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Today is, according to my Christian calendar, Transfiguration Sunday. I did not grow up in a liturgical church and so I don’t know how this is honored. In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon about the transfiguration, though I likely have.

This is one of those stories which, well, is unusual. Because of this it’s easy, or almost desirous in our less mystical age, to gloss over this passage and move on to something more convenient, maybe the thing about having to sell all your possessions in order to become perfect. That at least we can rationalize and put into our present context by saying Jesus was talking to that other fellow, not us.

The Transfiguration, however, isn’t a moral point. It’s not a philosophical point. It’s certainly doesn’t fit into our every day living.

It’s mystical. And to be honest I’ve never really thought of the transfiguration all that much, leaving a curious gap in anything I might say on the topic today. So, here it is.

Mark 9:2-10:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

The story is so not 21st century.

Maybe, this is a fine time to make up for lost time and get to thinking what the transfiguration is all about. More thoughts to come, if I find them. Add your own if you have any.

Rising to Heaven

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Happy Ascension Day!

How does one go about celebrating this day? Do we say, “Hooray! Jesus left!”

He died, which was terribly inconvenient. But then he came back to life! That’s good. Everyone’s happy. “So now what, Jesus?” “Is the kingdom coming?” “Are we all going to get our rewards for sticking with you?” John would have asked that last question.

“Haven’t you been listening. I’m leaving,” Jesus replied.

That’s awful inconvenient. What would be more evangelistic than the risen Lord himself doing a global tour? A month or so then he’s done? Even Caesar might make room in his schedule for an audience had he given at least a few more months to the task. And had he kept at it for a few more decades? Wow.

“I’m leaving,” Jesus said. “But for a good reason. If I don’t leave, the Spirit won’t come. So I’ll go ahead and rise back to heaven and then the Spirit will come, which is so much better. You won’t even miss me.”

“We won’t even miss you? How can that be, you’ve taught us so much.”

“Yeah, sure, but the Spirit will teach you all things. Everything. You know that’s a lot of things. And you’ll all be filled with the Spirit. So guess what that means.”

“Um, we’ll all be taught all things.”

“Exactly. Now isn’t that better? In the past only prophets or kings or other special folks were picked and filled by the Spirit. Now the whole lot of you will get the power. Isn’t that great?”

“So, you’re leaving then?” I suspect Peter might have asked something like this.

“Do we get to be in power, now?” James may have asked.

“Sheesh,” Jesus likely said, or the equivalent in Aramaic. “I’m not going to tell you when the Father is going to get things moving like that. Just wait. And the Spirit will come. Now, I’m going. Bye.”

“Um, where did he go?” Most of the disciples asked after about ten minutes as they stared upwards.

This is all terribly inconvenient really. Doesn’t make the least bit of sense. But that’s the way that it happened. Even if the Disciples would have preferred it happen some other way.

“Men of Galillee,” a couple of handsome fellows dressed in white soon said. They kind of appeared from behind a bush. “Why do you stare at the sky? He’ll be back, just like he left. But not now. Go home. Do what he said.”

Which really is good advice. Something to remember every Ascension Day.

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

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And so today begins what is commonly called Holy Week.

In commemoration of the days I offer this little presentation, something I did for a Good Friday event about four years ago for NewSong Church in San Dimas. It was part of the Stations of the Cross, Station 8 if you care to know.

Have a listen to Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem:

Saint Patrick’s Day

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Ah, yes today is Saint Patrick’s Day. To celebrate one should eat corned beef and drink a guinness. Or, if you’re more spiritually minded I heartily suggest a reading of Patrick’s own words, inspirational to be sure.

If’n you’re even more interested here’s a wee paper I once wrote in seminary, suggesting that while Patrick was a man of the West, he was heartily influenced by the folks from the east.

Perpetua and Felicity

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According to my calendar of the church today is the day we honor Perpetua and Felicity, along with their companions who died under Roman persecution. These martyrs were fed to the beasts to sate a hatred for Christians, their deaths being a show for sinners, their deaths being a testimony for saints. Perpetua and Felicity were young women, one with a young child, the other gave birth after she was captured, and her daughter was raised by another Christian woman. I can’t help think of those tales told of Saddam’s tortures, in which young women also lost their children, or gave birth while in terrible prisons, and were otherwise treated shamefully merely because an evil man thought nothing of it.

