The Unmasking

 

As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen

-Edwin Muir, Transfiguration

Why talk about the transfiguration of Jesus during the time of COVID-19? For one, to provide a respite from the incessant fear-mongering pouring out from the 24/7 news cycle and with it the cloying and Orwellian “Heroes” pronounced upon us for submitting to anti-social behavior. A more important reason is to lift our sights above charts, graphs and, metrics that encapsulate our Pareto-ized lives at this time.

The gospels document Peter, James and John’s mountain top eye-witness account of the transfiguration: Matthew 17: 1-8, Mark 9: 2-8, Luke 9: 28-36. Peter recalls it in his second letter, 2 Peter 1: 16-18.

When we made known to you the power and appearing of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, you see, we were not following cleverly devised myths. Rather, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. For when he received honor and glory from God the father, a voice spoke to him from the Wonderful Glory, “This is my son, my beloved one, in whom I am well pleased.” We heard his voice, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.

John alludes to the transfiguration in his gospel. (John 1:14):

And the word became flesh, and lived among us. We gazed upon his glory, glory like that of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Recall that Moses, tasked by God to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, wanted a handle on things. Overwhelmed, he wanted to know who will go with him to make the exodus happen. God replied:

My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

Moses, anxious about new his vocation, wanted further clarity and security:

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

God accepts Moses’ request, as God wants to reveal Himself to Moses (and the people of Israel).

 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Moses was not allowed to see God’s face. But the glory of God shone so much onto him during his encounters with God that his face was radiant. So radiant, in fact, that he had to wear a veil whenever he returned to the people (Exodus 34: 35).

The transfiguration –Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus in dazzling light (representing the Law and the Prophets and the New Covenant) – had an earth-shattering effect on the earthlings. Peter wanted to get a handle on all this. He began to speak, formalizing and institutionalizing what he sees (as many have done since). But then God spoke …

When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. (Matthew 17: 6-8)

An unmasking, a revelation, had occurred. God Very God could be seen in a glorified human form. The transfiguration happened once. But similar revelations happened throughout the gospels. It happened earlier when Jesus read Isaiah in the synagogue. And, later, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. The veil of the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom and a Roman Centurion, standing at the foot of the cross, said “This fellow really was god’s son.”

The same thing happened when the disciples “recognized” Jesus after his resurrection. And, when Paul encountered Jesus on the Damascus road. And it will happen when we see him as he is and all faces will look upon him. John makes a point in his gospel (and letters) about recognizing Jesus.

John’s only gospel reference to the transfiguration, we gazed upon his glory, could be seen as the theme of his gospel account. “Look! There’s God’s lamb!” “Come and see.” Remove your blindness. Look at Jesus. See in his human face the living God.

Do you think that Peter, James and John were radiant after they saw the human face of the living God? Do you think that they veiled their wonder and joy when they returned to the people? Do you think they came away with a whole new understanding of the infinite-personal God?

 

The transfiguration of Jesus is not a day on the church calendar or a cool yet detached-from-earth-reality event. No. Rather, it is God coming to his creation – his temple -and revealing Himself to us. What did God reveal to His image bearers, the keepers of His temple? He disclosed his glory, grace and truth – and not in generic theological terms. He revealed in person the character and personhood of God. He spoke. He is aware of his creation. He has a will. He is good.

The luminous transfiguration of Jesus allowed Peter, James and John a glimpse of ultimate reality. It also threw light onto where they lived: a world darkened by disease and evil. Yet, as the texts also reveal, the transfiguration offered no escape route (no Rapture) for Peter, James and John to leave this troubled world. No. Jesus comes down the mountain with them. In doing so, he reiterates without words what they had heard in the Moses account: My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

So be it in the days of COVID-19.

“There Is a Solution …”

 

Lent in the Time of Coronavirus

 

“I’m telling you a solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. If you hate your life in this world, you’ll keep it for the life of the coming age.” -the gospel according to John, 12: 24-25

These words of Jesus were in response to Andrew and Philip. They came to Jesus saying that some Greeks would like to meet him. It seems to be a strange response for a simple request. But Jesus, noting that the “world” was coming to him for answers and for salvation, speaks of his coming death and the means to a resurrected life by following the same vocation. His words define the essence of Lent.

