Last Epiphany – February 15, 2015
Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians 4:3:6; Mark 9.2-9
All of our stories—all of our individual stories—are held in the larger story. The stories held by our families, by our communities, by our culture, by our faith. These larger stories hold our stories and help us make sense of what’s going on in our lives. Sometimes, just a couple of words from that larger story—like shower curtain—or high noon—give us more information about the context of our situation than we could begin to gather with 15 minutes of discussion. Sometimes, the images we remember from other situations inform us, and we can communicate using those images. If you think of someone wearing a black hat walking into a saloon—you know there’s going to be trouble. If you’re watching a Star Trek rerun and you see an unknown crew person in a red shirt in the first scene, you know that crew member is never going to see the first commercial. He’s done. A few weeks ago, somebody said to me, a person who’s new in a job said, “I don’t want to be the guy in the red shirt.” And I knew what he was talking about. He knew he was in danger, and he was afraid he wasn’t going to make it to the first commercial. Those things are in our larger story, and we use them as shorthand to communicate with one another. This is not new. The larger story has always been with us. Always. Back to the beginning of time, and today we see an example of that in this story of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is leading his disciples—Peter, James and John—up a high mountain. A person from that time would know when they heard those words that something holy was going to be happening—because something holy always happens when you go up the mountain. God is going to show up. Bidden or unbidden, God is going to show up, so you might as well be ready. So they go up the mountain, and all of a sudden, standing there with Jesus, are Elijah and Moses. They’re usually depicted standing next to Jesus, with Jesus in the middle. Moses—who exemplifies the Law, tradition, stability—and Elijah—who exemplifies compassion and justice, and all of those things—the Law, tradition, stability, compassion and justice—are values for the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. And there’s always a tension between the two. So, when they imagine Jesus standing right between those poles of their values, they would know that he is holding that tension—that he is integrating that tension in himself and holding it for all of us.
So, there they are—the three of them—and Jesus is transfigured. He’s gleaming white—his clothes are gleaming white—and Peter can’t stand it anymore. There’s too much holiness going on. He’s terrified, so he leaps into action. I have such an affinity for Peter. I’m always so tempted just to do something—anything!—you know, when that panic happens—when that dis-ease strikes. And he says, “We’ll build three houses. One for you, Sir, and one for Elijah and one for Moses, and you’ll be here always. We’ll always know where to find you. We won’t have to go up or down any mountains. You’re right there! And by the time he gets through with all of this, God’s voice is heard. God’s voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” The disciples look up again, and Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus alone is standing there. The hearers of this story would know that he has taken into himself the traditions. He has become them, and is going on.
So then Jesus takes them back down the mountain and says, “Don’t tell anybody about this until after I have risen.” He doesn’t want them to tell anybody because he knows they don’t understand what happened yet. They’re still trying to take it in. When something cataclysmic happens in our lives, we don’t go “O, I get it. I get the whole picture.” We don’t. We think—what is happening here? What is happening? And we try to make sense out of it, and sometimes it takes a long, long time. And as they were coming down the mountain, they sure did not know what had just happened. This is a story we understand a bit in retrospect—not in the present moment.
So they go down the hill, and Jesus has got to be thinking to himself, “Will they ever learn?” Last Sunday, the disciples—full of fervor and excitement about all the healing that was going on, said to Jesus, “We’ve got to stay right here. You’ve got to stay right here in this little village. We’ll bring all the people who need healing to you. They’re so happy that you’re here—healing them. You’re doing such good work—right here.” And Jesus said, “No, we’re not staying here. That’s not what I’m called to do. I’m called to be on the road, telling the whole world about God’s love.” So here they are, eight chapters later but one week in our time, saying “Stay right here. We want you right here.”
There’s nothing new in that. Always. Since the beginning of time, we’ve found a place and we’ve tried to stay there. Even the Hebrews, whose name means “wanderer.” Every time God said, go someplace, they said, “Do we rally have to? Do we really have to?” They didn’t want to leave home. We don’t want to leave what we know, because it’s kind of scary. Particularly when we don’t have a GPS or an iPhone or anything like that. It’s kind of scary, so Jesus is saying, our work is out on the road, but what we have done since the very beginning—think back to the second century, when people began to establish places where people would come to worship—not just in each others’ houses—but place of worship. And then when Constantine said, “All right, everybody come be a Christian and turn all the basilicas, all the temples into Christian churches.” Since then, we have been building those churches and finding a place and saying “Y’all come in here. Y’all come in here and be with us. C’mon. We want you here.” But Jesus always said, “We’re on the road,” and that’s so hard for us to hear because it goes against all that is in us.
