Sunday, March 3, 2019

Epiphany Last-C: A cloud of new unkowing

Lectionary: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 ; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

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En el nombre del Dios: Pardre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

The story of the Transfiguration is a story of freedom and empowerment which comes from humanity’s direct experience of God. This represents a shift from the traditional expectation of that time that no one could see God and live.

Jesus chooses Peter, James, and John from his band of 12 disciples to share this experience. We don’t know why he chose only these three. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that they are better or more faithful than the others. In fact, it may indicate that these three needed this kind of dramatic, transforming experience more than the others to help them break through the walls restricting their freedom. Or, it may be that they were more open to receiving this kind of transforming experience. We don’t know because our Scripture doesn’t tell us that.

What we do know from this story in Scripture is that this kind of direct experience of God happens sooner for some, than for others. We see that when it does happen, Jesus leads his followers to it and we remember that are called to imitate him.

During the dramatic moment of transformation, Jesus is praying when the glory and presence of God is revealed in and through him. The disciples were “weighed down” our Scripture says, but since they stayed awake, since they remained open and aware, they saw his glory; and they heard a voice emerge from the cloud. From the fogginess that had covered their bodies and filled their minds came a voice that named Jesus as “my Son, my Chosen” and directed them to listen to him.

In that cloud of their new unknowing, Jesus is set free from the box the disciples’ expectations had placed him in – a box which their tradition had carefully crafted about the Messiah and how he would deliver Israel to freedom.

The revelation of the divine in Jesus’ countenance also sets the disciples free to experience God with no veils, no habitual expectations, no filters on their minds or hearts. In Jesus, they can see and touch and be with the glory that is God – and it is a tangible reality.

The journey down the mountain marks the beginning of a transformed life for these three disciples. The truth that has been conceived in them begins to take root and grow. It's a long journey for them; one in which they constantly come up against the limits of their own habits and thinking. Jesus allows them their growing pains, staying present with them and patiently guiding them beyond those limits again and again, as we see in the story of the failed healing that concludes today’s Gospel reading.

On this the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Christians around the world begin our liturgical journey down the mountain. We have been looking up as the divine light of Epiphany has filled our souls and senses. Now we are led to look down and in and enter the earthy wilderness of Lent where we will intentionally seek to discover what limits and restricts us; what veils and filters we have that get in our way of leading ourselves and others to direct experience of God.

The transitional time we are in has also offered us a wonderful opportunity to listen together for the voice of God that calls St. David’s to a new understanding of who we are as a church and what that means as the search for a new rector gets underway.

As you well know by now, transitions are always a bit uncomfortable and change can be scary. But this journey, like the journey of those first disciples, is held firmly in the loving hands of God in Christ who journeys with us.

So my prayer is that we will continue to cling to one another, and together cling to Jesus, remembering what our patron saint, St. David of Wales said,” Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.”

The style of Christian life developed in the monasteries founded by St. David emphasized learning, asceticism, and missionary fervor. If we are to joyfully emulate our patron saint, we can begin with these – which, by the way, I see evidence of in our community already.

Learning: One of the most readily apparent gifts of St. David’s, Cullowhee is that there is a love of and devotion to learning. Perhaps our proximity to WCU helps, or maybe that’s a gift from God to enable us to nurture this part of our identity. Either way, as we descend the mountain and approach this Lenten season, the monastic commitment to prayer, reading, and writing at the monasteries of St. David can be our inspiration. It’s one of the sources that inspired me to offer a Lenten series on prayer, which is a reliable means for direct experience of God.

Asceticism: I’m not a big fan of severe self-discipline, but I do appreciate the goal of ascetic practice: to steer a person toward simplicity and to promote awareness of the many ways we mindlessly succumb to our own desire for satisfaction and satiety. I want to be clear: I do not hold pleasure or even indulgence to be sin.. to be something that separates us from God. Pleasure is a gift hard-wired by our Creator into our biology. Over-indulgence can separate us from one another and from God, but so can the severity of asceticism. As 21st century, middle-class Americans, however, it can do our souls good to identify and deny ourselves the satisfaction of some of our indulgences. Lent affords us just such an opportunity, but we’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come.

Missionary fervor: While some may not consider this a strong identifier for St. David’s, I do. This is definitely a characteristic where nurture and work can benefit us, but we have a strong beginning here. If you want to see missionary fervor, ask anyone to tell a story about Jo and how she brought so many people into this community, promising them welcome, healing, and a God who held them as beloved even while the world condemned them for their sexual identity.

The recent decision by our cousins in faith in the United Methodist Church offers us the opportunity to accompany our sisters and brothers thereon the difficult transitional journey to full inclusion they’ve begun – not to take their members, but to be a safe place for them, cradling them in love, and offering them hope in this moment of pain.

If you want to see the seeds of missionary fervor at St. David’s, watch the machine of this church engage when someone needs prayer or food or companionship. This particular gift blossoms missionary fervor when its offered beyond our walls, which the Task Forces are preparing us to do using the framework of the Stewardship of the Entirety of Our Lives.

The journey we are on as God’s people doing God’s work in the world today will bring us great joy and fulfillment. We will also hit walls and confront opportunities to grow past limits we didn’t know we had. As St. Paul says, however, we do not lose heart, because it is by God's mercy that we are engaged in this ministry.

God has chosen us and promises to guide us and be with us every moment, each step on the way. This then is why we can “have such a hope and act with great boldness” as St. Paul says.

Our faces are unveiled; our experience of God, unfiltered. The divine light, which now lives in us, shines into the world through us revealing God’s glory and presence. For so many who are lost and least, restricted by habit or expectations, or held at arms’ length by human-made rules and categories – this is truly good news, and it is ours to share.

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