Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sermon: 1st Wednesday in Lent, "A Sign"

Photo by author, taken in Joppa, Israel June 2014
Meditation for Feb. 25, 2015: 
12:15 service
First Wednesday in Lent
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Jonah 3:1-10 and Luke 11:29-32
I speak to you in the name of one God:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

What sign is God offering you, today?

Last Saturday, a group from St. Philip’s went on a “Desert Meditation.” We followed the “Romero Ruins” trail in Catalina State Park and took two hours to complete it.  It was really more of a “meditation” than a “hike.”

The trail through the Romero Ruins was accompanied by several signs along the way, explaining such things as the “ball park” that the Hohokam people used for recreation, or describing how the trash piles became hills from which the archeologists could learn about the peoples’ diet, culture, lifestyle. We paused at each of the signs, wondering about various signs that God offers along our own life’s trail. 

I would like to suggest that, given our readings about the sign of Jonah, that we reflect on
What sign is God offering you, today?

We heard the pivotal moment in the story of Jonah when God changes God’s mind about the destruction of Nineveh after the king himself covered himself in sackcloth and ashes.  That king,  himself, proclaimed “who knows? God may relent and change God’s mind, and turn away from anger…”  In this sense of humility to something greater than himself, the king proclaims the grace that God’s mercy is more than he can offer.
What sign is God offering you, today?

Second, we heard from Luke how Jesus reframes the peoples’ demands for a “sign” when Jesus himself is the sign – like the sign of Jonah was to the people of Nineveh. 
Jesus reminds the people of the story from 1Kings. The queen of the south, or Queen of Sheba, went to visit King Solomon and was convinced of the wisdom of God given *that* king.
She condemned her people because they had a God that was even greater than Solomon, but they did not recognize that God. 
Similarly, as we heard in Luke’s gospel, the people of Jesus’ time did not recognize God’s sign in Jesus. God offered Jesus as a sign.
What sign is God offering you, today?

In Thomas Merton’s book, The Sign of Jonas, he writes some very profound reflections about Jonah and his journey:
“…Receive, O monk, the holy truth concerning this thing called death. Know that there is in each person a deep will, potentially committed to freedom or captivity, ready to consent to life, born consenting to death, turned inside out, swallowed by its own self, prisoner of itself like Jonas in the whale…”
What sign is God offering you, today?

Merton’s reflection reminds us of the truth of death which, printed in the heart of every person, leads one to look for the sign of Jonas the prophet.  While Jonas swims in the heart of the sea, we hope for the whale to save him, but it is our whale that must die, so that Jonas may live.
Today, these stories remind us to “get our inner Jonas out of the whale” and move into the clear, busy with our proclamation of God’s love, clothed and in our right mind, free, and holy and walking on the shore.
What sign is God offering you, today?

At this beginning of Lent, today we are reminded of God’s peace that finds us there, standing in front of Jesus, God’s true sign of Love.
Today, may we respond to God’s sign, so that we may walk in clarity, by the light of the stars, knowing that we, too, will be raised to God’s heavenly country.
What sign is God offering you, today?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon: Listen To Him

Image courtesy Pixabay
Sermon for February 15, 2015; 
7:45am service
Last Sunday after The Epiphany
Transfiguration Sunday
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Mark 9:2-9

Listen Here 
I speak to you in the name of one God:
 Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. 
The day marks the end of the season of Epiphany
and moves us toward the season of Lent,
beginning this week on Ash Wednesday.

Transfiguration – that’s a word we seldom use.
In fact, perhaps the only other place
that word used is in Harry Potter. 
“Transfigurations” is the name of the course
at Hogwarts, with Professor McGonagall. 
In that class, students practice with their wands
changing the form and appearance of an object:
like ravens into water goblets,
buttons into beetles or humans into toads.
Mark’s Gospel seems to describe an incident
not unlike a Harry Potter story:
A teacher who glows in the dark,
dead men who appear
and then vanish into thin air,
and a body-less voice
that calls from an overshadowing cloud. 
It’s rather strange.
And this story is told every
Last Sunday of the Epiphany.
Transfiguration is what
Barbara Brown Taylor calls
“another epiphany, which ordinary time
and space cannot contain.”[1]

Here, Peter, James and John accompany Jesus
up a high mountain, just the four of them. 
And then, Jesus was transfigured before them. 
His clothes became dazzling white,
such as no Altar Guild could bleach them. 
Then two of the patriarchs appear, too:
Moses and Elijah. 
Peter must be in shock, possibly terrified,
because he doesn’t know what to say. 
He mumbles something about making dwellings.

I love Peter; he reminds me of my inability
to say something witty and
my gift for saying something awkward
in special moments. 
Then a cloud overshadowed them and
they heard the voice,
“this is my Son, listen to him!” 
They descend the mountain;
on the way Jesus tells them to keep quiet about it
until after he is risen.

“Listen to him!” sums up
Mark’s transfiguration account,
but that is not the whole story. 
This transfiguration happens
in the context of the previous verses.
Just prior to this scene,
Jesus has told them three important lessons
to which they were to “listen!”

First, he told the first passion prediction,
that he must undergo great suffering
and be rejected and be killed and rise again. 
Second, he told them an extended lesson
about self-denial, taking up one’s own cross,
and following him. 
Third, he described the way to “save” one’s life
is by losing it, for the sake of the gospel.

Those three lessons precede the Transfiguration.
We can’t possibly understand the part
without looking at the whole. 

Those three lessons invited the disciples,
and invite us, to embrace the consequences
that face those
who challenge human imperial power.
When we embrace the consequences
of challenging human power,
we rely on God’s promise
to overwhelm the powers of the world,
definitely at the cross.

When we embrace the consequences
of challenging human power,
we are taking up the cross. 
The cross, the finest symbol of Roman empire
and the climactic expression
of God’s liberating power.

The whole story then, from the three lessons
through to God’s voice saying “Listen to him!”,
underlines of Jesus’ way of the cross.

The transfiguration scene places Jesus’ words
alongside Moses and Elijah. 
Many theologians view
Moses standing for The Law and
Elijah standing for The Prophets and
Jesus as the Messiah. 
Barbara Brown Taylor, says that,
“… By singling Jesus out as
"my Son, the Beloved,"
God sets the gospel over the law
and the prophets. 
Listen to him, says the voice from the cloud.

So we can read two meanings of the transfiguration. 
One is “…about how it is better
to keep your mouth shut
in the presence of the holy
than to blurt things out like Peter does.”
The other is that perhaps,
“…the purpose of such mountaintop experiences
is to strengthen us for the climb back down into
the valley of the shadow of death,
where our real work remains to be done.”[2]

American Buddhist scholar Jack Kornfield
captured the juxtaposition
of the glorious transfiguration
and the suffering way of the cross
in his book entitled,
“After the Ecstasy, The Laundry.” 

Kornfield reminds the reader that is it our human nature to have times of
awakenings and openness
followed by periods of fear and contraction. 
“In mysterious ways the heart reveals itself
to be like a flower that opens and closes.” 
But, he cautions,
“every wise voyager learns
that we cannot hold onto the last port of call,
no matter how beautiful. 
To do so would be like holding our breath.”[3]

“Holding onto the last port of call”
is what Peter was trying to do
as the glory of God
was revealed in the transfiguration.
And it is what we try to do,
to hold on to those glorious moments,
to hold our breath.  But we cannot. 
We are called
to Jesus’ way of the cross, especially during Lent. 

Here what I am NOT saying:
that suffering is good, that death is acceptable. 

What I am saying is that
to follow Jesus this Lent,
to experience our own transfiguration,
we may have to risk rejection
to suffer of our own psyche and
to die to a of part of our identity. 

Then we can find ourselves in the glory of God. 
When we take a stand
in the name of God’s non-violent,
peacemaking and steadfast love,
we might face some rejection.
When we reach out to feed the hungry,
or clothe the naked, or visit the sick,
someone might ask why we are helping
“those” people. 
When we look for ways to live peacefully,
we risk rejection by our friends
as we pray for the end of gun violence.
When we take up a new service project,
we risk suffering shame through failure. 
When we confess things done and left undone,
in the intimate Rite of Reconciliation,
we risk exposing our souls
to God’s unfailing forgiveness. 
In all these actions,
we are listening to Jesus.
In all these actions,
we are transfigured and
we shine with God’s glory.
In all these actions,
we are pilgrims on the way. 
And the way is often difficult.
Dr. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook reminds us that
pain and struggle are key characteristics
of any inward journey. 
She says that
“…pilgrims are known to suffer
fear, disorientation and discomfort in both
their inward and outward journeys.”[4]
And fear is not a bad place
to start a spiritual journey.[5] 

The sense of fear experienced by  
Peter, James and John in today’s gospel
reminds us that the goal of any pilgrimage,
like the Lenten way of the cross,
is about making meaning of the journey.

We all want mountain top experiences
with transfigurations,
but we eventually come down the mountain
to a new normal. 
Despite our fear of God’s glory,
that is where our pilgrimage begins. 
That glory is a gift to be shared –
we all know the need
to be encouraged along the way. 
That glory is what happens
on the holy mountain of our heart.
That glory is what makes us weep.
That glory is what pulls us into life.
That glory is what fills us with joy.

I heard this story one time[6] about a monk,
who asked his disciples,
“How do you know when the night is ending
and the new dawn has come?” 
The disciples responded,
“Well, is it when you can see clearly
that a dog is not a sheep, or
that you can tell the difference
between an oak tree and a maple tree?”
The monk taught them:
you know the night is ending and
the new dawn has come when the light in you
reveals that the one across from you
is your sister or brother. 
Until then, it is always night. 

That light is God’s glory that transfigures you. 
That light is the glory that shines
on the pilgrimage way of the cross. 
That light encourages us to be pilgrims this Lent,
and risk rejection, suffering and ego death
for the glory of God. 

Will you join me this Lent,
embracing the way,
sharing God’s glory,
and being transfigured every step of the way?


[1]Barbara Brown Taylor, “Dazzling Darkness,” in The Christian Century, Vol. 115, No. 4, February 4
[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Bright Cloud of Unknowing,” on Day1. Cited  on February 13, 2015.
[4] Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, Pilgrimate: The Sacred Art: Journey to the Center of the Heart, (Woodstock, VT, Skylight Paths, 2013)p 62
[5] Dr. Kujawa-Holbrook quoting Kathleen Norris, in Dakota
[6] Bishop Porter Taylor, in sermon at All Souls Cathedral, Asheville, NC, May 12, 2013