Yesterday, I was one of the folks who met with Bishop Mary, looking toward our General Convention meeting that’s this summer. Every three years, the Episcopal Church—the entire Episcopal Church throughout the world—we call it the national church but it’s really the international church. Deputies and bishops from all over the world join together for the largest democratic congress in the world. Over a thousand people gather. The bishops have the House of Bishops. The rest of us have the House of Deputies, which includes both lay and ordained people. Every three years we do the business of the Church, and there are deputies from each diocese, and I’m one of the ones that gets to go again this year. And Bishop Mary called us all together for planning how we’re going to be in that place in June and July and be with you at the same time to let you know what’s happening—to get you prepared for what will be happening this summer and communicating when we’re there.
This is going to be an interesting General Convention—one of the more interesting. There’s been a trend toward that in the last decade. Two and a half years ago, we were noticing—fairly significantly—that change needs to happen because our processes have become too bulky, too slow. It’s hard for us to get things done, and that means it’s hard for the General Convention’s resources to support ministry in this church and any other church. So, a resolution came to establish a Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church, and if you haven’t heard about that before, you’re going to be hearing a lot about it the next few months. That resolution passed like that, because everybody knows that part of the system is broken. The people within that part of the system—that part that holds the whole General Convention together—are not pleased about the idea of change, let me tell you, because that’s their stuff. It’s their home, it’s what they know. Change always comes from the edge, and we’re out her on the edge. It always comes from the outside because most of the time on the inside, we don’t have a need to change—or feel that we have a need to change.
Jesus was on the edge from the very beginning. Calling the people he served to get out of the house—to go out into the neighborhood. The taskforce—TREC, as it’s called—is bringing forward three resolutions. One of them has to do with developing new ways of bringing a spiritual sense to everything we do—to keep us being missional—being the church in the world—not in the church but outside the doors. The second one has a lot to do with organization of systems. One that’s going to cause utmost darned astonishment for a lot of people is the idea of a unicameral house. Right now, there’s the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The idea is to put them together, and immediately the push-back is that the bishops will take over. The deputies will not have any say in anything anymore. There’s a thousand of us and a couple of hundred of them, but you know what we do. We always say it’s their fault that we can’t do what we want to do. Sometimes it gets back to us, but mostly we start with: “you know, that bridge is in the way, so I go that way.” It’s always something outside us to begin with. So we’ll see how that one flies. And then—the last one—O Lord, I’ve forgotten it. Well, there it is. I’ll remember it and call you all later. Meanwhile, what I want you to remember is over the time that these folks have been working on this task force, and our bishop is one of the people who is working there, and one of the reasons why she was chosen is because of the work we have done in our diocese to move out of absolute chaos into a system that is healthy and organized and is getting work done in the name of God.
Anyway, the catchphrase that has emerged is “Following Jesus into the neighborhoods, traveling lightly.” Traveling lightly. That’s going to take some learning, but we can do it because we’ve already begun learning how to do that.
Now this trip up the mountain was not just a picnic. It was a transitional moment in Jesus’ life—in his ministry. We hear God saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” The folks listening to the story back then would have recognized that God is placing authority in him and telling us to listen to his teaching. And we do that. This day is the beginning of our trek to Pentecost. On Ash Wednesday, this coming Wednesday, we’ll begin the hundred days that take us through a time of reflection, of looking at our hearts and our souls individually and as a group to see how we can grow closer to Christ in these weeks and then to celebrate and grow more fully into the Body of Christ with the celebration of Easter—and then to think how we’re going to do outside the doors on Pentecost. As we travel these hundred days, particularly during this time of Lent, I’d like to invite you to remember Jesus’ last words to the disciples as they came down the mountain. He said, “Don’t tell anybody what you’ve seen until I’ve risen.” Well, my beloved friends, Jesus has risen. It’s for us to tell the world. So be thinking in these next weeks about how your story and this larger story fit together and how you’re called to spread the good news about God’s love for the world. However you decide to do that, know that you can trust that Christ is with us in all of this, holding us and guiding us and inspiring us. Always
Thanks be to God.