he entered the cathedral. He knelt down and folded his hands before the altar. He could not help but think how childlike he was. Then he began to pray, "O God...." Suddenly there was a voice. It was crisp, businesslike. The voice said, "Well, what is it?" When the worshipers came to Sunday services the next morning, they found the bishop sprawled face down before the altar. When they turned him over, they discovered he was dead. Lines of horror were etched upon his face. The good bishop had advised others to approach God in prayer, but when he found himself face to face with the Almighty, it scared him literally to death as Christ’s transfiguration scene scared the three apostles. (Haddon Robinson, Preaching Today). 

14) Serve others after the mountain-top experience:

In Port Arthur, Texas, there is a special school for very sick children, most of whom have few, if any, motor skills. One very sick boy lived at that school, dying little by little. As tragic as that is, that's not the point of the story. Unfortunately children get grievously ill every day. This little boy, though, had the good fortune to be living in the same community with some faithful believers who took the transfiguration story as their own. God's glory lived in them. They carried it with them wherever they went. A group of these folks joined together to go to this little boy every day and read to him. Since he was slowly dying, unable to move or read for himself, their act of kindness and ministry was the only activity that brought him any comfort. The social workers were amazed. Just being read to by three different women, one every day, transformed that boy. He was transformed from being depressed and despondent into a responsive bright young man. And even though his spark of life would soon leave him, it got brighter and brighter not dimmer. The boy died, but his life had been forever changed. It had been transformed by the ministry of these caring Christians. They had allowed the light of Christ to shine through them. And a young boy's life had been transformed. [The Clergy Journal, Logos Productions Inc, Inver Grove Heights, MN, Vol LXXIII, Number 7, pp. 88.) 

15) Moses’ flute:

John Killinger tells the legend about "the simple shepherd's pipe once played by Moses when he kept his father-in-law's flocks. When the pipe was discovered, many years after Moses' death, it was decided that it should be put on display for the benefit of his admirers. But it looked far too common for such an important purpose, so someone suggested that it be embellished by an artist. A few centuries later, when the pipe was given a new home in an upscale museum, a committee said it needed improving yet again. So another artist was employed to overlay it in fine gold and silver filigree. The result, in the end, was a breathtaking piece of art, a marvelous sight indeed. It was so beautiful, in fact, that no one ever noticed that it was no longer capable of the clear, seductive notes once played upon it by Moses." [God, the Devil, and Harry Potter (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2002), 162-3.] How do we tell what voices to listen to, whose advice to take, what directives are important, and what we should just let fall on deaf ears? In today's gospel text, the divine Voice from the enshrouding cloud offered Peter, James, and John simple, straightforward words: "This is My Beloved Son; listen to Him." The message and mission of Jesus was to guide the disciples, informing all their actions, influencing all else they heard. God's proclamation to those three disciples is the same for all who follow Christ today: Let Jesus be your high-tech hearing aid, filtering and clarifying what you hear and how you respond. Listen to him. Or as Jesus put it elsewhere, "Learn from Me."  

16) Baby powder:

You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia, he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk: you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice: you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, ‘What a country!’"  

Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation—that people change instantly at salvation. Some denominations make Christianity so simple: accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, confess your sins to him, you are instantly saved and born again. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made. Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. 

17) Transformation in old age:

Two old men are chatting. One man says, "My friend, you must try this memory pill I'm taking. I remember everything. It's an amazing memory booster." The other man says, "Sounds wonderful. What is the name of the pill?" The first man says, "Hmm! The name of the pill ... Let’s see ... Hmmm, what is the name of the flower produced on a garden plant with thorns? It's red ... You give it on Valentine's Day." The other man says, "A rose?" The first man says, "Yes, that's right!" Then, calling for his wife, he says, "Rose, what is the name of that pill which I take to boost my memory?"  

18) Lenten penance:

An Irishman moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone and orders three more. As this continued every day the bartender asked him politely, "The folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?" "It’s odd, isn't it?" the man replies, "You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank."

Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. As this continued for several days, the bartender approached him with tears in his eyes and said, "Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all..." The man ponders this for a moment, and then replies with a broad smile, "You'll be happy to know that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent. Now I am drinking for the other two!"

