The Sunday Sermon: what is winning?

Jimmy Kimmel, this past week, gave us insight into Presidential Politics and religion on his late-night show. In an entertaining but revealing segment, he portrayed Jesus as a presidential candidate: Jesus the candidate read quotes from the actual US Presidential candidates.

It was amusing but alarming to hear statements from both the left and the right out of the mouth of Jesus- I mean we have ideas about Jesus, and very little of what comes out of politicians mouths are things we expect Jesus to say– unless its our politician. Maybe we don’t expect some of the things politicians say to come out of politicians mouths either, but that’s a different story.

That’s the point, though, really– we do have a tendency, us humans, to seek out solutions of power and hierarchy when faced with challenges, rather than turning to relationship and reconciliation. We want to cut off conversation and jump to force, to winning an election, to cutting off the conversation.

The disciples were no different. They lived in a difficult time. They were Jewish, living in a land occupied by the Roman empire. Their expectations of a Messiah were nothing like what they got in Jesus. They were hoping for something more like a military and political leader who would rally their people and rout the Romans from Jerusalem so that they would be restored to glory.

But, just prior to our lesson today, Jesus has told the disciples that he is not that kind of Messiah. Instead, he is the kind of Messiah that will be tortured by the Romans. He will be crucified by them. He will die. All of that before he will be resurrected.

That’s a pretty big shift for the disciples to make. Probably even harder than watching Jimmy Kimmel’s Jesus utter the words of today’s presidential candidates.

And I wonder where that pattern plays out, even for us Episcopalians today. Where do we hope- overtly or secretly- that our Jesus will “win” in the way we want, on the world’s terms? That Jesus will just make somebody else, or some other group lose– that Jesus will just sort of wipe out their distastefulness, or even their outright oppression, quid pro quo? I know when I think about LGBT inclusion, or immigration, or homelessness, or any myriad of things I think Jesus is “on my side” about, I immediately get anxious if I imagine that he is not going to “help me win” the way I want to win. I can’t say truthfully that there aren’t times I just wish for the other side to just sort of disappear.

But nonetheless, one of the messages of Jesus to the world was, “God’s justice and love doesn’t work the way you think it will,” even though us, his followers, have had a hard time getting it throughout the ages. I think Peter, coming out of sleep on the mountaintop, groggily woke up to see Jesus getting support for his mission of healing from Moses and Elijah. In his sleepy haze, I think Peter thought, “look! he’s got reinforcements! Look at all this power! We’re going to win this thing after all!” And that’s a bit of why the whole dark cloud- booming voice thing happened– what seems like a chastising of Peter to call him out and say, “wait a minute– you’ve gotten focused on the wrong thing.”

Because Luke immediately draws us back down off of the mountaintop into the brokenness of the real world. And in the healing of this boy, Jesus lets us know the disciples haven’t gotten it yet. They weren’t able to heal him. But Jesus is there, and Jesus can. Jesus is right in the middle of all the messiness.

And that is the real good news of this lesson: the glory of God is not found on a remote mountaintop. The glory of God is not found in this presidential candidate or that one. But the glory of God is revealed in the everyday messiness of life. We have a God who walks beside us, not above us. Who came not to be a removed and far-away emperor– and we want an emperor, just one who makes the decisions we agree with– but in Jesus we don’t get emperor, making decrees about our future without knowing us– but we have in Jesus a God-person who holds us and heals us when we are sick, even when nobody else seems to be able to do it, and listens to us, and allows us to — well, to be fully who we were made to be, with all our agency, and with all our joy, and with all the struggle in finding it, too. And that is where the glory of God is to be found.

It is precisely because of the God who walks in that way with those without power that the alienation of oppression can turn into courage and strength to take action, to speak truth to power, and to be the hands and feet of the Body of Christ in a world that gives voice only to the powerful. It is precisely because of that God that all of us can heal our own wounds through building relationships of mutuality, support, and love, living into our baptismal covenant to love our neighbors as ourselves. And it is that God that loves us all as beloved, made real in Christ Jesus, his beloved son, where each of us were made in God’s image– made not to be ruled as insignificant subjects but created because God wanted each of us, wanted us to exist as objects of love and affection.

Today is the bridge day between the Epiphany season, where we look at all the bright and shiny moments we have where Jesus is revealed as our Messiah, and Lent, where we have opportunities to come down off the mountain and go deeper into those moments where Jesus is the Messiah who has already been closer to us than we have imagined in our brokenness, in our hurt, and in our woundedness. Maybe this Lent there is an opportunity to, as my friend Susan Russell says, keep “Epiphing”– about how we can go deeper into who we were made to be as God’s beloved, knowing that Jesus is right there with us, to give us courage, grace, and strength for the journey with our fellow brothers and sisters, now and always.

The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk
Transfiguration C, February 7, 2016
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Luke 9:28-43

Henson, David. “The Temptation of the Transfiguration: On High Places, Presidential Politics, and the Glory of God.” Patheos., read 2/6/16.

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