Let us pause for a moment, to open our hearts and minds to God in prayer, with words of blessing and promise from United Church minister Richard Bott:
Holy One, in the sounds of celebration,
and in the quiet of our hearts,
we feel your Presence.
In the faces of children,
in the stories of the elders and youth,
we hear your words.
Bless us in our learning and our loving,
that we might give thanks –
to you and to all people –
in all that we say and do.
In Christ’s name we pray.
(Richard Bott, Gathering, Season After Epiphany, pg. 42, adapted)
Today’s Gospel reading, according to Mark, tells the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus and the transformative effect it had on his disciples. “Transfiguration” simply means to change the outward form or appearance of something. In religious terms this transformation is an “outward manifestation of an inward grace” caused by a profound experience of God’s presence.
Last month (Jan.15, 2012), I shared a little bit about my experience of being called to ministry. This morning, I’ll briefly share with you an experience that happened during that weekend at Naramata Centre that was transformational for me and opened me up to the spiritual gifts that I had to offer but had never recognized before. It was 1993, when I attended a week-end event for women at Naramata Centre. The theme for the weekend was “Sacred Garden” and it was advertized as being an opportunity to gather with other women and explore the sacred in our lives. While I was at this event, I participated in a guided meditation. The goal in guided meditations is to relax and let thoughts and images come to you naturally without forcing them while a facilitator gently guides you verbally through the process. So, after the usual relaxing techniques, with soft music playing in the background, I was asked to imagine a special place, a Sacred Garden, where I felt particularly close to God. This place could be somewhere that exists in reality or only in my imagination. I toured the garden in my mind, noticing details about the environment there. Then I was told that wisdom was present in the garden and that I would recognize it. I was surprised when I saw a small child. I could tell that it was a little girl but I couldn’t see her face because her back was to me. Then slowly, she turned her head and when I saw her face I was shocked to recognize that it was my face, the way I looked as a small child. I am still deeply moved when I think about that experience. It is as fresh and clear to me now as when it happened nineteen years ago. It was a very profound experience but also confusing. I didn’t know exactly what it meant but I knew it was important. I felt an incredible sense of awe and the presence of the Holy Spirit during this experience. After the meditation was over I was unable to speak about the experience right away. I felt a profound feeling of love and peace, a warmth that felt comforting and empowering. I don’t know if my face glowed or not but I would be surprised if it did not.
That experience was a turning point in my life. I believe it was this experience that enabled me to begin to recognize God’s Spirit working not just around me but within me. It was a transformative experience, one which opened my eyes and heart to realize that there was wisdom within me that I had never recognized or acknowledged before. Life would never again be the same for me. It was the beginning of being open to the possibility that I had something significant to offer in God’s service.
I think Peter, James and John were similarly in a state of awe and confusion about their experience of Jesus’ transfiguration. They gloried in the joys of a mystical mountaintop experience but they knew they couldn’t stay there sheltered from the hardships of the world. They followed Jesus back down the mountain and back into the demands of Jesus’ ministry. Almost immediately, according to Mark, Jesus heals a child and then twice in rapid succession Jesus commends his disciples to value the children in their midst. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)
God’s transformative spirit works in and through us as individuals and as a community of faith. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) We experience Christ’s presence in many ways in our community of faith. One of the most profound ways we do this is by listening to the stories of each other’s lives and by sharing our own transformative experiences of life shared with others in Christian community.
As Christians, in all the ages and stages of our lives we know we belong to the worldwide Christian community. Wherever we live, wherever we travel, we know that we are welcome as members of the Body of Christ.
Katie Cameron is going to share with us, now, some of her recent experiences of Christian community as a young person in the United Church of Canada.
(Katie offers her stories and experiences of Kootenay Presbytery
youth events and the BC Conference youth event, “Evolve”.)