(First Sunday of Lent)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Exactly a century ago, 1921: Betty June Thornburg was born in
Battle Creek, Michigan. Her father abandoned her when she was
very young. She and her mother received a telegram in 1937: he had
Betty’s earliest memory: breaking spontaneously into song
when she was three, to distract a drunken man threatening to beat up
her mother at the “Blind Pig” pub she ran. At age nine, Betty quit
school to sing on street corners, to raise money. Her mother was an
alcoholic. One evening, at a Charlie Chaplin silent film with her
mother, she thought, “I will be a star and my mother will stop
1950: Betty, Hutton, as she was known on stage and in film, got
the starring role in Annie Get Your Gun, replacing Judy Garland.
Success, but the road ahead was not smooth.
1967, a definite turning point: firing by Paramount Pictures,
death of her manager, death of her mother in a fire, bankruptcy.
1969: death of her dear friend, Garland, of a drug overdose. 1970:
loss of her singing voice, nervous breakdown, attempted suicide.
1971: at age 50, after four failed marriages and a wrecked career,
homelessness. “All she had was a shopping bag with a few things in
it” said the executor of her estate. Worth $10 million at one point, she
was broke and broken.
Uppers and downers led her to a rehabilitation hospital in
Boston, weighing only 85 pounds. On the verge of giving up, there
she noticed a priest, Fr. Peter McGuire, pastor of Saint Anthony’s
parish in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He had come to the same
hospital, to check in his cook, Pearl. Betty later found out from Pearl
who this man was. One thing led to another and Betty found Fr.
Peter and employment in his Rectory where, for five years, she
cooked and cleaned. It was her time of recovery. In the humble
process, she says she “found Christ in her heart”.
In September of 1980, she returned to Broadway, one last time:
a two-week stint as Miss Hannigan, in Annie. Her grandchildren
came to see her. In the program, all the actors had extensive
biographies—save one, Betty Hutton. Under her photograph were
only seven words, “I am back. Thanks be to God!”
Betty Hutton died on March 12, 2007.
With the grace bestowed during Lent, each of us, in our own way, can
“I am back; thanks be to God”.
We can say this because grace gives us God’s love already
This victory is revealed in this terse gospel passage.
Jesus is baptized and revealed as the Beloved and thus our Beloved.
Jesus is then immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness,
where, for forty days, he is tempted by Satan.
St. Gregory (+604) says,
It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted,
who came also to be slain;
in order that by His temptations He might conquer our
just as by His death He overcame our death.
Jesus then comes to Galilee, proclaiming the kingdom of God has
This gospel, at the beginning of Lent, is a source of hope.
It indeed reminds us that God’s love is already victorious.
There are no obstacles to God, if we do not want.
And, when we are tempted not to love—which, for me, is every 15
minutes (!) our Beloved, Jesus, in Whom we experience the kingdom of God,
is right there with us. As Saint Paul says to us in I Corinthians 15:57:
God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us, however, that we must repent and believe in the
To repent is to experience deep regret for wrongdoing
and to turn our hearts towards our Lord Whom we have wronged.
To believe is to yield with a sense of awe.
Let us acknowledge the times that we have not welcomed the victory of Jesus’ love, especially in loving others
And let us surrender to Him.
Ah: the grace bestowed during Lent, Jesus’ gift,
which makes all of this possible, and so we can dare to hope.
Each of us, in our own way, can say “I am back. Thanks be to God!”
(Last Sunday After the Epiphany)
It is fitting that our season of Epiphany, the season of revelation, should end on a mountaintop. The conservationist John Muir once said, “Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us, God.” There is something about the difficulty of the climb, the companionship of the trail, and the expansiveness of the summit view, that whisper to us that we are a little bit closer to God at the top than at the bottom.
On the mountaintop in our gospel reading we find Jesus, with three bewildered and frightened disciples, Peter, James and John. God reveals to us again that Jesus is God’s Son in an eye-catching scene.
Jesus shines brightly.
He talks with Moses and Elijah.
A cloud overshadows them.
God’s voice speaks to the disciples from the cloud.
And then it’s over as suddenly as it began. What were the disciples to make of it? Perhaps Jesus told them to keep it quiet until after his resurrection because they could not understand it yet. They had just seen Jesus’s triumphant glory, but they had not yet seen his crucified glory, and we cannot truly understand one without the other.
There is another mountaintop scene in Scripture that sheds light on this one: Moses receiving the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai. Let me set the scene for you. It’s the desert. The Israelites have just fled slavery in Egypt, narrowly escaping Pharaoh’s army when God parted the Red Sea. Now they are camped out, waiting to see what comes next.
Moses goes up the mountain. God speaks to him out of a cloud. God reveals to Moses God’s law. See the parallels?
Granted, I’m oversimplifying a bit, because there is the whole golden calfdebacle and Moses having to go up the mountain again for a second set of tablets because he smashed the first ones in anger, but we’ll leave that aside for now. The kicker detail that connects these scenes is that Moses’ face was shining when he came down the mountain. It freaked the Israelites out so much that he hid it under a veil.
Two mountains. Two brilliant revelations. At the first, the revelation of God’s law. At the second, the revelation of God’s Son. We might be tempted to interpret this as saying that God’s law and God’s Son are two equal revelations of God. Jesus is simply the new Moses, a prophet sent from God to show us a different way to interpret the law. Before, God’s people followed the 10 commandments, now God’s people follow Jesus’s teachings like the Sermon on the Mount. But this misses the point entirely.