From the earliest days of the church, times of self-examination and self-denial have been observed. The origin of this practice may have been for the preparation of new Christians for Baptism and a reset of their lives. 2020 and the Lenten season is upon us and with it the government recommended “Stay in Place” until April 30th. Easter (April 12th), resurrection day, is the celebratory end of Lent and a restart to new life dependent on what takes place during Lent.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a worldwide intense focus on physical and financial well-being, As we each hunker down and remain sequestered away from the coronavirus, anxiety is compounded: we want to know if we’ll be OK; we want to know where all of this is going and how it will end. The Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus and first-century Jews with their age-old anticipation for a Messiah to set the world to rights had similar concerns.

It is said that Luke, writer of a gospel account and the Acts of the Apostles, was a Greek physician. This being the case, he would testify, if present today, to the infirmities leading to vast numbers of death in the first century. He would recount that there was all manner of infectious diseases, smallpox, parasitic infections, malaria, anthrax, pneumonia, tuberculosis, polio, skin diseases including leprosy, head lice and scabies and, more. Dr. Luke would be the first to tell you that first-century remedies were ineffectual against the afflictions mentioned.

Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would tell us how Stoic and Epicurean philosophers dealt with grim reality surrounding them.

The Stoics, around the same time as Epicurus, posited a grim fatalist outlook. Considering themselves cogs in life’s machinery, their response was to lead a virtuous life in spite of “it all”. Materialism and passions were of no interest to them. “No Fear” and apathy towards life’s randomness were the attitudes they wore on their shoulder to appear non-self-pitying. They also advocated for suicide -the ultimate form of self-pity.

The philosophy of Epicureanism, posited by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) a few centuries before the birth of Christ, offered mankind self-pity with license. Per Epicurus, there was no God or the gods were uninvolved with men. And, for him, there was no life after death. So, mankind had to make the best of the atoms he was dealt. Man was to do so by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure in the company of like-minded friends. Self-pity could be dealt with in intimate and safe surroundings.

Around the first century Epicureanism and Stoicism were evident in Greek, Roman and Pagan life. These philosophies gave words to what was inherent in man from his days in the Garden – a narrative of mis-trust in God. During the first century these philosophies were already fused with pantheism and the zeal to worship pagan deities.

To seek relief, paganism, an early form of Progressivism, enjoined pagans to offer the distant gods sacrifices to secure their well-being. Israel, called to be the people of God, chose to lament – asking God to respond to dire circumstances according to revealed His nature. Many of the Psalms are worship-infused petitions invoking remembrances of God’s ability to save and vows to praise Him as he does so again.

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me

In the news reports we hear “unprecedented” many times over. Yet, this pandemic is no Black Swan event. History records pandemics, plagues, earthquakes, famines and, all manner of tragedies affecting mankind. In my previous post I mentioned weathering last century’s Asian flu pandemic. And though our response to the current pandemic is “unprecedented” mankind will continue to suffer from unexpected devastating events. Mankind will continue to ask, as did the psalmist (Psalm 22), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” We read above that the psalmist has put his trust in God’s unfailing love. He awaits God’s salvation knowing that God has acted to save a remnant of the faithful before.

Lent, this Lent in particular, is a time to lament. We want to know if we’ll be OK; we want to know where all of this is going and how it will end. Asking God to consider the dire circumstances and to answer according to his nature, is a conversation to foster during Lent. It is a time to consider that there is an advocate – the Word Incarnate – who pleads for us before the throne of God. He does so with ‘real-world’ experience.

The Son of God entered the unsanitary disease-filled world described above. He is fully aware of the pain, suffering and groaning of his creation and of man’s philosophies, with its grains of thought which produce no fruit. He did not come to give us social justice platitudes. He did not come to create a Progressive party and overthrow the establishment. If, as God-man, he had not made the sacrifice to redeem his creation, then he would have “remained alone” as a philosopher with platitudes. He came instead, as he stated to Andrew and Philip, to be a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies in order to bring forth much fruit in his creation.

Per Jesus’ example, Lent is a time to become a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, dies to the flesh on the world’s self-preservation life-support. It is a time to cultivate healthy spiritual habits, habits that produce the fruits that Jesus spoke about when his time of sacrifice was approaching.

As a season for Christians to mark time and to “Stay in Place”, apart for a time from the world’s pervasive influence, Lent is a time for Christians to hunker down, revise routines, and to focus on what matters. It is a time of reflection, repentance and, renewal. It is a time for fasting, growth and, a return to silence and simplicity.

