Lent III

Interesting how sometimes we can feel far away from the world of the Gospel. Stories sound like stories that happened in an ancient time and we have to make a real effort to be able to relate to them…Yet, we have to acknowledge that, on the other side, sometimes, stories seem almost unbearably close to us…That could be the case today.

The story of Pilate executing the Galileans as an act of worship and the story of those killed by the falling of the tower of Siloam, it feels like these two stories happened last week with the people shot at the mosque in NZ and the reports of natural disasters and wide destruction both in the Midwest and in South Africa. In Jesus’s time as today, we see people being killed out of hate for who they are, people dying because the natural/physical world is not reliable in the way we wish it would be…Yet mainly these stories hit home b/c we react the same to those kind of catastrophes: We don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say, we don’t know what to think. We try hard to find a reason to make sense of them, but we generally fail at it.

In biblical times, people very often explained suffering by assuming the victims of tragedy had done something wrong to provoke a disaster, they had brought on themselves God’s anger because of their sins. But today we see Jesus did not support this explanation – and it is not the first time he does that in the Gospel…so I think it’s really a message we need to hear, a message he repeats twice in the passage we have just heard: “Do you think these people were worse sinners? No, I tell you”.

Of course, thankfully, most of us don’t think anymore that God punishes people with trials and disasters and all sort of calamities…yet, if we search our hearts, we have to acknowledge that very often there is still a tendency in us to think that those who suffer have problems b/c they have done something (wrong) / or not done something (right), and there is often a temptation to dismiss their suffering by telling them what they should do or not and how they should feel. It can be made even worse when on top of that, it is assumed that their trials are there because God wants to teach them something, correcting them from their mistakes.

“Everything happens for a reason”: Who haven’t heard this kind of things, or professed them? I know I did, several times. But each time I hear someone saying that or when I catch myself thinking that, I realize we’re closer than we think of the people surrounding Jesus who assumed disasters hit sinners. We know that God does not “punish”, yet how hard it is for us to respond to suffering without explaining it away by finding a good reason for it.

Yet, if we look closer today, we’ll realize that Jesus not only said loud and clear that people don’t suffer because they are sinners, but we’ll also see that it is never said that God sends us sufferings to “teach us”. In the letter to the Corinthians, we read: “God will not let you be tested beyond your strengths” which we often translate as “God won’t give you more that you can handle”. But Paul never said that God “gives us” things hard to handle, Paul never said that God sends us sufferings for a greater purpose, to fix something in our lives and to teach us to be better people. At some point, we all have to deal with much more than we can handle! What Paul promises us is that God will walk with us so we can keep our faith, and God will give us strength and comfort in the midst of pain and confusion.

And so, as Christians, this is really what we are called to do: To respond to pain not by explaining it away in finding a good reason for it, but we are called to respond to pain by trusting God and by being present with those who suffer, in the same way that we believe that God is present with those who suffer. Paul is actually talking to a community, not to individuals, and what he says is that we can make it trough times of suffering when we are together as a community, when we support each other and take care of one another, not when we find good explanations / justifications for people’s suffering and advise them to just deal with it because what happens to them is God’s will.

I remember a comment I read in an exhibition about 9/11. A journalist marveled that: “Really, when there is a disaster everybody flee in the opposite direction, except for the firefighters and the reporters”. And I thought to myself: Well, not only the firefighters and the reporters, Christians also should run towards the places where suffering happen. We know that at least this is the example Moses gives us in our first reading. After all those years spent away from the oppression in Egypt, he will go back, right there in the midst of pain and confusion to bring healing and liberation to his people.

This is what repentance is all about I think. After Jesus dismissed the arguments of the crowd about God’s punishments, he asked them to “Repent” if they didn’t want to “Perish”. Repentance is often translated as “return” and indeed it is about changing directions. Not fleeing from the bad by explaining it away, but addressing it by doing good.

