Lots of strange feelings as i enter the chapel for my last “official” sermon at West-Park as I move ever closer to retirement. At least as pastor of West-Park church. It’s moving to see so many people turn out. Old members who had walked away. Angry, or just quietly. Jasper who I baptized 15 years ago. New musician friends. Like Joel. Whose presence and interest alone was almost enough to make me change my mind. My friend and colleague Elise. The radical artist Heide. My favorite musical collaborator Jeremy back from Switzerland. My boys, Nate and Dan. The Grotowski Seed Group. A full congregation. We run out of bulletins.
Sooner our later, we have to start. We sing Jesus the light of the world. I greet everyone. Joke about it being a big day…the Oscars, you know? Leila and Pat bring up the once-shattered Cristo Rey from Cali, Colombia (gift of the Sanchez family..) that has no when put back together again by Leila's husband Berik.
|Table with Cristo Rey|
Then time for scriptures, like Exodus 24:12-18, Moses on the mountain…and then Matthew 17:1-9, the story of theTransfiguration. We sing Julia Ward Howe’s Mine eyes have seen the glory…with special emphasis son the line as he died to make us holy let us live to set all free…and I remember our amazing year with Bill Schimmel on accordion and that my son Micah went to Ward elementary school and that we need to take a new look at John Brown, especially in the current day…(and of Louis De Caro’s religious reassessment https://www.amazon.com/Fire-Midst-You-Religious-Brown/dp/0814719228 )
Then, finally, time for the sermon….
Well, this is it.
Transfiguration Sunday. The end of the long season of light that began with Epiphany. One final burst of light before the beginning of Lent. Well, and for me, the end of a season that began nearly 22 years ago on April 1st, 1995. Not that it’s always been a season of light. Nor (I hope) is this my last burst. But this season is winding to an end.
Leave it to our new President to use the week before Transfiguration to degrade a community whose identity also begins with trans. And to also push for ICE raids in NYC and seeking to silence those who bring us the light of truth and fact. I have not as a rule singled out Presidents. But this so an unprecedented Presidency. yes, singular.
Transfiguration..you know the story. Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John goes up the mountain. All of sudden, they see Jesus with Moses and Elijah. In shining, shimmering white. Peter, with his usual lack of impulse control wants to build 3 sukkot and just stay there. The Holy Spirit repeats these words from Jesus’ baptism,
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!
Which of course, frightens them. And Jesus tells them Do not be afraid. And they head back down the mountain.
Symbolism? Well, by tradition, we’ve got The LAW. And the PROPHETS. Remember Jesus said, I came not to abolish but to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:18)…These are the lectionary read in Jewish services every week. Jesus both maintains tradition and challenges authority. And he demands that we speak to when authorities fail short, be they church or government officials.
The story speaks to not wanting to leave mountaintop experiences…and in these last 22 years there have been many:
- I came here as a designated pastor. With a renewable (one time) 3 year contract. The church decided to make it a permanent call.
- Our first Comfort ye concert with stars of the Metroplitan and City Operas. For homeless. For the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing that we helped found. The singers blowing out the back windows of the church with Oh Holy Night. We hosted this for 10 years. In 2001, the deep bass voice Try to remember a time in September leading into Oh Holy Night…
- The funeral service for Arthur Cafiero, formery of the Metropolitan Opera, formerly a chef who catered Central Park symphony picnics, who sang with us, rang bells for the executed and died homeless on our steps. Who rests in our cemetery.
- The day of and days after 9-11. The first Sunday after at West Park when we were exactly who we were supposed to be.
- The Lysistrata project production against the Iraq war with a cast of formerly incarcerated and homeless because they pay the bill. And the Not in Our Name concert.
- The day we took the gates in front of our front doors down.
- That first crafts fair and concert and former PCUSA moderator Rick Ufford-Chase from Stony Point visiting us in a church with no heart and no restrooms. Ana Vega’s weekly sacramental cafe con leech
- Wheeling the communion table back up the street from exile at St. Paul and St. Andrews
- The concert for Andre Solomon-Glover
- The welcoming of Occupy Wall Street
- Teddy Mapes and his amazing memorial service that drew more than 250 in a living witness to who we are and what this place i
- A lunch with volunteers from Sacramento who restored the chapel and Theatre Dzieci who had just performed a passion play..
- Programs that drew visits and from government officials …with flags!… from Serbia, Japan, Denmark and Kazakhstan
- The conversation with Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh community
- Visits from Amy Goodman, Cornell West, Michael Moore
- The 70th anniversary of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, the
- 50th anniversary of the murders of Goodman, Cheney, and Scwerner
- The service when Bread &Puppet Theatre came to be in solidarity with us when we expected a hostile Presbytery moderator to come
And so-so many more…
What you didn’t see….
- A member who struggled with many issues playing piano and one of Noche’s world famous flamenco dancers wandered into the sanctuary and broke into a fiery improvisational dance to her music…
- Two women from Alabama who had lived together faithfully for 25 years flying to New York City and West Park to make that love legal at last..
- The Peace Poets, who created the songs for the Black Lives Matter marches (I can’t breathe) recording their album in our gym with Jeremy (https://squareup.com/market/thepeacepoets/), 100 queer kids dancing joyfully and celebrating the release of Love Songs for the Rest of Us, in our gym..(https://lovesongsfortherestofus.bandcamp.com/releases)
- The amazing love relationship of Philip and Ruby, his baptism, her being his godmother..
- John walking Rachel home, every Sunday
All those moments where for just one moment there was a glimpse of what was supposed to be where you go, yes that’s it…
And I confess to not having been able to figure out how to channel that flow of fleeting moments into a great rising tide…but each one was no less real..
Valleys too…the fights…the conflicts that led to both parties…and there closest friends… leaving…people who left from anger, disappointment or just plain exhaustion, the light of hope they had seen extinguished…I take responsibility for that…and you should know that their faces are before me every day and the weight of their absence is always with me…
Back at the foot of the mountain, there is work to be done.
Law and prophets work. STAY FAITHFUL. Don’t let the unique legacy of light that began way before me go out.
My mentor once told me that if God wants something to be done in the world, it is already being done.. we just need to see it..keep looking…and welcoming…
Do not be afraid…that’s what he, Jesus, always says..keep pushing the boundaries…
You have each other. You have all that is needed. They looked up…and saw only Jesus…don’t worry about doctrine. Enjoy theology, exploring it. Don’t argue about it. Or if you do, enjoy the argument. Don’t worry about what you can or can’t believe but how to live. Follow Jesus. Feel him in your midst. Stay faithful. Love each other. That’s the start. Love each other. Love each other. Love each other.
It will be all right. There’s Lent then Easter. Spring is coming.
And that was it. My heart was pounding. Joel and Carrie who perform as Hot Glue and the Gun had a special song.
There were prayers. any prayers. For Rachel. And Ruby. And me. Jim Nedelka, now at Jan Hus, gives us words of encouragement...Jeremy and I finished with Rest Awhile..
Following the service, there were hugs. And tears. And food. And the Seed Group sang…
|The Seed Group|
And I tried to take it all in and understand it. I think why couldn’t it have been like this? Just like this? See? Which is impossible. So I let it go. So I just let it be. And thought, and felt, thanks. Just thanks.
|Thanks Chuck and Angela|
First Reading Exodus 24:12-18
12The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
1 Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the LORD has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Or alternate Psalm Psalm 99
1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
4 Mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.
Second Reading 2 Peter 1:16-21
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Gospel Matthew 17:1-9
1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then 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.” 5While 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!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9As 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.”