We began this season of Epiphany with a group of magi
following a brilliant light in the sky.
We end this season with the overwhelmingly bright light
on the top of a mountain.
We know it as the Transfiguration.
The light has come down from heaven
and is here with us on earth.
Peter and James and John
don’t really understand it completely
but they know that their lives will never be the same.
I think it is so interesting that a story of healing
follows immediately after this revelatory experience.
The brilliance of Jesus' divinity
paired with humanity being tossed to the ground by demons.
I found this wonderful text from the Kabbalah,
First we receive the light.
Then we impart the light.
Then we repair the world.
That's today's gospel in a nutshell.
There is something else about today’s gospel story.
Jesus did not go up on the mountain alone.
He took others with him.
He called and they followed.
Jesus did not go up to the mountain top alone.
He took Peter and James and John
and there Jesus was with Moses and Elijah.
The Transfiguration was not a private event.
even though we don’t know from scripture
if there were really exactly three--
there may have been more or less.
We only say three because we sing the hymn WE THREE KINGS
and because there were three gifts--
gold, frankincense and myrrh--
but regardless of the exact numbers,
we know from scripture and tradition
that these wise ones from the east
did not travel alone.
They went out together.
They gathered to behold the light of the world together.
The mission statement that your vestry has worked on
so diligently this past year
begins, “Gathering joyfully...”
St. John’s really is about joy.
St. John’s cannot exist without gathering together.
A church is not a building,
A church is a community of faith,
St. John’s is the people gathering joyfully to worship God
and then going out into the world with gladness
to serve in Christ’s name.
I don’t know if it has been on your mind and heart
but it has certainly been on mine.
We are about to enter the season of Lent.
After Lent comes Easter.
After Easter comes my three month sabbatical.
Or...my election as Bishop.
I have been pretty relaxed about all this--
my mantra has alternated between
(to use the oft-spoken words of Bishop Bob Johnson)
“God is good. All the time”
and the biblical phrase that keeps popping up
as I make my way through the Bible challenge,
“Here I am, Lord.”
Here I am, Lord.
It has just hit me lately
that sabbatical or bishop,
it means that I won’t be here with you.
I know God will work good for me and for you
regardless of what happens
it is an in-between time for all of us.
The hope I find in all of this for St. John’s
is the “gathering joyfully” piece.
You will keep doing that.
No matter what.
It is important that you keep showing up
every Saturday, every Sunday
(well, you don’t have to show up for both worship services,
but pick one and come!
Whether I am in the pulpit
or one of the outstanding and diverse priests
who will be here to preach and to celebrate while I am away,
my hope is that you will keep gathering joyfully.
Remember the movie Meet the Parents?
Robert de Niro plays a cantankerous father-in-law-to-be
who is not wild about the his future son-in-law.
He doesn’t trust him.
De Niro is always making this motion--
he points to his eyes with two fingers
and then he points at his son in law with one finger--
a non-verbal “I’m watching you.”
Well, I am not installing video surveillance cameras here at St. John’s
so I can check up on you while I am on sabbatical!
But in a much larger sense,
a much kinder and more loving sense
than Robert De Niro--
we are watching each other.
We watch out for each other on this journey.
We gather joyfully to celebrate the light that blesses us
and we gather also
to help one another find the light
when the world seems dark.
Studies show that when the rector is on sabbatical
the tendency is for the congregation to sleep in
and attendance goes way low.
I am saying to you--DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!
Not for the sake of numbers.
We have never been about numbers.
We are about loving God and loving one another
and you have to show up
so you can remember that.
If everything is just hunky-dory in your life,
then show up and be present with those
who could use a little of your light
shining upon them.
If you don’t need others right now,
there may be others who need you right now.
How vital it is to let each other know,
“I’m watching you.”
Right after college, several years before we married,
my husband worked in England,
travelled around Europe
and eventually found himself traveling in India.
He went on trains and he hitchhiked.
He said he was always amazed when a car
would pull up
and it was jam packed full with people.
But they stopped and welcomed him in--
sure, we’ve got 12 people already packed in a car
that comfortably seats 4,
but climb in!
There was always room for one more.
No one was left standing by the side of the road
if they could possibly squeeze you in.
That is one of the things I love about St. John’s.
You make room for one more,
whoever that one more might be.
Yes, our pews are not jam-packed full
but I am not talking about physical space.
I am talking about heart-space.
Just as Jesus told Peter
that he did not need to build three dwellings--
for Moses, Elijah and Jesus--
it was not about physical buildings.
Jesus is saying,
“Peter, what we need
is room in your heart.
Your heart is where I long to dwell.”
That is why St. John’s is not a small church.
Your hearts are so big.
Your lives are so full of light.
Gathering joyfully keeps our hearts open.
I just finished reading a marvelous novel
by William Kuhn.
The title is Mrs. Queen Takes the Train.
The Queen (and yes, it is a fictional modern day Queen Elizabeth),
goes on a quite jolly adventure.
Along the way she has learned to master e-mail
and is now even learning to tweet.
Kuhn writes about the Queen sending her first tweet:
“She decided to keep it simple.
‘Namaste’ she wrote,
recalling her yoga instructor’s words
at the end of the practice.
[Yes, the Queen takes yoga in this novel]
‘Let the light within me
salute the light that is within you.
How important it is to keep gathering joyfully
to let our little lights shine
Whether we are together or apart
I’ll be watching you.
Because I know you’ll be watching me.
And I know that God watches after all of us.