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Interim Rector’s Annual Report, March 17, 2019

A Sermon by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

It’s a joy to be here with you at All Saints’ as your Interim Rector. 

Though I have only been here about month, I am settling in, and getting to know you all better.  I was not here in 2018, but I’m providing a report on my time so far, and my report today incorporates elements of my first sermon here on February 10, 2019.

I have some history with All Saints’. In 2005/06 I had the good fortune to be a field ed student here, and have The Rev. Kenneth Schmidt as my field ed supervisor. Kenneth was an excellent mentor to me as he was to so many seminarians, and I was very fond of him. 

I also led a parish retreat up at the Bishop’s Ranch in 2014, about my pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago. And the last time I preached here was Holy Week, 2015, right before I went back to the Camino to complete the last 100 miles.

One of the things the walking the Camino taught me was to keep walking, and that walking solved just about everything.  The Camino taught me that one day at a time is sometimes all you need to do, and that by putting one foot in front of the other, you will arrive at your destination. God is with you every step of the way.  And the journey itself is really the point.

I’ve taken some of my Camino experience into my specialization in Interim Ministry, and I know we can bring it into our Interim time together.

I enjoy doing Interim work because it’s a constant learning experience. And I’m on a bit of a learning curve entering into an Anglo-Catholic parish, but I’m feeling more and more at home here, and I want to thank all of you, and especially our Sacristans and altar party for welcoming me into this beautiful place.

All Saints’ Anglo-Catholic style is distinctive.  But every parish has its own culture and approach to worship, and when I enter into any parish as an Interim, I have to learn how things are done in that particular context. It is part of my Interim role to understand church culture and reflect back to the parish what I see with my “fresh eyes.”

My “fresh eyes” will be joined by your active participation in our Interim process. In the coming months, we’ll reflect on who All Saints was in the past, and who All Saints is today. And, most importantly, who All Saints’ wants to become in the future. Because as Rob Voyle, one of my mentors in Interim ministry says, “the church is going to spend the rest of its life in the future.”

Another important aspect of our work together will be studying our neighborhood, and how we fit into it today, and in the future.  I’ve already met with a small group of our immediate neighbors at their request, to discuss how we as the church can be of service to our block of Waller Street.

In the fullness of time, we’ll form a search committee and construct a parish profile, then ultimately open the search for your next Rector.  But that will not be our focus for the next few months.  We will need some time to settle in and get to know each other first, and do some work of discernment.  The Interim time is a time of discovery, and it’s a pilgrimage of discernment we do together. 

Being an Interim also involves being a loving pastor. I’m a good listener. I want to meet you for coffee, for walks in the park, or whatever works for you. Thank you to those who have already met with me!  I’ve enjoyed our time together.

I’ve quickly learned that the All Saints’ leadership team has been working hard for the last year.  I want to thank our Senior Warden, Jean McMaster, and our Jr. Warden, Larry Rosenfeld, for taking on a very large responsibility and challenge.  The All Saints’ staff, Bill Visscher and Agustin Maes, have also put in extra work this past year to keep All Saints going on a day to day basis.  I’d like to thank them as well.

I also want to thank The Rev. Tom Traylor for his faithful service to All Saints.  He has served as an Associate here for sixteen years, and he truly held the parish in love through a difficult period. 

I am grateful for Tom’s friendship and mentor ship as I’ve been learning the liturgical ropes.  I am thankful that he has stayed on several weeks longer than originally planned after my mother’s death on February 28. We will recognize Tom at the Annual Meeting after Mass.

All Saints has not had an Interim period for 30 years, and many of you have not known any other Rector other than The Rev. Kenneth Schmidt, who was a gifted man, a fine priest, and who was much beloved.

There’s a significant shift in any organization when a leader leaves after 30 years. The significant shift here at All Saints’ became more of a loss because of the level of uncertainty you experienced with the illness and absence of your Rector before his retirement.  

Because of the length of the last pastorate, and the way it ended, our time of discernment will include some more focused reflection on what kind of organizational systems have developed in the parish.  We will do some Appreciative Inquiry, which celebrates what is life-giving, and working well, and we will spend some time assessing how we can become as healthy as possible before entering into a search process for a new Rector.

A healthy parish communicates clearly and well. One of the first things I’ve done as Interim is bring our communication systems up to date. 

