February 26, 2017

Last Epiphany

Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9


In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Many years ago at a different church when I was a brand new priest I was visiting with a woman who was going to have surgery. We were in the hospital pre-op room, she was wearing her purple “Bear Paws” gowns that all hospitals seem to put you in before surgery, and she was laying in her bed.  It was early in the morning and we were having a good conversation in the midst of doctors and nurses coming in and checking her vital signs and administering medication.  Seeing that it was drawing near to the time for her to go into the operating room, I asked if I could pray with her, and she said yes.  Just before beginning our prayer together, a nurse pulls open the curtain and in a very polite but professional voice says: “I’m sorry but I need to ask when your last bowel movement was?” 

I remember thinking to myself “that’s a strange question to ask a priest.”  And then the woman I was visiting smiled and pointed to me and said “Do I have to answer in front of him?”  But before I could excuse myself and let this woman offer her answer with some degree of dignity and privacy, she blurted out “Yes – last night, 10 PM.”  And I thought to myself “Cool!  Me too!”

I share this story because it was revealing, it was a moment of complete transparency, or vulnerability.  For a moment, the woman was not a patient awaiting surgery, I was not a priest, the nurse was not a nurse.  We were all just human beings, talking about the very basic things people do, being open and honest with one another.   

Every week I participate in a conference call with several other priests I went to seminary with.  Sometimes our conversations are about boring things – church “shop talk”  “How was your Sunday, how was that Vestry meeting?”   And sometimes our conversations are really meaningful.  I have learned that the thing that distinguishes between a more mundane conversation, or a more meaningful one is vulnerability.  Every time, if one of us shares a real challenge, –a personal failure, a difficult argument with a spouse, trouble in the family, trouble at church -  then it gets real.  The conversation is not mundane, because inevitably, we all chime in, saying “I made that mistake too!” and we share similar experiences of our own failures and our own inadequacies.  And we are no longer priests, but just people, sharing who we really are, with all our humanity. 

These moments, whether in a hospital room, or a phone call, are about revelation.  In these moments, we are who we really are.  In the Gospel story today, we encounter Jesus upon the mountain top with three of his closest disciples, and Jesus reveals to them who he really is.  In a mystical way that words fail to capture, the divine nature of Jesus is revealed to James, Peter, and John and they see Jesus for a moment for who he really is. The Bible says that Christ’s face shone like the sun, and that his clothes were blinding white. 

It is a moment of radical transparency – where Jesus’ humanity becomes transparent, and the disciples, for a moment, see the divine being within.  Like the experience in the hospital room, like the moment in a conversation when someone courageously shares what is currently afflicting them – these are all holy moments.  They all point toward a deep reality of our lives – that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, rather we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Each transparent moment reveals to us who we really are.  This parish had a similar moment of transparency last weekend when many of you helped articulate a vision of what we believe God is calling this church to do and to be.  Your work last weekend helped to make transparent the desire this church has to grow further in its outreach, to begin meeting in small groups together, and to grow in our ministry to jr. and sr. high youth. 

The work we did two Saturdays ago was “top of the mountain” stuff – to realize and see where we need to go.  Now we know.  In the months to come, our work continues, as we, like the disciples, find our way down from the mountain.  You will be hearing much more about this in the months to come, but know that we are taking this journey together, as one parish.  The journey we take together is one in which we explore and learn together the ways St. Andrew’s can share the light of Christ to this neighborhood and this city.

The Rev. Curtis Almquist writes that “we have been given the light of Christ not to hoard, not to squander, but to receive, to allow to penetrate the deepest crevices of our own darkness and shadows and then reflect this light.”  When we reflect the light of Christ individually, and as a parish, we, like Jesus, become transfigured, because weproclaim to the world who we really are.  We, like Jesus shine with the countenance of Christ.  We teem with that light, as we mirror it with all of God’s generosity to the whole of creation. 

In Jesus, God has become vulnerable to us.  God has become transparent, for all to see.  How is God calling St. Andrew’s to do the same?  AMEN.