Mar. 3, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Mar 3, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C)

March 3, 2019

Suddenly They Saw

Do you ever get hooked on a story when it takes a spellbinding turn? Events have started out unremarkably, but then suddenly some unforeseeable something erupts and demands your attention. Will it be a game changer? You and I learned this narrative reflex at our mother’s knee: remember how the frog turns out to be a prince! Who knew? Now the princess can live happily ever after. We relearn it daily on our screens of all sizes: Don Draper (of Mad Men fame) turns out to be an abused and abandoned veteran named Richard Whitman. No wonder Don keeps struggling to bury a past that long ago buried him.

This kind of dramatic U-turn is what screen writers call a “reveal,” and fans love to post their favorite reveals online. Comments show what’s happening for them. First, there is the visceral shock of running into something they never saw coming. Fans say they replay the scene again and again, reliving the high voltage moment of revelation. They also replay memories of earlier scenes, and marvel over clues they missed. And somehow, being shocked in itself turns out to be a good thing.

Second, fans describe the rush of discovery as the future ramifications sink in. Glancing backward over the story to this point, they see how familiarity has glossed over vital facts. An extraordinary, unforeseen interruption has been waiting in the wings. Glancing forward toward the future, they suspect it will not turn out to be at all as they had imagined.

This awareness makes them feel quite differently about the characters they have been following, and even about themselves. Up until now they may have been iffy about this particular slice of life, but suddenly they are all in.

I’m taking us through the inner workings of reveals because they tap into a universal truth about us: we humans are forever being moved by the veiling and unveiling of reality. Sure, many days our attention just drifts, but then without warning it will rivet on some person, place or thing, and we’ll be hooked into finding out what’s happening next…before we go back to drifting again. God appreciates that human mindfulness is fickle like this, and so the Bible relies on the reveals to stir our souls. These will be the verses that we remember.

This morning’s readings are a pair in point. We meet the prophet Moses as he descends the flanks of Mt Sinai, lugging two slabs of commandments. We know from Sunday School that God gave Moses these ten, carved-in-stone rules for us to live by. That hand-off on high is common knowledge. But perhaps it’s only this morning that we’re noticing the big reveal in the moment: Moses’ face is glowing. This guy is not just the shepherd-turned migrant guide everyone thought he was! The Israelites panic and scatter.

It seems this unveiling of God’s presence is too hot to handle. Moses yanks his head veil down over his face. The blazing unveiling is finished for now, but the reveal has done its work. Glancing back, the people realize that all along Moses has been leading them to this encounter. Glancing forward, they can understand that living out these Ten Commandments will recast their lives in ways they could never anticipate.

Then we meet Jesus as he takes his closest followers, Peter, James and John, up on a mountain with him. Wilderness prayers at Jesus’ invitation are nothing new, and his friends feel free to rest their eyes as the peaceful interlude stretches on. But on this particular day a blazing reveal breaks into the bliss. Jesus starts glowing all over, and the Old Testament stories leading up to his ministry begin flashing before their eyes. “Suddenly they saw,” the Bible tells us. The disciples are shocked into incoherence as God underlines the obvious, “This is my Son!”

Almost immediately, much as Moses dropped a shroud over his glowing face, God blankets Jesus’ radiance with a cloud. The blazing unveiling is over, but the reveal has done its work. Glancing back, the disciples realize that ever since Jesus called them he has been leading them to this moment. Glancing forward, they understand that living out this mission with him will reshape their lives in unfathomable ways. The Bible reports that the disciples keep this revelation to themselves for years, but long before 2019 knowledge of the reveal passed into common knowledge.

By now all Christians are in on this revelatory plot line. That’s why we’re here in church together, reading the Gospel story for ourselves. We’re hooked. We begin to ask about revelatory plot lines continuing into our own lives, times that feel nearly out of time as something unforeseeable again rises up and grabs our attention, promising to be a game changer. I offer you a handful of real life examples to ponder.

A restless high school senior angsts over his future following graduation, until on a fluke he finds himself on a campus he had never considered, and he somehow knows he’s come home. His face glows. The reveal has done its work. On a lark a UW grad student applies for a graphics internship across the country at the New York Times. Why not give it a fling? Blowing past instructions for giving feedback on the samples, she impulsively opens the files and redesigns them completely. In New York a managing editor’s face glows. The reveal has done its work, and the intern goes on to become overall data advisor for the paper. A deeply grieving young woman despairs over losing her mother’s precious presence by her side, until one day a random breeze swirls a handful of autumn leaves up, up, upward all around her, carrying her spirits aloft with them. Her face glows. “Hi Mom!” The reveal has done its work.

The Bible simply tells it like it is. “Suddenly they saw,” St Luke sums up. That is today’s takeaway. Replay this morning’s reveal again and again in your mind so you will recognize it when it happens to you. So you will be ready to glance back from any glowing moment and give thanks for the events that led you to it; so you can glance ahead, and give thanks for the graced tomorrows now coming into view. Amen.

© 2019 The Rev. Dr. Ann P. Lukens. All rights reserved.

View lectionary readings: