Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sermon for the Epiphany Last

Get up and do not be afraid

Get up and do not be afraid.
This is what Jesus says to his disciples up on the mountain.
Peter and James and John have just seen a sight
that they cannot even begin to comprehend.
Jesus’ face shines like the sun
and his clothes are a dazzling white.
This is not your everyday hike up the mountain for a picnic lunch.
And if Jesus’ transfiguration is not enough,
then suddenly,
there are Moses and Elijah standing on that mountain also.

Peter--dear Peter—
Peter is the friend that when things get extremely quiet or tense or uncomfortable--
Peter will say something, anything.
Okay, Lord. We’re happy to be here. It’s fine.
How about we just get busy and build you and Moses and Elijah
three little houses up here.
Peter is of the don’t just stand there do something school.
Peter is the person who tries to FIX things when they seem uncomfortable,
pretending that things really aren’t so bad,
so off the chart weird and unusual.

But then comes a cloud with a booming voice and the words,
This is my Son, my beloved…listen to him!

That is the last straw.
Even for Peter.
The disciples all fall to the ground and shake with fear.

But Jesus comes.
Jesus comes and touches them,
and says,
Get up and do not be afraid.

Get up and do not be afraid.
This is exactly what Jesus says to us, too,
when we feel knocked down by life
or are just plain weary
or when we are not sure which direction we need to go in our life
or when something just feels missing, absent, wrong.

Get up. Go on. Do not be afraid.

It is not said as a command or a criticism.
It is said with gentleness.
Get up. It’s okay.
Do not be afraid. God is always with you.

But after we get up,
We are often challenged to go a different direction,
To reach out and to reach inside of ourselves
in new ways.

Our son who will soon be thirty years old
went to a camp in Colorado starting when he was in the 6th grade.
He went there every summer after that.
After attending a year of college at Warren Wilson
he returned to work at that same camp for several years.

When he first started as a camper
all he wanted to do was ride horses.
He had been an animal lover since he was a little boy,
and to him, horses were a great big animal
just waiting to be loved!

Each week of camp the campers could sign up for their activities.
Our son Jody always signed up for horseback riding.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday…well you get the idea.
Horseback riding.
He had never ridden a horse before he went to camp (well, maybe once)--
but he found what he liked and he learned to do it well.
Occasionally he might do a morning of archery or maybe even a hike
but horses were number one.

Then one summer they had a different camp unit director
who challenged the campers.
Step out of your box.
Try something new.
Try something that you don’t do well.
Try something that scares you to death.

And our son—and I think almost all the other campers-- did just that.
Our son went on an all day mountain bike expedition.
He did rock climbing.
He hiked.
He went on 4 and 5 day backpacks.
He climbed Meeker and Long’s Peak.
He even did arts and crafts!
Our son stepped out of the comfortable place he had found for himself at camp
and stepped out of his safety box.
By the end of camp that summer, he was not afraid.
He was not afraid to leave what was safe
and try something new.
He saw new possibilities and opportunities.
He discovered the world did not fall apart if you did not succeed on the first try.
He learned that an open heart—believing it was possible-- and perseverance—
to get up a rock cliff or a high mountain—
counted for a lot.

Get up. Do not be afraid.

Today we are celebrating two ministries in the Episcopal Church.
This is a national celebration.

These two ministries we celebrate are theological education and world mission.
They may not seem related
but I believe that theological education
(that is the ministry I see that helps us get up,
stand on our feet and believe anything is possible with God)--
I believe that theological education
often prepares us and inspires us for world mission.

Our celebration of theological education is why you have
a brochure from Virginia Seminary in your bulletin today.
Virginia Seminary, where I attended (hmmm..yes, I am just a bit prejudiced!)
is one of 11 Episcopal seminaries.

As Episcopalians we need to be aware that all those who are ordained
go through a period of study.
For deacons in this Diocese it is a two year program of study.
For priests in this Dioecese,
we attend an Episcopal Seminary for a three year program of study
Thus, earning a Master in Divinity degree
and then must pass four days of General Ordination Exams.

The Episcopal Church is serious about theological education.

And so is this parish.
Theological education is not just about forming priests for the church.
It is about forming all of us
so that we might live out our Baptismal Covenant to the fullest.

