Saturday, March 1, 2014

2 March 2014: Come Down from the Mountain

Last Sunday after Epiphany
2 March 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
Focus text:  Matthew 17.1-9

            Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

            As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

            When I was younger, I was very active in Scouting.  I rose through the ranks of Cub Scouts from Bobcat to Webelo and then all the ranks of Scouting from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout.
            At some point in Scouting, perhaps between First Class and Star, I was nominated as a candidate for the Order of the Arrow.  The Order is a select group within Scouting whose motto is ‘cheerful service to all people’. 
            To become a member of the Order, a Scout has to be nominated by the members of his troop and then undergo a weekend trial called the ‘vigil’.  The Scout has to spend a night on his own in the forest and then a day and a half of volunteer service --- all to be done in silence.  Failing to maintain silence will result in a demerit and three demerits ends your vigil for at least a year.
            I remember that night on the hill overlooking the Scout camp.  The director of the vigil took me to my designated place to spend the night.  I was given two matches, an egg and two slices of bacon.  Part of the test was to rise at dawn, start a fire and then, using the aluminum foil as a frying pan, to fry the bacon and the egg.
            The night was clear and the high mountain air was too thin to prevent the stars and the moon from casting a bright light.  In the distance I could see the lights of the camp.  I knew that my friends were there and that, in the morning, they would try to trick me into speaking while I was performing my volunteer duties.  My friends weren’t being mean; it was part of the vigil.
            I cannot remember everything about that night.  But I do remember this:  it was the first time in my young life I had ever been truly alone.  I also remember that I revelled in being alone.  Then came the morning and I had to come down from the mountain and go to work.  That was the worst part of the vigil:  coming down from the mountain and back to work, back to all th obligations, back to all the relationships, back to everyday life.
            As I ate my breakfast that morning, using only one match to start the fire, I think I hoped that no one would come for me.  But they did come for me and I went down the mountain with them.  I realized that something was different; I had learned something about myself that I had not known before.  But I was not free to run away; I had to take this new self-awareness and put it to the test in the hurly-burly of my emerging adult life.
            Coming down from the mountain is never easy if that mountain top has been a place of revelation.  All of us who have had such an experience would really rather stay in the heights.  But I am coming to believe that the real purpose of such experiences comes as we descend from the mountain and re-enter the river of human life with all its currents.
            In April of last year our then Bishop, Michael Ingham, announced his retirement effective in August of that year.  With this announcement we began our ascent of a mountain called ‘the Election of a Bishop’.  The steepest part of the climb began in August and by November a lead party of eight candidates began the final climb to the summit, fully aware that only one would reach the summit first.
            Yesterday we celebrated the arrival at the summit of this eleven-month-long journey.  We ordained Melissa Skelton as Bishop and then welcomed her to Cathedral as the Ninth Bishop of New Westminster.  Over these many months we, as a Diocese, have learned more about ourselves and who we are called to be as Christians in this place, in this time, in this culture and society. 
            The ordination of a bishop is a grand affair; it’s one of the rare times that Christians can parade up Burrard Street in celebration rather than protest!  I am absolutely certain that there will be some Anglicans who would prefer to remain on yesterday’s liturgical mountaintop.  Even today’s use of liturgical elements from yesterday’s celebration may seem a bit like building a shrine such as Peter wanted to build for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  But it is the journey down the mountain and into the world that matters.  It is bringing what we have learned on the mountaintop about ourselves and our ministry into the dust, noise and bustle of our neighbourhoods and communities.  This is our primary vocation and our central task.
            In the Acts of the Apostles the story of Jesus’ ascension is told in some detail.  My favourite part happens as the apostles are watching Jesus ascend into heaven.  Two angels appear and say to them, ‘What are standing around looking up into the sky?  Leave this mountaintop and go home.  You have work to do and you won’t do it here.’
            We gather to hear the Word of God proclaimed, to offer our intercessions, petitions and thanksgivings and to share in the bread broken and the wine poured in order to go forth from here renewed and strengthened for the ministry God has entrusted to us.
            So let us leave this mountaintop and the many others like it.  Let us go down the mountain and back to our homes, our schools, our workplace, our neighbourhoods.  We have been transfigured by our time on the summit --- transfigured for mission to a world where many have not seen what we have seen or learned what we have learned.  But the invitation to come and see, to ascend and learn, to descend and serve remains.

            Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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