 19)  “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”

There is a mysterious story in 2 Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha, the man of God, is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth, he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside was covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe but the invading army was totally humiliated. (Fr. Munacci)

More from Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 
1:  “Lord, give me the grace for transformation.”  
The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s Gospel), to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.  Fr. Anthony De Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man.  “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’  Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been.  My one prayer now is: ’Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’  If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.” 

2: Missing the point:  
Once upon a time, a man took his new hunting dog on a trial hunt. After a while, he managed to shoot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water, picked up the duck and brought it to his master. The man was stunned. He didn’t know what to think. He shot another duck and again it fell into the lake and, again, the dog walked on the water and brought it back to him. What a fantastic dog – he can walk on water and get nothing but his paws wet. The next day he asked his neighbor to go hunting with him so that he could show off his hunting dog, but he didn’t tell his neighbor anything about the dog’s ability to walk on water. As on the previous day, he shot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water and got it. His neighbor didn’t say a word. Several more ducks were shot that day and each time the dog walked over the water to retrieve them and each time the neighbor said nothing and neither did the owner of the dog. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, the owner asked his neighbor, "Have you noticed anything strange, anything different about my dog?" "Yes," replied the neighbor, " come to think of it, I do. Your dog doesn’t know how to swim." The neighbor missed the point completely. He couldn’t see the wonder of a dog that could walk on water; he could only see that the dog didn’t do what other hunting dogs do to retrieve ducks – that is to swim. The disciple, Peter, was good at missing the point at the theophany of transfiguration as it is clear from his declaration: “ I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”   

3:  “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  
There is a mysterious story in 2 Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha the man of God is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe but the invading army was totally humiliated. (Fr. Munacci)

Fr. Jude Botelho:

Dear Friend,
 There are times in our lives when God seems to be asking us to make difficult and cruel choices, almost impossible ones! How can God be asking something difficult from us? Why can’t He be reasonable?  If only we could have the ecstasy without the agony! Yet we all know that in life there is no escaping from the difficult situations that come our way. Only our faith and our love can transfigure our crosses.

In the first reading we are told that God put Abraham to the test by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Surely God could not be asking such an unreasonable thing? After all, this son Isaac, was given to him as a promise. How could God go back on his promise? The other question we could ask is: How and why was Abraham so ready to comply? The only answer to these questions is the tremendous faith of Abraham and the passionate love of God, who rejected the practice of human sacrifice. God spared Isaac and instead provided the lamb of sacrifice. Although God spared the only son of Abraham, He did not intervene to spare His own son Jesus Christ.

Victim or Victor

 Charles Rayburn has been a victim of cerebral palsy since his birth. His only means of communication was an electric typewriter which he strikes with a stylus attached to a band around his head. In spite of his palsy, Charles Rayburn has published 37 articles in national magazines. One of his articles appeared in America magazine and dealt with the Stations of the Cross. Charles Rayburn is a living example of today’s reading about Isaac and Jesus. These three figures and the three readings are tied together by a triple theme –the theme of Sonship, Death and Deliverance.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

In today’s gospel the account of the transfiguration gives us some insight into the mystery of Jesus, Son of God. The transfiguration is an epiphany story. This is the earliest epiphany story about Jesus, where the veil is lifted and his apostles were given a glimpse of his future glory. The chief significance of this event was for Jesus himself. It was meant to confirm him in the course he had undertaken. But it also benefited the apostles, and it is this that Mark emphasizes. On the mountain Elijah and Moses appeared to them representing the prophets and the law respectively. Thus Jesus is seen as bringing the law and the prophets to fulfillment. We do not know what exactly happened on that mountain but it seems Jesus had an intense experience of the presence of God. He heard those marvelous words: “You are my beloved Son.” On Tabor Jesus felt comforted and affirmed. He knew that the Father was pleased with him and would give him all the strength he would need to face whatever lay ahead. With God on his side he could face anything. At times, life could be dark for us and we too need to hear those reassuring words: “You are my son the beloved, my favour rests on you.” People from time to time do affirm us, but their affirmation is conditional. “You are good but you need to change your behavior”! “You are good but only if you live up to my expectations!” Only God affirms us exactly as he affirmed his son Jesus. With him there are no terms and conditions even if we are sinners and have failed him. We will always remain the well beloved sons and daughters of God. On that mountain the Father affirmed Jesus and that same Father is waiting for us to come to him to be affirmed as his well beloved sons and daughters. Our problem is that as soon as we run into trouble our faith fails us. We think that God has abandoned us. But if we pray we will realize that God has not abandoned us, He is always with us. Like Jesus on Tabor we too can experience being affirmed by God, we too can be transformed by the power of his Spirit, if only we let Him into our lives.

