The Rev. Andrew R. Guffey, Ph.D. Last Epiphany C (March 3, 2019)
Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 Luke 9:28-36 In the Name of the One, Holy, and Everlasting God. + AMEN.
Good morning! I am Fr. Andy Guffey, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have accepted the call to come alongside you as Priest-in-Charge of St. Mary’s In-The-Hills! You have been waiting, and praying, and hoping, and waiting some more. And here we are.
And I have been waiting, and praying, and hoping, and waiting some more, and here we are.
And before we go any further, I want to take just a moment to say thank you. Thank you to the wardens and vestry, and most especially to the search committee, who prayed and listened and questioned. Thank you all for your faithful service to the body of Christ here at St. Mary’s.
This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is the day the Lord has made, because it is God who has brought us together at this time and in this place, and gives us the blessing of living out our days, for the next few years at least, together. God is weaving your stories and my story into something new and beautiful, and what else should we do, then, but rejoice and be glad in it.
But what is my story. I’m sure you’d like to know more about me, wouldn’t you? And what should I tell you? I could tell you that I was born and raised in a small town in Southeast Iowa. That I went to a small liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I could go on to tell you that I earned my Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, my Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, my Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia, or, as we say, Mr. Jefferson’s University. That I was ordained a deacon and priest in God’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, through the Diocese of Virginia.
But these sorts of answers may not get us very far. They’re lots of what, but not much why. They tell you something about me, but not enough of what matters. They don’t tell you that my heart comes alive when I see stretches of field-lands (especially corn fields) laid out before me, with the sound of the wind conversing with the corn. They don’t tell you why I have always sought out beauty, or been an acolyte of honesty, or always longed to be good and do better.
Thomas Merton, one of the spiritual masters of the twentieth century once said, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”
Good questions. These are questions that get to the heart of who we are. And so, let me try to answer them a little.
I grew up in a small town, which means I grew up with several sorts of family: nuclear, extended, school, church. Through my Dad and especially in church I learned the truth of St. Augustine’s line, that to sing is to pray twice. I grew up in a United Methodist Church that taught me to sing my prayers, and I was surrounded by evangelicals right through college, who ensured that I was soaked in the Scriptures. It was my love of tradition and the discovery of my Great Aunt’s Prayer Book that brought me to the Episcopal Church. As I was reflecting on some of this while meditating on this week’s Scriptures, I realized one passage for today has wound its way through my pilgrim life and shown up time and again, from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another.” What am I living for? I am someone who, in the cornfields of Iowa, in the joys of making music, in the midst of intense academic study, and in the struggle to be good and to foster a common good, has longed to live before God with an unveiled face, and to find myself wrapped up in the freedom of the Spirit, as I am transformed from glory into glory. What do I think I am living for? Just that: to live so that my life can become more transparent to God’s life in me and through me, in the midst of a community that also longs Godward.
And isn’t that the pattern we hear in the Scriptures today? Moses spoke with God and conversed with God with an unveiled face, and he shone with the very glory of God. And what is glory? That’s a word that seems rather abstract, maybe a little too churchy. Most of us probably skip right over that word or, if we’re lucky, puzzle over it. Glory is like the story of the transfiguration, where Jesus is just Jesus and then, all of a sudden, not because Jesus has changed, but because the disciples have changed and they are able to see more than what they expected, Jesus pours forth the unspeakable beauty and truth and goodness of God. As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” In other words, God is hiding in plain sight around every corner, if we only pay attention. Sometimes, we are surprised: we might find God in the voice of our neighbor, or in the lives of those we thought couldn’t possibly reflect God, and sometimes we find God right where we expected God to be: hiding in simple bread and ordinary wine, in plain water, and in the voice of someone saying, “You are forgiven. Go in peace.” Glory is just that extra that transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary, something holy, the commonplace into a sacrament.
What does it mean to live before God with an unveiled face, but to become a kind of sacrament in the world., to come ever closer to God through Christ and in the Spirit, and to let that adoration turn us to a hungry and damaged world in utter love. And you’ve probably guessed by now that this is not just my story and my call. This is our story, this is our song. It is the age-old tale of the Church.
And what is keeping us from living for that? We are, mostly. I have a knack of getting in my own way. Of paying attention to all the things that matter least, and not attending enough to the things that matter most. I don’t know about you, but many is the day that I have prioritized my Facebook feed over the call to pray, endless fretting and frittering over taking time to be holy. When I have chosen the apparent need to be busy over the actual need to walk in love. And frankly, that’s why we need each other. Not so that we, as individuals get what we want, but because we all rise together. God has ordained that we should find God, not as solitary individuals, but as communities of love, adoration, and thanksgiving, issuing forth in works of justice and mercy. We have work to do. Together.
But here, at the hinge of the seasons, between the Wondrous season of the Epiphany, of God become flesh, and the Holy season of Lent, the good news is this: God became human, so that
humans might be lifted to God’s own life. The goal of God made manifest was always our transformation. In God-made-flesh we hear the blessing God pronounces on what we already are. And while the Incarnation affirms and seals us as wondrous creatures of God, Christ transfigured shows us what we might yet become and invites us to the transformation and healing of our Lenten journey ahead.
Well, we’ve come some way from my initial questions, right into the heart of the Good News. I hope that’s ok with you. But it’s time to bring it back now to us, to our intertwined stories. And it is my turn now to ask a question or two. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you a Merton-sized question. Not yet, anyway.
For now, I want to leave you to ponder a Mary Oliver-sized question. Mary Oliver was one of my favorite poets, and she passed just this January. One of her more famous lines comes from her poem, “The Summer Day”:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Who made the Church? This church, I mean. The one nestled off Joslyn Road in Lake Orion, the one that has opened its doors to the local Boy Scout Troop, which dug deep to build a fellowship hall and continues to provide for the needs of this community, which has cried with those who cry and rejoiced with those who rejoice? I don’t think you need me to tell you who made this church. It was God, all along. However fumbling our faithfulness, however weak our prayer, God has poured out grace here. And your faithful work in this parish—hasn’t it always been a way of trying to answer that one question that you knew God was already asking: Tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious—and holy—life?
I look forward to asking that question with you, to hearing the answers you already know, and to discovering what new adventures God has in store for us. Amen.