As we do so, we may find that the silver lining we had purchased in the moment, in the midst of dark days of stress and difficulty, was in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. We may learn that the investments we have made – time-wise, financially and morally – are insufficient to carry us forward. We may find that we have greatly leveraged ourselves to control larger and larger positions in life, positions that are more than we can handle. We may have done so to gain acceptance and security from the world. But now there are margin calls we are unable to pay. This may cause us to look to for more security from the world or to God. During this time, we may also learn that our God-given discernment has been used to criticize others and their “sins” and not for intercession on behalf of them.

 

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic ‘exile’, we may be wishing “If only someone would push RESET and we could get on with our lives as before”. A RESET button has been pushed. Jesus of Nazareth, very God of very God and the Word made flesh, came into the world to reset all narratives, including the historical Judaic narrative, by keeping his covenant promises. The epigraph, words to both Greeks and Jews, tells us how.

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest RESET and the only one that really matters. With it, the power of death had been defeated. Remember Jesus telling Martha at the time of Lazarus’s death, “I am the resurrection and the life. And anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die.” (John 11: 25-26) Yes, Jesus wept at the overwhelming sorrow caused by Lazarus’ death. But he knew that he would overcome death and that there would be rejoicing in the new-life fruit his death and resurrection would produce.

Lent in the Time of the Coronavirus is a time for Christians to plant the grain-of-wheat RESET and to be ready to go on with their lives as never before.

Coronavirus in the Dock

 

By now you are aware of the CDC guidelines to stave off the spread of the Chinese import – the Wuhan coronavirus. (“COVID-19” is the socially sterile PC term.) I want to offer three perspectives: mine, one from a gentleman who survived a pandemic and the third from a doctor in Lombardi, Italy. I will start with mine, the most strident:

Up until Friday night, I was working at my company’s remote office as usual. Then the Illinois governor ordered “shelter-in-place” for everyone in the state with the exception of those in “vital occupations”. Our company is now following the order. I start working from home tomorrow. I had a limited time yesterday to gather up my laptop, monitors, drawings, etc. before the remote office was closed.

Up until Friday, I had been working out 4-5 times a week. But now, the health club is closed. I would think that maintaining your health would be of maximal import right now. But things have gone berserk. You can maintain social distancing in a health club. The hours can be shortened to allow for sanitizing of the equipment.

No doubt there are legal aspects that businesses consider in shutting down. No business wants to be sued for spreading the coronavirus. We live in a litigious society where many do not want to take responsibility for their own actions and finger pointing is promoted.

The grocery stores have changed their hours to 8 AM till 6 PM. This has resulted in a hoard of people lining up before 8 AM so that they can get in to pillage the shelves. I went to a grocery store yesterday after eight. I picked up a couple of things: a bottle of water and a newspaper for the crossword. I then found that the checkout line was extended from the cashiers back through the frozen food aisle to the back end of the store and continued to the left past the meat deli counter. So much for “social distancing”. And, many of the shelves were empty. The lockdown and the lines are insane for many reasons, including the imposed reliance on the information systems in place – the 24/7 pandemic-obsessed media, with its constant log of coronavirus cases and deaths and shortages. What are you to do with this information?

On a news program just now, I heard that 5 million people could lose their jobs because of the lock-down of businesses – a number that tells you, in effect, that our economy will not recover anytime time soon. The yield curve, the relationship between the short and long-term interest rates of fixed-income securities issued by the U.S. Treasury, is indicating a pending recession. I predict that the lock-down will be withdrawn when the government cannot receive the revenue it needs to function. The Democrat state of Illinois is already in a huge financial mess. Before this happens, though, there will be a nascent outcry from those in lock-down – “Enough Already!” For they will see that the cure is worse than the disease. While there is much talk of flattening the pandemic curve, the economy’s health curve is now inverted and will not begin to flatten until “Enough Already!” or a vaccine is produced.

The federal government’s response – handing out checks to those earning $99K and less – is absurd. This shotgun approach will not help a long-term lockdown. Many are still working and maintaining. Those who lost jobs will go on unemployment. The amount the unemployed receive is around fifty-percent of their previous paychecks. The federal government should provide the balance of that income through the unemployment system already in place. The money provided by the federal government could replicate H. R. 4584: money paid out now would be in exchange for delayed eligibility for Social Security benefits. The focus for citizens should be to maintain income through the imposed lock-down. The focus for small business and corporations should be to keep them afloat with no-interest long term loans, reduced regulations, and a delay in taxation. (A word to Democrats in Congress: you continue to hate on corporations. You continue to deny economic reality. Corporations along with small businesses provide the common man a job. Corporations provide millions of jobs. Corporate profits work to create more jobs (and money for your political campaigns). Corporations provide the infrastructure of supply and demand. Corporations provide your “Precious”: toilet paper.)

