Today, in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate World Mission Sunday and, as an Anglican Community, we also celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Today is a Sunday that we come face to face with Christ in all his glory as he sets his face to Jerusalem and the passion of the cross. It is a Sunday that reminds us that, as disciples of Christ, we are heirs to the mandate from our Savior to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
It is a Sunday that brings to life in every way the incredibly important, complex, and salvific work of mission in the world. Mission - a way of fulfilling the vows of our baptismal covenant. Mission - a way of truly experiencing ourselves as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Mission – a way in which we carry out our most profound responsibility of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
In our gospel reading today - Mark’s account of the Transfiguration of Christ - we are reminded of the divinity of Jesus, the Beloved Son of God. And, we are reminded that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also children of God. We are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and, as such, we are mutually responsible for one another.
We are reminded that the price of discipleship can be costly, discouraging, painful, and lonely. But, we are also reminded that to bear the cross of discipleship is to see the face of God and to experience His grace and salvation – to enter into a peace that passes all understanding – both now and forever more.
Today is a day when we celebrate our lives as Children of God - Disciples of Christ – agents of healing, compassion, justice, and dignity for all.
What better Sunday for a deacon to be preaching!
In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal moment. The setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point; Jesus acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.
considered the Transfiguration "the greatest miracle.” He wrote, “By his loving foresight he allowed them to taste for a short time the contemplation of eternal joy, so that they might bear prosecution bravely.” (Summa Theologiae, III, 45.1)
In other words, in seeing Jesus transfigured, the disciples had the opportunity to see the glory of God radiate from their teacher and to learn that the road to personally experiencing this glory is not necessarily a road easily traveled – but, that it is a road most definitely worth traveling. It is a road that leads from the trials and tribulations of this earthly dwelling to God’s Kingdom both here and beyond.
Anointed at our baptism as Disciples of Christ, we have historically struggled with the “how’s” of this enormous, both gift and responsibility, that we have inherited as Christians. How do we perpetuate the existence of this bridge between the temporal and the sacred? How do we keep God present among us so that the world can know and experience the love, compassion and the salvation that God has given to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
How do we keep Jesus among us?
In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutually interdependent on one another.
The congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress discussed moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and decided to instead focus on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the ways in which we use the word “mission” in describing something we do for someone else.
Perhaps the one of the most revealing comments in the final document published by this congress is, “We do not ‘do mission for others.’ Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about
being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.”
In other words, when one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we all are in pain. We are all intimately connected to one another.
In her book, Being a Deacon Today, Rosalind Brown writes, “Without rootedness in the world, life and ministry are meaningless. From the very beginnings of the biblical narrative, the story is of God who comes among us - asking the hiding Adam and Eve, ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9), saying, ‘I have seen the misery of my people and have come down’ (Exod 3:7-8), and giving the name ‘Emmanuel’, ‘God is with us’, to the incarnate Son (Matt 1:23). And it is this incarnational self-giving of God [this involvement of God in our lives] that sets our agenda as the people of God.” An agenda that calls us to be present in the lives of others.
In a challenge to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923, Bishop Frank Weston said, “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle of you do not pity Jesus in the slum…now go out into the highway and hedges and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them and when you have found him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.”
Tough marching orders. Tough marching orders for deacons - and, tough marching orders for laity called into mission through the vows of their baptismal covenant.
This work of mission has, in one way or another, been my life’s calling - first as a social worker intent of serving and bringing dignity and justice to very marginal populations - the dying, those living with HIV/AIDS, and the sexually abused. Now as a deacon my missional work has taken a slightly different path. I am called to bring educational opportunities, food and basic healthcare to communities of Episcopal school children and their families in Haiti.
Over the years, I have learned, at times as the result of grave mistakes on my part, that there can be no doing, no helping, without first being present. Being present among and seeking Christ in those to whom I have ambitious hopes of directing my assistance and support.
This business of being present among and finding Christ in the “other” is very hard work - it requires prayer, discipline, courage and a “servant” point of view. It requires incredible humility, with a frame of mind that is comfortable with the concept of “I know nothing, - I need to be silent, present, and watch, listen and learn.”
I have learned, very clearly, that the act of being present assumes that you lay down your “I” in search of the “other.”
Being present allows you to see Christ in everyone you meet and to know that God sees no difference between “us” and “them.” To God, we are all one, coming together in prayer and hard work to keep that bridge - the bridge between heaven and earth, the bridge to God that Christ gave us - to keep that bridge open to traffic 24/7.
My job as deacon is to inspire you to take up, and then to lead you in your missional journey. My task is to encourage us all to move away from the goal of “giving to” to the task of “being with.” My prayer is that together we will go into the world, joining our hearts and souls with those who suffer, becoming a light to those who are in darkness, and creating a way for us all to worship, live, and be as a community of brothers and sisters in Christ - both in our own community, throughout our nation, and in a world that is torn by terrorism, famine, and disasters to numerous to imagine.
It is in community and servanthood that the light of Christ shines and the bridge to God remains open. AMEN.