February 11, 2018
(2 Peter 1:16-21; Mark 2:23-28)
On March 4th, actors will speak and the world will listen -- or yawn, laugh or scoff.
The Academy Awards, or the Oscars, as it's more commonly called, is the biggest night in Hollywood. It's also one of the most widely-watched events on television with more than 40 million tuning in annually to watch the world's wealthiest people, most handsome actors and actresses and our finest directors give themselves awards.
Ask anyone who tunes in faithfully to each year's telecast why they watch the event, and they'll give you a host of reasons. There's the red carpet glamour, taking note of which beautiful outfit is worn by which beautiful person. There's the opening number, wondering if this year's host will fall flat on his or her face or become the next Bob Hope or Billy Crystal.
And, of course, there's the drama of the unexpected winners and the unpredictable acceptance speech.
To receive an Oscar in many ways is a cultural anointing. To win is to be instantly inducted into the ultimate Hollywood elite -- to grab an honor that has escaped even some of the world's most recognizable talents. But when an obscure actor surprisingly wins an Oscar, his or her life is instantly changed, and the full glow of Hollywood immediately rains upon him or her. In that moment the attention shifts to what he or she will say upon being welcomed into the ultimate clique of the cool and talented.
There's no telling who will win, or what they'll say. But one thing is for sure -- one thing that all of us watching at home are thinking: They must cherish this moment while it lasts, because even an anointing into the coolest club in Hollywood is no guarantee of perpetual relevance and enduring respect. Tinseltown is littered with cautionary tales of one-hit wonders who hoisted a golden statue only to have their bright lights fade behind them.
Peter, in today's text, is writing to Christians who had their doubts -- doubts about whether this resurrected Jesus upon whom they had pinned all their hope was truly special, or if his moment was over, and his light was fading. As time passed from Christ's resurrection and ascension, as persecution intensified and as the young church became dispersed and disconnected, it's understandable that some would begin to wonder if Jesus really was the biggest star that had ever shone. How much of the stories they shared about His deity and His power was truly fact, and how much was legend? How much of their reliance upon His imminent return was inflated? Can we really trust what He had to say?
Peter's response is to assure his audience of Jesus' lasting star power, of His genuine divinity and of the enduring impact of the Scriptures. To do so, he points back to the transfiguration, the moment Jesus first fully took the stage. At the top of that high mountain, Peter, James and John witnessed the bright lights of heaven shining down on Jesus, Moses and Elijah making an appearance, and the very voice of God saying, "This is my Son. Listen to Him."
For Peter, there are two things that set this moment apart from any other so-called divine experience that your run-of-the-mill wannabe messiah or overachieving rabbi might have. To take the Oscars analogy further, there's no chance that Jesus was some fly-by-night star who grabbed a golden statue for "Best Supporting Actor." No, this is the lifetime achievement Oscar -- the biggest of the biggest forms of recognition.
First, think of who presented it. Jesus didn't make this declaration of Himself, nor was it bestowed upon Him by the latest Hollywood starlet who struggled to pronounce His name and speak into the microphone. No, this recognition was given by God -- the biggest of stars -- publicly declaring this Man to also be the biggest and brightest of stars. Think about it: They don't drag out De Niro to hand out an award to just anybody.
Second, one must consider the body of work that brought Christ to this platform. Standing on the mountain with Him were Moses and Elijah -- two men whose lives and words sat at the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. Their presence was a not-so-subtle way of saying that their work was really Christ's work in disguise; that all they did was really a foretaste, a preamble and a placeholder for what this Man would accomplish. This recognition wasn't based on one good movie -- one great miracle or a couple incredible sermons. This proclamation of Christ's divinity and of His emerging kingdom which quickly spread around the world was based on the body of work that God had been doing since the beginning of time. Jesus, it turns out, was co-writer, executive producer and star of the greatest story ever told.
