Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You are My Beloved…Listen to Him

Do you remember when you first felt an undeniable prompt that called you to pursue a goal or an activity?  I wonder how many of us know when we have heard and responded to God's voice. While talk of "a calling" is common among clergy, we don’t necessarily consider that we’re called to a career or vocation or volunteering. But, why not? I raise this question because I think that this is part of the Transfiguration story (Matthew 17:1-9) that gets overlooked.  Let’s face it, we understandably focus on Jesus’ transformation, what with the blazing face, and dazzling white clothes and all. But I think that Peter gets transfigured as well, or at least the event may signal the beginning of Peter's transformation.

The scene moves very quickly. Here’s Peter falling all over himself looking for something to do when a voice from heaven literally interrupts him, and in essence says, "Would you please shut up already, and just listen to him!" In fairness to Peter, it is kind of terrifying as he falls to the ground, likely covering his ears and shielding his eyes. And then it's over -- the voice, the light, the heroes of the past -- nothing is left except Jesus, who reaches out to him, James and John, and calms their fears, and asks them to get up.

In that moment everything for Peter, I suspect, was still...and clear...and made sense. But we know it didn't last very long. On the way down the mountain Jesus once again had to remind Peter of his impending death and destiny and while Peter struggles to listen, to follow, and to be faithful, he will fail. My guess is that each time Peter “fell down,” he would look back on this day and recall those words, "Just listen to him!"

Perhaps Peter's transfiguration begins when he repeatedly fails, falls, and is lifted up again and realizes that above and beyond everything else, he is called to listen to Jesus. Isn’t this the pattern that shapes the lives of every Christian? We too try our best and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. We, too, have moments of insight and moments of denial. We, too, fall down in fear and are raised up again to go forth in confidence. We are called to listen, to discern God's will and in this way be transformed. Don’t we identify with Peter? Don’t we see ourselves in this story? This story is as much about Peter and Jesus as it is about us. We, too, have been called both to "listen to him" and to "be lifted up"?  We too, are called, but I wonder if we sometimes even recognize his voice.

Our transformation is what I think we've been working on these past few weeks: we are being called to be salt to the earth, light to the world, disciples of Jesus and to be the people of God.

“There have been quite a few times when I have felt the winds of God’s grace in the sails of my small boat. Sometimes these graces have moved me in pleasant and sunlit directions. At other times the requested acts of love were born in the darkness of struggle and suffering. There have been spring times and there have been long cold winters of struggle for survival. God has come to me at times with the purest kindness, at times with the most affirming encouragement, and at other times with bold frightening challenges. I think that all of us have to watch and pray, to be ready to say “yes” when God’s language is concrete and his request is specific-“yes” in the sunlit spring times and “yes’ in the darkness of winter nights.” (John Powell, S.J., The Christian Vision, The Truth That Sets Us Free, p147)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Man Makes Plans and God Smiles


Yes I know it’s February and Christmas is a distant memory, and while I love the holiday, I’m getting a little tired of what seems like a perpetual replay of winter wonderland, as we woke this morning to another new snow fall. So then why do I opt to use the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life as a segue to our discussion of our Gospel, (Matthew 5: 13-20)? In our Gospel we are reminded that Jesus is not talking to the “movers and the shakers,” the so-called leaders…the people with power and money, education and good looks. Jesus is talking to the common man, telling them that they possess the light for transformation of the world to reflect God’s desires for the world.

So what does this have to do with the classic movie? How well we have come to know the story of George Bailey, a struggling businessman whose dreams and aspirations are shattered as his life gets sidetracked by unintended consequences. I wonder how many of us can relate to unplanned events in our lives that have taken us far afield from our life’s plans. As we look back don’t we often wonder how different life would have been if unintended consequences had not intervened? The movie reminds us that everything that happens has intended and unintended consequences and that everyone in the story relates to one another.

There are two scenes in particular that reminds us that George Bailey is a “light force for transformation.” One involves a discussion that George has with his father, during which he professes his desire to “make a difference” and rejects any notion of following his father’s footsteps in becoming a banker. His father tells him, you know, George, I feel that in a small way we are doing something important. Satisfying a fundamental urge. It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace, and we’re helping him get those things in our shabby little office.

The other scene comes as George, a victim of unintended consequences on the brink of despair, wonders if his life was all worth it. To which his “guardian angel,” Clarence responds Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

We have all known people in our lives whom we believe make us better persons by just being in our lives.  They’re the ones who make our day better, simply by talking to us. These are the Godly people to which Jesus is speaking: You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Truly Godly people are the ones who make a difference everywhere they go, although unintended consequences may prevent them from even knowing that they have made such a difference. Somehow, they always seem to be in the right place at the right time and doing the very thing that is most needed at any given time.  And the difference between such Godly folks and everyone else, is they try to live life as Jesus did by loving God the only way we really can…by loving each other. We are not alone; we are not insignificant; we are loved, cared for and intended for wonderful purposes. It truly is a wonderful life.