Our website and our Facebook page have been updated, and will stay current. An updated web presence helps us be present in the world as it is today. Everyone looking for a church does one thing first:  they look at the church’s website.  It is vitally important that we keep it current and accurate.

In the next few weeks you will be receiving an All Saints’ weekly email newsletter that will provide news, photos, schedules, and an ongoing pastoral letter from the Vestry and me on our journey together. The weekly email newsletter is a powerful communication tool used by many other churches in our diocese. 

This is an important change for All Saints’ on several levels.

As we move forward, we need clear communication channels internally among All Saints’ members, and externally beyond the front gates. The email newsletter is also something we can share with newcomers as an introduction to our community.

Change is challenging for all of us.  For Episcopalians, change can be daunting. Episcopalians place value on tradition, order, and stability.  We tend to look to the past and to our history for comfort, meaning, and authority.  This is true for me as well.

Being grounded solidly in tradition is a good thing, but, at the same time, change is a part of life, and, how we meet it is a sign of our health.  The Good News is, we don’t have to do it alone.  We have each other, and we have Jesus with us, who calls us to newness of life.  That is what the Resurrection is about.  The Holy Spirit is blowing us into a new phase of life as a parish, and, as they say at St. Dorothy’s Rest, we need to keep our sails unfurled.  We will be praying about this regularly as we move further into our Interim time together.

As we move forward, we will probably feel some turbulence along the way.  We’ll probably feel some discomfort, sadness and grief, a sense of awkwardness. There will also be epiphanies, joy, and growth. My hope is that, together, we can experience a renewed sense of spaciousness and freedom. Let’s keep breathing. I like to remember that the Holy Spirit is also known as the Comforter, and she is here with us along our journey, as well as propelling us forward. 

I have a few comments about our readings for the Second Sunday in Lent.  In Genesis, we heard the story of the ancient covenant between Abram and God.  God tells him “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great, and God shows Abram the stars and says, “So shall your descendants be. And he believed the Lord.”  Abram is an example of faith for us in uncertain times. 

Our Gospel this morning talks about Jesus’ concern for the people of Jerusalem, and his desire to protect them under his wings like a brooding hen.  I find both of these stories comforting and challenging because they ask us to allow the living God to be active in our lives rather than over-think everything ourselves. 

On my first Sunday here we had the wonderful story of Jesus saying, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  It remains The Good News for us today: 

We are underway.  God is with us.  There is overwhelming grace up ahead. There will be newness of life, and renewal for All Saints’.

Love and Blessings, Beth+

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Sermons

Sermon for Lent 1, Year C, March 10, 2019

By The Rev. Christopher Webber

 “Jesus . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”

St Luke 4, verse 1.

So let’s think about wilderness.

Some four thousand years ago the Hebrews were a nomadic tribe wandering in the deserts in the middle east. All around them were people who were farmers: Egyptians, Babylonians, Canaanites who raised wheat and barley and melons and other good things to eat and because they depended on the sun and the rain and the rivers, the soil and the seasons, and because these were not always favorable these agricultural people prayed to the powers that they thought determined success or failure, abundance or hunger, and they made statues and images as a focus for their prayers. 

But the Hebrews were nomads.  In all the years they had wandered in the deserts with their sheep and their goats they had no crops to raise, and no need for gods of that sort. For them there was one God, invisible, all-powerful, a god encountered in the volcano at Sinai and the storms that swept across the desert. Not a God to bargain with. But when the Hebrews came into the promised land and tried to learn farming themselves they naturally looked to the Canaanites for advice and they were told, “Well, here’s what you do: you set up a pillar or carve some statues of wood or stone and you make offerings, and you cry out to Baal or Astarte or whichever god you need at the moment for rain or sun or whatever crop it is. Sometimes it works; sometimes not; but that’s how you go to the gods for help.” 

Some of the Hebrews tried it out and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but, like the Canaanites, they decided it was better to do it than not do it.  Hey, you never know. Some tried it, as I said, but others resisted and said, “No, the God of our ancestors commanded us to make no statues because our God is beyond all possibility of representation.  And our God also cannot be influenced by the size of our offerings or anything like that. We can try to line up with God but no way we can bargain with God to get God to line up with us.” 

