Monday, August 8, 2011

Rock Walls of Petrified Moments of Grace

Transfiguration – transformation – renewal – becoming new again.
One of our prayers for the Transfiguration says,
O God who. . . . revealed (Christ’s) glory upon the holy mountain:
Grant that we . . . may be . . . changed into his likeness
from glory to glory.”
The Christian life – perpetual transformation – becoming new again and again –
“Grant that we may be changed . . . . from glory to glory.”

I had a life crisis a few years back.
I was at the end of my spiritual and emotional rope
with no power to help myself -- but God saved me.
It was in Idaho in the early 80’s.
My philosophy of life that was already pretty dark.
Then my legal practice brought me up against depths of evil
I had never before encountered.
The possibility of any redeeming light to make the world still good
seemed to have gone out.

But God saved me.
He did it through good old traditional Episcopal worship and prayer
at St. Michael’s Cathedral
on the corner of 8th and Washington, Boise, Idaho.

Objectively speaking, they didn’t do such a great job of everything.
But they were the safe harbor on my stormy night.
So to me, St. Michael’s, Boise became the model for what Church
is supposed to be
– and nowhere will ever measure up the standard of St. Michael’s 1982
– not even St. Michael’s 2011 even though it is in every objective way bigger, better, brighter, more inspiring now than it was then
– to me it’s not the same.

Peter, James, and John had a mountain top experience.
They saw Jesus transfigured and that was pretty cool.
But then they saw Moses and Elijah
– the personal faces of the Law and the Prophets.
That was just over the top.
So Peter wanted to freeze the moment.
“Let us stay in this place,” he said. “It is good for us to be here.
Let us make three dwellings
– one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for you.”
Let us live forever in this holy place, this holy moment, just like this.”

But God came over them as a cloud and said,
strange things about Jesus.
After that Moses and Elijah were gone.
Peter’s moment was over.
You know the rest of the story.
They do not live happily ever after on Mt. Tabor.
They go back downhill and get on with the mission.

Instead of the Transfiguration being something to stay stuck in,
it was the jumping off place for a life
of being perpetually “changed from glory to glory.”

Almost every church person has had their life saved
or has had a mountain top experience
at some point or another.
Maybe it was a church that came to their spiritual rescue.
Maybe they got saved at a revival or renewed at a Cursillo.
Maybe they saw the light at a Marriage Encounter
or while doing Prison Ministry.

We are all blessed at some point with a moment of grace
as Peter, James, and John were on the Mountain.
Thank God for those moments of grace.
The problem is what we do with them.
Peter tried to freeze his moment, set it in stone,
keep it mummified in a shrine
like me wanting to turn the whole church in all times and all places
into the image of St. Michael’s, Boise 1982.

Peter and I are not alone in this.
A lot of us have petrified our moments of grace
and used the stones to build rock walls around our spirits
lest liberating grace should touch and change us again.

The Church changed dramatically in the 70s in the aftermath of Vatican II
and in the heat of liturgical renewal.
That change was a great grief to people who had their moments of grace
with the 28 Prayer Book in King James English like Jesus spoke it
and the altar back against the wall where God put it.

But Pope John XIII said to open the window and let a fresh breeze in.
So we did – and we sang folk songs written by monks.
Now 40 years later, if you see a sign for a “contemporary service”
it means there will be folk songs written by monks in the 1970s.
Do you see the problem?
We opened the window for a fresh breeze in the 70s; it blew in;
and we slammed the window shut lest it get back out.

One of our city churches recently added a contemporary service,
yes 70’s folk songs, in order to attract the young people.
I asked the priest: who said this would attract young people?
It was, as I suspected, one of our church growth experts from the 70s
who is himself in his own 70s.
But in big cities today, the pierced, tattooed, orange haired young people
are not so taken with their parents’ folk songs.
They are demanding Rite I Morning Prayer with incense,
because they think it’s mystical.
We, however, are calling the hot new liturgies of 1975 “contemporary”
and planning young adult evangelism to attract people in their 60s.

My friend Grey Temple is one of the leading lights
of the charismatic renewal movement.
He has had religious experiences that would curl you hair.
His church in the 90s was full of folks
who had seen the light in the 70s and gotten stuck in it.

Grey wrote a book about spiritual experience and its aftermath.
He called it The Molten Soul, because in a moment of grace,
our stony hearts and souls melt and flow hot and bright like lava.
But the next thing we know, they have ossified, returned to stone
in the dead shape of what was once a living experience.

Grey had some psychological and theological explanations for that.
His book is a good read.
But my point this morning is just to say that our graced moments
were just that -- moments.
We can cherish their memories in our hearts.
But we cannot live in them.

Life moves. The Christian life moves.
It is a path of perpetual transformation.
St. Paul said to the Corinthians,
“We who . . . all reflect the Lord’s glory are being changed
into the same image, from glory to glory.”

Not we have been saved and now we’ve got it.
Not we have been transformed so we are now as God wants us.
But “we are being transformed . . . . “

If you may be a little uncomfortable with your new parish hall
because it does not look and feel like your old parish hall,
I agree with you in part.
I am uncomfortable with it because it does not look and feel
like the Parish Hall of St. Michael’s, Boise as it was in 1982.

Those places live in our hearts.
But we can’t live the Christian life inside a wall of petrified memories.
Life flows.

To live afresh, to be renewed, to become new again and again,
takes more than courage.
It takes faith.
It takes faith to follow Jesus forward into life.
You have demonstrated both courage and faith
living into your mission with a new parish hall.
I commend you.

But I have a feeling that God has plans
for much bigger changes in our lives
– both in our individual spiritual lives
and in our life together as the Body of Christ on earth.

If we follow Jesus, he leads us to Mt. Tabor for a vision
then down from the mountain for a mission.
We follow him in faith being changed again and again
from glory to glory.