“Pigeon Feathers”

John Updike wrote a short story called “Pigeon Feathers.” It’s about a young boy, David, who begins to have doubts about his faith. One night in bed David is thinking about his problem. Suddenly he decides upon a bold experiment. He takes his hands from under the covers, lifts them above his head, and asks Jesus to touch them. As David waits breathlessly, he thinks he feels something touch his hands; not sure if they have been touched or not. We can all relate to David in this scene. We too experience times when our faith seems to disappear or go behind a cloud. When this happens, we long desperately for a sign that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God. Or to put it in another way, we long for a sign of Jesus’ glory, like the one Peter, James and John received in today’s gospel.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

You are my beloved!

 You probably have heard of Jean Vanier who set up communities for the mentally handicapped. He tells us that in one of those communities there was a man named Pierre. One day someone asked, “Pierre, do you like praying?” “Yes,” he answered. “And what do you do when you pray?” “I listen,” answered Pierre. “And what does God say to you, Pierre?” And this was his touching reply, “Pierre, you are my beloved son.”
Jean Vanier

“Listen to Him!”

Perhaps you have heard of the man who wanted to test his wife’s hearing. He stood some distance behind her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?” Having received no answer he moved closer and again whispered, “Honey, can you hear me?” Again having received no answer he moved right up behind her and softly said, “Honey can you hear me?” She replied, “For the third time, yes!” – In some ways this story could be analogous of our communication with God. We constantly check to see if he is listening in hopes that he will respond to our needs. In reality, he hears us, but he has asked us to listen to him as well. Lent should be a listening time for each of us. When we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

No Cross, No Crown

 Arthur Ashe, the legendary Afro-American Wimbledon player was dying of cancer. He received letters from his fans, worldwide, one of which read: “Why did God select you for such a dreadful disease?” Ashe replied, “The world over, 5 crore children start playing tennis, 50 lakhs learn the game, 5 lakh turn professional, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach Grand Slams, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to the semifinals, 2 to the finals. When I won the Wimbledon crown, I never asked God, “Why me?” Today, in pain, I shouldn’t be asking God, “Why me?” Wimbledon crown, cancer cross. That’s Christianity!
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’

Keeping the Commandments

 Once there was a very sincere man who wished to live a holy life. So he went to his rabbi to seek his advice. The rabbi congratulated him on his ambition, then asked, ‘How have you been faring so far?’ ‘Quite well, I think,’ the man replied. ‘When you say well what do you mean?’ the rabbi asked. ‘I haven’t broken any of the commandments,’ the man replied. ‘I haven’t taken the Lord’s name in vain. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t dishonored my father or mother. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t been unfaithful to my wife. I haven’t stolen. I haven’t borne false witness against anyone. And I haven’t coveted my neighbor's wife or goods.’ ‘I see,’ said the rabbi. ‘So you haven’t broken any of the commandments.’ ‘That’s right, the man replied with pride. ‘But have you kept the commandments?’ the rabbi asked. ‘What do you mean?’ said the man. ‘I mean have you honored God’s holy name? Have you kept holy the Sabbath day? Have you loved and honored your parents? Have you sought to preserve and defend life? When last did you tell your wife that you loved her? Have you shared your goods with the poor? Have you defended the good name of anyone? When last did you put yourself out to help a neighbor?’ The man was taken aback. But to his credit he went away and reflected on what the rabbi had said. He realized that up to this he had been merely intent on avoiding wrong-doing. It’s surprising how many people think this is the highest criterion of virtue. But the rabbi offered him a new vision of goodness – not merely to avoid evil, but to do good. Up to now he had a negative concept of goodness. He had given him a new and better compass to guide him, a new and more challenging path to follow.
Flor McCarthy in ‘Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

