Guest preacher, Glenda Hope considers how the world nags us to live random lives. God calls us to mindfulness and contemplation and to resist the forces of injustice. How can lives of prayer inspire lives of action, and lives of discipline inspire freedom in God?
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
A Presbyterian church in the East Bay called a clergywoman from another state to be their Associate Pastor. She was greeting people during the coffee hour and welcomed a young couple she had not seen before. Using an opening conversational gambit, as we so often do, she asked him: “And what do you do?” When Stephen Curry answered: “I play basketball” she replied: “Oh.”, completely befuddled until someone standing nearby explained this to her. Imagine how befuddled this pastor might have been if she had first asked Alyesha Curry what she does and then discovered that her young healthy-looking husband just plays basketball.
Well, if you are not a sports fan, esp. if you are new to the Bay Area, you might have been befuddled, too. Pretty hard to make sense of something that is completely outside one’s familiar frame of reference.
Which brings us to the event recorded in today’s Gospel reading. You could be cynical, of course, and just wonder what desert plants they had ingested. Or even, how did they know they were seeing Moses and Elijah. Did one of them resemble Charlton Heston? See: some of you are befuddled by that. Charlie who?
Myself, I believe God comes to us – communicates with us – in ways we understand, if only we are ready to understand, and that She has always done so. The Transfiguration of Christ is not the first such event recorded in the Bible. Moses came down the mountain after communing with God and was said to shine with a radiance making it impossible to look into his face.
Elijah boldly challenged the religious and secular powers that be, then had to run for his life. He sat in front of a cave feeling sorry for himself until God spoke directly to him, saying: “get over it. There is work to be done. Get up and get going.” Elisha, a disciple of Elijah, is said to have seen his mentor taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire. There are many others.
The crucial question to ask of this event is: what does it mean for us? Moses represents Law. Law as given, for instance, in the 10 Commandments, which must be taken as a whole – a guide, a framework, for living together harmoniously. We are all flawed – sinful – and we need Law to guide and sometimes to restrain us. Law as Discipline for Freedom in working together for the Common Good.
Not all Law is rooted in this basic God-given principle. Dr. King harked back to Thomas Aquinas when he wrote from a Birmingham jail: “Any law that uplifts humans is just. Any law that degrades is unjust. An unjust law is no law at all, but rather a species of violence.” We are called by God to change unjust laws replacing them with laws rooted in God’s intention for us to live together in harmony, peace, mutual respect and caring. This means religious as well as secular law.
Elijah represents the Prophets. The ones who bring the Word of God to bear on today’s society and laws, as Elijah did in his time.
Jesus represents God’s Inclusive Love for all people and all Creation.
The 3 disciples of Jesus had never seen such a vision. They were befuddled. They were terrified. As usual, Peter blurted out something. I love Peter. He was the Draymond Green of the disciples. Both Peter and Draymond needed discipline so that their admirable passion might better be channeled into powerful purposeful action.
Jesus gently let Peter know he had missed the point – the Vision of God does not freeze us into a mysterious magical moment. It always impels into action toward becoming God’s Healers. Returning to the other disciples they found them unable to bring about healing for a boy tormented by something which took hold of him causing him to injure himself. Jesus told them “this kind only yields to much prayer and fasting.” Just so, Jesus chided them for lacking that discipline which channels passion – good intentions – into powerful purposeful action.
Discipline yields freedom. Twenty years ago, Network Ministries opened the SafeHouse for Homeless Women Escaping Prostitution. During the recent Christmastime, many SH graduates emailed, called, sent cards saying: “Thanks to SH, I have been clean and sober for years. I have a good job. I am a good mother.” Melanie was one of those who emailed. This sweet woman relapsed twice and we took her back. We loved her so much. But the third relapse included an explosive psychotic episode on MUNI and she was mandated into a mental health treatment program. The therapist who treated her at SH said: “you know I cannot say much but you should know that dark things were done to her as a child.” We maintained contact with Melanie, though she was no longer our “client.” Now she is a peer counselor working from an office on Market St., reaching out to women once trapped as she was. “I want to give back, Rev. Glenda,” she said. A feeling I have often seen and heard from SH women. Women come to SH after years of abuse and trauma – for many dating back into childhood – years of life on the streets and in drug addiction which wound body and soul. They undertake a discipline of therapy, education, money management and more – a discipline yielding the freedom to transform their lives. Perhaps the most difficult discipline of all – as it is for many of us – is coming to believe their worth and beauty as God’s Beloved Daughters. The discipline of embracing and being embraced by God’s Inclusive Love is lifelong and transformative.
