Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Glory, Glory!

Scripture for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany includes Exodus 34:29-35; II Corinthians 3:12-4:2; and Luke 9:28-36

We hear about two kinds of glory today. One is fading glory. The other is transforming glory. I suppose you could say that it’s the first that brings us to church. And it’s the second we hope to find here.

Fading glory by its nature looks backward. Consider Moses. Every time he and God had a tete a tete conversation on Mount Sinai, Moses came down to the people with such radiance beaming from his face that he caught their attention and held it. But, says St. Paul in a rather catty way, the day came when that glory faded and, to keep the people from noticing, Moses took to wearing a veil over his face. Approval ratings hang on appearances, don’t they?

And consider Peter, John, and James. They’re present when transformation strikes on another holy mountain. “The Transfiguration of Jesus”, it’s called, and the moment makes you picture the aurora borealis in all its glory, and then some. Helpless (and who likes feeling helpless?) and clueless in the face of such evanescent glory, these three boys propose a small building project to capture the moment. Which, of course, cannot be done. Fading glory won’t be captured.

I’m wondering how many of us came through these doors today with a case of fading glory. The first cold of the new year (that was my week that was)… the demands of our workplace… frustrations and fears within the nuclear family (and let’s not even talk about the extended family)… disillusionment at how our federal legislators seem more helpless and clueless than Peter, John, and James (who at least offer to build something that isn’t located in their own congressional districts)…

And would it be about right to say that we, like Moses, know how to veil our fading glory? “How are you today?” “Fine, and you?” Our own little private version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”— self-protecting, subtly isolating, a veil we lift very selectively, when we believe we’re safe to do so (sometimes mistakenly).

If fading glory helps get us to church, it’s nothing we should have to hide. The first law of spiritual physics that we learn in the Foundations Course is the Renewal-Outreach model, the simple rule that human beings require a regular rhythm of cycling between (on the one hand) giving ourselves to the work of Christ in workplace, family, and community and (on the other) renewing ourselves in our baptismal identity and purpose, bathing ourselves in the mercy and healing of God.

In our second session of Foundations tomorrow evening, we’ll examine the Baptismal Covenant, that set of renunciations, affirmations, and vows which create the holy space where we may re-immerse ourselves in renewal of vision, identity, and grace.

If you will recall the last infant baptism you witnessed, you’ll find familiar a pair of questions asked of the Godparents and parents, “Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?” And the second question is yet more staggering and wondrous: “Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?”

The Christian faith never expects us to make vows trusting in our own ability to keep them. To get that wrong is the surest path to a fading glory. Always, the Christian answers, “I will, with God’s help.”

The maturing Christian accepts responsibility for bringing up in faith, hope, and love that self who was once the responsibility of parents and Godparents. The maturing Christian staggers with wonder into that transformation of a limited human self into the full stature of Christ. The language of our vows teaches us that if we have the will to so grow, the will to be so transformed, God helps it happen. And we learn that God doesn’t sweep away our human limitations, but sweeps them into the mix, which is shown in our Collect today: “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of Jesus’s countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” No cross-- no struggle with our own limitations and those of other people and those of this world—no cross, no transforming glory.

This is not a spectator’s sport, not the Olympic performance of a gifted few. This is the life of the Spirit opened by Jesus Christ for participation by all who have the will to seek the grace to walk the rhythmic walk that cycles between outreach and renewal, work and prayer, mission and repair, embracing in ministry and being embraced in mercy.

Here I am, nearing the home stretch in this sermon; we’d better turn our attention to transforming glory. If fading glory looks backward, transforming glory moves forward. If fading glory gets us in the door, within this house of prayer and time of worship aren’t we hoping for at least a trace of transforming glory? Better yet, a solid dose of it here in this holy space where we may re-immerse ourselves in renewal of vision, identity, and grace?

But wait… those were the same words I chose, moments ago, to describe the Baptismal Covenant that shapes our relationship with God. I referred to those several renunciations of evil, affirmation of faith, and vows of our baptism having created a holy space. So what we do here in this space is related to what you do in yours. Transforming glory may touch you from here. But you may touch what we do here with the transforming glory that meets you in the holy crucible of your life. And if you aren’t meeting it there, maybe you won’t recognize it here.

In our second lesson, Paul prepares us for the encounter wherever it will happen. And he tells us first to lift our veils. Take off your coats, take down your self-protection, lay down denial, be honest, be open. He might also invite us to slip off our self-absorption, and offer up our mirrors for a thorough cleaning, the mirrors we adjust ourselves in, the ones we check to make sure we’re still alive, still recognizable.

Then listen to what he says: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit…and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Catch this stunning message: Your mirror may show you a fading glory, and you must lay it down for a thorough cleaning. But the Lord Jesus is not scolding you for needing that mirror. Wondrous thing: when you lift your veil, you will see him meeting you there within the reflected image—“as though reflected in a mirror” you will meet transforming glory within your own experience, within your own limitations, walking your own walk, dealing with your own issues.

For he knows them all. It is written somewhere in the Gospels that he has no need to be instructed about human nature, for he knows what is in the heart. His way of the cross makes clear that he is no stranger to the forces that would fade all glory.

As we step into Lent this week, we will walk the way of the cross both here and there, in the sacred space of our own lives. Walking and praying the stations of the cross, as we shall do from Wednesday on, we will find him walking our way, as well. Looking into each of the fourteen stations of his passion, we will find mirrors along the way, where his likeness meets our own reflection. May the closeness of the two—of him with us and us with him—strengthen our will to be open to transforming glory.