Now, that was a conflict that went on for centuries. You can read all about it in the Bible: First and Second Kings especially; an on-going struggle. The Hebrews were divided by it with the prophets and their visions on one side and the practical people on the other.  The prophets said, “It doesn’t matter where you are or what the agenda is; there is one God, no other.  You can serve God, but God can’t be bribed to serve you.” But the practical people said, “Look, the Canaanites have the experience and the smart thing is to hedge your bets, not put all your eggs in one basket, always backup your computer, don’t take chances.” 

But the prophets didn’t give up; always there were prophets who insisted, “God is beyond all this and if this becomes an idol, God can and will destroy it and God can even destroy us, the chosen people, if we turn to our own ways, because God is always beyond, always greater than we can imagine and God asks us to respond in a freedom that lacks the apparent security of walls and borders and images and festivals and buildings and laws.  God is not limited by our constructions.  God is free.  And God calls us to respond in freedom, to give ourselves without limit to the God who loves us without limit.” 

Well, that’s what Lent is about: it’s a reminder that we are by origin a wandering, desert people with a radically unconfined God, a God who is free and calls us to freedom.  Lent summons us to remember who we are and respond to that challenge.  For forty days every year we are challenged to follow Jesus back out into the wilderness of our nomadic ancestors where there is none of the security of plowed land and settlements and walls and well-traveled roads. 

The Prayer Book speaks of Lent as a time for “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”  It asks us to find out whether we can get along without the images and the idols – the things, the possessions, that tie us down and somehow give us a feeling of security.  Can we put them aside and learn to live with God alone? All the old traditional disciplines of Lent – giving up candy and movies and television – the images of Canaan and Babylon – are basically about that: how addicted are you to the local idols?  how dependent are we on material things? What is it that takes the time we might have used for prayer or the energy that might have been used to help someone in need or to work to change a society that seems indifferent to the needs of others?  It’s probably not something as simple as candy or computer games.  It’s things that have become part of the very fabric of our lives and it will hurt to tear them out.  The idols are where they are because we’ve learned to love them and depend on them and believe we need them. So Lent asks us to look again, to focus on this fundamental question: who is your God?  One of the old mystics used to say, “This too is not God.” It’s a good line to remember. Look around at your life: “This too is not God.” I think some of the most divisive arguments in our public life, church and state, are about idols – not God.

Do you remember back a while ago the annual Christmas fuss about Christmas in public places?  Almost every year it seems some mayor or public official tries to find a new way of putting up a creche to see who will complain. And someone always does. But, you know, I used to live in New England and back in Puritan days it was illegal to celebrate Christmas at all because I think the Puritans knew that so much of the celebration was pagan in origin and a distraction from the worship of the God who is beyond all images.  The Puritans knew that but now their descendants, calling themselves Christians, demand that they be allowed their images, their creches and Christmas trees, and the very name of Christmas has become an image, as if by saying “Merry Christmas” out loud and in public  instead of “Happy Holidays” the God who cannot be named is somehow honored. We still want our images, things to hold onto; We’re still afraid of the desert. 

The Anglican Communion is being torn apart these days by those who insist on this reading of the Bible rather than that one, my way of reading the law and the security it gives me rather than your way which makes me nervous.  Every ten years, you know, all the Anglican bishops in the world convene in England, at Lambeth palace, to see what they can learn from each other and recently they’ve had trouble doing that because in some parts of the world same sex marriage is not acceptable.  The missionaries in the 19th century told their new converts that it was bad and they believed it – still do.  Ten years ago quite a few of them didn’t come because the American church had just elected a gay bishop. This year the Archbishop of Canterbury has ruled that bishops with same sex partners can’t bring their partner – or if they do, the partners can’t come to the tea parties.  A hundred years ago it was African bishops who wanted to be able to baptize polygamous partners and other bishops were saying, No, only one at a time. There’s always something.  And not enough of us are prepared to stop and say, “Let’s really listen to each other; let’s admit that my way and your way both are inadequate images, neither one is an absolute and final and complete picture of God and it never can be.  So instead of fighting, let me hear how what you have to say honors God and let me try to explain why I believe my views honor God and one way or another let’s recognize that we both are seeking to honor God and God is not honored by our anger or by a narrow clinging to images.  Let’s confess our limitations and try still to love each other even if we no more understand each other than we truly and fully understand God.”