The taxpayer’s money should be spent primarily on securing the equipment and means to fight the virus. Such a vaccine will bring an end to quarantine much quicker. I have every confidence in America’s biotech companies. They will find a vaccine that will stop the virus.

Our church will not be open during this lock-down. Though there is an obvious physical component – the virus – affecting everyone’s behavior, there is also a spiritual component at work. It’s as if the Evil One, through the world system, wants to deprive Christians of the Eucharist and gathering in the name of the Lord. It’s as if the Evil One, through the same system, wants the media with its fear-mongering news, its prescription drug commercials and its prurient depictions of life – to be the sole source of how to think and feel during the lock-down. What will you be doing during your shut-in time? Watching TV. The media is a constant reminder that there is a spiritual battle going on, a battle for your heart, mind and soul. The media virus will have its negative effects.

As a church community we are right to obey the authorities. But there is also this to consider:

“A scared world needs a fearless church.”

-A. W. Tozer

At times like this one looks for a reference point from the past. Here’s mine: In 1957 I was five-years old. I became very sick. I had a burning fever and chills. Our doctor made house calls then. He took my temperature: over 103! He said that I had the Asian flu. He gave my mother a script for something. I recovered after a week. I do not recall any lock-down or social madness at that time. I have never been germ-obsessed. So, somewhere along the line, I must have developed antibodies to stave off illness. If I came down with something the kids brought home, I just worked through it. I have never had a flu shot and I can’t remember a time when I had the flu.

Here’s another perspective, a more reflective one. I recently came across an article written by an older man who also had experienced the Asian flu:

Say Your Prayers and Take Your Chances

And another perspective, a sobering one, sent to me from my brother, a hospital chaplain in Indiana:

Testimony of a doctor in Lombardy, Italy:

Never in the darkest nightmares did I imagine I could see and live what’s happening here in our hospital for three weeks now.

The nightmare is flowing, the river is getting bigger and bigger.

At first some came, then tens and then hundreds.

Now we are no longer doctors, but we have become classifiers on tape and decide who lives and who should be sent home to die, although all these people have paid taxes all their lives.

Until two weeks ago, my colleagues and I were atheists; it was normal because we are doctors and learned science and science was told to exclude the presence of God. Always laughed at my parents going to church.

Nine days ago a 75 year old pastor came to us. Gentle man, had big breathing problems. He had a Bible and we were impressed that he read it to the dying and they grabbed his hand. Being all the new doctors tired, discouraged, psychologically and physically exhausted, when we had time we listened to the pastor. Now we have to admit that we, as humans, have reached our limits; more we cannot do, and more people die daily. We are exhausted, we already have two colleagues who have died and others are standing. We realized that where what man can do ends, we need God and we start wondering things when we have some free minutes. We talk to each other and we cannot believe that of fierce atheists we have become believers to find our peace, asking the Lord to help us to resist so we can care for the sick.

Yesterday the 75-year-old pastor died, who until today, even though we had more than 120 dead in 3 weeks here, we had all ended up wanting; we are destroyed because the old pastor managed, during his stay, to bring us a peace we no longer expect to find. The shepherd went to the Lord and soon we will follow him. I’ve been home for 6 days now, I don’t know when I last ate, and I realize my futility on this earth and I want to dedicate my last breath to helping others.

I am happy to have returned to God while surrounded by the suffering and death of my peers “…

 

Prior to this current pandemic, haven’t each of us avoided becoming infected via social interactions prior to the pandemic? Haven’t the elderly and pregnant women avoided friends and family when things seemed iffy? Haven’t we tried to stay healthy? Haven’t you been helping your neighbor? If these things are true of you, then “Stay the course”, as my doctor told me at the end of my yearly checkup on Friday.

Homestead Reset: Avoid the media. Play games. Try new recipes. Challenge your mind. Spend time learning a new trade. Take online classes. Learn how to trade stocks. Read classical literature. Read to invoke your imagination. A healthy imagination is life-sustaining. Read to see how others deal with adversity. Read to take your thoughts to new places. Don’t let your thoughts fester on the “Island of Despair”.

And, pray.

O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

…..

This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.   Amen.