Theological education is what happens in Sunday School.
Karen and Tom Smith put more energy than we can imagine
into their Sunday School for our children and youth.
(Not to mention feeding them breakfast
so that their minds can be on the day’s lesson
instead of their growling stomachs!)

We have adult Sunday School every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.
There’s a good group that gathers.
Know that you are invited. All are welcome.
because theological education is for everyone, not just a select group.

During Lent we are going to do a study using the film Chocolat
and Hillary Brand’s excellent book Chocolate for Lent
as the basis for our study.
I invite you—I personally invite you—to come and give it a try.
Get up just a little earlier.
You can have that Sunday afternoon nap but come join us at 9:30
starting next Sunday.

There are other opportunities as well—
There are program days and retreat days offered throughout our Diocese.
There is a monthly morning ECW Bible study going on.
There is the Lenten Walk series coming up on Sunday evenings.
There is always our magnificent Book of Common Prayer to explore.
There are books to read, though I encourage you to be part of a communal study.
It is all too easy to stay in our little circle of safety when we stay apart.
Notice that Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter and James and John.
Jesus doesn’t go by himself.

Theological education deepens our relationship with God.
it expands our understanding of our faith.
Theological education strengthens us to be disciples.
Theological education gives us courage to get up and to not be afraid.

Today is also World Mission Sunday.
Extending God’s grace to everyone, everywhere.
World Mission calls us to reach beyond ourselves,
beyond our immediate communities--
to seek to serve Christ in all persons,
to strive for justice and peace among all people.

Jesus tells his disciples Peter and James and John
that they are going to have to get up and to not be afraid
if they are going to go out into the world and share the good news.
Think of all these three people have already sacrificed to be on that mountain
With Jesus.

Then imagine selling all that you own,
to go off to Panama to do medical mission work as JoEllen Nutter
who was with us a few months ago has done and is doing.

Imagine leaving your cozy little cottage in charming Blowing Rock and your retirement years
to go and work with the poor in India.
as Lynn Coulthard has done in our comapanion diocese of Durgapur.

Imagine being a newly graduated college or seminary student
and instead of going after that first job and first real salary,
you join the Young Adult Service Corps of our national church
and volunteer to spend a year in South Africa
as Stephen Mazingo from Wilmington, NC—
whom I knew as a student at App State and
who graduated from Virginia Seminary last May
and now, yes, is in South Africa.

You may say well, that’s fine for some but I just can’t do that.
And that may be the realistic truth of your life.

But what you and I can do is pray for our missionaries.
What you and I can do is put international mission work in our budget
as we have done with our support of the Millenium Development Goals.
What you and I can do is go on a short term mission trip
like the one to Panama that this parish is planning for August.
Get up. Do not be afraid.

All of us are called to open our own eyes.
To see how God is being revealed to us on the mountain.

God is always right there in front of us.
But sometimes we are so afraid to leave our circle of comfort
that we fall to the ground and squench our eyes tightly shut.

The truth is there is a great deal that can frighten us in this world.
But we must not let fear be our dictator.

Jesus calls us to see things differently.
We are called to a new vision.
Your vestry has just returned from a retreat
Where they worked hard to envision St. John’s for the future.
You will hear more about this in the near future
And you will be asked to be involved.

We all may be asked to engage in some new ways,
to step outside our box and not be afraid.

As Christians we are all called to spread the good news
that has been shared with us:
We are all God’s dearly beloved children.
Our challenge is how we live our lives, how we are Church together,
in ways that show our love for God,
our love for one another,
our love for all God’s people.
How do we live our lives so that it shows how much God loves us?

Last Sunday we had a glorious celebration—
Bishop Taylor was here with us to baptize, to confirm, to receive,
to consecrate our new altar and retable,
to bless our new altar hangings.

Our brother in Christ Bob Carver was baptized
And, as we do at each baptism,
a candle was given to Bob after his baptism
as a symbol of his new journey as one marked
as Christ’s own forever:
Take this candle and be a light in a world that is too often filled with darkness.

Get up. Do not be afraid.
We step outside our box by letting our little light shine.
Theological education deepens our relationship with God and with others
so that we have courage to make that first step and follow the way.
Mission starts with our own little candle in the darkness.

Get up. Do not be afraid.
Go and let your little light shine.

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