Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, RCL; Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-43a
Stories are powerful. A good story can transport us to a place where we have never been. A good journalist can open our eyes to events that are happening in our community or across the globe. We have all probably known a storyteller, a person who could talk about their experiences in such a dramatic way that we wish we were with them. Even a mundane event seemed like a great adventure. Every one of us has a story to tell. A story that tells others a bit about who we are, what makes us the way we are. It may include both joys and struggles but nonetheless, it is about our life, our feelings, our experiences.
Today we find a few disciples hanging out with Jesus when something unexpected happens. Jesus’s clothes become dazzling white, two prophets appear with him, and God’s voice rings out proclaiming that Jesus is God’s son. With both fear and awe, the disciples are speechless.
Peter wants to stay on the mountain. He has just witnessed something amazing and he knows it is good. I won’t ridicule Peter for wanting to stay there. I can hardly blame him. All he wants is to prolong this great experience and bask in God’s glory. This doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing, does it?
I think for Jesus, this is just one of many experiences that the disciples have encountered. Now, maybe not all of them are quite so spectacular but we know that they have witnessed many incredible events with him. In the very next scene, Jesus heals an epileptic boy and as the story retells, “all were astounded.” I’d imagine that there were people in this scene who wanted to stay with Jesus. They just witnessed a miracle and maybe if they hang around a bit longer, they will see more. But Jesus never stays still for very long. He moves from place to place. Of course, he returns to the same location on occasion, but he is rather transient. It seems that there are always people who need him. Who want to be with him. Who disagree with him.
I think it is also true that if we stay in one place, we can become complacent. We establish routines.
These practices do bring us comfort, a sense of stability, and control. And eventually, when something new comes our way, we begin to say things like “We have never done it that way. Or, I don’t understand why we have to change.”
It’s evident when we look around that change happens whether we embrace it or not. Anyone who has lived in Hopkinsville for more than 20 years knows of the growth and the new businesses. Sure, there are pros and cons to this, but most people tell me that the changes to Hopkinsville have, overall, been good.
If Peter had his way and stayed on the mountain top, the two prophets would have faded away and there would have been Jesus with the three disciples, alone. But it is through their movement back down the mountain and into the village that they meet new people; that they continue to witness the miracle of Christ in their presence. This church, or any church for that matter, isn’t much different. If we stay still, we only get to hang out with each other and we miss out on meeting new people. We miss out on sharing in their experiences. Hearing their voices. Seeing Christ at work in our community. And listening to the miracles that others have witnessed.
We can change this. We can go out the door and meet people we haven’t met before. We can tell them our story; our story of how Christ has worked in our lives and our story of how much we love this church. I firmly believe that each one of us has a story. Some may have several. We may not have thought about our story, our journey in faith. We may not have reflected on how God has blessed us in our life. But I do believe with some thought each and eve one of us has a story to tell.
I’ll start and share with you my journey to the priesthood. I was born and raised in the Episcopal tradition. Growing up, I sang in the choir and was an acolyte. There was always something about church that I loved; the music, the candles, the beauty in the structure, the furnishings, the liturgy. For some reason, my family stopped going to church when I was a teen. Over the following years, I questioned God. I questioned God’s existence.
When I was in college, I felt God’s call nudging me in his direction. One night, while studying for a final exam, a voice came from within me. Not my inner voice, the one carrying on an internal dialog, but something stronger, something coming from deep within me that simply said, “Be a priest.“
These words stuck with me. I couldn’t brush them off. And I didn’t know what to make of them. I felt that there wasn't anyone I could talk to that wouldn’t scoff at my “hallucination.” I'm also dyslexic and the thought of going into a field that required intense reading seemed impossible.
After weeks or months, the feeling subsided and eventually left me.
I completed college, moved to Colorado, and started my career in nuclear medicine. One evening while eating dinner in front of the TV, I experienced the same inner voice repeating the same message, “Be a priest.” At this point, I was attending church regularly, assisting with the youth, and knew the clergy well. So I asked one of the priests, in what I hope was a very nonchalant manner, what is the process was for someone who has a sense of call to the priesthood?
He detailed a five to six-year process that would start with a couple of years of discernment initially with the rector and then with a committee. Then you would meet with the bishop and his committee and if all of this confirms your call, you would go to seminary for three years and then begin parish ministry. I thought to myself, “I don’t have time for that. I’m just getting my career going.” So I brushed this inner voice off and eventually it left me alone once again.
Fast forward six years or so, my wife and I were at a Cursillo weekend. On the last night, I went to bed and had a vision. I was sitting in a pew in the church I grew up in. No one else was there except the priest at the altar consecrating the bread and wine. When I took a closer look, I saw that the priest was me. I half woke up, pondered this for a few minutes, and fell back asleep. No sooner than I fell asleep than the same inner voice came once more and said, “Be a priest.” It was at this point I started in the discernment process, which lead me to seminary and eventually standing in front of you now.
Stories such as mine often show our vulnerabilities, our fears, our faith in the unknown, and our dedication to God. It is such a story that was brought down the mountain about the transfiguration of Christ. It was such a story that the disciples tell of the man being healed. It is even such a story that Moses tells of his experience with God on the mountain. Each story is unique to who we are but each story connects us to one another on a deeper level.
We are part of the Gospel story. Every one of us has a story somewhere within us. It may seem mundane or even unbelievable, yet they connect us. They connect us to one another and the Gospel. Our stories often show that we are not able to maintain the status quo or get too comfortable for God has called us to grow or to do something we weren’t doing before. Maybe our story is from a long time ago. Maybe we need to see where God is calling us and be part of a new story. A new story never replaces the old one. It just adds to who we are and allows us to have deeper relationships with God and one another.