Sermon Archives

Sunday, March 3, 2019
The First Sunday in Lent
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Glimpsing the Mountain

Oh Lord, God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you, help us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

No doubt we all have our favorite books - ones which bring us to tears of sadness or joy, ones whose stories catch us up for days of suspense or heartache or anticipation, ones that help us to explore something difficult or tumultuous within our lives, perhaps about ourselves or our families or the world about us. Parents, too, no doubt have their favorite children's books - books whose creativity goes beyond the norm, books whose illustrations of word or art seem to come to life upon the pages, books that capture something so essential or critical to life so simply.

At least I do. A Prayer for Owen Meaning, My Name is Asher Lev, The Left Hand of Darkness, among those grown-up books that have never left me and Harold and his Purple Crayon among those from my kids' bedside. Every time we would read that little wonder of a book, I found myself on the edge of Harold's little crayon, following its line and its story, enjoying the pies, riding the waves, exploring the wonderful and mysterious world we live in.

But it's not the creativity or imagination of Crockett Johnson that I want to remind us of this morning, although if you have that book, you might go home and take a read out of it. It's just a wonderful story. Rather I would draw our attention to a little insight of Harold's that might help us this morning. You see, it comes just after he eats all those pies and that glorious moment where the moose and the porcupine help him out, of course. Suddenly, seemingly aware that he doesn't know where home is any longer, Harold gets up and sets out again. But, he doesn't just turn around and try to retrace his steps in the hopes of finding his way.

He doesn't wander about aimlessly, hoping to find the trail that led him there. No. With clarity and conviction, he picks up his crayon and starts to climb, gradually at first, then more steeply until he has reached what seems to be the highest mountain of all. Up, up, up he climbs until he can see what he couldn't see before. It wasn't that his previous journey was bad or that he wanted to get away from it. (Who would want to get away from all those pies? No child I know!) No, it wasn't that things were bad. Rather, Harold simply couldn't see something important. So he changed his vantage in order to see something he was missing, something hidden when he was down below.

It's perhaps with a similar desire that Jesus leads his closest disciples - Peter, James and John - up that mountain. He doesn't take them up - at least not in the story - to abrade them for something they'd done or not done. He doesn't offer some long rebuke about the world and its sin, the failures of the temple or the Pharisaic movement. He doesn't do any of that. Rather, he simply leads them up to see something they likely couldn't see amidst the throngs of people they encountered. So up, up, up they climbed until they could see what they couldn't see before.

And what was that? Well, for one, of course, they see Jesus in a new transcendent way. This teacher - this human teacher who had called them from their boats, this wandering man with whom they had walked and for whom they had given up their livelihoods and their families - suddenly they behold Him to be more than just that, that he wasn't just a wandering sage of the time. Here on the mountaintop, they catch a glimpse of something greater. This Jesus stands among the great prophets, Moses and Elijah by name. With him there, free of all the distractions of daily life, they see him anew as if the very light of life shone through him and realized that He, Jesus, is the very Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, through whom all things have come to be made.

We're invited, of course, to stop for just a moment every week to climb to the mountaintop of this church or wherever you may find yourself, to climb up to the mountaintop and to behold again the mystery and wonder of God in creation, the mystery and wonder of God incarnate in your life, the very source and foundation of life and of love and light in our broken and dark and hurting world.

But we mustn't think that this story is only about Jesus, or only about the divinity of Jesus to be more precise, and seeing him with fresh eyes as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God through whom all things are made. For little in the Bible, and even less perhaps in the Gospels, is only about the divinity of Jesus. So if we look a little closer, if we stare a little longer into the brightness of that light, we might also catch a better glimpse of ourselves. You see, whenever we see Jesus, we must ask ourselves, "What am I seeing about me? What am I learning, or being invited to learn, about myself and who I am or who I'm called to be?"

Of course, in our baptism, as we often hope to remind us all, we are encouraged to see that we, too ... and that means you, literally you, that you, too, are a child of God. The truth which we come to first receive about Jesus is a truth, too, of each and every one of us. And if it is true of each and every one of us, then perhaps it is true, too, of all people as well. It's tough to see that reality in the midst of our hurried lives when we are all walking far too quickly, focused on all that lies ahead of us each day, grappling with hidden struggles that leave us tired and stretched and on edge even with our most beloved family members, let alone with a neighbor or a stranger we encounter along the way. It's difficult to see that truth. And so we don't see who it is that is, in fact, truly standing in front of us or staring back at us in the mirror, that she or he is a child of God. So we climb up the mountain to see.