The Father’s beloved

 The story is told of a sister at the shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. She saw a distraught mother carrying a tiny child and she went to meet her. The woman had come a great distance with the child, the only one she could ever have, she thought, and now he had an affliction which the doctors said was incurable. The only hope was a miracle, and she had brought the child to St. Anne’s to pray for that. The sister accompanied the mother to the shrine. “As we prayed” the sister said, “I witnessed the struggle and rebellion of this woman refusing to give up her child. Her suffering was terrible to see. Yet the miracle came. But it came to the mother, not the child. When she left I knew she had offered her child back to God and surrendered him as a gift. A few weeks later the news came that the child died. But the following Christmas there came a card with the picture of a beautiful baby boy, whom the mother had named Michael, the same name she had given to her first son. And the mother wrote: “Now I have a son in heaven and a son Michael to give me joy on earth.”
Emeric Lawrence in ‘Daily Meditations for Lent’
A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?"
The parrot couldn't explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Scholars over the years have tried to explain what in the world Peter meant by this suggestion. But, I think trying to find meaning to these words is pointless. It's simply the way Matthew explains: Peter was frightened and he just said the first thing that came to into his head. He simply could not comprehend what was happening.
In life, moments occur that are incomprehensible. The birth of one's own child is one of those moments. The loss of a loved one is one of those moments. September 11 was one of those moments. There are mountaintop and valley moments throughout life. We are never ready for them. They arrive unannounced changing us in irreversible ways. But there is one thing they all have in common. They demand that we be silent and listen. These moments have something to say to us, to teach us.
But too often our response is like that of Peter, babbling absurdities because we cannot understand the significant, the meaningful moment...
When parents are trying to teach their very young children basic social skills one of the first big lessons is "Use your words." Instead of grabbing, hitting, screaming, or crying, we teach our children to communicate their needs and desires through the use of words. Instead of snatching a toy away from another child we teach our kids to say "May I please play with that for a while?" Instead of screaming and throwing a tantrum, we teach our children to say, "I'm really mad," or "He was mean to me," or "She hit me!"  
The power of our voices, the power of words, is the first power we want our children to tap into. Verbal communication is uniquely human and is a uniquely empowering gift. 
Despite all the image-based advances in technology, "The Voice" is still the driving force in electronic developments. Voice power is still the ultimate power. Every new, successful emerging technology - for the past seventy-five years -- knows that voice power means market power.  
Remember RCA? RCA famously advertised its first record player, the "Victrola," by showing the family dog with its head cocked in curiosity as it listened to a record player. The advertising tag line was, "His Master's Voice."  
The "next best thing" in the past few years has almost always been a voice-based development. We now all routinely talk to our cars...

 You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk -- you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice -- you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, "What a country!"
Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation - that people change instantly at salvation. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. According to this belief, when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made.

Unfortunately, there is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. A study has found that only 11 percent of churchgoing teenagers have a well-developed faith, rising to only 32 percent for churchgoing adults. Why? Because true-life change only begins at salvation, takes more than just time, is about training, trying, suffering, and even dying (adapted from James Emery White, Rethinking the Church, Baker, 1997, p. 55-57).

Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Why? Peter believes the kingdom of God can be obtained instantly by force. Peter has a worldly view of the Kingdom and Jesus is speaking about a heavenly kingdom. For a moment I would like you to listen to this story with new ears and see Jesus through the eyes of Peter and the rest of the disciples. Get rid of all your notions about who Jesus is. Take away from your mind Jesus as the Son of God. Strip from your memory that he died on the Cross and that he did that for your sins. Forget that Jesus ever said love your enemies or love your neighbor.

Now I want you to think of Jesus only as a military leader. Imagine that your country has been invaded and is being ruled by godless men. Sense, now, that the tension is mounting and you are about to go into battle. That you are about to conduct a coup d'etat. That you and this band of ruffians are going to attempt to overthrow this government by a sudden violent strike. That the odds are stacked against you but you have a very strong belief that God is on your side despite the overwhelming odds.

Now you are thinking like Peter...
There are two kinds of dogs in this world (not people this time!). There are the dogs who eat everything and anything - toss them a bit of anything, meat, cauliflower, mushrooms, shoe leather - and it will be snapped out of the sky and scarfed down without hesitation.
Then there are the dogs that approach every tidbit offered to them with suspicion. They stop, they sniff, they consider, and then they finally - tentatively - accept the goodie offered to them.  The spoiled doggie message being sent here is that the gift you offer is accepted with the attitude that "I am doing you a favor by eating this." 
The "scarf hounds" joyously wolf down whatever comes their way from our hands because they trust that we are always offering them something good, something that they want and they need.  
The "spoiled dogs" also show up for treat time, but they convey an attitude that suggests that we need them to be there. Those pampered pups take their invitation as a given, and their finicky feeding manners emphasize that they are "gracing us" with their presence and their acceptance of what we offer to them.  
Did you come to worship this morning as a "scarf hound" or as a "spoiled dog"? Are you here because your soul trusts in God's providence and presence, and hungers for the divine gift of being able to draw near to God? Or are you here because you are doing God a "favor" by showing up? Do you somehow imagine that God needs your presence and the witness of your worship in order to validate God's divinity?  
In this week's gospel text Peter once again demonstrates his ability to get everything right, and then with the next breath get everything wrong...
 The Cross Has Always Caused Problems

