Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, February 14, 2015


(Sermon by The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara. St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373. February 15, 2015.)

What are your dreams in life? How many dreams have already come true? How close are you from realizing your dreams?

At 65 years of age, I have many dreams that already came true. Some were big dreams and significant achievements; others ordinary and even mediocre dreams and achievements. Some involved education; others involved travel, jobs and vocation.  Still others involved wealth, health and relationships.

I guess I am perpetually a dreamer because I still have many dreams. Some of these new dreams are within my reach; others seem distant; and still others are utterly impossible. But if it true that there is nothing impossible with God, then I believe that someday, with God’s help, all of my new dreams will come true.

I believe that all of us, human beings, should be dreamers. Dreams are the language of the spirit and because we were created with body, mind and spirit, then we owe it to our Creator to be dreamers. I believe a person who has no dream has no life. Dreams motivate us to struggle, to sacrifice, to endure, to wait and to hope.

In the gospel this morning, Peter rose up from a dream. He saw Jesus being transfigured, meaning Jesus’ figure changed. The raiment of Jesus, the body of Jesus and the face of Jesus changed color. According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ figure became “radiant and dazzling white as snow.” 

Matthew’s version says “Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” The gospel writer Luke described the appearance of Jesus as a very bright light, “like as a flash of lightning.” 

It seems that what Peter saw was a vision of Jesus’ resurrection. He saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. In the Old Testament, Moses was the supreme lawgiver of Israel who died thousands of years before the birth of Jesus. In the story of Exodus, it was through Moses that God delivered the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, turned them into the nation of Israel and given them the laws of God.

Elijah was the first and greatest prophet of Israel. People looked to him as the spokesman of God and worker of miracles upon whom God would break open their hearts to faith.  The prophet Elijah seemed not to have experienced literal death as he was swept up by the chariots of fire and carried by the whirlwind to the beyond. And it also happened centuries ago before the birth of Jesus. 

What therefore Peter had seen in this dreamlike state was that Jesus was the embodiment of "the law and the prophets.”

The vision that Peter saw moved him to suggest another dream. He told Jesus, “Master, it is better for us to stay on this mountain. I will build three shrines: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter was for a short-term dream; he wanted to capture a passing moment and enshrine it with a memorial.

But the dream of Jesus was not like Peter. Jesus’s dream is beyond the reach of Peter. Peter’s dream was small and insignificant compared to the dream of Jesus.  

There is something about fishermen from Galilee. For instance, the "Sea of Galilee" is not actually a sea but a lake, but for them, is "our sea." There is an equivalent of the spanish saying, "mi vino ES NO DULCE PERO ES MI VINO" or something like "my wine may not be as sweet but it is my wine." the fishermen do not speak the way king speak, For instance, King Solomon of old, in his entire splendor, built the Temple in Jerusalem and during its inauguration said, “O Lord, heaven and highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much more this house that I built?” And here was Peter suggesting he would build a tent for Jesus, Moses and Elijah!

Jesus’ dream is one that heaven and highest heaven cannot contain because it is a dream rooted and grounded in the salvation of humankind. It is a dream of building the kingdom of heaven in the hearts of God’s people.

Father Abraham was called by God. “Leave your people and go to a place that I will show you.” Abraham obeyed and walked with God. He wandered from one place to another. He had become wealthy but he never settled in a palace or a mansion because he had a dream. He dreamed of a city, a heavenly city not made by human hands, but a city made by God. 

St. Augustine, a famous theologian and church father, wrote a book of twenty volumes. Volumes 1-10 was about the City of Man and volumes 11-20 was about the City of God. The City of Man, Augustine wrote, is a city built by man’s pride, by man’s greed, by man’s ambition. This kind of city, Augustine wrote, will always die. 

Augustine pointed to another city, the “City of God” (Civitas Dei); a city built by God’s love, by God’s peace, by God’s compassion. This City, Augustine wrote, will never die.

Peter was all about the city of man but Jesus was all about the City of God. The transfiguration was a foretaste of the resurrection, the glory that will be revealed. But the glory will only happen, not on the mountain of pride, greed and ambition but in the valley of humility, love and compassion. The glory will be achieved not with a short-term of gratification but in the long term of suffering. In a sense, there is no gain without pain, there is no glory without sacrifice, there is no resurrection without crucifixion.

Yes, the apostles of Jesus have to leave the mountain of transfiguration and come down to the valley of reality. The face of Jesus was transfigured for future glory, but for now they have to come down to face the reality. The face of Jesus is now set in Jerusalem, where he will be rejected, vilified, spat upon, tortured, and then nailed to the cross. It was not an easy decision but it was the will of the Father, so that God’s people will be saved from their sin, be reconciled to God, paid with the price of Jesus’s own blood.

Today we observe the transfiguration as a foretaste of a dream turning to reality.  Jesus will die, will rise again and be coming back. But on Ash Wednesday, we begin the journey of the forty days of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, we will be reminded of our mortality. “From dust you came and unto dust you shall return.” Then for the rest of the forty days, we will journey into Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, until at last He confronted the powers that will put him on the Cross.”

It is worth noting that when the transfiguration of Jesus eventually faded, there was a cloud that overshadowed Peter and the other apostles.

According to Bible commentator William Barclay, the cloud in Jewish thought, is regularly connected to the presence of God. Yes, what seems to be a foreboding of a storm is also the presence of a mighty power of God. Barclay commented, “It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the Tabernacle, It was the cloud which filled the Temple when it was dedicated after Solomon had built it. And it was the dream of the Jews that when the Messiah came the cloud of God’s presence would return to the Temple.”

The descent of the cloud on that mountain of Transfiguration was a way of saying that the long-awaited Messiah had come. He is Jesus Christ, our Lord!

So are there clouds which seem to envelope and cover your dreams? Fear not, the cloud is not an obstacle; it is a foretaste of your dreams coming true. The cloud may be the presence of God affirming that your dreams will soon come true.

And indeed from the cloud, the apostles heard the voice from heaven once again. It was the same voice that was heard when Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. And voice said, “This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to Him.”

The cloud and the voice did something to the apostles of Jesus. A week before they went up the mount of transfiguration, they were shattered by Jesus statement that He was going to die in Jerusalem. They were confused, bewildered and unable to understand. But what the transfiguration of Jesus, the cloud and the voice had given them something to hold on to, even when they could not comprehend. “Cross or no Cross," Barclay wrote, “they heard God’s voice and acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son.”

So what are your dreams? What do you hold on to as you struggle, endure, wait, hope and long for the fulfilment of your dreams? Let us pray:

“O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, maybe strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one god forever and ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p 217)

1 comment:

  1. Effective and enlightening., as flesh and blood, we can acknowledge our mortality this Ash Wednesday but always in the presence of His infinite Love. Hope, hope.!