Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany – March 6, 2011
“Jesus led them up a high mountain where he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
In the Name of our all loving and inviting God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Walter Wink, a scholar in Biblical interpretation writes that, “Transfiguration is living by vision: standing foursquare in the midst of a broken, tortured, oppressed, starving, dehumanizing reality, yet seeing the invisible, calling it to come, behaving as it its on the way, sustained by elements of it that have come already, within and among us.
“In those moments when people are healed, transformed, freed from addiction, obsessions, destructive ness, self worship or when groups or communities glimpse the light of the transcendent in their midst, there the New Creation has come upon us. The world for one brief moment is transfigured. The beyond shines in our midst—on the way to the cross.”
The Gospel lesson on this Last Sunday of Epiphany always gives us the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus before three of his closest friends—Peter, James, and John. Knowing what he will face down the road when he comes to Jerusalem, and wanting to give the disciples something to sustain them through the dark days ahead, Jesus allows them to see him in a way they had never seen him before and to witness an exalting and glorifying change that they would never forget. The mountain is a sacred space in ancient Jewish cosmology where heaven and earth, God and humanity meet.
St. Paul’s on the Green has been a mountain for many—a sacred space where we have the opportunity to meet God who meets us just as we are, just where we are. We have been growing steadily in numbers over the past decade and have become a flourishing, healthy, radically welcoming community. We have a great staff, good programs, inspiring worship, and, of course a wonderful community of people—all of you. Now it is time to go deeper.
I believe that just like Peter, James, and John and all the rest of those to whom Jesus extended the invitation “Come, follow me,” you are curious, faithful, earnest people and I believe that there is a hunger among us as there is in the lives of many people, both in and out of church communities, to be in deeper relationship with God. In fact, I strongly suspect that this is why we’re all here and why keep coming back to the mountain. But how do we do that? How do we go deeper and develop that kind of relationship with God for which we have been created?
This morning we introduce you to 20+1+1—a way of basic discipleship – the means by which we can come to know and love God better— a way to do Lent differently this year. 20+1+1 are three simple and very ancient practices, commended to all by Holy Scripture and perfected by countless years of human experience:
1. Pray twenty minutes a day. (That’s right, take a deep breath! 20 minutes!) There are things you and I do every day—brush our teeth, go to work or school, get a good night’s sleep. Then there are things we ought to do but don’t always—like flossing our teeth, eating healthy meals, getting enough exercise—and praying.
Because God’s power and action in our lives is so phenomenal, the relationship with God easily becomes one sided. How can we be in an ongoing and meaningful relationship with such a great and generous friend and respond to God’s amazing grace? The answer: Prayer.
By praying 20 minutes a day we attend to our relationship with God, we respond to God’s grace, offering something of our selves (our time and energy) as a gift back to God.
There are many ways to pray. In the 20+1+1 insert you will find in your service leaflet, there are several suggestions for online resources that will help you with this. One easy way is to take advantage of Evening Prayer which will be read at 6 pm on four of the weekdays in Lent or the Celtic Eucharist on Thursday, a different approach to prayer in the context of worship.
You can use the Prayer Book to read one or more of the Daily Offices that mark certain times of the day or Google “Daily Office” on your computer to find it. In your prayer time, please lift up this parish community and ask God to continue to empower it for God’s purpose.
2. Worship 1 Hour a Week. Yes – when we say, “Worship 1 hour a week,” we are talking about going to church. Worshipping in church means being exposed to ancient customs that have been perfected over centuries of use. It means being challenged by people and ideas that will cause you to grow and change. In worship we are united with the larger body of Christ where many members contribute uniquely to bring to life a larger whole.
Sadly, in a single generation, the norms around worship have changed drastically. “Regular worship” used to mean going to church every Sunday. Today it means every other week or once a month—or even less. Perhaps the single most important reason to worship every week is that it is the best, most reliable way to become a person of deep faith. The less we come to church, the more disconnected we feel. There really is no substitute for worship and, if we can’t make it on Sunday because of our work schedule, there are many weekday opportunities for worship here at St. Paul’s. In profound gratitude for the freedom we have to worship when and how we please, can we reorder our priorities and change the norm around how often we worship—restoring the norm of ancestors in faith of weekly worship?
3. Serve 1 Hour a Week. Jesus cared for the sick, served the poor, and made friends with the outcast all through his earthly ministry. He commands his followers today to do the same. We serve others to ease their pain and share the love of God. One of the principal ways God’s love is made known to a hurting world is through the actions of people of faith. Serving others is a reliable way of encountering Jesus himself, who teaches that when we serve “the least” among us, we serve him.
Serving one hour a week means you will have to commit sufficient time and energy to actually slow down and get to know the one you intend to serve. Serving for an hour means you will have to extend yourself beyond writing a check. It means you will have to do something real. In the 20+1+1 insert you will find a list of suggestions for service and the contact information you will need.
So there you have it: 20+1+1—Pray 20 minutes a day. Worship one hour a week. Serve one hour a week. Our Lenten forums will also offer ideas about prayer and worship in The Episcopal Church and all of your clergy are at your disposal to support you on this journey.
Now I realize that this might not be for everybody. Some of you may choose to do it in different ways—some not at all. We’re not taking attendance. There is no sign-up sheet and there is no 20+1+1 police. This is an invitation to go deeper. Just as the disciples of Jesus were invited to “Come and see,” and to go up to the mountain with him, you are invited in the forty days of Lent that will begin this Wednesday to commit to 20+1+1 —not for a lifetime, just for six weeks. It may grow on you—and you may grow in faith and in the knowledge and love of God. It is that transfiguring love that holds our community together.
Today on the mountain we learn that God became what we are in the person of Jesus so that we might become as God is. That is the core of our hope as believers. St. Paul’s on the Green has become a mountain for many. It is a flourishing, healthy, radically welcoming community. We have a great staff, good programs, inspiring worship, and, of course a wonderful community of people—all of you. Now it is time to go deeper. If you follow these simple practices faithfully, you may actually get a glimpse into the Divine mystery of Being, and be changed forever—the beyond shining in your midst— on the way to the cross. 20+1+1: three simple and very ancient practices, commended to all by Holy Scripture and perfected by countless years of human experience. Will you try it on for size this Lent?