We need to address the bad by acting instead of finding good explanations when something happens to somebody. Yet it does not mean that we should not question why there is suffering in the world. To this global suffering, Jesus actually gave a very good explanation: the reason for suffering is our absence of repentance. It’s not that some people endure personal tragedies God send them as a punishment for their own private sins. But sin creates suffering. B/c of everybody’s sin, we have made the world a place of “pain and confusion” where a lot of bad things can happen to anyone because of our collective greed, because of our violence, or even just because of our lack of concern and our apathy. We live in a world that produces mass shooters, terrorists, natural disasters aggravated by climate change, buildings falling apart b/c they are made with haste at the lower cost. And those who suffer from the consequences of collective sins are not necessarily those who sinned- actually, most of the time, they are the innocent, the innocent who perish b/c of other people’s aggression, negligence or indifference.

Victims of tragedies don’t “perish” b/c they are “cursed”! If you were cursed when you die young or unexpectedly, it would not make sense that Jesus himself died young in a tragic way. But we see people perish because the way they die don’t make any sense. They are destroyed by the violence, the injustice and the absurdity our sins bring into the world. It’s not death that takes away the meaning of life, it’s sin! There are two ways of dying in the OT: Either you have your name perish, either you lie with your ancestors filled with years and children. What Jesus was saying is that we need to live lives that bear fruit instead of bringing destructionbarrenness being this very fate that threatens the fig tree in the parable.

Today Jesus calls us to refuse the absurdity, the injustice and the violence of the world and the best way we can respond to that is to tend our own garden, “to bear the fruit of repentance” as JB called the people to do at the beginning of the Gospel. We don’t have control over tragedies, but we have control over our own lives, we can choose to just sit there and criticize what’s going on and how people mess up everything or we can choose to live a fruitful life that brings healing and liberation, as did Moses.

And so maybe there are different ways to hear the parable of the fig tree. We generally assume that God is this man angry at the barren tree we are who wants to punish us by cutting us down, and Jesus is the gardener who tries to buy us a little more time. But maybe in the parable this man sadden by his tree is us and the tree is our world and the gardener shows us how, instead of despairing, we are called to look after it. Maybe we are tempted to give up b/c of all the violence and absurdity, but maybe Jesus calls us to look at the tree that is our world with compassion and hope and Jesus asks us to give our best to take care of it. If Jesus is the gardener of our world, maybe as disciples of Christ we can work with Christ to be the manure. The manure is just dust – as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday – but we are promised today that our dust can also bring life and renewal if we collaborate with him. Amen.

Lent II

– I wrote the sermon I am about to give before the attack on the NZ Mosque…As I was re-reading the Gospel for today, this image of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings hit me. When God gathers us under God’s wings, it’s not about us standing under the same banner, it is about how God wants us to be close to God’s heart and close to one another. How much our divisions, the hate we have and the violence we use against each other must grieve God! Let’s keep in our prayers all the victims and families of victims – along with all those who are victims of discrimination. Pray also for the repentance and conversion of their attackers.

– Suffering is on our minds these weeks…If our readings in Lent were a movie, we would see the cross at the horizon coming into clearer focus as we make our way through the season / “forward tracking effect”. Last week, we were told that Satan departed Jesus “until an opportune time”, today we are clearly informed that Herod wanted to kill Jesus (Herod Antipas / son of Herod the great – who also wanted to kill Jesus as a baby). Here again, it’s like in a movie, or in a tragedy = the main character is in danger and the danger is coming closer, the trap tightens and we start seeing that there would be no escape possible for Jesus, there were very powerful people who wanted him dead.

– We sometimes hear this saying that if you make someone mad, you probably have done something right…Not so sure about that!! If someone is mad at us, it is more likely that we have done something wrong! But in Jesus’s case, if you upset somebody who has more power than you, it probably means that you start being powerful too!Jesus was powerful as a preacher and a miracle doer but he also gave power to powerless people. He said to the Pharisees: “I am casting out demons and performing cures” (and will continue to do so…). It’s interesting to notice that Jesus wasn’t just “doing good”, he did not only helped the poor, by helping them he gave them power, Jesus brought power back into balance in his society, and so he was doing something disturbing (Herod hated it to the point of wanting him dead).

