Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Transfigured by Transparency
Last Sunday After Epiphany | February 15, 2015 | Susan Russell
And so the season of Epiphany – the weeks between Christmas and Lent -- ends with the story from the Gospel According to Mark about Jesus and his small group – James, Peter and John – and their quintessential “mountain top experience.”
It is the Last of the “Epiphs” -- as Ed Bacon calls them -- in the Season of the “Ahas!” of God the season we mark with stories from our spiritual family album of the times and ways and places our ancestors were given the grace of awareness of the palpable power of God’s love, justice and compassion present with them.
And this is the story we always hear on this Last Sunday of Epiphany before our Lenten pilgrimage begins on Wednesday with the ashes on our foreheads as outward and visible signs of the 40 day journey to Easter Day (never mind that Ralphs already has a whole aisle of Easter candy.)
It is the “Big One” – the best for last one – the Big Finish One – the one that would feature Neil Patrick Harris if this was musical theater instead of church.
And the church has a name for it – the story we just heard of Jesus, Moses & Elijah on the mountain with James & Peter & John.
It’s called The Transfiguration and one definition of the word transfiguration is: “transformed or changed into something more beautiful or elevated.”
That’s a dictionary definition. Here’s a poetic definition … in a sonnet from English writer Malcolm Guite:
For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.
The glimpse of how things really are
Seen in a moment of transparency that transformed: a moment when the Love that dances at the heart of things shone out upon them from a human face. What the disciples glimpsed in that moment of transfiguration was their rabbi, friend and teacher Jesus so in alignment with the love of the one who created us ALL in love and then called us to walk in love with each other that he was transformed – transfigured – in front of their awestruck eyes and they heard again the words that had been spoken at the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized by John: Beloved.
I love how Nadia Bolz-Weber describes that transaction:
Identity. It’s always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. God’s beloved. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong: capitalism, the weight-loss industrial complex, our parents, kids at school— they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that. Everything else is temptation.
Everything else is temptation. Everything that tells us we are less than, fallen from, short of, not enough of, too much of. All temptation.
Everything that fails to recognize the utter belovedness of every single human being. All temptation.
Everything that wants to take the experience of God’s transforming love and contain it in a dogma, creed, doctrine, rubric, order, canon, construct, book … … or booth. All temptation.
Clueless Peter – my favorite disciple -- fell right into that temptation. Let’s build some booths. And God interrupted … in what I can’t help but imagine was some exasperation: “This isn’t about building booths, dude. This is about my Beloved. Listen to him.”
Listen to him. Listen to the part about liberation to the oppressed. Good news to the poor. Sight to the blind. The part about love your neighbor as yourself. And down the mountain they went. to proclaim the Good News of God’s astounding love to a world so desperately in need of it that it couldn’t handle it.
Just as we are called to go this morning: Out into a world yearning for a glimpse of how things really are; a look behind the dark veil of violence, oppression, division and separation that keeps the human race from being the human family God intended it to be; the dark veil that covers the sublime
For the prayer that we prayed this morning – that we “be changed into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory” -- had nothing to do with being changed into the physical likeness of the radical rabbi from Nazareth and everything to do with being transfigured by transparency -- by our glimpse of how things really are -- transfigured into radical bearers of the light of God’s inclusive love down of the mountain and into a world in desperate need of that light and that love.
And yes -- this is a sermon you have heard before. Not these words in this order – with this poem or this example or this illustration – but this sermon –from countless preachers down through the years from this pulpit of privilege here at All Saints Church: God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. Now go put that love into action in the world.
Last week we celebrated the life of Liz Morton. Liz lived a long, feisty, faithful life which included sixty years of leadership here at All Saints Church. The first woman to serve as senior warden she loved to tell stories of having “trained four rectors” as indeed she did.
• John Frank Scott – who stood in protest at Union Station during World War II as Japanese Americans were deported to Manzanar
• John Burt – who received death threats at the rectory after standing with Martin Luther King Jr. in the L.A. Coliseum in the 60’s
• George Regas – whose powerful sermon against the war in Viet Nam in the 70’s galvanized the faith based anti-war movement
• and Ed Bacon – who isn’t done yet.
And what was the advice Liz Morton gave her “rectors in training?” According to Ed Bacon it included “Remember to tell us God loves us.”
Remember to tell us God loves us. Remember to give us glimpse of how things really are. And then … and only then … send us down off the mountain in response to that love not to built booths or write creeds or dictate dogmas but to do justice. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with the God who created us in love and then called us to love one another.
To reclaim the planet an inch at a time … a glimpse at a time … until the Garden of Eden grows green again
Until this world – this fragile earth, our island home – is transformed by the transparency of the Love that is at the heart of all things
• and Muslim students do not have to fear for their lives as they park their cars in their apartment complexes
• and couples don’t have to worry about whether they’ll still be married if they move from Malibu to Mississippi
• and the public health threat of gun violence does not take 2500 American lives in the month of January alone
• and mothers don’t tuck their black sons into bed every night praying they’ll be safe from the virulent virus of racial bias that infects our country
• and loving your neighbor as yourself means not deporting or exploiting your neighbor
• and we recognize that climate science is not a “myth” but our best hope of reversing the damage we have done to our planet
• and 50% of transgender youth don’t consider suicide because they’ve gotten the message that their one, wild precious life isn’t worth living
• and nobody’s religion is hijacked to support terrorism
• and we come to the place where we recognize that we cannot bomb our way to peace.
And yes – there are those who will argue that issues like gun violence, marriage equality and climate science are best left to the others while the church focuses on “higher things” holier things -- more important things
Like a bishop in the Episcopal Church who wrote on a list-serve for bishops and deputies about our upcoming General Convention “if we spend time debating and perfecting resolutions on subjects like these, we will certainly never accomplish the goal of streamlining General Convention”
And I wrote back “if the goal of General Convention is streamlining General Convention then I say we all do Jesus a favor and stay home”
To be changed by the change that changes everything and then make the goal of General Convention streamlining General Convention is the 21st century version of Peter’s 1st century response to the Transfiguration: to build three booths and stay on the mountain.
In seminary I learned from Fredrica Harris Thompsett that the reason we back up to learn from our history is to get a running start on our future.
And so what I know from our history – the history of All Saints Church -- is that we are not a booth building people. What I know from our history is that we are a down-off-the-mountain-top thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people called to make God’s love tangible 24/7 as we work to turn the human race into the human family.
And what I know from history
is that what fuels us to keep taking that running start on our future
is returning to this sanctuary
to this table
to this mountain top
week after week year after year
to be fed by the bread and wine made holy
and to align ourselves with the inherent experience of love
to be transformed by the transparency of love
not to build booths and hide from the world
but to be sent down off the mountain into the world
to BE the change that changes everything.