A Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany + February 11, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: 2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

27939340_1633849510039632_1598304361_nThirteen years ago, during my last semester at Auburn University, I was invited by my college priest to attend a weekend retreat in the Diocese of Alabama called Vocaré. Being new to the Episcopal Church at the time, I had no idea what to expect when I was first invited. I was simply told that Vocaré was a great opportunity for college students and young adults to explore how God might be calling to them in their lives, and after talking with friends who had already been to Vocaré, I decided that it might also be a wonderful way to grow in my relationship with God and to meet new people from around the diocese.

So, in February of 2005, I made the journey from Auburn to Camp McDowell in Nauvoo, Alabama, and I spent three days listening to fellow pilgrims share their stories about how God was at work in their lives. During our time at camp, we were invited and encouraged to explore our own sense of vocation and to ask ourselves important questions about who we are as disciples of Jesus. We spent time sitting by crackling fires in the dining hall at Camp McDowell playing games and singing cheesy camp songs. We shared meals and intimate conversations with each other, and we were comforted and surrounded by members of the staff who were there to care for us and to lift us up in their prayers during our journey. In short, I would describe Vocaré as a “mountain-top” experience, a moment in my life when time seemed to stand still and the cares and worries of the world seemed to melt away.

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration reminds me of those moments in our lives when the fullness of God’s presence is made known to us in a very real and tangible way. For Peter, James, and John, the transfiguration of our Lord was quite literally a “mountain-top” experience. The word, “transfiguration” comes from the Greek word meaning, “metamorphosis” or “change,” but I like to think of the transfiguration in a slightly different way. When I think of Jesus appearing before the disciples in his full, radiant glory, I think of a veil being lifted from their eyes. This story is not about a change that occurs in Jesus; Jesus was always radiant with clothes that were dazzling white, a truth that was hidden from the eyes of the disciples. I believe that the real change in this story occurs in Peter, James, and John. It is only when the disciples retreat with Jesus to the mountain that the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and the truth of Jesus’ divine nature is revealed. It is only when Peter, James, and John retreat from the ways of the world that they are able to finally see the glorified Jesus.

This is what “mountain-top” experiences provide for us. They provide for us retreats from the world where we are strengthened and renewed. They give us an opportunity to refocus our vision so that we are able to live our lives according to God’s desire. Some people experience the “mountain-top” in certain places. Perhaps, your fullest experience of God is sitting on the beach watching the sun set or taking a hike on your favorite walking trail. Perhaps, God is nearest when you are doing something that is spiritually nourishing, such as sitting in silence, reading a great book, or listening to your favorite piece of music. You may even describe worship on Sunday mornings as a “mountain-top” experience. Some refer to these times in our lives as “thin places,” sacred moments when God seems just a bit closer. Celtic Christians are known for saying, “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.” Do you have “thin places” in your lives? Do you have places where you can retreat with God to escape from those things that distract you from doing the work that you have been called to do? My friends, it is so important for us to have places like these. Like it was for Peter, James, and John, these “thin places” have the power to transform us. They serve as reminders that the Holy Spirit is still at work in our lives.

Of course, the challenge of the “mountain-top” is that we can only stay there for so long. There is still the reality of the cross. The story of the transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel is a crucial point in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. This is the beginning of their journey toward Jerusalem and the eventual arrest and crucifixion of our Lord.   Like Jesus and his disciples, we must also come down from the mountain to participate in the reconciling work of God. My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to be for others the same revelation of God that we experience on the “mountain-top.” Every day that we are given, we are blessed with the awesome call to love and serve others in such a way that they are fully aware of God’s love for them.

This past weekend, your clergy and lay delegates from St. Catherine’s traveled to Decatur for the 187th convention of the Diocese of Alabama. The theme for this year’s convention was entitled, “Called Together,” and throughout the weekend, we talked a lot about the work of reconciliation, specifically the work of racial reconciliation. We heard a wonderful keynote address from the Rt. Rev’d Rob Wright, Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, and of course, our own Bishop Kee delivered a meaningful and thoughtful Bishop’s Address. He might have told a story or two. The Bishop’s Address as well as all of the special video presentations that were shown during the convention are available on the diocesan website and Facebook page, and I highly recommend them to you.

In his address to the convention, Bishop Kee stressed the importance of the Church’s call to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world, bringing the Good News of God in Christ to the broken-hearted and downtrodden. He stressed that, in order to do the work of reconciliation to which we are called, we must be willing to open the doors of the Church and go beyond. Toward the end of his address, he said, “I don’t think that we can be part of the reconciling work of the Church if we just keep preaching to the choir over and over again. We’re going to have to go out there and establish relationships with people who are not like us.” This is good and important work. It’s the mission of the Church- to reconcile the world with God and each other, to carry the light of Christ with us wherever we may go. The work of reconciliation is important for all of us to consider, especially as we prepare to journey into the wilderness for the forty days of Lent.

Indeed, Ash Wednesday will soon be upon us. Many of us are considering the ways that we will observe a holy Lent. Some of us may continue Lenten traditions that we observe year after year. Perhaps, some of us will choose to let go of something that we consider extravagant in our lives to help us focus on being intentionally present with God. Some of us may choose to take on a new spiritual discipline, such as a daily devotional, to help enrich our experience of Lent. This year, you might try a new approach in your observance of Lent. Rather than giving up something extravagant or even taking on something new, you might try returning to those “thin places” in your lives, those places that fill you with joy in knowing that God is truly present. You might try taking a retreat with Jesus to those places where you are more able to experience the love of God in all of its radiance and splendor. Then, come back down from the top of the mountain for there is still work to be done. Come back down, and be a “thin place” for others. Amen.

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