Lots of churches, you know, use purple vestments in Lent. This church, like the one I served for the twenty-two years before I retired, follows the old English custom in Lent which wasn’t purple but monk’s cloth or unbleached linen. You come into church on Ash Wednesday and the crosses and pictures were draped in simple sack cloth and it felt like spring cleaning.  Here I think the custom is to do that in Holy Week; the visual distractions are covered and there’s a sense of simplicity and cleanness. 

The Russian Orthodox have a custom called pustina, which has to do with going into a bare cell, a room with four walls and no more, to spend a day or two days or more – with nothing to see, nothing to hold on to – “sensory deprivation,” I think might be the modern phrase, removal of distractions. And who needs some such practice more than 21st century Americans whose lives are so full and whose souls are so empty? Lent is a time to clean house, to be rid of idols and images and preconceived notions to go into the “desert” or “wilderness” for forty days. 

Years ago, when I was in Israel, we had a guide who took us down from Jerusalem to Jericho – down through the barren land where Jesus spent those forty days – and along the way he showed us a bright splash of green down the side of a steep cliff and he said it came from a break in a conduit pipe that takes water to an ancient monastery and he said it shows you that this is not truly desert but wilderness.  There is a difference. Desert, true desert, he said, is where nothing can grow. Wilderness is where growth can take place if only it has water. When the spring rains come the wilderness bursts into bloom. When the aqueduct springs a leak, the barren land turns green.

Think about that this Lent.  Yes, go back out into the desert, get rid of the idols, but then ask yourself this: where I am, can anything grow?  Am I in the desert or the wilderness? I looked very carefully at the street outside the church this morning. I thought with all the rain this last week we might see some green pushing up through the sidewalk and know that this may be wilderness but it’s not desert. I didn’t see anything.  Maybe it’s desert. But maybe we just need more rain to soak down in and get life going.

But what about your office or place of work.  What would happen if you poured some water near your desk or work place and watched for a week or so. Is it desert or wilderness? Try it at home.  Pour some water on the television set, maybe just a cup or so every day for a week.  And watch: does anything grow there?  Does any life emerge?  But did it ever really enhance your life?  It might do good things for you anyway if you water it well.  I will guarantee that if you do that – water your television regularly – you will, of course, wind up with a short-circuited TV, but you will also have a better social life, your thinking will clarify, and you will lose weight.

But seriously, this is what Lent is about: Lent is a time to ask where I am, whether I’m in a place of life or not: am I in the desert or the wilderness: which is it? For all the visual richness of our society, a lot of it is desert: dead as it can be and deadening to those who come there. But we are not like the wilderness plants; that have their roots down in a dry place and have to wait for rain to come. No, we can move; we can pick ourselves up and put ourselves in a place where life can emerge and develop – real life, the life of the spirit, life that can transcend even death itself.  And we can carry that life with us and make things bloom where we are. I trust this church is such a place: a place that can flourish and grow with your prayers and your presence and your participation.  I trust your home and place of work can be such a place.  But it depends on what you bring to it from here, from the sacraments ministered here, from the Word of God read and proclaimed and taught right here. I believe that this city, the places you work in the places you live in are not desert but wilderness, needing what you can absorb here and take there and capable of real life.  But it’s not automatic and it won’t happen unless you want it to happen and make time for it to happen. 

God twists very few arms. God wants us to respond in freedom. But God does want us to grow. God does want us to focus on life. God does want us to turn away from all that which is not God to come, to come, to come now while we have time, to come to the One who is.

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Sermon for Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

Ash Wednesday Homily 2019

As the new Interim Rector I did something different this Ash Wednesday at All Saints. I posted a video made by the Episcopal Church on our Facebook page. If you are on Facebook, please take a look, and join our FB community.

The video begins, “two thousand years ago the Son of God issued an invitation to Repent and believe the Good News. This Ash Wednesday, The Episcopal Church invites you to join with millions of Christians around the world, as we respond to Jesus’ invitation.

So here we are, with millions of Christians around the world, marking the beginning of Lent with ashes on our foreheads.  Welcome.  I am glad you are here.

The video says, “Repentance doesn’t mean beating ourselves up, making ourselves miserable, or being overwhelmed by shame.”

