Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Invite. Encounter. Send.
Happy Feast of the Transfiguration! I hope you managed to get all your holiday shopping done in time. As always seems to happen, I got myself too involved with all the pre-Transfiguration preparations and didn’t get a chance to put out all the decorations. Oh, well. There’s always next year.
Thank you for inviting me to be with you on this special day. (Well, at least Martin invited me, but I think Dick and Ken knew I was coming.) My name is Maureen Hagen, a deacon at Christ Church (soon to be St. Stephen’s). I direct the Academy for Formation and Mission, our diocesan school of ministry.
Yesterday was the last time my summer preaching class met. Each gave a homily which we critiqued as a class. And just as they have many callings – preacher, catechist, deacon, priest – they have different preaching styles and voices. As they live into their callings, I imagine their voices will sound increasingly authentic and reflective of the path they are following. What I especially love about teaching Academy students is watching them transform as they embrace their calling.
I spend a lot of time helping people discern their calls. Everyone is unique. Some eagerly join in; others require a more personal invitation. They encounter something different from what they expected. But as they relax and pay attention to God’s still soft voice, they begin to embrace their callings as deacons, priests, and baptismal ministers. They are supported in community and they remain in community well after their last class. Along the way, they not only learn a lot from their excellent teachers; they gain experience in practical ministry as they worship, eat, and laugh together. All eventually realize that this special time apart at The Academy is temporary and that they must leave in order to fully engage in ministry. If you have any questions about The Academy, please feel free to ask me more after service today.
Sometimes when I make statements like, “Everyone has a calling…” or “God calls each of us …”, some people do not feel included. They do not believe God has called them. When people tell me they do not feel called by God, I wonder if they mean they have not experienced a theophany – a manifestation of God, similar to the ones experienced by Moses, Peter, James, and John in today’s readings. Those are rare. But they are the focus of today’s readings.
In today’s Gospel account of The Transfiguration, Jesus invites three of his followers to pray with him on a mountain. [Note: When Jesus goes to pray, something amazing is going to happen.] This is not an easy ascent. I imagine they climbed in relative silence and were relieved to reach the top. In many ways the journey itself prepares us to experience something Holy. For Peter, James, and John, their religious tradition had taught them Moses and Elijah had each encountered the Living God on similar mountains. After these encounters, nothing was ever the same.
As the four arrive at the summit, the three disciples encounter a life-transforming event. Before their eyes, the man with whom they had journeyed for three years became awash in pure light. Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah – not just icons of the Law and the Prophets, but also testaments to Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is the Anointed One. Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus’ exodus from this mountain to meet his destiny in Jerusalem.
When Peter beholds the two giants of his faith, he talks his way through his unease (Peter’s a real verbal processor), and begins making plans … instead of being still and listening. [How often do we make ourselves busy so we do not have to face disquieting situations instead of just being present?] Then they come face to face with the Glory of the Lord – a bright cloud from which a voice confirms that Jesus is the Chosen One. Encountering the Living God, all three are overwhelmed and silenced.
We know that after descending the mountain, Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem. What had happened until this point was prelude, a foundation. Now, it was time to live into God’s mission, a mission of redemption, of salvation, of reconciliation. A mission that would cost him everything and would lead his disciples to embark on challenging paths.
I wonder if you have experienced a similar moment of transformation. Have you come face-to-face with the Living God? with the Holy, the Sacred? Can you point to an event in your life after which nothing was the same? At that moment, did time seem to stand still? Did you have a desire to hold onto that experience forever? to ignore the ordinary in favor of the extraordinary?
All of us are called into relationship with God, to bask in the enormity of God’s love and comfort. Yet we are also called to mission, to make God’s redeeming love known to the world. We are called to leave our places of comfort, our security, and to live fully into mission. It is not easy to live into mission, but we often come to realize we have no alternative. Our faith compels us to do no less.
I greatly appreciate the speeches, really sermons, given by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One reminds me of the tension inherent in Moses’ glimpses of the Promised Land and the apostles’ experience of the Transfiguration:
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I‘ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know [tonight] that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy [tonight], I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He gave this speech on April 3, 1968; in 24 hours he would be murdered. King had seen the Kingdom of God revealed. He knew staying on the mountain would be wonderful, but he was a man of God and was living out the mission of God, bringing hope and good news to the poor and downtrodden.
We have been blessed that saints like King, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day have kept their eyes on the Kingdom, on making sure all were included. Each of them might have chosen an easier, more lucrative, more socially acceptable path. They might have remained on the mountain, content to have caught a glimpse of the Promised Land. Instead, their faith led them off the mountain, into the challenges of daily life to engage others in building the Kingdom on earth.
Some of these saints are sitting among us. I wonder if you recognize them. I wonder if you see yourself as one of them. No, these saints have not attained perfection, and worldly concerns frequently distract them. Like Peter, even the most faithful of us falls short and needs to refocus on what is important. But they are saints because they decided to follow Jesus.
Jesus warned us how difficult following him would be. We are called out of our comfort zones.
We are to tend to the man robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road, not worrying about what might happen to us if we stop, but rather what might happen to that man/woman/child if we do nothing, as Dr. King asserted.
We might be called to speak Truth to Power, standing up for those under attack. We might lose friends, risk our jobs, or worse.
We might be called to engage in sacrificial giving, asking ourselves how much do we REALLY need. If we chose a simpler life style, might we be better able to help others?
Perhaps we might be called to pray for people we do not particularly like, and to listen deeply to those with different views. Are we able to see the Christ in those persons?
Some may believe that only certain individuals need to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Or that to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being applies only to a small group. And certainly no one is really expected to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. That’s only for the über-Christians, zealots whom it is best to avoid whenever possible.
Yet if those words sound familiar, we recognize them as part of the Baptismal Covenant which most of us have embraced. To be fair, those three promises usually are not the easiest to fulfill. The first two promises – to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers and to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord are more foundational. Devoting ourselves to them will help us live into all.
In what ways do you believe God may be asking you to follow him? In what ways are you called to leave the comfort of the mountaintop? As you reflect on these questions, remember that God has also promised to be with you to the end of the age.