– In the way we generally imagine things though, we often see Jesus only as somebody meek and humble who loved everybody, and we don’t understand why suddenly very bad people crucified him out of the blue. Well, I read recently an article by a professor at a seminary who challenges his students to think about Jesus as not being “innocent” / as having actually done something (even if it was something right). This professor says that there was a reason for Jesus to be put to death. Jesus’s condemnation is something we should see coming in the Gospel!

– If we’re honest reading Scriptures, we have to admit that Jesus was certainly meek and humble, but he was not a people pleaser, and actually, he was trouble! Good trouble, but trouble nonetheless. He was not an activist / an agitator (unlike the zealots he never affiliated with) but he put into question and disturbed the political and religious powers: Herod of course, but we know that the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus either. In our story today, it is unclear if the Pharisees were really trying to help Jesus or if they were accomplices with Herod – trying to trick Jesus, pushing him away from Galilee to send him to Jerusalem where the Romans had the actual power to put him to death. (Or maybe it was Herod manipulating everybody? – it could be the reason why Jesus called him “a fox”)

– At any rate, the question is for us today: As followers of Jesus, are we looking to be “good Christians”, to “do good” or, beyond that, are we also good trouble / trouble for those who abuse their power? We think about Christians as needing to stay away from politics / not mixing religion and politics, but in the Gospel, Jesus clashes with politics and religion. Our faith is incarnated, our faith happens in the real world. In our society, we have the freedom to worship (or to not worship) but it does not mean faith is to be kept behind close doors. Jesus is an outdoorsy kind of God / very public God. We cannot use the non establishment of religion as an excuse to remain silent, our faith should question society and the choices we make as a society. Jesus was non violent and welcomed everyone, but his way of living, what he preached and his care for the powerless shined light on the injustices of his time. We are called to do the same. It’s not about being partisan, thinking we need to belong to this or that party to be “the real Christians”…Actually, if we belong to a political party, maybe we are not so called to spend our time criticizing the other side of the aisle…maybe we are called to remind our own party of what we believe in…As Christians, what we are are called to do is ask questions (in words and deeds) in the name of our faith / question our country but also our family, our friends, even our church!

– We have to remember that Jesus was not neutral…He was on the side of the poor, vulnerable. His life was not only about being kind and loving (as we often would like to think), his life was about giving power to those who had none and so, as we see today in the Gospel, Jesus also had to resist and show courage, he had to be faithful to what he believed in, continuing to do the work, being on his way even if he could see the cross at the horizon…

– It’s interesting that Jesus compared himself to a mother hen. The mother hen can protect her chicks when she is attacked, but ultimately she is defeated by the fox. This image tells us that there is more to life than individual survival, even animals can give their lives for others in a protective and sacrificial love. Unlike “the Herods” whose goal in life was only to assert their power,Jesus gave his life to defend the defenseless. We also are called to live beyond our own survival. It’s not only about “physical” survival, it’s about living beyond our selfishness. But do we wake up in the morning thinking about our own goals or do we think about how we can help others, even at “some cost to ourselves” as we say in the Sunday school prayer? Jesus constantly showed the example of sacrificial love…

How do we do that? Sacrificial love? Does not sound like a very exciting kind of love. But I think Abraham in our 1st reading shows us a good example of what sacrifices are. For Abraham, it is not about renouncing to his desires – it is about puttinghis desires into God’s hands. The animal sacrifice he offers is just a symbol of the sacrifice of his heart: he abandons his desire of a child to God, instead of trying to “cut corners” with his servant. And so, we too are called to let God do God’s work trusting that, like the mother hen, God has our best interests at heart. God knows that Abraham’s deepest desire is for a legitimate heir with his wife and God will give him this child. Our sacrifice is not bargaining (I give you something so you give me something in return), it is about renouncing to think we know better. Foxes like Herod try to trick their way into getting what they want, manipulating their own little worlds, but we are called to step back and to let God act. It’s the most difficult sacrifice: Renouncing to be God…This is what the cross is all about.