Tertullian wrote, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” And so we remember that at a certain point after this, though not right away by any means, God did a work and made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, soon to be superior. The testimoniesof these young women are left for us in a more accepting age as reminders of the hatred evil has for us, and encouragement that we might stand even as these young women stood in their trials. Fierce or subtle we are all called to stand, and keep standing, even when the leopard comes to tear out our throats. For this is not all there is, and the woman or man of faith lives according to this reality.

Tertullian also penned the following telling of their martyrdom, ending with these words:

O most brave and blessed martyrs! O truly called and chosen unto the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! whom whoever magnifies, and honors, and adores, assuredly ought to read these examples for the edification of the Church, not less than the ancient ones, so that new virtues also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit is always operating even until now, and God the Father Omnipotent, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, whose is the glory and infinite power for ever and ever. Amen.

Take a moment, read the whole thing, it’s a good meditation on life and faith, and overcoming all things:
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“The best of all is – God is with us!”

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According to my Church calendar today is the day we honor the Wesley brothers. Clearly, this is an ecumenical calendar to celebrate these two roustabouts. I have a wee bit of a headache this evening so I won’t be doing my usual saint inspired panegyric, even as I could honor these Wesleys as being key players in my own theological development. In college my discovery of John Wesley changed my understanding in a profound way, but they weren’t just important to me personally. My forebears, relatives going plenty far back were known to pass on the first name of Wesley, signifying the Methodist movement is in my blood.

So, as a slight way of honoring these I present a nice little psychological study of John Wesley which I wrote while in Seminary.

And a nice little hymn by Charles Wesley which is especially timely for me these days:

Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire

Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,
let us thine influence prove;
source of the old prophetic fire,
fountain of life and love.

Come, Holy Ghost (for moved by thee
the prophets wrote and spoke),
unlock the truth, thyself the key,
unseal the sacred book.

Expand thy wings, celestial Dove,
brood o’er our nature’s night;
on our disordered spirits move,
and let there now be light.

God, through the Spirit we shall know
if thou within us shine,
and sound, with all thy saints below,
the depths of love divine.

David of Wales

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Sanctus, who was king of the people of Ceredigion, departed for Dyfed and, while passing through it, chanced upon a girl called Nonita, who was exceedingly beautiful and modest. The king, who was filled with desire, violated her. She for her part knew no man either before or after but continuing in chastity of mind and body, led a most faithful life.

Nine months after the king raped this girl she had a baby. This baby was named David, and he became the patron saint of Wales.

According to my calendar of the Church today is the day to honor David of Wales.David of Wales.

Little is known about him, as he thrived at the height of Celtic Christianity during the dark ages. They were dark because very little writing has come from this time, both because the increasingly dominant peoples were oral cultures, and because the Vikings came and felt fire was a nice thing to apply to monasteries, where the books that existed were kept. David’s full story is now lost in the mists of history, so we do not really know David for who he was, though hints and echoes poke through a 11th century biography, and like with Patrick, the real life of David resonates even still in the land he called home.

David, supposedly, said this to his followers during a time of great temptation:

You know that the world hates you, but now know that the people of Israel, accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant, entered the Promised Land, worn down by the continual dangers of battles but not defeated, and destroyed the uncircumcised people who lived there and held it their own.

That struggle is a clear sign of our own victory. For they who seek a promised heavenly homeland must be exhausted by adversities but not overcome and, with Christ as their ally, must finally conquer the impure blemish of their sins. We must not be overcome by evil, then, but must overcome evil with good because, if Christ is for us, who can be against us? Be strong therefore and invincible in the struggle, in case your enemy should rejoice in your flight.

David, or Dewi as he is often called, was a man of wonderful holiness, vision, and faith. Yet, he came from rather depressing circumstances. God redeemed a life so poorly created and made him into a man whose tale imprinted upon the land and history of Wales.