For Peter the implications are clear. If the Transfiguration really took place, which Peter as an eyewitness is staking his life on, then despite persecution, despite false teachers and despite a kingdom that's seen in part but still longed for in full, this Christ is worth hitching your hope to. He cannot fail us. Likewise, His truth -- both captured in what would be known as the Old Testament, and proclaimed among His first-century hearers in what would become the New Testament -- is absolutely trustworthy. After all, when someone rises from the dead, you believe what He tells you. You trust Him. And when the most respected religious figures in history come back from the dead to say the same the thing, you really, really trust Jesus and what He has to say.
But Peter goes even further. He refers to this truth of Christ, this "prophetic word," as more than a revelation in the past that we can trust today. He speaks of it in the present tense, as an active reality in our lives: a lamp currently, actively "shining in a dark place." Think of it like this: It's as if the moment Jesus stepped onto the stage to receive His rightful due as the beloved Son of God, He began his acceptance speech. But He's never stopped. His message is still meaningful, His truth is still tweeting and Jesus is still speaking. Sure, He's long since left the mountain, but, like a good classic movie that never, ever gets old, His words are still echoing, still reaching, still relevant and still cutting a streak of light into our world of darkness.
The message of Christ is alive and well, trustworthy and divine. And the reason it was important for Peter's audience to grasp this, so important for us to lay hold of, is because His words bring immeasurable and much-needed blessing.
At the 2013 Academy Awards every nominee received a gift bag. But this was not your run-of-the-mill gift bag. Each gift bag was filled with swag worth more than $47,000. It included everything from a luxury Australian vacation to thousands of dollars' worth of spa treatments and jewelry.
In some ways, the word of God, the truth of Christ, is like that. It's an opulent gift that keeps on giving way more than one would expect. It doesn't hand us Australian vacations, no. It speaks pardon to us in light of our sins. It proclaims that we are sons and daughters despite our rebellion. It guides our feet that are so prone to walking off the path. It convicts our hearts that are so easily clouded by sin. It fills our minds with peace in the face of pain and death. These are the gifts that Christ's enduring, divine and prophetic word gives.
And where do we hear it? Where do we find it? Where can we tune in to this beautiful and never-ending speech of the world's greatest star? We hear it in the pages of Scripture, for sure. But we also find it in the absolution offered by the pastor, in the baptism being performed for our nephew and in the supper being served in our churches. This is the Word at work, the light shining through and the never-fading celebrity of Christ bringing blessing into our lives. We need this Word. We can trust this Word. As Martin Luther once wrote, "We must have the light of the Word and cling to it until the last day. Only then shall we no longer need the Word, just as artificial light is extinguished when the day dawns."
Some Oscar winners, maybe knowing that their time in Hollywood's brightest light will fade, and fearful that they'll never make it onto the platform again, try to make the most of their moment.
Peter's audience was afraid that their Savior's time in the spotlight had faded. That the reason for their troubles was that Jesus had been played off the stage, or had faded into irrelevance after His moment in the spotlight. They're not alone. When stuck in stress and struggle, we often wonder if the light is still shining, if He still has a word for us. He does. Peter was there, and saw His moment of glory. God handed Him the spotlight. His body of work is unmatched and impressive.
Jesus' words are still cutting through and shining light in this world. No one has played Him off the stage or snuffed out His star.
Let us pray.
That the Church will act as mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, and the defense of human life and civil rights. We pray to the Lord.
That civil authorities will work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor. Lord hear our prayer.
That those engaged in business will serve society by working to make the goods of the world accessible to all. Lord hear our prayer.
That our parish will witness to the Catholic Faith by self-giving, service, and reconciliation with others. Lord hear our prayer.
On this World Day of the Sick that those who are sick, especially the chronically ill, may know healing, friendship, and strength. Lord hear our prayer.
For the grace this week to reach out with compassion to those who are hurting. We pray to the Lord.
For the victims and families of shootings and terrorism this week, that they may find comfort and peace, and that those of us on the outside that we will get involved in ways to decrease violence of all kinds. We pray to the Lord.
That our Olympians will compete safely, honestly and exceptionally, while representing their country with integrity and patriotism. We pray to the Lord.
Most merciful Father, You come close to us in our every affliction and bless us with new life. May we always remain true to the graces we have received. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, CA