Discipline yields Freedom. How does Steph Curry make those impossible shots? A surgeon’s passion for healing must undergo years of arduous discipline until she gains the competence, concentration, courage, confidence to cut into your body while you sleep.
Few undertake these kinds of discipline. But we are all called to the discipline of prayer.
Regular communal prayer – learning from and rejoicing with each other – buoying each other up in hard times – – being embraced by the faith of others when my own faith is flagging.
Disciplined individual prayer. Prayer which is that conversation of the heart from which nothing need be excluded. Prayer in which I might see something new. Prayer as disciplined meditation – not so much seeing something new as a new way of seeing. Prayer as contemplation – not a seeing but a naked moment of being seen by the Holy One. Contemplation: a breathtaking gift from God rarely given; never to be grasped; but always to be obeyed not knowing where that might take you.
Prayer as disciplined mindfulness – openness – attentiveness to the person – the animal – the forests, waters, air and earth. Mindfulness enabling one to see, as Merton did, that every flower by the side of the road is a saint with face turned to God.
This discipline is not for personal aggrandizement. Rather it will challenge and change and keep on challenging us – as a community of believers and as faithful disciples – shaping us into instruments of God’s healing for this hurting world.
Unjust laws are pounding down like a mammoth hailstorm just now. Are you befuddled about how to challenge and defeat them? Find an organization you trust – for me this is the Older Women’s League and the California Alliance of Retired Americans – which support disciplined action to stop the violence of unjust laws.
For example, Paul Ryan proposes an inaptly named Welfare Reform Act -a law which would wreak violence on the lives of the old, the ill, and the poor. It would slash aid for home heating, forcing people to choose between heat in ferocious winter storms or buying food or medicines. It would make major cutbacks to Head Start programs and organizations like Meals on Wheels. It would impose a lifetime cap on Medicaid. If you are unsure of what Medicaid does, make a note to look it up then rally friends across the country to pressure their senators and Congressmembers to defeat this unjust law. In this way, we all become God’s prophets, bringing the Word of God to bear on today’s society.
Nearing the end of this sermon, I hope I won’t lose too many of you with a final impassioned plea. Please stay mindfully open. The single most impactful action anyone can take to protect God’s Beautiful Creation is to move from an animal-based to a plant-based diet. In the US alone, every year 8.6 billion chickens, 244 million turkeys, 118 million hogs, 28.7 million cows are raised in suffering and cruelly slaughtered so that we may eat their flesh. Most are hung by their back legs on a jerky assembly line screaming in pain and terror until death finally comes. Talk about violence. Some may ask: why focus on this when there are so many human concerns. Consider: people the world around are suffering the effects of drastic climate change – hunger, thirst, famine, floods, drought, poverty. The methane gas from our farmed animals yields 21X more destructive power than carbon dioxide. Enormous amounts of water and fossil fuels are required to maintain this industry. This is a human concern. Don’t take my word for it. Go home and research animal-based vs plant-based diet on your computer. While you are there, look up Beyond Meat.
If anyone worries that changing to a plant based diet will negatively affect his or her energy – or something – consider this. It seemed that JaVale McGee’s career had come to an end. Then he became a vegan – gained weight control – dropped 25 pounds – and Steve Kerr just called JaVale “Big Energy.” What fun it is to watch him swatting shots and throwing down those “alley oops.” In addition, 10 NFL players announced that they have also made this dietary change with the same results.
As we enter the Season of Lent, begin practicing this dietary discipline leading toward freedom from being part of this systematic violence. Don’t approach this as “giving up” but prayerfully as “giving back.” San Francisco must be the easiest place in the country to make this change.
Law, Prophecy, Gospel – God’s gifts for channeling Her passion through us into powerful, purposeful action for Healing Her Beloved World.