Fully Alive!

 Last Epiphany A’20

23 February 2020

Ex.24. 12-18; Matt.17.1-9

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

The Glory of God is the human being fully alive; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Iranaeus, Bishop of Lyon, c.3rd century

Sometimes it’s hard to see someone for who they really are. Sometimes it’s the way they look, sometimes it’s the way they talk, and in the case of country singer Johnny Cash, it was the way he sang, at least in the beginning. When he first auditioned for Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis. Johnny had brought his two friends one a guitarist, and the other a bass player. They started playing an old draggy gospel song that had been written back in the 30’s by Jimmie Davis.  Phillips couldn’t even stand to hear him finish the song, so he stopped him. He said that not only would the song not sell., but he also told Johnny that he didn’t believe him. He asked if he only had one song that he could sing before he died that would let people know who he was and what his time on earth had been about what would he sing. Johnny said that there was an original song he had written back when he had been in the Air Force. He began to sing with feeling, and meaning, his two band members who had never played the song before began to join in the background and all of the sudden it was like a whole new man was singing! The song was Folsom Prison Blues, and that very day into the wee hours of the morning Johnny Cash recorded his first record on the Sun Record label.

This scene is portrayed by Oscar winning actor, Joaquin Phoenix in the movie, Walk the Line.  The movie shows the rise of Country music star, Johnny Cash from his humble beginnings in Dyess, Arkansas to his super stardom. There were glimpses along the way that this was no mere country bumpkin, there was much more than met the eye and the ear. In that one moment standing in a recording booth at Sun Records in Memphis he was literally transformed. The light of his true greatness shone and his life would never be the same.  He was fully alive, doing what God had put him on the earth to do and the light was bright indeed!

Jesus had the same trouble, there were lots of people who just couldn’t see him for he was, but there were glimpses along the way. At age 12 he got the attention of the great religious scholars in the temple at Jerusalem. Then he falls back in to obscurity and we don’t hear from him again until he was 30, at the beginning of his public ministry. As he became an itinerate rabbi, we see more glimpses by his first miracle at the wedding in Cana where he turns water into wine, then he heals the sick and feeds the 5000. But still, not everyone believes. Some of his worst critics were those of his own home town of Nazareth. Even his closest followers were known to waffle back and forth, not really sure who he was.

Finally, three of his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John are invited by Jesus to join him for prayer up on Mt. Tabor. Here they are presented with a dramatic display of Jesus’ divinity. A cloud overshadows them just like it happened to Moses and three of his close followers on Mt. Sinai.  The flax colored rabbi’s robe shines a dazzling and blinding white with Moses and Elijah suddenly appearing and flanking Jesus, one on his left, and the other on his right. Quite the contrast from the two thieves that would later flank Jesus on another mountain, Mt. Calvary, not in light but in darkness. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets and with Jesus in the middle about to go to Jerusalem to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. When this occurred the three disciples go quickly face down and are scared half to death. The three were granted the special honor of being present for the greatest glimpse, before the resurrection of who Jesus really was. Jesus was fully alive, and was doing what God had put him on the earth to do and the light was bright indeed!

Now imagine having this terrifying and awesome experience and then being told by Jesus not to tell anyone. Why would he do that? First, if they had gone down the hill and started spouting testimonials of what they had just witnessed there would have been men in dazzling white coats to come and take them away! Folks would have thought they were off their rocker. Secondly, Jesus knew that a truth this big could only be revealed in installments. Through his preaching and teaching parables and by his miracles of healing he was planting seeds that would come to fruition only after the resurrection.

Since the resurrection of Christ his divinity has continued to shine through human faces.  As C.S. Lewis put it in his book Mere Christianity: Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

Has there ever been a time when you have witnessed the light of divinity shining through a person’s humanity? I have, and I didn’t have to be on a mountaintop to experience it.  In fact, it happened right here at St. Luke’s. It was during a concert for the Festival of the Senses when the choir from St. Mark Baptist Church made the journey across the river and brought their own unique blend of negro spirituals, gospel, and blues – they brought the house down! Such feeling, such power was in their singing! As the concert progressed, I found my eyes being drawn to one of the singers on the back row. It was her side-to-side head movements that first caught my attention, you could tell that she was really into it! But the more I paid attention the more I began to realize. This wasn’t someone who was putting on a show this was someone who was putting her heart and soul into the music for the glory of her Lord.

The more I stared at her the more moved I became to the point of tears and felt like I was supposed to ask her to pray for me. I went up to her and found out her name was Irene. I affirmed the beautiful joy that had been on her face as she had sung from her heart and told her that I thought I was supposed to ask her to pray for me. We went down to the library and she reached out her hand and offered a powerful prayer for me that I’m amazed to tell you was answered.

That night in Irene’s face for a brief moment although I saw something that was very much human, but at the same time I saw something else, something I can only call divinity. In that moment I saw the smile of a sister that a thousand years from now will be very much alive – I saw Christ.  Irene was fully alive, and she was doing what God had put her here to do! And now, dear friends, it is our turn, now is the time for us to become ‘little Christs’ who are fully alive, in human form, and by some miracle doing what God has put us on this earth to do – in our own unique, one of a kind way, to be revealers of the Divine:

May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world. Amen.     Adapted from The Book of Occasional Services

 

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