That is very important.  In the solemn readings that we just heard, we encounter language like “acknowledge our wretchedness.”

I think that many of us do too much focusing on our wretchedness on a regular basis, and for many difficult reasons, shame can be a constant menace in our lives.

The church does not need to pile on more shame. So many people have left the church because their experience of church, and faith, became entangled with shame, and guilt.

That is not the intention of this liturgy, this church, or of the season of Lent. The 40 Days of Lent are instead a time of spiritual growth.

In our reading from Matthew today, Jesus has some blunt words for people who pray conspicuously to show off how pious they are.  He says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” 

What does Jesus recommend we do instead?  He seems to say that being in relationship with God should become part of who we are. he says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This sort of spiritual relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, and slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this process helps us grow in spiritual depth.   Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

This sort of relationship with God takes a lifetime of turning towards God, slowly shedding what no longer serves us in our spiritual life, and offering ourselves to God. Over time, this returning to God creates spiritual treasure in our hearts.

Ash Wednesday provides a powerful gateway into the Lenten season when we can shed whatever separates us from God this year.  It will probably be different from what separated you from God last year or the year before. It’s not a one-time event, this growing closer to God.  It’s a process.

The traditional word for this kind of letting go of what no longer serves us is “repentance.” Repentance is a translation of the Greek word, “Metanoia,” which means to turn around, and reorient ourselves towards God.

One of the things that commonly separates us from God is denying our own mortality.   Because when we deny our own mortality, we are putting ourselves at the same level as God, and we are not.  We are mortals.

Our human lives are finite, and precious.  Ash Wednesday has a poignancy for me this year.  My mother passed away last Thursday. She was 87, and had been in very good health most of her life. In her last year she slowly had to face her own mortality, and so did I, as her daughter.

Understanding that reality helped us to be together in the present, and to express our love for each other. I think acknowledging our mortality helps us embrace ourselves as we are, to accept and love ourselves as the person God made us to be.

So Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and a sign of our own mortality with the Imposition of Ashes on our foreheads.

As we accept these ashes let us remember that we are beautifully created and loved by God, and the ashes are a symbol of our creation as well as our death. We are part of God’s creation, we are all made of the very dust of stars of the Big Bang at the beginning of Creation.  These ashes are a symbol of our oneness with the Earth.

When we receive the ashes, we hear the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” They symbolize our birth and death, the cycle of life.

The interesting thing is, ashes have life-giving properties. The ashes left behind after a forest fire are a natural fertilizer. When new seedlings pop up through the ashes, the nutrients of the ashes nourishes the new growth of the forest.

There’s also a poignancy to this Ash Wednesday at All Saints’ because the parish

has gone through a tough year with the illness, absence, and retirement of your

long-time Rector.  These ashes may represent a time of mourning and the planting

of seeds of renewal as we begin Lent again, as a parish.

In a few minutes, we will also receive the bread of new life in the Eucharist. It will nourish us with grace; it is the food for spiritual growth, through our sacred journey through Lent.

Wherever you are on your journey of faith, Jesus invites you to participate today. Repent of what pulls you towards death. Turn towards Jesus and walk towards newness of life. 

We are dust, and to dust we will return.  These are powerful words. Here are some other powerful words. We hear them at Baptism. We say, “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” and trace the sign of the cross in holy oil on the forehead of the newly baptized, right where we trace the cross of ashes.

May each one of you remember that “You are marked as Christ’s own forever,” may these ashes be a mark of our mortality, and our new growth in Christ.  May you be blessed by a holy and sacred  Lenten journey.  Amen.

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Sermons

Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, March 3, 2019

The Rev. Thomas W. Traylor

When I was a boy growing up in a Baptist Sunday School, the mountains of the Bible lands came to seem almost as familiar to me as the Appalachian foothills of my Georgia home.   Week by week, my teachers used pictures and maps and vivid storytelling to teach the great mountain stories of the Bible: the story of Noah’s ark coming to rest atop Mount Ararat after the Great Flood; Abraham taking his son Isaac up Mount Moriah to offer sacrifice; Moses going up Mount Sinai to meet with God and coming down with the Ten Commandments; the prophet Elijah in his great showdown with the false prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel. 