Our epistle reading this morning comes at the end of a passage in Second Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul expounds on these two revelations. He refers to the first, the revelation of God’s law, as the ministry ofcondemnation, and to the second, the revelation of God’s Son, as the ministry ofjustification. Now, calling God’s law “the ministry of condemnation” sounds a bit harsh, but it’s for a good reason. The law of God is glorious and good. It tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we truly did these two things, we would make the world around us a much better place. But the fact is, we are sinful human beings, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot follow these rules. The Israelites promised that they would obey God there at Mount Sinai, and the Old Testament recounts over and over again the stories of their transgressions. We have our own “mountaintop experiences” – perhaps a particularly stirring sermon or an amazing spiritual retreat – and we resolve to become better people. But we can never quite follow through the way that we want. This is why God’s law is a ministry of condemnation: once we hear it, we are condemned by it, because we are unable to uphold it.
If the Bible left us with only the mountaintop experience of Sinai, it might feel hopeless. But that’s where the revelation of God’s Son comes in. Jesus’ divinity allowed him to live the perfect human life, or perhaps to perfect the human life. He followed all the commandments given at Sinai – loving God and loving his neighbor perfectly all the time. But then, despite the fact that he was NOT condemned under the law like the rest of us, he was crucified. He died for us, so that we might be forgiven for not following the law perfectly. His perfect life stands in place of our imperfect lives, his undeserved death stands in place of our deserved deaths. This is the ministry of justification. This is the ministry where God looks at each of us and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” because when God looks at us, God sees Jesus’s life instead of ours. In this ministry, our mountaintop experience happens not when we resolve to be better people, but when we kneel at the foot of the cross, humbled by the gift Jesus offers us.
God’s Son is more glorious than God’s law. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “
” Jesus’ glory, found both on the cross and in the transfiguration, is permanent glory. The gift offered to us in his life, death, and
resurrection can never be lost. Once we accept this gift, we are free to love God and love our neighbor, not in a doomed attempt to follow the law perfectly, but out ofthanksgiving for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
May God’s light shine
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry
of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because
of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory , much more has the
permanent come in glory!
“in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Amen.
Rev. Mary McCue
We have celebrated the epiphany of the shepherds coming to the baby Jesus in his manger, and returning to their homes, glorifying God for all that they had seen. Our Gospel today also tells us of epiphany. It is the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, moved to this Sunday, so we can celebrate it together. It is an important feast in our liturgy and one of 13 Great Feasts in the Orthodox Church.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’s parents have brought him to Jerusalem for their purification according to the Law of Moses. It was a solemn ceremony, marking presentation of the newborn to the Lord. As a first-born male child, he was designated as holy to the Lord, destined for the priesthood. The ritual for doing so was well enshrined in the law. So was the offering to be made in honor of the Lord. For less well-off families, it was the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
When they brought Jesus into the Temple for the ritual, they encountered a holy man named Simeon. Simeon is described as righteous and devout. “Righteous and devout” – those two words tell us a lot about Simeon. He was probably not a young man. He was probably spending most of his time praying. He had probably been waiting a long time for the consolation of Israel. And he had been made a promise by the Holy Spirit, an important concept in Luke’s Gospel. Simeon trusted in the Holy Spirit, which had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah – the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for for hundreds ofyears. This day, his faith in the Holy Spirit is rewarded. Guided by the Spirit, he came into the Temple as Jesus was brought in by his parents. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon recognizes him. His recognition is so strong and so complete that he prays the beautiful Nunc Dimittis prayer, saying that
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to Your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
It’s a prayer that we pray today, in Evening Prayer and in Compline. But Simeon was not the only one. Anna, a widow, never left the Temple, but worshiped and prayed there day and night. Anna, too, recognized the child, praising God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Not one, but two Epiphanies, to devoted, holy people. Both were people devoted to the law and religion – as were Jesus’ parents. Simeon, though, sees a vision beyond the law. He says, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so the thoughts of many will be revealed.” He adds a poignant word to Mary – “a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
What did Simeon see in Jesus’ face that caused him to pray the beautiful prayer about the ending of his life? ...In the face of an infant.
What did Anna see in that face that caused her to proclaim the redemption of Israel? ...In the face of an infant.
What did the apostles see in that face that caused them to drop their nets, give up their livelihood and their way of life to follow him? ...In the face of a young man?
What a beautiful, arresting face it must have been! It must have been infused with the Holy Spirit, with Grace and with Light.
How appropriate. Another name for this Sunday is Candlemas – a feast of candles and thus of light. Jesus is the light in our dark world. He brings us light, and into the light. Can we see the light? I think we can.
A wise man once said, “You’ll never meet a person that God doesn’t love.” As Simeon, Anna and the Apostles saw in Jesus, we can see Jesus in every person we meet – young, old, troubled, wise and not so wise. We can see the light when we pray to Jesus. We can see it when we Trust in Jesus’ love to us – what Simeon must have seen – what Anna must have seen – what the apostles must have seen. We can see it in the face of each other.
We can see light, and love, because Jesus has shown us the way. And we can follow that way. As the Collect for today says, “...as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you, with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ, our Lord...”