When we love sacrificially, we acknowledge that there is only so much suffering God can spare us. The cross cannot be avoided when we renounce the fox’s ways: We are vulnerable in this world when we refuse tricks, violence, lies…Yet, God’s way is to do the right thing – as Jesus did – in spite of the consequences. We will suffer inevitably. But Jesus never promised us to be winners in this world. We are not asked to win in this world, we are asked to question and change our world(s) (big and small), as Jesus did: to make room for God and for God’s kingdom.

– Because indeed, sacrifice is necessary but the cross is not an end – it’s not because the cross is the horizon that it is ultimate. Jesus’s ultimate goal has never been the cross! The goal is communion, joy and abundant life. Sacrifices open doors to abundant life (leave room for God to act / often we stand in God’s way). Paul: “Don’t live as an enemy of the cross and you will receive glory”. Resurrection is the goal, not death!

– Lent: What do I need to sacrifice? Not to bargain with God, but to enable God to fill us and to use so we can do God’s work in this world / bring a change in the world as Jesus did?

Lent I

Jesus’s meeting with Satan in the wilderness is a well-known passage of the Gospel, and it is often with this story that we start Lent, this time of the year when we are invited to reflect on the things that tempt us and how we may be led into surrendering to those temptations and sin, or, on the other side, how we could resist and overcome temptations to lead a godly life. What is interesting today is to notice that we often speak about temptations in the church to denounce them as bad – we should avoid them, and if we manage to avoid them, then we can preserve ourselves and be the perfect sons and daughters of God – yet, looking closer at our Gospel, we may hear another story. For me, what I find surprising, almost shocking and yet amazing – is to realize that all those things Jesus was tempted with, God gave them to Jesus in the end.

1 – Jesus was tempted with turning stones into bread – Well, all the four Gospels report that one day, Jesus will turn five loaves of bread into enough bread to feed five thousands. And not only Jesus will share this earthly bread, but he will be identified with the bread. John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life”. To this very day, Jesus is present to us in the form of the Eucharistic bread.

2 – Jesus was tempted with the desire to rule the earth, and be given by Satan “all glory and all authority”. Christ to this day is praised in all the world by Christians as the King of kings and Son of God / but he is also acknowledged as an important figure by others believers and non believers. The Roman Empire has passed away since long, but Jesus is still honored.

3 Jesus is tempted with throwing himself down the temple to see if God cares enough to rescue him. Well, we know that, in the end, Jesus will not be just caught as he falls but, after he is crucified, he will come back from the dead to be raised up to a new life with God.

And so, I really find it amazing that not only Jesus was given by God what he was tempted with, but God gave him even more, even better. Things so great and wonderful, Jesus could not even imagine.

What does it mean about Jesus?

We need to realize that if Jesus was tempted with these things: food, ruling the world and being God’s favorite, and if in the end God gave all of this to him – it means that Jesus really desired these things, and God thought they were good and wanted to give them to him as well!!

So what does it mean about our own temptations?

Well, maybe it means that the things we are tempted with aren’t necessarily bad. Jesus desired to feed people, to rule the world, and to be God’s only son because he knew deep down this is who he was. In the same way, it seems to me that we also want the things that we are created for. It’s true for our bodily desires of course (We crave food b/c we are meant to eat!), but it is also true for our desires to be acknowledged, to be praised…If we are meant for God and eternal life, we are meant for glory and so it’s natural we long for it!

In the end, very few of us desire bad things, or if we desire bad things it is still in believing they can be good / do us good (like drugs for example). Unlike the demons, we generally don’t want evil for evil. An ex member of the CIA testified one day that, as she got to know a lot of terrorists, she realized they did not want to do evil, they thought they were the good guys, heroes and God’s chosen…even if they were criminals in the sight of many, in their own eyes they fought for justice!