Then there were the Gospel stories of Jesus going up to the Temple Mount as a boy; the account of his temptation on the top of the mountain where the Devil took him to show him all the kingdoms of the world.  Stories of how he called disciples and traveled with them among the hill towns of Galilee.  His great Sermon on the Mount.  His final journey up to Jerusalem, where he prayed in the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives on the night he was betrayed.  And, finally, the story of how he carried his cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem to a hilltop outside the city wall and was crucified there.

Many of the Bible’s great stories are set on hills and mountain peaks, especially mountain peaks.  It is as if the contours of the holy land mirror the territory of the spirit. Today’s gospel story takes us with Jesus and three of his disciples up yet another mountain.  To be a follower of Jesus must have required strong legs and sturdy shoes.  Of all the mountaintop stories in Holy Scripture, this story of the Transfiguration counts as one of the strangest.  What are we to make of it?   Why do we have this unexpected story heavenly light on a mountaintop breaking into the ordinary cycle of daylight and darkness?

In Luke’s gospel, this moment of light comes just as shadows have begun to fall across Jesus’ path.  Until now in the gospel story, things have been sunny.  The blind see, the lame walk, the hungry are fed. Demons are cast out.   The disciples themselves are sent out to preach and heal and return with reports of success. Popular enthusiasm for Jesus is running high. The road ahead looks promising.  Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples that he is going up to Jerusalem. Not to be hailed as the Messiah, but to die.

With that announcement, the lay of the land stretching out before Jesus and his followers changes. Immediately before Luke gives us the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus had put it to his disciples starkly: “If any would be my disciples, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”   You can hear the disciples asking themselves, “Could this be right?”  Could this really be the road ahead for Jesus, and, more alarmingly, was this the road they were meant to be on as well?  Had they followed the wrong man down a dark path? 

In our lives as Christians, we sometimes retreat to a mountaintop—an actual mountain or an interior one—when we are troubled or afraid.  Sometimes we go up a mountain to think and pray. Sometimes we go up a mountain to get our bearings, to see the great panorama, and to catch a glimpse of where we’re headed. On this day, on that mount of Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples do all of those things. In the face of this dawning realization that what lies ahead is the way of the cross, Jesus and those closest to him climb a mountain. There, the gospel writer tells us, as Jesus prays, his face and clothing begin to shine with heavenly light and the disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, surrounded in the light of glory. 

Moses and Elijah were mountain men, too, you’ll remember.  They had known deep valleys, but they had also stood upon the spiritual high places in the history of God’s dealings with the people of Israel.  Moses had led the people through deep waters and empty deserts.  On Sinai he met with God and received the Law.  Through him God called the people into a way of life rooted in covenant with God and neighbor.  Great Elijah stood alone with God on Mount Carmel against an army of false prophets.  He and all the prophets who came after him called the people to return whenever they turned away from God or dealt unjustly with their neighbor.  

Now on this mountaintop the disciples catch sight of Jesus standing in their glorious company, and they in his. Whatever darkness may lie ahead for Jesus, and for them, this transfigured moment comes as a shining confirmation that they were not following the wrong man down the wrong path.  Christ glimpsed in unveiled glory was an affirmation that all that God had led his people through across the landscape of biblical history had come to radiant focus in Jesus.   Seen through the eyes of their dawning faith, the disciples up on that mountain top began to understand that Jesus was no misguided holy man who would die a senseless death, but the Holy One of whom Moses and the Prophets had spoken. 

You have to love how Simon Peter responds to what they see.  “Wow, this is great!  The three of you, the three of us, let’s stay right here!”  That is a rather free translation, but you get the idea.  Peter, for all his impulsiveness, says what timid folks may only have thought.  Who does not want to hang onto life’s high moments when they come along?  Who does not wish they could stop time in those rare moments when life seems “just right”?  We call such moments “mountaintop experiences,” after all.  When you reach the summit and see the world below bathed in sunlight, it is hard to turn your feet down toward the valley.  We know what Peter must have meant when he said, “Let us stay here.”   Up here is safety; down there is danger.  Up here is solace; down there is challenge.  Up here is glory.  Down there is a cross.  Don’t ask us to go back down.  Let us stay up here. 

