“No Fear!” – February 26, 2017

“No Fear!”

February 26, 2017 – Year A – Transfiguration Sunday

 

Let’s take a jaunt up Carmi Road.  We head towards The Lost Moose and marvel at the wonder of creation. But as we gain altitude there are clouds blocking the view.  But as we spend time, the clouds lift and before us is the beautiful panorama of the Penticton valley.

Does this sound a little like the Moses story and Jesus with Peter and James?  I hope so, for amazingly beautiful Holy Mystery is with us, if we are open to the experience.  Today’s scripture describes mountain top experiences.  The awesome and astounding happens right before our eyes.

There is no doubt that mountain top things look different.  From the heights one can see the whole vista and how it interrelates to the entire created order.  In the worldview of ancient Israel the mountain top was where heaven and earth met, and God could be perceived more clearly and completely.  Let’s face it, it is a struggle to have a clear picture of the majesty of God.  Our experience of God moments are often beyond words.

A woman arrives at my office, shaking and teary-eyed.  She needs to talk.  Part way into the conversation I ask her “have you been abused?”  Sure enough, through more tears and much silence she tells me the story of years of abuse.  As we continue to talk, she stops – looks straight at me and says, “This is the first time I really feel heard and understood.”  For her, our conversation led to a new sense of control, peace and transformation.  The journey to healing is a gradual one.  But new life is God’s gift to her.

Six days a week we host meetings of Narcotics Anonymous.  It is a self-help group who gather regularly to support, encourage and call to accountability those who are addicted to narcotics.  Using the same 12 step process as Alcoholics Anonymous, the members acknowledge their surrender to a Higher Power and that they are powerless over narcotics.  At meeting after meeting, members tell us that a new door has opened and that a profound change within them has occurred.  Transformation is real!

I have had numerous transfigurations and transformations throughout my life.  My call to ministry 39 years ago was nothing short of life changing.  I left a secure and fulfilling job at the YMCA to return to university and present myself as a candidate for ministry.  I fought with God, did everything I could think of to convince God that I was not minister material.  And yet, God said to me, “You are my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”  Standing in Lake Galilee, having friends throw a surprise party to honour me just for being me, and being in Scotland on sabbatical were all transforming times.

Even though the mountain top experience of Moses, and the transfiguration of Jesus are awfully hard to explain, I have no doubt that something amazing happened to them!  So, it raises for me the question, “what transformations and transfigurations are happening today?”

As we listen to scientists and environmentalists, they are sending out a loud cry on behalf of the planet.  They tell us that carbon emissions are slowly reducing, but we must do more.  I believe this church’s commitment to reducing, recycling, and renewal is a concrete sign of care for the planet.  Transformation is real.

As we listen to economists, they remind us that bigger is not always better.  And so, we commit ourselves to ethical spending.  We know that a strong economy is one based on fair distribution of resources.   How we shop and what we purchase affects the community of Penticton and the global patterns.  The money paid for our daily cup of coffee from Tim Hortons or Starbucks could feed one person from a developing country for a month.  Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?  Imagine if all of us gave up one purchased cup of coffee a day and donated the corresponding amount of money to the M&S fund of our church – what amazing possibilities that would create.  Transfiguration happens in many settings. That is true in our household, and true for us as a church.  We know that our church finances are being managed carefully and prudently.  It is with that assurance, we pledge our own resources so that the ministry of transformation might continue.

As we listen to political analysists, we learn that violence against another human being does not bring permanent stability to a region.  Instead, we know that discussion, reconciliation and mediation are more likely to bring long lasting change.  Just imagine if the mighty leaders of the world were to invest time and resources to support refugees, encourage immigrants, stand with prisoners of conscience – think how different our world would be.  But you and I have a role to play.  Our support of our own 2 Syrian refugee families is a tremendous step towards transformation.  Our letter writing and financial support on behalf of Amnesty International brings freedom and new hope.

Now, let’s look closer to home.  Earlier this week, I was reading a report done in 2004 about financial stability for our church.  It pointed out that the future of Penticton United Church is bleak unless we open ourselves to a way of change and commitment.  This report urged us to look at our own household budgets and commit to increasing our contributions.  That was 13 years ago, and sure enough you did give generously.  Just 2 weeks ago we committed ourselves to supporting the mission and ministry of this church.  Rather than focusing on potential closure, we affirmed that we are a people of hope and faith.  We know we can do it.  For we are a transformed people.   We received a significant bequest from Blanche Mullins.  She believed in this church.  She wanted her money to go to strong ministry and outreach.  Next year we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of this sanctuary.  We have offered a strong and vital  presence on the corner of Main and Eckhardt Streets.  We have been a sentinel of compassion and justice.  May we have the conviction and determination to serve on this corner for many more years.

A child from the play share program ran up to me on Wednesday and gave me a hug.  She was bubbling over with excitement and she was gathering with her friends and teachers for a morning of fun.  May we too, be so enthusiastic!  May we let go of our fear and embrace the possibilities!  May we open our eyes and see the mountain top view!