A Pastor on Northern Vancouver Island wrote to online study group this message:

"I'm having difficulty with the Gospel this week; what is this cross that I am to take up, and what am I to deny in following Jesus?"

Another Pastor, a student minister in the United States wrote:

"I find this a hard gospel text because it talks about suffering rather than joy."

The cross has always caused problems to people. Brutal and barbaric - the
cross was a tool of political power for the Romans. They maintained their
power because of the fear of death on the cross.

When one was condemned by the state, the condemned literally had to "take
up his cross" and carry it to the public place where he was to be crucified. It was part of the humiliation process, the mechanism of social control for which crucifixion was invented.

The cross was an instrument of suffering and shame - and no more so than among the Children of Israel - where the scriptures themselves declare: "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree".

To die on a cross was a sign that one died cut off from God, and cut off from the people of God - a sign that the person was rejected. And of course in the case of Jesus this was very true.

Richard J. Fairchild, If Anyone Would Follow Me
I Am No Longer My Own

In his covenant prayer, which he offered every year at midnight on New Year's Eve, John Wesley prayed,

"I am no longer my own but Thine, put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt, put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal."

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we'd do well to pray with Wesley and be reminded that we're not free to follow the dictates of our own sinful nature; we're free to surrender our wills to the will of God and to submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus Christ.

Philip W. McLarty, The Cost of Discipleship
 Taking Up Your Cross - Service

During the dark days of World War II, England had a great deal of difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. It was a thankless kind of Job, totally lacking in any glory. Most chose to join the various military services. They desired something that could give them more social acceptance and recognition. Something was needed to motivate these men in the work that they were doing so that they would remain in the mines. 
With this in mind, Winston Churchill delivered a speech one day to thousands of coal miners, stressing to them the importance of their role in the war effort. He did this by painting for them a mental picture. He told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when VE Day came. First, he said, would come the sailors of the British Navy, the ones who had upheld the grand tradition of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Armada. Next in the parade, he said, would come the pilots of the Royal Air Force. They were the ones who, more than any other, had saved England from the dreaded German Lufwaffa. Next in the parade would come the Army, the ones that had stood tall at the crises of Dunkirk. 
Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in minor's caps. And someone, he said, would cry from the crowd, "And where were you during the critical days of the struggle?" And then from ten thousand throats would come, "We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal." We are told that there were tears in the eyes of many of those soot laden and weathered faced coal miners. They had been given a sense of their own self-worth by the man at the top. 
Service does not always come with big fancy ribbons. And I think that it is forever true, that it is often the humble acts of service that provide us with the deepest sense of joy and the most fulfilling satisfaction. 
Brett Blair,
The Fork in the Road

According to that great font of wisdom, Yogi Berra, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Mark 8 is a kind of theological fork in the road. This chapter is the hinge of Mark's gospel. Not only is this the exact middle of Mark in terms of chapters and verses, it is also theologically the center point at which the ministry of Jesus takes a decisive turn toward the cross. Jesus seems to know what he is doing and also where he is going (or, better said, where he must go whether he wants to go that direction or not). For the disciples, however, Mark 8 does present a kind of fork in the road. And like Yogi Berra, as they look at the fork in the road, they want to take it. They want it both ways. They want to stick with Jesus and be his followers while at the same time insisting that Jesus follow them down the path they want to take. 
Scott Hoezee, The Lenten Fork
Take up Your Cross

This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But If I were to ascend some high mountain and look over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians -- and I am one of them. 
Cyprian, a third-century martyr.
 Built around the Cross

There's a great story about the artist Rodin, who one day saw a huge, carved crucifix beside a road. He immediately loved the artwork and insisted on having it for himself. He purchased the cross and arranged to have it carted back to his house. But, unfortunately, it was too big for the building. So, of all things, he knocked out the walls, raised the roof, and rebuilt his home around the cross (Best Sermons 3, Harper & Row, 1990, p. 115). 
When you hear Jesus' call to radical discipleship, I hope you will decide to knock down the walls and rebuild your life around the cross. Remember, Jesus said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." 
Mickey Anders, Cross-Bearing
Hard Truths

Billy Graham poses the question this way: "When Jesus said, 'if you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,' it was the same as saying, 'Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.' He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind - the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution."