The Spirit does great and curious works. And so today we honor David of Wales for his faithfulness, wisdom, holiness, and dedication to Christ in and through all things. In honoring David, we also honor the Spirit who worked in him and the Christ who David proclaimed throughout his life.

Polycarp

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According to my Calendar of the Church today is the day we honor Polycarp. Now, Polycarp is a wonderful fellow, who we don’t know nearly as much as we should. He was a bishop, and according to testimony he was put in that position by his mentor, the Apostle John. Needless to say he was a very important leader for the Early Church, and led through his gifts of wisdom and holiness. When he was 86 years old he was arrested and burned alive, becoming a martyr for Jesus.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is something all Christians should read. So being today is the day we honor Polycarp, here’s your chance (from CCEL):

We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution, having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom. For almost all the events that happened previously [to this one], took place that the Lord might show us from above a martyrdom becoming the Gospel. For he waited to be delivered up, even as the Lord had done, that we also might become his followers, while we look not merely at what concerns ourselves but have regard also to our neighbors. For it is the part of a true and well-founded love, not only to wish one’s self to be saved, but also all the brethren.
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according to the will of God.
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Valentine’s Day

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Valentine was a holy priest in Rome, who, with St. Marius and his family,
assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. He was apprehended,
and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his promises
to make him renounce his faith in effectual, commended him to be beaten with
clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded, which was executed on February 14.

For some people Valentine’s Day is still sort of like this.

But be thankful. Because God is indeed good. This is true whether we see the blessings of another in our life, talk with another in our life, or can just share the bounty of God’s love in our life.

As that great romantic writer Jurgen Moltmann says:

First of all there are the beginnings of the experience of love, in which something stirs us without any act of our own: the look — the lightning flash — the kindling touch, the loving embrace, the heartwarming closeness. A spark, a flame, springs from the one to the other, sometimes of almost mystical immediacy, which then has first to create the mediating consonances and aquiescences. Erotic relational fields come into being, with their personal resonaances and shared harmonies.

Experiences of God are often described in a corresponding way: the electrifying touch of the Holy Spirit, the experience of faith which warms the heart, the thrust of energy which is called ‘rebirth’ to a new life, life’s charismatic blossoming, and not least: the shining face of God which is invoked in every benediction and from which the Spirit comes to give life peace, and the illumined face of Christ from whom the life-giving Spirit comes to illuminate believers. In this sense the Spirit of God is like the divine Eros which pervades all created being with the power of its love:

Steadfast may we cleave to Thee,
Love, the mystic union be;
Join our faithful spirits, join
Each to each, and all to Thine. (c. wesley)

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.” 1 John 4:16-17

God is love. God is with us. So we all can be thankful for such a love as this.

Paul Miki

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Having a look at my Church calendar I note that today is the feast day of Paul Miki.

The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.

Paul Miki was crucified in 1527. In Nagasaki, Japan.

He was the son of a significant Japanese military leader.

The story of Christianity in Japan is one of the most fascinating, and troublesome, tales in Christian history. It was a potential the likes of which cannot be grasped. But something happened. Yes there was devastating persecution by an increasingly closed off society. There was also something more. And that something more is still an elusive thing.

The Spirit was moving wildly through the Japanese society of the 16th century. Something happened. Something happened which squashed the work of the Spirit in that country, a fact which reverberates through our era.

I suspect it was the atrocious disunity displayed by the various factions of the church wanting a foothold for themselves in Asia. Protestants, Jesuits, Franciscans, and others all wanted priority. Christ is the only priority however, and in the division over the inconsequentials of Christian theology, which still divide the Church, Japan was lost as a Christian nation. The Spirit works in an through all peoples and all cultures. It is sinful humanity which cannot see past culture and our own biases. This is to our shame.

And so we honor Paul Miki for his martyrdom, and his testimony, and his life. We honor him even as we bow in shame for what could have been in the country which he loved and died for, modeling Jesus who also loved and died for the Japanese.

By the by, for more reading on this subject I highly recommend Shusaku Endo’s Silence. As well as his other works.