20 February 2019

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 March 2019

TheLast Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 March 2019

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
II Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Saint Luke 9:28-36

Background: The Feast of the Transfiguration


The earliest that we know of a celebration of the Transfiguration was in the ninth century. Later Pope Calixtus III moved the celebration to 6 August to commemorate the victory at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. Celebration on this date is known in the Syrian Orthodox, Indian Orthodoxd, Orthodox churches using the revised Julian calendars, Catholic, Old Catholic, and Anglican Churches. Lutheran Churches following the reforms that followed Vatican II and the introduction of the Three-Year Lectionary also celebrate the day on 6 August, although the readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany rehearse those readings as well. The Church of Sweden and the Church of Finland celebrate the feast on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35


Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

There are some unique things about this pericope. The first is, and it is not evident in our translation here, that the name of Moses is repeated three times in the initial verse of the pericope – “Moses came down,” “in Moses’ hands,” and“Moses did not know.” The emphasis is clearly on Moses. The second unique quality is the only use of the verb qaran. Our translation uses the word “shone” to translate the verb. Robert Alter translate the phrase as “had begun to glow”. The Greek and Latin translations of this pericope translated it as “sprouted horns” from the Hebrew word qeren“horn”, thus explaining the depiction by various artists of Moses with horns coming out of his head. The depiction of notable figures with a divine radiance was a common image in the ancient near east, and thus this seems the best translation of this verb. It appears the glow did not have a calming effect for the people “were afraid to come near him.”The veil that Moses wears in order to conceal his divine radiance is compared by some commentators with the veil in the Temple. 

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. Have you ever seen God?
  2. What is your image of God?
  3. When does your face shine?

Psalm 99 Dominus regnavit


1      The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
     The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
     Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
     "O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob."
     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
     He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
     O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.


The reaction of the people having seen the face of a glowing Moses is reflected in this psalm as well, where the people tremble at the glory of God’s kingship – seated upon the cherubim. Various aspects are used to depict the majesty of YHWH – God is great, high, and God’s name is awesome. The enthronement of ancient kings is duplicated here right down to the footstool at which the people bow. Both prophets and priests (Moses, Aaron, and Samuel) are named as calling upon God’s name. The psalm reminds us that we stand in a long line of those who have honored and gloried in YHWH. In the same way, Jesus will be seen standing with Moses and Elijah in the Gospel.

Breaking open Psalm 99:
  1. When have you been awestruck?
  2. When is something truly awesome to you?
  3. Do you ever experience awe in church?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 3:12-4:2


Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Therefore, since it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Paul clearly sees his own glory in his following Jesus. Unlike Moses who had to hide his glory with a veil – protecting the people from that glory – Paul is open about his relationship with Jesus. He states it quite clearly, “we act with great boldness.”Paul takes the notion of that veil further, seeing in it an image of the rejection of the Good News that Jesus brings. Paul hints at the oppression that the Law represents – its ability to bind minds and hearts. He appeals to the freedom that the Spirit brings. Paul hints that there are many things that need to be hidden, but the grace of God is not one of them. He is freed up in “the open statement of the truth we commend”. 

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. What is your glory?
  2. How is your glory related to your faith?
  3. What is the glory of your deeds for others?

The Gospel: St. Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]


About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

[On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]

The Transfiguration of Jesus falls in the midst of a deep and rich context of ministry – the confession of Peter, a Passion prediction, the feeding of many people, and teaching on what it means to be a disciple. It is almost necessary, given all this content, to have a sharp and keen image of who it is that Jesus is. The Transfiguration serves that need, and reveals the difficulty that the disciples yet have in knowing him. Later it will be Paul who will declare Christ opening (see the Second Reading) but here Jesus urges them to be silent and quiet – the time is not yet ripe. The question that this pericope and the optional one that follows asks is what is really necessary for us to know Jesus. The material that leads up to this scene is generous in its ability to show the true nature of Jesus, and the material that follows shows disciples who yet do not know the power of following their master. The act of healing gives opportunity for belief, “And all were astounded (Luke’s code word for believing) at the greatness of God. It’s an interesting phrase – for the focus is not on Jesus’ greatness, but on God. 

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What in your life has been changed/transfigured?
  2. Was it for good or for ill?
  3. How have you changed the lives of others?

Principal Question:        What is it that you see?

Vision One:                      Reflected glory in our lives. (First Reading)

Vision Two:                     The Majesty of God – Where? (Psalm)

Vision Three:                   In the glory of Jesus reflected in what we say and do – our openness to God’s glory in our lives (Second Reading)

Vision Four:                     In the ministry done in Jesus name (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

19 February 2019

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 February 2019

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, 24 February 2019

Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42
I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Saint Luke 6:27-38

Background: Blessings and Curses


The style that Luke uses in his version of the Sermon on the Mount has Jesus proclaim blessings (Blessed are…) and curses (Woe to you…) to both poor and rich. He follows, in doing that, a rich tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures which saw such proclamations as a part of the Covenant tradition, and the forms that it followed from Hittite treaty and suzerainty traditions in the Ancient Near East. The Israelites knew these forms from the codes and agreements that they lived under during their rule by Hittites, Egyptians, and Assyrians. The forms of Israelite covenant most closely follow the Hittite forms. The treaty form had the following elements:


1)    Preamble – which named the parties of the treaty, the suzerain and the vassal.

