Small g gods
a Transfiguration Sermon (sort of)
Yesterday I was honored to preach at the service of installation at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St Paul, Mn, the wonderful congregation where my best friend Jodi is now the Associate Pastor. She’s just amazing.
Below is the sermon.
(sermons are a spoken (or signed) art form and as such are best seen and heard. Sermon starts at :30)
Small “g” gods
About 6 weeks ago, Jodi asked if I would preach at her installation and you should know that I quickly – and now know, perhaps too quickly, said yes. Because I said yes, the very next thing she said was, “oh…It’s on Transfiguration Sunday”.
Now, for the handful of you who are not clergy and retired bishops and seminary professors, you may not realize that in original, Koine Greek, Transfiguration Sunday means “guest preacher”.
I mean, give me a parable of lost things or Jesus casting out demons or feeding 5000 from just a few loaves any day of the week. That, I can usually manage to preach on because I know lost things and I know demons and I know hunger.
But every year on the Sunday before Lent we have this story of Jesus taking Peter James and John away from all that very relatable human condition stuff that frankly, is easier to preach on, taking them away from that and leading them up a mountain where suddenly Jesus becomes bright shining as the sun, has a chat with 2 guys who’ve been dead for a very long time, at which point the clouds roll in and God starts talking out of them.…like, I have no idea what the real life application is here.
Not to mention, when Peter says it is good for us to be here, It just feels like the spiritual version of putting your Paris vacation up in Instagram. Like, I always picture Peter with a selfie stick being like, Hey Moses, just move a little closer to Elijah – then posting it on social media with a caption that says “OMG so fangirling on this mountain” Hashtag, #BLESSED Hashtag: #It’sgoodforustobehere.
Yeah, good for you, buddy I bet it was good for you to be there.
But what about the rest of us?
What about those of us who are still in the valley of the shadow of hunger and demons and lost things?
So I guess what I am saying is that, like Peter, I too am terrified and do not know what to say about the transfiguration. Which is to say, thank God for the Epistle of the day.
Where Paul writes to the church in Corinth
if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
In their case the (small g) god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel ….
for it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts.
Until this week I always sort of blew past these verses. I assumed they were just Paul being a tiny bit arrogant again, like oh those unbelievers are deceived and in darkness but we who believe are entirely different because we have the light of God in our hearts.
And while I have indeed had God’s light shine in my heart, while I have indeed tasted and seen that the Lord is good, while I have indeed felt the terrible transformative mercy of God –I’d be lying if I said that this is what I experience all the time. And if you too have times of belief and disbelief, just know that we all come by it honestly.
Because we are here in the valley of the shadow of hunger and demons and lost things, where the small g gods of this world are loud as ever. And their messages sound so good and so satisfying that they can veil the message of the actual Gospel.
I know for myself, when I feel most lost is when the small g gods of this world try to convince me that the worst things for me would actually be the best things for me.
And when I hunger they are so helpful in letting me know that I can always just buy more stuff I don't need with money I don't have. That usually works for a minute.
And when the demon of shame enters me in those moments when I have made a mistake, those small g gods tell me that I have absolutely nothing to apologize for since other people are so often more to blame than myself.
We, my friends, are surrounded on all sides by lies. And most of them are pretty appealing and I fall for several of them more often than I’d like to admit.
Makes me wonder if maybe the small g gods of this world have a really killer PR team.
But, no matter how convincing it sound in my ear, what the small g gods offer –– is never good news. It’s just dog whistles for my ego and empty calories for my insecurities.
So here we are in a time of wars and rumors of wars, a time of great dread and uncertainty, a time of fake news and toxic ideology, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s anti-aging creams.
So it is good for us to be here because Lord, to whom shall we go, when it is you and has always been you who has the words of eternal life?
I’m saying this because Jodi, you’re going to be asked some questions in a few minutes.
You’re going to be asked, among other things, if you promise to be “faithful in your use of the means of grace”.
And last week I re-read what our beloved ELCA has to officially say about why being faithful in your use of the means of grace matters, and tell me if it isn’t a perfect description of a world filled with the lies of the small g gods.
estrangement from God, (big G God) manifests itself in many ways, including false values and a sense of emptiness. … All humanity, indeed all creation, is threatened by sin that erupts in greed, violence, and war. In the midst of isolation, lovelessness, and self-absorption, the Church is tempted to turn in on itself, its own needs, and preferences. As a church in this time, we seek to give and receive God's Word and sacraments as full and reliable signs of Christ.
So I ask you, are we not surrounded mightily by the lies of the small g gods of this world, that erupt in greed, violence, war, - and do these lies not find a foothold in us, and are the fruits of the lies not isolation lovelessness and self-absorbtion?
Yes. And this, my friends, this is why it is good for us to be here.
Because Jodi, the small g gods of this world keep getting into my head, veiling my eyes to the Gospel and I could use some full and reliable signs of Christ right about now.
So when asked if you will be faithful to your use of the means of grace:
faithful in your use of the mighty word of God,
faithful in your use of the word that proclaims that God is with us,
that her promises are true,
that Jesus is a friend of sinners,
that we are all freed from the bondage of the worst things we have ever done,
that no amount of money or power will protect us from ourselves,
that God’s claim on us is irrevocable,
that there are no strangers at Christ’s table,
that forgiveness is real and mercy is falling all around us like rain from the heavens
and the small g gods do not stand a chance
…when you are asked if you will be faithful to this…..
I really hope you say yes. And that when you ask God to help you that you know and trust that we serve a promise keeping God.
as Paul says, it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts
I hope you say yes Jodi because I am surrounded on all sides by the lies of this world and I need you to remind me that the light of Christ still scatters darkness.
We really need you to remind us that his light still finds even the smallest cracks in our stubbornness, and our arrogance, and our insecurities for his joy to enter. Remind us that the one true God has entered the cast, and the plot, and the writer’s room. And that in the transfiguring light of Jesus Demons that once were in charge now cower and beg for mercy. And sickness that seemed fatal is shed like skin. And sinners are forgiven. And the haughty are made low.
And Gloria Dei, a few moments from now, when you are asked if you will regard Jodi not as an employee or a therapist or a CEO but regard her as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of Christ, I really hope you say yes, and specifically I hope that the part of you that says yes is the part of you that has known isolation and lovelessness and self-absorption and knows that small g gods always increase your hunger and never satiate it.
May the part of you that says yes, be the part that knows hunger and demons and lost things, the part that is not too proud to be speechless and a little terrified and to not know what else to do but say it’s good to be here and then, for the love of God, just listen to Jesus.
May these yeses resound.
Because I just feel like every single one of us could use some full and reliable signs of Christ, right about now.
p.s. - follow up: she said yes. :)
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