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Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Annual Meeting - The Transfiguration

“But Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’” Matthew 17:7

There are no coincidences. Today is our Annual Meeting. Today’s scripture reading, for the last Sunday in Epiphany, the Sunday before Lent begins, features the Transfiguration of Jesus as told to us by St. Matthew.

In almost every scripture story, whenever someone is being asked to do a mighty work in the name of God, you can bet you bottom dollar that the angel will say, “Be not afraid.”

Jesus, in turn, says these words to Peter, James and John after they witnessed his transfiguration on “a high mountain” (probably Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi), as reported in Matthew 17:1-8). They had just seen an incredible vision: Elijah and Moses, talking with Jesus. Each had highly symbolic presence for the ministry of Jesus: Elijah represented the prophets and Moses, the law.

Jesus, about to fulfill both prophecy and the law, was transfigured before them, his “face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.” The disciples then heard the voice of God say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. . . “

Those words are also familiar. We heard them spoken at the Baptism of Jesus, but this time, God adds, “Listen to him.” The disciples then “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” And Jesus goes to them and, touching them, says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

“Get up.” Jesus adds these new words to the old command to “Do not be afraid.” This is significant to us this morning as we look back on all that we have accomplished and all that we are yet being asked to do.

These are anxious times. The War in Iraq and Afghanistan continue unabated with no easy end in sight. There is unrest in Kenya and the genocide in Darfur seems to continue despite international attention. The ‘r’ word (recession) hangs heavy in the air, and some who had previously enjoyed a sense of economic comfort now struggle to decide how to balance the increasing costs of fuel and food. We have come to know that many of us (more than we care to admit) are only ‘two paychecks away’ from financial crisis.

The political process to elect a new President place all of these issues and more before us as our daily bread, which seems only to feed our fears and anxieties. We eat the bread of anxiety at our own peril.

This church is also facing into some difficult decisions. As you will hear, our Stewardship Campaign has been one of the most successful in years, and yet fell short of our financial goals which were admittedly very high. While the new understanding of our budget process is both enlightening and exciting, we have come to see that living into a deficit budget all these many years has taken its toll. We can no longer afford to live this way, and difficult decisions, and the changes they require, must be made.

The stewardship of our buildings and grounds has been demanding our attention, and will continue to take center stage in our common lives: we have wisely replaced all of the windows in the undercroft of the church, which will bring substantial savings in terms of the cost of utilities; however, we need a new roof, new equipment for handicapped access, new front doors. Our sanctuary and bathrooms also need to be made more handicapped accessible. Our organ is in serious need of repair and/or replacement. All of these things are ‘big ticket’ items.

In over twenty years of ministry, I know this much to be true: I have never seen a congregation grow and thrive while being focused on these things. I’m not saying that they are not important and deserving of our time and energy. We must be good stewards of all that God has so abundantly given us – including our buildings and grounds.

I am saying this: A congregation that is focused on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ will grow and flourish beyond our wildest imaginings. I know some of you are tired of hearing me say this, but it remains true: A church alive with the outward look of mission is a growing, thriving church.

Let me be clear: I’m not just speaking about numerical growth. While that is always wonderful, it is not an imperative necessity for the health and well being of the Body of Christ. These things are:

• Spiritual growth.

• Deepening our prayer life.

• Sharing our faith stories with one another and how we understand ourselves to be living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

• The maturation of our relationships as sisters and brothers in Christ.

• Living into our baptismal promise to “grow into the full stature of Christ.

• The mission and ministry of the church.

• Discovering our unique vocation as a Body of Christ.

As human beings, we are unique among the creatures of God. We are blessed with intelligence, reason and skill – and, we are blessed with the divine gift of free will.

We have choices – sacred choices. We can stand by and be dazzled by the brilliance of all that has brought us to this “high and holy place’ today. We can hunker down, lower our heads and stay focused on ‘the bottom line’. We can fall to the ground in fear.

And, all those things would be perfectly normal, human things to do.

I am saying to you that Jesus has come over to us and has touched us in our anxiety and fear. Jesus offers to us not the stuff of anxiety but the Bread of Heaven. Jesus says to me and to you and to everyone who enters this sacred place, “Get up!” “Get up and do not be afraid.”

God has said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

A we reflect on all that we have done, and all that the world is challenging us with, and all that God is giving us to do, my prayer is that we listen even more closely to what Jesus is saying. Listen. He is saying this: “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

And, let the church say, “Amen.”


Kate said...

In the church I attended this morning, the preacher opted for the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany (the Beatitudes)as opposed to the Transfiguration, because of the Vestry (annual general) meeting after.

Your sermon was wonderful -- a way to lead the church forward, and transfigure your congregation together. I'd say God bless you, but He already has.

RFSJ said...


Fantastic sermon - I particularly like the emphasis on what really does make a community thrive. Thanks for the reminder.