Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
I hate it when this happens.
Once again, events have changed the course of my sermon preparation. This happens from time to time. You will think your sermon is going to be about one thing, but then horrible events in the world completely change what you need to say. You have to address the ”elephant in the room.”
This sermon may not be as uplifting as I had planned to be. I did not enjoy writing this.
This week, Russian forces rolled into Ukraine in what can only be described as an invasion of a sovereign nation. The invasion has been roundly condemned by the international community and is even unpopular among the Russian population. Thousands have turned out in Moscow to protest “Putin’s War,” risking arrest and imprisonment. This sort of thing has happened before. One man has taken it upon himself that he, and he alone, can decide whether a nation should even exist. And he has put the military might of the country he controls to work.
And we are left to wonder what we can do. It’s frustrating. It’s depressing. And it’s difficult to find a connection with the scriptures we read this morning. Something that will interpret those scriptures in the light of the evens in Ukraine.
But I think it’s important to do that, because it’s not every Sunday that the Old Testament lesson, the Epistle lesson, and the Gospel all align, and today is one of those Sundays. In the Old Testament lesson, we read about Moses coming down from the mountain, his face shining so brightly after his meeting with God that the Israelites can’t bear to look at him. He has to wear a veil to hide his face. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul picks up this theme but says that with Christ, the veil can be removed and all people can see the face of God. Today’s Gospel, as it always is on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, is the Transfiguration, where Jesus shows his true glory to three of the Apostles.
It is hard to preach about a mountaintop experience when the world is in danger like it is today. But this day does cry out for these Propers to be examined, and for us to contemplate what they mean for us today.
Jesus and St. Paul were both very familiar with a giant militaristic power: Rome. The Roman Empire also had absolutely no qualms about marching into a sovereign country and just…taking over. And whether we like it or not, the Word that Jesus and Paul proclaimed had political ramifications. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Paul acclaimed him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. All of these titles were claimed by the Emperor, and using them for anyone else was tantamount to treason.
But their message was clear. While it may seem bad, evil does not win in the end. God wins in the end. God’s glory will shine through.
Even now, when all looks dark, evil will not win in the end. I was thankful that today Josh played the Ukrainian National Anthem, “Ukraine is Not Yet Lost,” as our prelude. I will ask him to play it again at the end of my sermon. Let it be a reminder for us of the courage of the Ukrainian people in standing up to Putin’s aggression, and that evil will not win in the end.
But there is suffering in the meantime. We can help with that, at least a bit. We can “put our money where our mouths are.” Donate to a relief organization. I might suggest Catholic Relief Services.
We can do our best to show the glory of God in our lives. Moses’s face shone with God’s glory. Christ showed forth his own glory. We can do our best to show forth God’s glory and love, without any veil to hide it. This is something we should do, particularly this week: think on today’s scriptures and ask ourselves, “What can I do today to show God’s glory and love?”
We can keep faith with the people of Ukraine, whether they be Christian, Muslim, or any other faith, or even no faith at all.
And we can pray for a miracle.
Every religious order in the Episcopal Church must have a Bishop Visitor, a person who is already a bishop, and who oversees the religious life of the order. For the Anglican Order of Preachers, that person is the Right Reverend Jennifer Brook-Davidson, the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. Yesterday on Facebook she posted this poem by Ann Weems.
“I No Longer Pray For Peace”
On the edge of war, one foot already in,
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.
I pray that stone hearts will turn
and evil intentions will turn
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm’s way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.
I pray that all the “God talk”
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.
I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.
Some say there is no hope,
but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God……
that we can truly love one another.
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.
I ask you to stand and pray with me now.
Let us pray that our lives may shine forth with God’s glory and light the way for others.
Let us pray for the people of Ukraine, as they unite to oppose this threat to their very existence as a nation, as they put their lives on the line to defend their homeland.
Let us pray for the people of Russia who oppose this unjust attack, that they may continue to protest and move their government to right action.
Let us pray for the leaders of our nation, and for the leaders of all nations, that they may find an effective way to confront and stop this madness before it leads to more destruction.
Let us pray that God may turn the heart of Vladimir Putin from this reckless and heartless choice, and that Russian forces may be removed from Ukraine.
Let us pray for a miracle.
At this point I asked the organist to play Ukrainian national anthem again