Monday, February 20, 2012
Sermon for the Transfiguration
Here are some reflections as we move to Lent.
I was figuring, since I joined the church in 1967, when I was 21, and since I turn 66 this April, that I've been through 45 seasons of Lent. Often, in the early years, I would get a little tense in this season, 'though I loved Easter, loved the church for all the history, mystery hope of it. But when the priest read the part of the liturgy in the American Prayer Book calling us to the “observance of a good and holy Lent,” I wasn't quite so sure.
But the church had given me so much, telling me, to quote a poem from that era, all these rich stories of where we come from where we're going, and why all the traveling; helping me see new vistas, meet new possibilities, make new friends who loved me and who all told me, by word or deed, that I was the salt of the earth, a light of the world, a city on a hill. The church gave me some wonderful gifts and I was thankful
This came to mind reading Diana Butler Bass’ book called “Christianity for the rest of us” where she defines ten “signposts of renewal;” which she is finding in some thriving and growing mainstream Christian congregations. I found these gifts in 1967; maybe you did too: Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty. I might just make a poster with those words to put on my wall, to make me remember that was the background music, the melody that gave me a sense of the Good News of God in the community at Grace Episcopal Church, Fairfield, California over forty years ago: offering friendship, a safe place to grow, to hear, and to begin to tell my story anew and in the light of God's love.
So like a good adult convert I got to be very religious! I read, I took up the offering, I sang in the choir, I even became an assistant leader and then the leader in the parish youth group. I loved that, but when a new priest, somewhat Anglo-Catholic, came in, I became even more religious about ceremony and liturgy; I learned to cross myself three ways, I started to site my breast during the Mass. I whispered, “I am not worthy” and almost believed it. and then when the season of Lent began in 1972 or 1973 I pledged to spend every Friday evening on my knees in the Lady Chapel following the stations of the cross, following Jesus through Jerusalem on that fateful day.
But then a young man I had known from the youth group, the grandson of an old and faithful member of the church, who was the occasional boyfriend of a girl who was more active in the parish, phoned me to ask if we could talk. He had got caught making some stupid mistakes, common errors for the young, all of us, which was caused severe pain to people he loved and others; and he saw something about his own selfishness, and he wondered if God was angry at him, was finished with him, could forgive him. He wondered if he could forgive himself. I asked him to meet me at the church early Friday evening and we talked it over, prayed about it, and I was able to share with him something of the God I was coming to know who loved each of us, even with all the sad news, even with all the mistakes, even with our mixed motives and limited means. I was able to share, deeper than ever before, more than I knew I knew, something of what Paul talks about this morning, something of the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”. And there was some real healing, even in the pain, and a new resolution on his part, to do the right thing, to do God's will, to seek the kingdom.
So he left with a lightened load and I walked into the Chapel, feeling like I had witnessed and participated in a mountaintop experience, a transfiguration, a new understanding about how history, mystery and hope meet us in the middle of the journey. and I knelt to pray, "Lord, I am not worthy,"and it was as if God said, "Just stop praying so much; just go on to Jerusalem."
A pretty holy person once asked me, "How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the kingdom of heaven for the reign of God?” Like good St Peter, I talk too much, listen too little, and don't allow grace to grow in my experience too easily. But what I know was that my life in the church, my journey with God had changed me for the better, and though I wasn't real sure just yet how I would do it and what I’d do, I knew I had to head out of the quiet chapel and off of the mountaintop and into the nearest City of God, to those confused, noisy, contaminated places where God is willing to give himself away on purpose, into the very world of the Beatitudes. Listen:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
That's what Jesus preached, that's how he lived, that's what took him and his growing group of friends and followers from the clear light of the mountaintop and onto Jerusalem to a dark day dying on a hill on the edge of that unquiet city; leading them into the depth of the City, into the heart of contradiction, to a crossroad where there was an almost unbelievable breakthrough of death over life, of love over hate, of God's word speaking clear truth in a noisy world: a truth that lasts, that changes the world we live in the present day.
Today, some forty years of Lent later we're in a significant place in the church, not only in this diocese but around a lot of the world, our numbers are down, our ages up, averaging around 72, and that’s not uncommon in the Anglican world. We need to look at that, at our heritage, our heart, our hope, in light of where we come from and where we're going and why all the traveling. Jerusalem is waitingIn those difficult and serious questions; and that is where Jesus is calling us to go. So we need people to walk that way, to take up the call of a new church community serving Christ in the world he loves. And the truth is there won't be many; some won't be interested and some can't (for very good reasons, and that’s fine).
But I believe there are some, a significant number of us who are called to stretch and grow and pray through and work out how these ten signposts that Diana Butler Bass writes about: Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty. might show up as signposts of prayer and practice around the diocese. And I hope that a few people will join in, ‘cause it’s a better road when you walk together.
But it’s the same question then as now: How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the kingdom of heaven, for the reign of God? How far will you go to meet the stranger, to welcome the poor in spirit, the meek and those who mourn, the hungry, thirsty, pure in heart, somebody else's grandchild, or your own: people who don't know they are light of the world, the salt of the earth, a city on a hill? How far will you go to be the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”? Those are the questions that Peter was facing than, and the questions we we are facing now.
May God give us the clarity of the mountaintop so that we may follow him into the CIty he loves. And may we all have a good and holy Lent.
In the name of Christ. Amen