So what happens? How can things can go so wrong if we desire the very things we are meant for? I think this passage of the Gospel shows us three reasons. What goes wrong with our desires is that:

1 – We are impatient. We try to cut corners and we don’t think very deeply, “We want what we see”. We’re so hungry, we would eat stones! Our desire get stuck on what is right in front of us (David with Bathsheba). Yet generally this very thing / person won’t in the end fulfill our needs. This is what Jesus will teach the Samaritan woman: If you drink this water, you’ll be thirsty again. We don’t want to wait for God to bring what we really long for into our lives / to work to find it, we often try to get quick fixes by means that can be harmful to us or to others: We all want peace (good desire) but then to have peace, some will juts to numb themselves with alcohol instead of changing their lifestyle! Our quick fixes are a lack of efforts and also a lack of imagination! We want the first thing we can think of (“Money will solve all our problems!”)

2 – We are selfish: we want things for ourselves instead of thinking on how it can be a benefit to all. Satan offers to give the world to Jesus so Jesus can be glorified, but Jesus realizes that glory is not for himself, Jesus wants to bring the whole world into God’s glory. We may want good things, like for example a promotion at work, but we may be tempted to think only about how it would serve our interests (better salary, a nice title, a corner office) without thinking of the way we could use our promotion to collaborate with others/ to make a real change.

3 The real problem with temptation: When we desire from a place of brokenness, instead of desiring from a place of abundance. We want to fill a void inside of us. That’s the reason why a lot of people have affairs / it’s mostly b/c they are lonely, they don’t share real intimacy (body, heart, spirit) with their close ones. Need to find this person who could fill their lives. But the idea is to love from a place of abundance- where you can give, instead of doing it from a place of neediness!

So we are tempted….But through temptations, we learn. As Jesus learned before starting his ministry, moving from a place of neediness to a place of abundance. Like Jesus, we are not asked to forsake desire, but to find a greater and deeper desire – a desire to give instead of a desire to take.

Temptations are often desires that are not mature, God does not want us to stop desiring, God wants us to desire better and deeper so God can give us what he created us for and we can give it to the world. For example, artistic people have often a desire for fame. And it is good b/c seeking fame they can touch a lot of people by sharing their emotions! Energetic people often have a desire for power, and it is good when they can be leaders who guide others…“Vocation: where deepest longing and the need of the world meet”. What will disappoint and deceive us is not desiring, it is desiring too little / too narrow. Desire to have right away / for our own benefit.

Conclusion: We could wonder…. Does God tempt us? (Lord’s prayer:“Lead us not into temptation” re-translated ) Yes and no. Not sure God tempts us, but as the Spirit led Jesus in the wilderness, we are certainly led in places of wilderness, when we are feeling empty, needy, – and yes that’s often when temptations show up. There are two ways to react to that:

– a lot of Christians live their life holding their breath, just trying to resist to temptations.

– but maybe, we can also realize that God is trying to tell us something when we are tempted. God talks to us about what’s deep inside of us. And by engaging the dialogue (As Jesus does with the Scriptures) we may gain something dealing with temptations instead of just fleeing from them, transforming our desires to bring the best out of us. Addicts who manage to recover aren’t those who just avoid situations where they are tempted, but as they think about the reasons why they are addicted, they learn something about themselves and learn how to lead healed lives that don’t leave them with a void to fill with whatever is available.

So maybe this Lent, as Jesus, we may want to think not only about how we can just shut out our temptations, but also face the wilderness they come from, to be in touch with our brokenness, to find what we are really called to do, called to be and to find the many ways in which God can save us. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

We mark today the start of Lent with a concrete / bodily sign (as we often do in the church). Today, the sign of the ashes on our foreheads, a sign associated with mourning. The ashes do not hold a special / magical power, but they mark the opening of this period of Lent – a time were we are invited (as we will read in a few minutes) to self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, reading and meditating God’s holy Word”.