 

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“Bathed in Light” – February 5, 2017

“Bathed in Light”

February 5, 2017 –  5th Sunday in Epiphany – Year A

At the beginning of World War 2, King George VI gave his traditional Christmas greeting.  He used these words:

I said to a man

Who stood at the Gate of the year,

‘Give me a light

That I may tread safely into the unknown’

And he replied,

‘Go out into the darkness

And put your hand into the hand of God.

That shall be to you

Better than light

And safer than the known way.’

By Minnie Louise Haskins

Jesus says: “you are the light of the world.”  We are beacons in darkness and glowing lights in dark places.  We are sunshine after days of dullness.  We are hope when despair sets in.

In the Book “Bridges of Madison County,” the main character Robert Kincaid, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie, comes to Madison County, Iowa, to take pictures of its bridges.  As he reflects on his work and how he has developed as a photographer, we are told that: eventually he began to see that light was what he photographed, not objects.  The objects merely were the agents for reflecting the light.  If the light was good, you could always find something to photograph.

This interest in the light, and the fact that objects are vehicles for reflecting the light is precisely what interests us when we read the Bible.  It’s not Abraham or David or Mary or Nicodemus who interest us per se; rather, it’s how they serve as instruments for reflecting the light, it’s what they reveal to us about the light that sets us coming to church on Sunday mornings.  This is true not only of Bible characters and stories, it’s true of our own lives.  Finally, what weight or dignity we have is best understood in seeing ourselves as vehicles for reflecting the light.  And if bridges in Madison County could bring Kincaid to Iowa, and if a haystack reflecting the sunlight could entrance Monet, should not an ordinary Christian reflecting Jesus’ light captivate the world?

Many of us are familiar with the scripture text of “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the earth,” but most of us would be hard pressed to quote the rest of the passage, me included.  But, the story teller goes on to remind us that we are to live the way of passionate love towards all humanity, graceful blessings, and faithful compassion.  We are to be disciples of righteousness.   And lest we think that is an easy directive, we are told that even the scribes and Pharisees are to be exceeded.  It is a tall order.  But in following the light, we bring the reign of God ever close. 

  Frederick Buechner, a noted theologian, points out, “The darkness of Genesis is broken by God in great majesty speaking the word of creation:  ‘Let there be light!’  That’s all it took.

“The darkness of John is broken by the flicker of a charcoal fire on the sand.  Jesus has made it. He cooks some fish on it for his old friends’ breakfast.  Along the horizon there are the first pale traces of the sun getting ready to shine.  “All the genius and glory of God are somehow represented by these 2 scenes, not to mention what Saint Paul calls God’s foolishness.

“The original creation of light itself is almost too extraordinary to take in.  The little cook-out on the beach is almost too ordinary to take seriously.  Yet if scripture is to be believed, enormous stakes were involved in them both and still are.  Only a saint or a visionary can begin to understand God setting the very sun on fire in the heavens, and therefore God takes another tack.  By sheltering a spark with a pair of cupped hands and blowing onto it, the Light of the World gets enough of a fire going to make breakfast.  It’s not apt to be your interest in cosmology or even in theology that draws you to it so much as it’s the empty feeling in your stomach.  You don’t have to understand anything very complicated.  All you’re asked is to take a step or 2 forward through the darkness and start digging in.”

We gather today in the shadows of the massacre on the Muslim temple in Quebec City.  Surely if ever there is the need for the light of tolerance, it is now.  If ever there is the need for the light of acceptance, it is now.  If ever there is the need for the light of understanding, it is now.  We live in a world that sorely needs light to illumine the way of peace, justice and compassion.  We cannot listen to the news or open a newspaper without being bombarded with reports of bloodshed.  Headlines tell us of unrest both here at home and around the world.

What will it take for the way of light to cast its rays to darkened corners?  Barbara Brown Taylor answers this question by writing in a sermon entitled “Laboring in Vain:” “Stop doing a job,’ God said.  ‘Start being a light.  Stop doing your duty.  Start being mine.  Stop worrying about whether or not you have done a good job.  Start leaving that up to me.  You can’t see it the way I can.  You just let your light shine and let me take care of the rest.  I chose you and I’ve got good taste.  I made you and I can be trusted.”  That is not an authorized translation, mind you, but what if?  What if the real test of our success as God’s servants is not what we do but how we do it?  What if the real measure of our extraordinariness as Christians is not our thoughtfulness or our friendliness or our busyness but our spark?  What if the real sign of our witness to the light is not how much we accomplish but our own light-ness, our own reflection of the bright God who has chosen us and lit us up and sent us into the world like candles into a dark room?”

May we be light that shines into the dark corners of this troubled world.  May we be salt that gives flavour to the bland Pablum that nourishes hungry bellies.  And may righteousness surround this glorious world, so that hope might be known.  Amen.