No sooner has Peter spoken these words than a thick cloud shrouds the mountain. Peter and James and John, who for one brief moment had seen so clearly, suddenly see nothing. They are afraid, as a novice pilot might be when she flies into a cloudbank, or as sailor in a small boat out in the Pacific might be afraid when he is suddenly engulfed in heavy fog:  No bearings, no landmarks, no guide. Don’t we all know what that feels like?  When suddenly the fog rolls in, and what seemed so clear a moment ago suddenly doesn’t seem clear at all?  Then, up on that mountaintop, out of the cloud, comes a voice: “This is my son, my Chosen.  Listen to him!”  Then the cloud lifts, Moses and Elijah are gone, and there stands Jesus, alone. 

“Listen to him!” says the heavenly voice.  This is the real climax of the Transfiguration story.  Not the unearthly light, not the heavenly visitors or the shining glory. Beautiful as all of that may have been, this command is what the Transfiguration story has been driving toward: Listen to him. The heavenly vision will fade. The light of glory will dim to ordinary day.  They will have to return to the valley below.  Still, the heavenly voice commands, “Listen to him.”

It may seem to many of us that we have spent the past year in the life of this parish not on a mountaintop but walking a valley. This congregation has faced unusually difficult challenges which have tested the strength of the fellowship and stirred anxiety about the future.  It has been a long year.  You may have been in the valley, but you’ve started on the upward climb now. And nothing will matter more to this parish fellowship in the days ahead than to obey the same command that came to those first disciples up on the mountaintop: “Listen to him.”

Listen to him.  Listen to Jesus.  When you are tired of keeping on keeping on, listen to Jesus, who says: “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  When you’re worried that you are facing too many challenges and have too few resources to meet them, listen to Jesus: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all that you need will be given to you.” 

When you wonder what difference a small parish church can make in the world and where your power to make a difference will come from, listen to Jesus: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” 

When you need reminding what the ministry of this parish in this neighborhood is, listen to Jesus, who said: “As much as you have done it unto one of the least of  my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.”  When you’re afraid that you’re walking the path alone, listen to Jesus: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Listen to Jesus.

When you’re tempted to settle for a watered-down faith and a half-committed Christian life, listen to Jesus: “If any would be my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  But also remember the joy that comes from following Jesus.  He said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Nothing matters more for the people of All Saints now than this, that you listen to Jesus. 

Today in the church’s calendar is the last Sunday after the Epiphany.   Come Wednesday Christ will call us to go with him down into the valley and along the way to the cross.  “Let us stay up here,” we may think to ourselves.  But the voice comes also to us: “This is my Chosen One.  Listen to him.”   It is, I think, the first commandment of Lent, that we listen to Jesus. How might we go about that?  Let me suggest some ways. 

Start your day with prayer.  Take out your Prayer Book and pray Morning Prayer.  If that seems like too much, read the gospel passage for the day.  You can find it in the table in the back of the Prayer Book.  Or you can easily pull the Daily Office up on your computer or phone.   Take your time, read it through again, listen to it.  Then let it rattle around in your head through the day. 

Let it echo in your mind as you move through your daily tasks at work or home.  Ask yourself, what does the part of the gospel story—the Jesus story—I read today have to do with the choices I make today?  In the evening, when you spend time with friends or loved ones, or simply have time for yourself, ask, what does the gospel say to me about my life with the people closest to me?   When you look back over your day before you turn out the light for the night, ask yourself, how did what I heard in the gospel story affect the way I lived this day?  And when your thoughts turn to this parish church and this beloved community and you wonder what lies ahead, listen to Jesus.

Listen to Jesus when you come here during the forty days of Lent that lie ahead. Be faithful in coming here, keep showing up.  And when you come, come listening for Jesus.  Listen for his voice in the hymns, the readings, the preaching.  Listen for his voice in the voices of your fellow parishioners. Listen to Jesus in the beautiful movement of liturgy, in the wordless language of gesture and ritual.  Above all, listen for the welcoming voice of Jesus as you come to meet him at this altar. 

Listening to Jesus is an act of faith, faith that when we listen, he will speak. Listening to Jesus is an act of hope, hope in God’s sure promises.  Listening to Jesus is an act of love, for to really listen to Jesus is to open not just our ears but our hearts.  Up on the mountain and down in the valley and every place in between, the heavenly voice still rings: “This is my Son, my Chosen.  Listen to him.” 

The Rev. Thomas W. Traylor

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco      

3 March 2019