It’s often misunderstood. I like to say that Lent can give us “Spiritual anxiety”. This time of the year when we are supposed to be super holy, to give up a lot of bad habits and take on many religious practices…We often think of Lent as a time of privation / when we are supposed to do many efforts. Yet I think that if we really listen to the Scriptures today, we will realize that it’s not what it is about. Actually, Isaiah, and after him Jesus, seem to be tired and even a bit angry w/ people acting super religious. Because, they say, this is not what God expects from us.

So what does God expect from us? Well, as I was meditating those texts I thought that it is probably less about doing a lot of religious activities than about putting our whole heart in what we do / the efforts we make.

The Gospel today is often read as a denunciation of hypocrisy, and it’s right, one of the things Jesus hated the most in the world was hypocrisy. But I also think Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time making moral judgments with lists of do’s and don’ts. Indeed, Jesus does not want us to put on a show when we practice our religion. But it’s probably not so much because b/c God “does not like hypocrites” but b/c Jesus wants us to be authentic and invested. The way we give alms, fast, pray, these are the examples Jesus uses but more deeply, I think that what he is trying to say is that we cannot find God if we remain superficial, if we don’t have deep motives to do what we do, and just follow what others expect us to do – as did the Pharisees with those religious practices – sometimes b/c they were hypocrites / but sometimes maybe just b/c they didn’t know better, they didn’t look for more to religion than external practices.

And I think at some level, we can all identify with them. At some point, we can all end up doing things w/o really knowing why we are doing them, not only in religion but also in every day life. We spend a lot of time trying to be praised by others or maybe just trying to please them. We want them to see us, notice us so they will accept us and make us feel loved and important. We lose the sense of who we are deep down, we believe we are what others think of us.

But listening to the Gospel, we may want to think about Lent as a process where we can reconnect to our souls / to find what’s deep inside of us. Instead of acting all on the outside, Jesus asks us to do things “in secret”. He does not asks us to hide! He talks about being authentic. Instead of pretending to be something else / or just trying to follow w/o understanding what we are doing, Jesus asks us to open a space within ourselves so we can be intimate with God / close to God’s heart. Paradoxically, those who are hiding may be those who put on a show as they practice their piety, they put on a show for others, maybe even for God, maybe even for themselves – They’re like: “We are these people who have it all together and live perfect lives…”

In the Gospel today, Jesus asks us to not act like hypocrites, but more deeply he wants to protect us from exhausting ourselves in doing things (including religion) trying to find validation in the way people look at us. Trying to be accepted, to fit in, to be rewarded – waiting for people to praise us / return our love / the interest we have in them. Interestingly, Fat Tuesday is often celebrated in the world by wearing masks. Does it mean that we need to take off our masks on Ash Wednesday? The symbol we have on our foreheads make me want to believe so. I read an article about a guy who said he happened to visit a church on Ash Wednesday, and when he saw the priest putting ashes on the parishioners’ foreheads he thought to himself: Well, this is a place where we say the truth!

On Ash Wednesday, we take off the masks to remember that we are dust. It does not mean we are garbage. The whole earth is dust – start dust / all life around us comes from the explosion of a big star. It’s wonderful and precious and fragile in the same time. In our world, we need more than ever to remember that our earth, each living creature and each one of us is wonderful and precious and fragile at the same time – each one of us is a miracle. How would we live if we had this inner conviction? How would we treat each other? And how would we relate to God?

Lent is not about beating ourselves up. Isaiah and after him Jesus make it clear that God does not want us to beat ourselves up. Lent is an invitation to stop putting on a show / running from who we are / it’s an invitation to be more authentic, more compassionate, more attentive. Unfortunately, Isaiah is often read as a way to say: “We should do less religious activities and more social justice”. But I think there can be as much misunderstood “good deeds” as false piety. In piety as in outreach and social justice, what God expects from us is to be real, to act out of our own heart, to act out of love. Isaiah does not ask us to be “good people”, he asks us to be loving and compassionate: “Share your bread, welcome those in need into your house. Enjoy fellowship, take care of one another”.

