And here’s why...while I have preached on the Transfiguration for almost a decade now (which is really not a long time), and I have taken every possible approach to the text I could imagine, and read every commentary and article I could get my hands on...no matter what I tried to do, the words wouldn’t come or they seemed inadequate.
So I decided to do something different altogether, and I hope you’ll be patient with me.
Last summer, I was on the mountain top...quite literally. I was living in Hood River, Oregon, which is between Mt Hood and Mt Adams. It was, in my mind, paradise. On July 3rd, Bishop David called me to come serve with him here in this diocese. I had been at the same parish for six years, and while I was totally happy and content and could have served another six years there, I was feeling God tugging on my heart.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
You see, earlier in the summer, I had been to a conference for clergy under the age of 55, and had been confronted with the need for change. At the start of the conference, we were assigned the task of writing a six-word sentence that described our calling to ministry; mine was “I can’t say no to God.” And at the end of the conference, we were invited to write a new six-word sentence that described a new calling; mine was “I’m standing on the precipice of transformation.”
I spent the rest of the summer looking for signs of this transformation, and while I knew change was on the horizon, I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. So when I got that call from Bp David, I knew my whole world was going to be turned upside down.
Now we know that change is inevitable, right? Sometimes it's good change ---like the birth of a new baby, starting a new job, or getting a new pet. Sometimes it's change that breaks our heart ---like the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. And sometimes change feels confusing or ambiguous. In my opinion, this is some of the worst change because we don’t like to be in a state of discomfort or unknowing.
So in August, as I was beginning to say my goodbyes to my parish, my friends, and my in-laws, the excited anticipation of transformation had become scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Had I made a mistake to leave the mountain top where I had experienced so much growth and love and peace? What would be waiting for me in the valley?
But, it was too late. You see, I had already said, “I can’t say no to God”. And I was standing on the precipice of transformation. So I had to leave the mountain top.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I was complacent, I’ve never been a fan of “business as usual”...but suddenly the idea of change was terrifying. And, admittedly, I felt a bit like Peter saying, “it is good for us to be here; let us make...dwellings.” In other words, I’ve got a pretty good thing going here, perhaps we should stay.
But that’s not the story of Moses and the Israelites, and it’s certainly not the story of Jesus and the disciples. Their stories are stories of perseverance, of change, of uncertainty that is liberating.
Their story is our story.
I wasn’t here when the schism happened. I wasn’t here when people felt they had to choose. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for the people of this diocese. I can only assume that people felt a variety of things...scared, sad, angry, afraid, frustrated. I hear the stories as I travel around our diocese, so I know these feelings haven’t totally gone away, and I wouldn’t in a million years suggest that we have to “get over it and move on.”
But, in some respects, I can’t help but wonder...was it the moment of transformation that we needed? Did it liberate us in some way?
I know my sister clergy would say yes, transformation was needed because it meant they could finally say yes to God. And I know my LGBTQ friends and clergy would say that this change had to happen in order to make a place for them in the church. In fact, I’ve heard recently from some of my colleagues that they wouldn’t be doing the ministries they are doing now, ministries that are healing their communities, if the schism hadn’t happened.
While we might not like to admit it, we know, even when it’s in hindsight, that change is not only inevitable, but necessary, and so often it is life-giving.
The Israelites didn’t end their journey at Mt Sinai; in many ways it was the beginning, a transformation, for who they were to become. Their time at the mountain was the establishment of a new relationship with God and with each other. And the time that Peter, James and John went up the mountain with Jesus was a time of transformation too...they were reminded of who Jesus really was--the Son of God--and the work they had before them to love and heal the world.
These moments of transformation are about relationships, and about who we are called to be; they are the start of journeys that can last a lifetime.
Their story is our story.
It’s been almost a year now; 11months to be exact that I have been with you all in this place. And, I go up the mountain and back down into the valley pretty frequently. And it’s a good thing. I can’t stay up on the mountain all the time; there’s work to be done in the valley.
And here’s what I’m learning...the valley--which for me is the food pantry, or the bicycle ministry in Stockton, or the soup kitchen in Hanford, or the nightly dinners in Taft...all the places in our diocese where ministry is happening...the valley makes the mountain. I don’t need to stay on the mountain to experience God; I can experience God in the work that happens in the valley.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to go up the mountain and take a little break every now and then, but I can’t stay there. None of us can.
So my reflection on this Transfiguration, or Transformation, Sunday, is more of a question than an answer. What are we to do when we’ve experienced God’s revelation and been challenged to make changes? What do we do when we’ve come face to face with God? Do we hide under a veil or stay on the mountain, or do we engage in the relationship with God and our community and do our ministry?
My hope is that we continue our journeys into unknown places, not always having the answers; that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and engage and embrace the transformation.
Let us all be bold and say yes to God.