Gary Weston, Hard Truths
Living Life from the Outside In

Were I to create a short list of people who live from the outside in, it would include people who don't know what their political beliefs are until they've read their favorite political columnist; don't know what books they want to read until Oprah tells them; don't know how to decorate for Christmas until Martha Stewart directs them; don't know what to believe until their denomination tells them; don't know what to wear until they have consulted a fashion guru; don't know how to respond to the controversial issues of the day until they check their windsocks to see which way the breeze is blowing. 
People with this pattern are like submarines cruising through life at periscope depth and they will not come to the surface until they have surveyed the surrounding territory, making sure that their emergence will occur within optimal conditions for safety from others they perceive to be potentially menacing critics.  
Living life from the outside in -- we have all been there at one point or another in our journeys. And when we are accurately so described, we are the same folks Jesus had in mind when he talked about people who have gained the whole world, but forfeited their lives.  
We've gotten it backwards, Jesus says. Instead, turn matters inside out and live from the inside out.

Robert A. Noblett, Sermons for Sundays in Lent and Easter, CSS Publishing Company
 Sermon Closer: We Have a Choice to Transform
There is a story about two young brothers who were caught stealing sheep. The punishment back then was to brand the thief's forehead with the letters ST which stood for sheep thief. As a result of this, one brother left the village and spent his remaining years wandering from place to place indelibly marked by disgrace. The other remained in the village, made restitution for the stolen sheep, and became a caring friend and neighbor to the townspeople. He lived out his life in the village--an old man loved by all. 
One day a stranger came to town and inquired about the ST on the old man's forehead. "I'm not sure what it means," another told him. "It happened so long ago, but I think the letters must stand for saint." 
We have a choice. We can lay down the cross we have been given to bear and passively live life with no challenge to change or we can take it up and be transformed, living for something greater than ourselves: The Kingdom of God. The choice is yours. But I adjure you: Take it up!

Nowadays the cost of a dinner and a movie keeps going up, and a vacation can be especially expensive, but if I really want to go somewhere I just take the change out of my pocket and lay it on the desk. It's like a time machine. Each coin has a year stamped on it, and just thinking about the year helps me travel back in my memory.  
1979 is the year my first son was born and the year I started in ministry. 1981 and 1983 are the years my daughter and second son were born. 1988 is the last time the Dodgers won the pennant. 1990 was when I moved to Indiana from Los Angeles. 1994 and 2004 were the years I turned forty and fifty. 2002 was when I moved to Pennsylvania. And it's getting harder to find, but any coin with 1954 is my birth year.  
I enjoy laying out the change in my pocket and just glancing at the dates. It's nice to carry these little reminders of important events, good and bad. But they're just one kind of reminder. We carry all sorts of reminders around. One of the most obvious is our date book, which we use to remind us of important events that are not in the past but in the future. We especially need a reminder for Ash Wednesday. It comes in the middle of nowhere. It's not like Christ­mas or Independence Day that fall on the same dates every year. Ash Wednesday is all over the map, from early February to some­time in March. What usually happens is that we notice someone with a smudge on their forehead and suddenly realize: was that today? Really, it's not very convenient. The least Ash Wednesday could do is fall on a Sunday.  
It is an interruption. And it's an unwelcome reminder of an unpleasant fact. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. The grass withers and the flower fades.... 


 I remember a time when I had misplaced my good pen and I was looking for it everywhere. I looked in drawers. I looked under things, behind things and in things. I looked on the floor, but it was nowhere. And then I found it. I was holding it in my mouth the whole time.

That is the way that life often is. We miss things that have been there the whole time. It is like when I was in college and my wife was on campus the whole year, but I never really saw her. Then one day, I SAW her. She had been there the whole time, but one day I actually saw her in my world. And she has been in my world ever since.

That is the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus showed his disciples a part of the world that had been there all along, but it had not really been a part of their world. They were bewildered, astonished and trembling with fear when they saw and understood that heaven was already here in their world and that Jesus was the King of heaven.