So maybe during this Lent, instead of trying to do to much, maybe we could think of just one or two things that connect us to ourselves, to others and to God and to do them with all our hearts, to be really in them. And maybe even: to savor them, to savor God in them.

I invite this Lent to think about joy – In the Gospel today, Jesus speaks about those things that steal from us our treasure, and trying to live up to people’s expectations is certainly something that robs us of the treasure of our joy. We have joy when we have pleasure in doing the things we do (This what play is all about / work is the opposite). If we do the things we do only for obtaining something else (a salary, a reward, consideration), joy is always postponed. Our relationship with God and our neighbor should be about enjoying each other presence / real intimacy / not playing a part for one another. Makes us feel vulnerable = dust. Yet if you can be truly yourself and discover in the process that you are loved for yourself, what biggest joy could there be? From this starting point, we can accept who we are and do all the things we’re supposed to do in repentance: ask for forgiveness, mend, change our behavior, grow and move on. Ashes: sign of mourning only to ask to be reborn into our authentic, true and eternal selves. Because during Lent, we mustn’t forget that where we’re headed is Resurrection. Amen.

Last Epiphany

There is this thing with the Gospel is that often we start reading a passage, and as we read this passage, we find the story so beautiful and well, so extraordinary that we may start doubting it really happened / or at least we wonder if it really happened this way – like Jesus feeding 5000, the water turning into wine or maybe like today the Transfiguration: Jesus is up on the mountain and as he starts praying, his face and clothes become dazzling white and Moses and Elijah show up.

If you find it hard to believe, you are in good company. A lot of theologians like to think that the whole thing is maybe just “symbolic”, told as an image, an illustration to make us understand something deeper – here: that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, so his glory must be shown in a dramatic vision.

But to me, what is interesting is that, each time there is one of those extraordinary stories in the Gospel – stories that seem really hard to believe – there are also always a few details that are so grounded in everyday life, so real, that I want to believe the whole story is true and this is exactly how it happened. Certainly the case today: The Transfiguration is an extraordinary story and yet, Luke reports little details that make you think he sticks to the facts. (Matthew and Mark tell the story as well, but they don’t notice what Luke notices.).
And this what Luke notices:

– Jesus and the disciples are praying

– The disciples feel sleepy.

And well, I think Luke is very candid, because Christians don’t always like to admit it, but we know that for a fact: Prayer can make us feel sleepy… I looked up in a dictionary the definition of “dozing off” and it reads: “to fall into a light sleep unintentionally” and then the example they give you is: He dozed off during the sermon! So this is well acknowledged this is how worship goes sometimes!! We certainly experience some “dozing off” here at Christ Church with a service at 9:00am. It will be worse next week with daylight saving time!

So what about that? Well, there are actually quite a few times in the Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake: to pray with him, as in the garden of Gethsemane, but also Jesus tells parables about staying awake, and it’s like he is always worried about his disciples falling asleep. And I always wondered about that until this week when I read an article about a church in Washington that manages to attract a lot of young people (so the newspaper made an article out of it!). A young man who was interviewed said he decided to stay after attending a Bible study because: “The word of God woke up something in [him] that was asleep for a while”

He said: The word of God woke up something in me that was asleep for a while.

And I thought: Well, that’s it, that’s what it’s all about. Jesus does not care if we fall asleep when we are tired. Jesus was worried about people being hungry – no doubt he had compassion on those who were tired / fall asleep even if it was during prayer or his sermons. But Jesus was still worried his disciples let some important things fall asleep inside of them / become numb / forgotten and so Jesus tried very hard / went out of his way to capture their attention, to remind them of who they were / meant to be.