2)    Prologue – notes the history of the relationship, and what the suzerain had done for the vassal in the past.

3)    Stipulations – what was expected of the vassal.

4)    Publication – that the agreement was to be read and renewed annually.

5)    Divine Sanction – the gods invoked by both suzerain and vassal.

6)    Blessings and Curses – what would accrue if the stipulations were met (blessings) or what would accrue if the stipulations were not met (curses).

7)    Sacrificial Meal – binding the two parties in the provisions of the treaty.


In the Sermon on the Mount it is only the sixth element that obtains, but it shows how Jesus’ preaching relied, in part, on the forms of the ancient world.

First Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15


Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there--since there are five more years of famine to come--so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'"

And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

The introductory verses of this pericope are elided from the lectionary and with them the emotional weight of the scene. Joseph weeps for the third time, first in secret and now quite openly. His first concern is his relationship with his father, “Is my father still alive?” Since he is quite obviously alive (a shock to his brothers) he needs to know about the primary relationship with ‘my father.” This is an intimate revelation that Joseph makes, and he underscores that intimacy by inviting them to come closer. The added element, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt,” brings the relationship into sharp focus, troubled though it may be. This also has a bit of a dramatic element to it – what will he do next must have troubled the brothers’ minds. 

Joseph is clear in understanding the brothers’ agency, but he is more clear in understanding God’s agency in the situation. Joseph sees God as a providential means for the family (both intimate and in the broader sense of humankind.) There is an aspect to this in which Joseph also appears to be the wise one, the one who made good things happen in a difficult situation. He is a blessing amongst the curses of famine. It’s a formal element that is followed by an even more formal aspect. Joseph makes a proclamation beginning with, “Thus says your son Joseph.” The speech has a regal aspect to it, and it is clearly addressed to a larger audience than merely the brothers. In a way it foreshadows what God will promise Israel: land, provision for a long period of time (“you and your children, and your children’s children.), and provisions for livelihood and survival.

Perhaps in preaching or reading, one might make the connection between Joseph’s reconciliation with his family, and the family that Jesus will propose and define in today’s Gospel.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. Was Joseph being wise or cruel?
  2. What two families did Joseph have?
  3. Have you ever had a similar situation of disclosure?

Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42 Noli aemulari


1      Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2      For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
3      Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4      Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart's desire.
5      Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
6      He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
7      Be still before the Lord *
and wait patiently for him.
8      Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9      Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10    For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.
11    In a little while the wicked shall be no more; *
you shall search out their place, but they will not be there.
12    But the lowly shall possess the land; *
they will delight in abundance of peace.
41    But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the Lord; *
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
42    The Lord will help them and rescue them; *
he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,
because they seek refuge in him.


In this psalm we have an acrostic based on the alphabet. It is a wisdom psalm which notes how the wicked will be justly punished, and how the righteous will prosper. Though this psalm is directed as common-sense proverbs about what is happening in the world around those to whom the psalm is given, it also has a thematic relationship with both the Gospel and the First Reading, “But the lowly shall possess the land.” Joseph’s family was hardly “lowly”, but they were along with all others challenged by the famine. The connection with the Gospel beatitude is more clear. Again, the psalm is filled with both blessings and curses.

Breaking open Psalm 37:
  1. Where is their wickedness in your life?
  2. Where is there good?
  3. How do you know the difference?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50


Someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Paul continues his thoughts on the resurrection. The argument is raised by an unseen voice, “Someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised?’” Paul then continues with an example of dying and of newness by using the illustration of the seed. It is an example that Jesus also uses, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24). Paul furthers the argument by defining what we mean by body and flesh, and we understand by a “spiritual body.” He argues for an understanding of the body aspect to resurrection but does not argue for the resuscitation of corpses. 

He moves to the example of Adam and of Christ and notes the stages of Adam’s becoming a living being, and of Christ’s moving beyond being just a living entity to becoming a spiritual entity. So, he compares the first man and the man of heaven. So, it is the spiritual to whom eternal life is given – “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Where is your life spirit-driven?
  2. Where is your life fleshy?
  3. How do you distinguish between them?

The Gospel: St. Luke 6:27-38


Jesus said, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Jesus continues his teaching on the mount, and a series of on-going blessings and curses mark the change that comes with the Kingdom of God. The first statement is remarkable, and fundamental, “Love your enemies.” What follows are a series of reversals, good vs. hate, prayers vs. curses, a coat taken, and a shirt given. These are striking examples, especially in our own time where the poor have become the scapegoats to so much in our society. Christians, or those who choose to follow Jesus, are called to radical behaviors of social reversal and what amounts to revolution. What Jesus calls us to model is what is first modelled for us by God, the Most High. “For (God) is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Jesus calls us to mercy.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What blessings does Jesus see in life?
  2. What curses?
  3. What do you see in life?

Principal Idea:            Jesus calls us to mercy.

First Example:            Joseph and his brothers and our families (First Reading)
Second Example:       Not being troubled by the wicked (Psalm)

Third Example:          Dying to the Physical, and Rising to the Spiritual (Second Reading)

Fourth Example:        Jesus’ mercies (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller