Sermon for 02-19-2012

Mark 9: 2-10

Transfiguration Sunday

 

In the name of one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

I love the Apostles.  I really do.  I love to watch and learn with this rag-tag group of people Jesus called to come and follow him.  Do you know why?  Because this group of people gives me hope.  Through their bumbling, humbling human ways, I can see myself in their actions, their words and their behaviors. 

 

You might be wondering, “Ginny, where are you going with this?”  Which would be completely understandable.  This is, after all, Transfiguration Sunday. Where we get to witness Jesus undergo a significant transformation, his clothes become white- dazzling white as the Gospel records.  And Jesus is transfigured, right before the apostles’ very eyes.  And as if that wasn’t enough.  These Apostle’s see, with their very own eyes, the Rock Stars of their faith, The legends of their heritage, Moses AND Elijah. 

 

That is some pretty cool stuff and I could spend the next couple of minutes talking about the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, but what I want to talk about is the response the Apostles had- more specifically, Peter had, when witnessing these amazing events.  Peter wanted to build three dwellings and stay there on the mountain…

 

Peter wanted to stay there on the mountain.  He wanted to sustain this literal and spiritual mountain top experience.  And as if seeing Moses and Elijah and the transfiguration wasn’t enough, then God speaks up and tells those who were present, “This is my Son, the Beloved.  Listen to him!”

 

That is a pretty cool mountain top experience.  I don’t blame Peter for wanting to stay there, to take his shoes off- Peter knew he was standing on Holy Ground.

 

When I was a teenager, I attended a national youth event within the Episcopal Church called Winterlight at Kanuga Camp and Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC.   This event was huge in comparison to other Episcopal Youth events I had attended.   There were people there from all over the country.  WE came together for five days to study, to worship, to relax and to celebrate.  Winterlight happens every year and it begins right after Christmas and ends on New Year’s Day.   It would take some kind of amazing event for teenagers to come together and give up almost half of their Christmas Break- and this event, Winterlight, was exactly that- an amazing experience- for me.  We sang.  We worshipped.  We did formation in small groups and my little introvert soul could be there and share, grow and learn- and I could be changed.  I was changed and transformed.

 

I remember this one particular year feeling an incredible amount of sadness as New Year’s Day approached.  My heart was breaking because I knew I would have to leave once the conference was over.  I would have to leave this world that we created, this community we built and I would have to go back to my real world, my real life where I was an overweight, awkward introvert in a public school system.  I was not gifted in the classroom.   I was not noticed by my educators, I was harassed, dare I say, bullied in my day-to day life.  But here, here in this magical place, nestle in the valley between mountains, Kanuga and in the community of Winterlight, I was somebody.  I had value.  People asked and meant it, “what do you think?”  So you could understand that leaving that experience meant that I would be returning to a life that was not nearly as bright, shining, dazzling or clean.

 

 

I too, wanted to build a dwelling and stay there at Winterlight- Just like Peter wanted to on top of that Mountain.  In that one moment where they got to witness Jesus, his transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, they were on Holy Ground- the kind where you take off your shoes.  Special.  Sacred.  Who wouldn’t want to sustain that experience in a world that is filled with darkness and betrayal and sin and hardship?  Who wouldn’t want to sustain a moment of peace, a moment where the Earth met heaven, dwelling in a thin place.

 

But our job as Christians is not to stay still.  No matter how beautiful, special, life changing the event is, our job is to continue moving, continue growing, continue becoming the people that God has created us to be.  No matter how much the unexpected gift of money is- we must continue to rise up to the challenge of giving back to God all of the gifts God has given us.  No matter how amazing the experience is, we must let the experience transform us, change us and in turn go back down the mountain to carry the gift of the experience out into the world.  If Peter had had his way, the Bible would be much shorter in length and depth. In fact, the closing line may have been, “And they all lived happily ever after.”   However, you and I know better.   You and I know that the story continues and it continues because Jesus said, “Let’s go.  We got work to do.

 

The journey continues, the questions continue, the wandering and wondering continues because nothing in our spiritual lives or our lives in Christ give us permission to stand still and grow stagnant.  If we were to stay still then we would be squandering the gift of transfiguration, transformation and witness that we have when light is lighter, when joy is more joyful, when possibility becomes possible.  That’s the transfiguration in our own lives. 

 

When we see glimpses of the True Christ in and among us, in the people we dwell with, the people we live with, the people we celebrate with, the people whom we call beloved. Pew mates. Office workers.   We take note of that moment, we take note at how present and close God is to us and we can’t stop.  We have to keep going.  Because in the end that is what this is all about.  We have encountered somebody or an event that has transformed our lives and if we stayed right there, we may be preventing our own interaction with somebody else that would be life changing for them.  Life altering for them.  We are the hands of God.  We are the feet of God.  We are the voice of God.  And we are transformed in our Baptism, and we nourish our bodies every week through the Holy Supper.  Between these two sacraments we have been given the tools to honor our own transformation through Christ.  We send our hearts, minds, souls and bodies into the world, right outside these doors to continue to be the witness of Christ, to reveal Christ to the world around us and that only happens when we come down the mountain, when we muscle up the courage to keep going- to resist the temptation of standing still.

When we can see life changing and big changes are on the horizon, it makes sense for people to want to stop, savor the moment where and when life seems simpler, or makes sense, or we feel comfortable within our own skin.  We have come to know the rhythm, appreciate the routine and live into that pulse.  I can totally identify with Peter wanting to stay in a place not only where they felt transformed but also didn’t require the work that new changes would demand.  At this moment Jesus is getting ready to really begin his ministry.  This is the bang of the gun at the starting line.  There has been a great deal of practice and dress rehearsals up to this point but they are getting ready to go and do.  For the apostles, that means more is going to be required of them.  More of their attention and time, their gifts are going to be required.  So again, it makes sense that they are ready, willing and desiring to stall here- just a little bit longer, Jesus.  Let us busy ourselves by taking note of this occasion and stall just a little bit longer. 

 

As someone who is about to graduate seminary and in the process of figuring out, listening to God and discerning what my next move is, I can completely identify with Peter in this.   I have been thinking of projects, little tiny projects at Seminary that would require my time an energy here, keep me present here and help me stall a little bit longer, keeping me from really looking at the future.  Really becoming who God has called me to be.

 

But the time is now.  The time to keep moving, to come back down the mountain is now.  The time to let the transformation taking place in our lives through our relationship with Christ have an impact on the world right outside these doors is now.  The time to give back to God all of the gifts God has given us through our service to our neighbors is now.  The time to move forward, to make the space in the basement into a workable Sunday School is now.  The time to open our hearts and souls and minds to the transformation taking place in our lives and in the life of St. Philip’s is now.  Now.

 

 My brothers and sisters, let the light of Christ that has transformed your life shine within your hearts as a beacon of joy, hope, faith of love and when you leave here today, go- transform the world.  Amen.

COM Weekend Ser…

February 18, 2012

COM Weekend Sermon

Saturday, Feb. 18th

John 15: 1-11

In the name of One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I want to take a few moments and talk about the word abide.

I researched several syllabi from the last three years and none of them had an assignment that required us to Abide.

I glanced through the discernment process of my home diocese and came up short in finding an item that required me to spend time abiding.

In my former life as an employee of a major travel destination, I cannot recall abiding being required in order for me to do the work I was hired to do.

In fact, aside from the movie The Big Lebowski, Abide is not a word we hear, read, say or experience frequently in our daily life.

Help me out here.  What does the Dude do?

The Dude Abides.

In a time where we are challenged to do more with less, to fit everything into 24 hour a day increments, to accomplish all that is in front of us

Papers, projects, forms, meetings, discernment, worship, prayer life, social life, going and doing, doing and going

Jesus says Abide.

Abide in me- Specifically.

Remain in place.  Be in God’s care.  Dwell.  Linger.  Remember that we are Human Beings, not human doings.  Abide.

Jesus knows that his time with the Disciples is quickly coming to an end.  Jesus and the disciples just left the upper room after sharing the Passover meal and they are on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place Jesus wants to go and pray.   This is all happening after Judas betrays Jesus but before the guards come and arrest Jesus.  This conversation about branches, fruit and abiding take place at a time where being frantic, checking, double checking, testing, testing the disciples knowledge would seem

appropriate.

Instead of taking these precious few hours and testing the disciples, making sure they are ready to continue the work of spreading the gospel, Jesus stops, turns to them and says, “Abide in me as I Abide in you.”

Be in relationship with me.

Be in communion with me.

Share in my life.

Stay with me just a little longer.

These are not messages we hear frequently as students, as partners and spouses, as lay people, as professors or administrators or as perspective students.

This sentiment is so important to Jesus that he expresses this desire of abiding 11 times in this one passage.

We are a culture of doing.  We multi task, we pride ourselves on cramming so much into so short a period of time.  Yes, what we do is important.  We are called, each of us, to give back to God the gifts that God gave us and we do that through serving our neighbors.  We are called to love God and love our neighbor and many times that love is shown in our actions, duties, in our doing.  We also accomplish this by being in relationship with one another and that is what Jesus is calling our attention to.  Don’t forget to be in relationship with one another, Don’t forget to be in relationship with me- the true vine and with my father- the vine grower.

Don’t Forget.

This particular passage comes across as if Jesus was saying to his disciples, “There is always time to Do later.  Right now, savor the moment of rest.  Linger here a little longer.  Take time to be, here, right now.  Remember who you are and whose you are.  Abide.”

In the resting, in the abiding we are refreshed, we are fed, we are transformed and strengthened in our relationship with Christ and with one another.  From being strengthened we can arise, awake, and we can offer to the world the fruit of our hearts and souls-  the fruit that comes from

and is inspired by

and given through our relationship with Christ.

Our relationship to the True Vine.

We cannot offer our fruit apart from the vine.  We cannot offer back to God our fruit if we are not in relationship with Christ.  If we concern ourselves with just doing instead of abiding, instead of being in relationship with the True Vine, we will shrivel up, we will wither and we will become like a branch separated from the vine, of little life, of little substance, of little to offer the world.

The fruit you offer, that comes from abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in you, are your spiritual gifts.  They are unique to you, the fruit is unique to you, only you can offer what you have been given to share.  No one else on this entire planet can give what you have been given.  Be a good steward of those spiritual gifts and take time to rest, time to be in relationship with Christ, in communion with the True Vine.

When we renew our baptismal covenant we say the words, “I will with God’s help.” When asked, “Will you continue.”  Will you persevere.  Will you proclaim.  Will you seek and serve?  Will you strive?

I will with God’s help.

Perhaps all this abiding that Jesus is asking his disciples to do, asking us to do is the very same way God’s help is offered and in order to receive that help, we must abide, in relationship with Christ.  Be in communion, share in the life of Christ, linger, be in God’s care, rest long enough to be strengthened in order to fulfill our baptismal covenant…

and bear fruit.

Abiding allows us to feel that deep sense of connection where branch meets vine, where love is shared, where life is given, where we are transformed, able to produce fruit to give to the world that is cultivated by a relationship with the true vine, with Christ abiding in us and we in him.

The Branch abides.

Amen.

No.

February 10, 2012

So, it happened.  After six years of being in the official discernment process within the Episcopal Church I got my first “no” this week.  Now, let me preface this by saying that at each step along the way in the Diocese of Western North Carolina’s discernment process I prepared myself to hear “no.”  I think that in some ways I was preparing for that as a way of  protecting myself a bit or maybe, just maybe, praying that the “no” would release me from this calling and I could return to a normal life.  That no never came.  If anything, every yes just affirmed my calling and I began to settle in for the long haul.  Then I started to actually believe and visualize myself as a seminarian which has given way to believing and visualizing myself as a priest.  Chain reaction.

There are many opportunities in the discernment process to hear the word no.  There are other times beyond the official discernment process to hear no as well.  A seminary may not accept a person as a student.  A field ed site might decide to go with a different seminarian.  A Clinical Pastoral Education site may not be a good fit for the seminarian.  I have been very fortunate in hearing yes at every step along this journey.  By mentors, professors, classmates and various other folk who’s hands have help form me continuing to say yes, I have been able to really hone and craft my ministries.  I have had a blast!  If I had known that seminary was going to be this much fun… I wouldn’t have worried so much.

The process for locating, applying for and interviewing for a position within the Episcopal church is different in each diocese.  Much of the interviewing happens on a local level within the perspective church.  I am actually doing more interviewing than I expected this early in the 2012 year.  Each interview has opened my eyes to some amazing churches, amazing ministries taking place within and around these communities and has, in some sense, renewed the fire of my own calling.  What a gift! In addition to hearing about these ministries I am also given the privilege to speak with innovative priests and search committees and I leave the conversation feeling inspired- hopeful, hope filled and that has been a benefit I didn’t expect to have or gain in this process.

So yes, I got my first no- probably the first of many in this job search process.  In a gentle email from a member of the search committee I was informed that the church was moving on with their search and that I was not a part of the short list.  For a moment I felt disappointed.  For a moment, a little self doubt reared its head.  For a moment I let the “no” sink in, permeate my skin, my blood and bones, my heart and soul and when it landed deep within I realized that I was relieved.  How could I not be?

One of the thoughts that keeps circulating through my prayers is for God to call me to the church that I am suppose to go to.  This process is not necessarily about the church that feels like home or has a great choir or an outstanding youth program but more about where my gifts meet their need and where my need meets their gifts and how well will I be formed, taught and mentored in the process.  I think on some level I have understood that for a while but to rest in that notion after hearing the first no- well, this understanding feels welcoming, hospitable and healthy.

No. I said no for years to this calling and look where that got me.  I’m about to graduate.  I’m ordained in the Episcopal Church.  If this can happen when my no turns to yes, I can’t wait to see what happens when the Holy Spirit says, “Yes.  This is where you are suppose to be and I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Amen.