Actually, the Transfiguration story concludes the cycle of Epiphany and it is a parallel to the beginning of the season when we read about Jesus’s baptism: We hear the same words: “This is my Son, my chosen”. The voice of God asks to look at Jesus and listen to him/ The Gospel wants to remind us that we are sons and daughters of God too and warns us that we should not let that go numb.

But maybe we have a feeling that we are not sleepy. We are for sure a busy generation. According to a recent study: we never had gotten so little sleep and it puts us into troubles: health problems, depression, accidents. Yet, we are sleepy, in the sense that we can all numb ourselves:

– With different things: TV shows, addictions, work…
– In different ways: Parts of ourselves, part of our lives that have fallen asleep…

Jesus wants us to be full people / alive / to use all that we have, all that we are. And we may make this experience that God wants to wake us up – like the disciples on that day of the Transfiguration, like this young man in this church in DC. I know I could relate to the story of the man because that happened to me. When I was in my late twenties, I stopped going to church for a while, and then one day I went to a prayer group and they were singing Taizé songs and it was so moving it’s like it reminded me I had a soul.

But being reminded of our soul, it’s not only about religion. Maybe you have been woken up to your soul in other ways, like you read a book and it made you curious / you wanted to think more deeply. Or you started a painting class and you discovered you could use your hands, become a more creative person. Or maybe you met somebody who touched your heart, or you discovered a cause you wanted to fight for…

We all fall asleep at some point and we all need to wake up: It’s true for us as individuals, as couples, as churches… This week, our church had to take the Diocesan survey: “Unstuck church assessment”: The purpose is to identify whether congregations have fallen asleep! (We’re not doing too bad, but we could do better…).

It’s wonderful to know we are accepted as we are / loved by God but we are made to grow: grow fully into our possibilities. Isn’t it heart breaking when you see that your children don’t use their gifts? You love them but if they spend their time staring at a screen, you probably want them to raise their heads, to participate in the conversation…Well, maybe this how God sees us to! God wants us to mature! We are made for so much more…In his letter today, Paul says that we are made to be transformed in the image of Christ, from one glory to another.

And indeed the Gospel story does not end with the Transfiguration: Jesus walks down the mountain and he cures this young man – why is there such an extended description of his affliction? Well, the description insists on the fact that the young man is distorted and disfigured by his crisis / it’s like he is a counterpoint to Jesus whose face is radiant. But Jesus does not condemn him. On the other way around, we see Jesus restoring the man to his true face and true beauty…Satan’s work is to disfigure who we are. But more often, we may just don’t work hard enough to be our most beautiful selves!

Of course, it’s not about the way we look like…It’s about – as Paul notices – being fully ourselves: bold / confident disciples (even bolder than Moses!). Jesus gets mad at the end of the story because his disciples don’t act as if they were empowered. They are shy, they don’t think they can do the healing. How often is it that we also think we cannot help people / do something for God and we just try to get by. We do that as individuals / as a church. Jesus wants us to we have power (=the power to act/serve), in the same way you would want your children to be able to take care of themselves…and to take care of others too!

It’s not easy to grow, to change, it can be painful…We are also woken up in suffering: Like when you start exercising and it makes you hurt in muscles you didn’t know you had in you. There is a reason why we fall asleep during worship: Sometimes it’s boring of course, but also it’s demanding. To really look, listen and make a change in us…Dozing off / numbing is a good way out sometimes…And yet, how much do we need to stay awake if we don’t want to miss the important stuff. Had the disciples fallen asleep on that day, they would have missed this incredible vision.

We see that Jesus is transformed as he prays / we too are transformed as we work on our relationship with God…Let God work on ourselves / transform us so like Jesus we can “shine God’s glory”, not to hide but to transform the world. Luke mentions a time range of “Eight days”, some think it points to the new creation. God renews us and transforms us to mirror Christ. Maybe Lent is this time to let God “re-create us” and awaken us to our true selves. Amen.