But if you keep looking into that cloud of unknowing, you might begin to see something else. For you see, even Jesus is changed there. Yes, the Son of God, the Chosen One, he is undergoing change before our very eyes. It is as if he, Jesus of Nazareth, is slowing, gradually, day-by-day being transformed from glory into glory until he shines with such light that all the world might perceive him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Even Jesus is being transformed.

And if Jesus is being transformed, perhaps we, too, need a bit of transformation ourselves. We might just be daring enough to realize that we are changing too - as good, and holy, and as kind, and as nice, as faithful as you are.

From the moment of birth you were beloved by God, not just by your parents but by God. As good and holy and beautiful as you are, we, too, are called to change, to be transformed from that glory into a greater glory even today.

And this place, this community about you, is all about that transformation - helping us, helping you, helping me to see who we are, yes. But even more to help us to become the very glory of God that only you can be in and for the world. That is the purpose of this place. Yes, to praise and adore God but even more to be transformed into God's glory ourselves. And that, friends, is the most difficult part of today's Gospel.

It's easy to see God's beautiful hand at work in creation. Who among us hasn't stood on the shore of Lake St. Clair looking out at a sunrise? Who among us hasn't stood on a mountaintop looking out upon the vastness of creation? Stood in a bracing wind or rain and known the full power, and beauty, and might, and creativity of God and said, "Yes, Lord, you are God." It is easy to see God's work.

It's easier, not always easy, to see our glory, to tell ourselves and to hear again the word of blessedness that is given to us. Who among us doesn't relish it when a mother, or a father, or a beloved partner, or even a dear friend, or even better a stranger comes up to us, pats you on the back and says, "You are good." It fills us - it fills me at least - with joy. That, too, is easy.

The real work is when we climb the mountain open for change. It requires so much of us. For starters, it requires that we put something aside. Jesus has just been about teaching remember. He's spent days teaching on the plains, and he puts that aside - this great ministry of formation that he is about, he puts it aside. He stops it just for a little while to catch this glimpse of himself and who he's become and who he's called to be - Jerusalem ahead of him, waiting. And he knows, too, all that awaits. He knows that as soon as he walks down that mountain, he's going to be encountered by one who needs healing and all the ministry of healing that he's about to begin. He knows that that waits as well. And isn't that like us? All this thought of transformation, of taking time to better ourselves - to become more holy, to become the full glory of God - that means we're going to have to stop something that we're doing and put off something that awaits us. And that's hard.

Notice, too, that they climb a mountain - a simple reminder that this work of transformation is not easy lifting. It's not like you go and you lay down. We've said this to our kids in high school, "You don't learn through osmosis. You can't put your head on the pillow with a book under the bed and fall asleep and suddenly you're a scientist." [Fr. Walter chuckles.]

[To Fr. Walter] You liked that one, didn't you?

Fr. Walter:    Yes.

I might have tried it once or twice. It doesn't work that way.

Anything that you've learned from your first steps as an infant has taken work. It's taken hard work - falling down and getting up. Watch a little toddler - the work that is involved with each step as they learn balance, the hard work of trying to pull themselves up just to learn to walk, which we all in this room take so naturally. Transformation is hard. It doesn't come naturally. We have people around us just like our parents who hold our fingers and gently guide us and hold us up, but we've got to do the work ourselves.

But here's the hardest part about it. Are you open to being changed? Do you acknowledge within yourself that there's something incomplete? Not that you're bad, just not complete - that there's more goodness within you that is yearning to come out of you, more glory that you can shine in your life than you have before. Are you open to the honesty that you're not complete today? That's perhaps the hardest part about it - to recognize that something within you is being invited to change.

Harold leads us up a mountain. Like Harold, we climb. We need to climb up a mountain in order to see our world again. Like Jesus, we need to climb up a mountain so that we can see what we couldn't see below. Even more, like Jesus, we must climb that mountain. We must be open to the change that the mountain invites us to consider in order that we can become God's glory, the fullness of God's light and life in the world, in our home, in our workplace, and even in our community - wherever we may find ourselves. The little children will lead us, and there we will find Christ. And there we will find who we are called to be.