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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Transfiguration

3/5
Quiet, warm, windy day. A one woman in a wheelchair, blanket across her lap, in front of Barney Greeengrass.


3/6
Walking up 86th, I see Marty. He’s holding his hand out, asking passersby for “tips,” as he puts it. I walk over and say, “hi.” “So, Reverend, have you had a lot of legal fees, with the building, you know?” I think, if he only knew. “Yes,” I say. “Litigation and all,” he says, “my brother’s an attorney. Specializes in real estate. I should have put him on your case.” “The whole landmarks thing,” I say. “Went on for years,” he says, “but thank God you’re back in, thank God you’re in.”  “Yes we are. We’re back in,” I say. “Hey, and they’re sleeping on the steps again, you know?” “Who,” I ask, “anyone we know?” “No, I went by there this morning at 6 am, there was some guy I didn’t know...” “OK, Marty, thanks, I’ll check it out. You have a good one, ok?” “And you , too, Reverend.”
Under the scaffolding I see one of those SUV shopping carts. Think it might be George. But then I see a giant plastic bag filled with aluminum cans and I realize it’s an independent recycling entrepreneur. Together, they keep the city streets free of cans. When I open the doors and begin to sweep, he gathers his cart, his cans and takes off down the street. 
It’s a mild, windy, rainy, typical March day. One that will be warmer outside than in.  
The line of people  waiting to get into Barney Greengrass winds in front of the church steps. Getting through the crowd to get to the restroom at Popover’s is like trying to get onto a crowded subway car at rush hour. I’m remembering what was in the Church Information Form when I applied for this job. On this block, the main Sunday morning ritual is brunch. Maybe that’s what we need, good coffee, good pastries,a warm place to sit and talk. 
I go back to the church and find Jim inside getting ready. An older African-American woman dressed for church has arrived. I welcome her, invite her in. She’s a soloist at a church in the Bronx just moved to the neighborhood. Juan comes by with his guitar, Amy will not be coming today. I see Rachel’s walker right inside the door. I’m talking on the steps with  Elder Philip. Then we see her, Philip drops to the steps in mock shock. An elder has returned.
She had left several years ago.  It  was in the midst of what felt like an endless church fight. The kind that make people ask themselves why they need this. They’re worse in a small church. Less of a buffer zone. It took me a long time to realize that in a church with a culture of conflict, you can change all the people  and the conflict continues. Until you change the culture itself. It’s sad when good, faithful, committed people get driven away. She’s heard good things are happening. Has come by to see.  
As Church begins, I share with the congregation my thanksgiving for the group that met at Stony Point last weekend to take the first steps in creating a new criminal justice network. For me, the issue has been primarily pastoral. I’ve performed the marriage of a relative in New York City’s Tombs. I’ve been to court with numerous members, have had members and members’ children incarcerated. Enough so that I’m always immediately dismissed from jury panels even though I’d gladly serve. The worst was a (then) teen age girl, victim of  fetal alcohol syndrome, who through a kafkaesque sequence of events has had simple arrest for shoplifting jeans turn into a 15 year state prison nightmare. This is part of the human reality behind the fact that the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other western industrialized nation. And more proportionately than China. 
It’s Transfiguration Sunday. That final blast of light before the shadows of Lent begin. The season that began with a star shining over Bethlehem ends on a mountaintop.  The season of Epiphany ends. That word I love, that moment where like in a flash of light you just get it. It’s a portal, a door way Sunday, like Christ the King into Advent, this Sunday opens the doorway into Lent.
Our story begins on another mountain, with Moses. Receiving the Law. How the giving of the law created community. Made community possible. On the seventh day, like a new creation. Fire and smoke up on the mountain. Moses coming down, shining. And coming down to find the people already dancing around a golden calf. Mardi Gras run wild. 
Paired with Moses is the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus appears in his one shining moment with Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets. But since it’s the end of epiphany, we need to be on the lookout for ongoing  epiphanies, moments of getting it. And allowing ourselves to be and changed by the experience. Ongoing epiphanies. It leads to the question, are you born again? In our tradition, we don’t have a particular day when we met Jesus. We don’t make a decision for Christ. It’s a gift of grace. And the reality is, yes we are born again--over and over and over again...
It’s a daily experience of dying and rising again. In the Jewish tradition, the first thing you do when you wake up is to give thanks for another day of living.  Daily. 
I’m thinking of the song from the movie 127 Hours
If I rise, one more chance
All our dreams, more than this  
It plays as Aron Ralston frees his pinned arm from the rock in the cave that holds him and comes back into the sunlight, back into freedom. At the cost of leaving part of himself back in the cave. For us, to free ourselves, to move back into light, back into life, we may have to leave part of ourselves behind. Not something physical, like Aron’s arm. But maybe something even more painful, something from inside. 
Our church is moving into the light, vote by vote, into the world of full inclusion for lgbt folk at every level of church leadership. Don’t forget, that started here, in 1978. We called it More Light. Because in our tradition, the scriptures are not frozen, they are a living word. The Holy Spirit can always shine  more light on the word and lead us to deeper understanding. 
So, the voice breaks through the clouds and says, This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him. Just like at Jesus’ baptism. And what happens? The disciples fall to the ground in fear.  And what’s important is what Jesus says, and in what order. He says Get up...do not be afraid..and touches them in their fear.
Make sure you hear that, it’s rise first, then not fear...Living in  fear is a form of death. To be afraid is to be controlled by that fear. To be afraid is to bring what you fear closer into being by the power of your fear. And the way to get out of it is to rise up, get up, get moving, even as you tremble. Think of how we’ve begun to do that. And maybe you get a little taste of what it was like to be in Egypt as people got up and step by step stopped being afraid. 
Christ has risen...and we are int the process of rising. We called our old project rebuild for rebirth. Now, we’re about being reborn to rebuild. And the way we do that is to take on concrete actions towards transformation. Specific, real, visible steps. Like when we committed to coming back here. 
Years ago in this sanctuary, there was a controversy when we used the Battle Hymn of the Republic in this service. Too martial. Too militant. But it was these words that drew me:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.
Julia Ward Howe. Abolitionist. Seeing in the midst of the Civil War a transcending cause, the freeing, the liberation of people. And in that transfiguration...
That’s where it has to be lived out, not on a mountain top, but here right where we live. As we rediscover our own call, our own witness in this place. 
Deacon James and Elder Ana help me serve the communion. Philip sings Let the light of the lighthouse shine on me. And then we all sing Canto de Esperanza (Song of Hope) and its time for our circle of blessing. And Ana’s coffee again.
Out on the steps, Jim is relating an incident at Presbytery. A trustee talking about West-Park having spent all its endowment and now trying  to hang on. In a totally unrelated meeting.  Where do such narratives come from? Get told  until they’re accepted as true? Become the basis upon which people make decisions without our even knowing it? And how much damage is done? In PHEWA, we have a principle we learned from our Disabilities Concerns Network, namely,  nothing about us without us. At every level of the church we need to stop talking about and start talking with.

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