The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
The Greek word for “way” or “path” is hodos, which can also mean “road” or “journey” or “way of life.” And it’s interesting to note that the name first given to members of the primitive Church was “followers of the Way.”
They were people “en route,” people who were “on a path,” people who were living a particular manner of life centered around Jesus the Lord.
They, at this point, were not much into creedal statements, or traditional liturgies, or adhering to strict religious rules of conduct. But they were committed to Jesus and how they could, from sun up to sun down, most closely follow in his steps. Thus they were committing their lives less to a new “religion” than they were to a whole new way of living in the world.
These “people of the path” found something happening in their lives when they followed Jesus and his way. Their lives became Christocentric–Christ-centered. His road became their road. His direction became their direction. His cadence became their cadence.
Whether it was teaching in Capernaum, healing a demoniac in Decapolis, celebrating at a wedding in Cana, curing a blind man in Bethsaida, or calling a crook out of a tree in Jericho–these early men and women followed; and in their following they learned a manner of life which they would come to transmit to innumerable followers ever since. So, in addition to being followers of the Way, they became transmitters of the way–channels through which the grace of God might flow.
In their conversions, they found Jesus’ road to be the way into an incredible new life–a “Promised Land” of the Spirit–while also discovering it as the way home, even though the way home was the way of the cross.
On this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which always features the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, we follow Jesus’ path up an unnamed mountain. Matthew says it was “a high mountain,” so scaling it is no easy task. And why do you think just Peter and James and John, and not the others, accompany Jesus?
Well, perhaps because as someone once said, “God doesn’t work in all hearts alike but according to the preparation and sensitivity of each.”
But regardless of how prepared or sensitive their hearts were, the brothers Zebedee and Peter must have wondered, heading up that high mountain, why they were going to all the trouble–especially when the others down in the valley were having a much easier time of it (even though they really weren’t; but that’s a whole other sermon).
The point is that they continue because Jesus continues and because his path is their path. And because they have trusted his way and where it has led before, they can trust him now despite the difficulty of the journey.
So…what happens to us when we follow Jesus on the way? The Transfiguration declares that we will arrive at what Peter, James and John witness here–the transfiguration of all existence by the luminous, incandescent grace of God.
And what is meant by this extraordinary revelation is that every path leads somewhere, and out of the myriad of directions that beckon us in this world, only the path of Jesus has final and certain dependability.
Not Science, not Economics, not Politics, not Artificial Intelligence, not even Religion…but Jesus the Christ. And it is only when we commit our direction to follow the direction of Jesus that we come to experience the gospel reality.
And it is through this commitment–this trust, this willingness to become a follower–that our lives begin to become more Christ-centered.
You know it’s awfully easy in this life (and not uncommon) to allow our world to be an egocentric one–where our lives are centered on “self.”
Where “I” is more important than “you.”
Where we aren’t concerned with the other, as long as “I” get my needs met.
The truth is we can even go around doing good for others–in the name of Christianity, or some other–thinking ourselves wonderful people, never asking ourselves, “Who am I doing this for, really? Is it for me?” to get some sort of self-gratification? To be able to go around saying “I” did this, or “I” did that?
It happens to churches too. Every church wants to hear, “Boy, that church is sure doing some great things in the community.” We like to hear that. It makes us stick our chests out real big and walk around proud, which is probably why Jesus advised us to do the good things we do in secret–to save us from that sort of pride and egocentrism.
You see, it’s not what we do–our deeds, our efforts–that gets us to the mount of the transfiguration–that allows us to momentarily lift the edge of the curtain for a quick glimpse of the kingdom and the glory of God. We can work for an eternity and never earn that privilege.
But it’s the grace that’s given us, freely, that allows the Epiphany to take place in our lives and thus allows us to walk the path–the “hodos”–that Jesus walked.
Believe me. When we trust enough to accept that this man Jesus is who he says he is–the one whom God addresses as his “Beloved Son”–then we receive a gift, and by and through the grace of God, we will be able to pass that gift on.
At the beginning of Epiphany, we read how Andrew heard John the Baptist call Jesus “the Lamb of God,” and he and his friend “followed Jesus.” When Jesus saw them following, he turned and asked them, “What are you looking for?” They asked Jesus where he was staying and he told them to “Come and see.” They took Jesus up on his offer and spent the day with him.
Here, at the end of Epiphany, this command to “come and see” reaches its climax. If we have followed Jesus this far on the way, with “prepared and sensitive hearts,” we will know him to be more than a prophet, a sage, a moral teacher, a spiritual guru. But, we will say with Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” We will know Jesus as Lord and in the knowledge of that Lordship, we will be empowered to follow him in a Christocentric rather than an egocentric way.
And during our Lenten journey which begins next Wednesday, a time when the Church and the world are probably at their most separate poles–most unalike, we will be empowered to follow him still further into the Land of Unlikeness, on to the horror of Calvary’s tree, and through it, into the Resurrection and the Life.
Are you ready? Are you ready to truly follow the difficult but blessed path of Christ, to truly give over the self-centered concerns of your life for a Christ-centered focus in worship and meditation, in ministry and prayer? Are you ready to commit to that trust, to make that journey, to be here every Sunday, at least, these next six weeks, and to follow every step of the way? Are you ready? For such will be the path, these coming forty days and forty nights, for the people of the Way.
For the people of the Lord. Amen.