"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Who Are You Wearing?
Who Are You Wearing?
A sermon preached the last Sunday of Epiphany (March 2, 2014)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal
is a transition Sunday, with the season of Lent beginning this Wednesday, Ash
Wednesday and next Sunday being the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a season that
can be a real gift from the church, because it invites us to use it as a season
of reflection, a season to step back and take a long loving honest look at ourselves.
is also the night of the Academy Awards, the night the Oscars are awarded, and
the reason I mention that is a question that is sometimes asked on the red
carpet as all those actors and actresses arrive. The question is “who are you
wearing?” Have you heard that question before? Who are you wearing.
it’s just that I’m a bit of an English grammar and vocabulary nerd (I love
language!), but I’m fascinated by that question. “Who are you wearing?” Not “what
are you wearing?” or “who’s your designer, who designed what you’re wearing?”
but who are you wearing?
about it: it’s an absurd question if you take it literally: You can’t really wear
a person. So what’s it saying? What is that question really asking?
it something like
– what famous designer -- did you choose to not only put on tonight, but by
putting them on, choose to identify with?”
famous designer are you choosing to clothe yourself with, identify with?”
(This is probably why I’m not invited to many Oscar watching parties. "John, you overthink
things. Just watch the showomg is that Kate Blanchett? Oh thank goodness
Matthew McConaughey put his weight back.”)
bear with me…if that is that is the question being asked, then what a great
Lent. For us.
famous(!) Designer are you choosing to clothe yourself with, identify with?”
today’s lesson, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Jesus’ When
Jesus and his disciples came down the mountain, they had not a new series of
laws or rules (symbolized by Moses) or a new prophetic inspiration (symbolized
by Elijah) but a person – and not
instructions on how to worship, but a person TO worship: Jesus.
message in Exodus was “love me by obeying these commandments.”
message in the Transfiguration was, “This is my Son, whom I love: listen to
in relationship with Jesus changes us. Changes the way we interpret the law and prophets.
seen over the past few weeks that Jesus changes the way we follow each of the
ten commandments: Obvious
examples are from a few weeks ago when Jesus focused on the root cause of
murder (anger) and the root cause of adultery (lust), thereby pulling the rug
out from under all of us and removing any ability for us to judge others.
Jesus also radicalized (rooted) Sabbath observance, honoring one’s parents, and
stealing, not to mention the commandment against having another god or making
what you may have heard all your life, our call as Christians is not primarily
to follow rules, but to be in relationship with – to be in love with –
heard me argue a lot that it was “rule-followers” who a) drove Jesus up the
wall while he was alive, and b) finally had him killed when they realized how
subversive, original, and un-controllable he (as Love, incarnate) was. And the
dynamic remains the same today.
Frederick Buechner writes, “principles are what people have instead of
God.”As Peter, James’ and John found
out that first Transfiguration day, and as we are reminded today, God does not
want something “from” you – even your obedience. God wants YOU.
appearance changes on the top of that mountain – “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white” is
(in the old fashioned language of the RSV) “the appearance of his countenance
was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white.”
other words, his countenance changed – the appearance of his face changed.
not just the appearance of one’s face,
just one’s facial features,
demeanor….“the way one holds oneself together.”
– with the season of Lent starting this Wednesday and running the next forty
six days, there you have it: an ambitious, but pretty good goal for Lent. To change countenance,
our bearing, the way we hold ourselves together.
Paul says in Second Corinthians… “And
so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming
brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
it’s paraphrased in The Message: “when God is personally present, a living
Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re
free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the
brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our
lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives
and we become like him.”
Wow: "...our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives
and we become like him.”
In other words, Paul says, what
happened to Jesus on that mountaintop can happen to us, too. Our lives can be
transfigured, we can radiate and reflect the glory of God.
Lent is over, how will you and I know if it has been successful? – how will you
and I know if we’ve had a “good” Lent?
we resolve to pray or read scripture faithfully every day, that would be good.
If we resolve to give up some bad habit and manage to make it all the way to
the other end without slipping up even once, that would be good.
Lent is about more than rules, or even new inspiration. In the light of the
Transfiguration, your Lent and my Lent will be a success, if by the end of it,
our faces glow: our countenances change.
comes from spending more time in the loving, “do not be afraid” presence of
God...more time spent in prayer, worship, and serving. Time spent marinating,
not just glazing ourselves in God’s love, so that our countenance changes...
that we act different, look different because we ARE different,
just temporarily “outwardly clothed” in better habits, but – as we choose to identify
with, and be transfigured by our designer more and more, we are changed, not
just outwardly or temporarily, but permanently, from the outside in, and from
the inside out…
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…