Annual Meeting Address 2017
As we celebrate our wonderful history in this church – 150 years – it is appropriate to recall how our older Books of Common Prayer referred to this Sunday before Ash Wednesday as Quinquagesima, which is Latin for 50th—the 50th day before Easter. In other words, the old Prayer Books were launching us into Lent as the week of Ash Wednesday began. They saw this day as a precursor if not actually a part of Lent.
This morning, as always on the last Sunday of Epiphany, or the 50th day before Easter, we have listened to the story of the Transfiguration. Hearing that story has the effect of framing the whole of these 50 days between two parallel stories—the story of the Transfiguration and the story of the Garden of Gethsemane. They are stories of Jesus going into lonely places to pray, attended by his three closest friends: Peter; James; and John. In both Jesus prays alone; in both there is a revelation of the Father; in both those three friends shrink in terror.
These stories tell us not only of how glory and sacrifice are blended together, woven together in Jesus. They tell us how to understand His church and His world. They tell us that in our discipleship we have to weave together the vision of glory and the call to sacrifice. Two visions, two eyes, so to speak.
I reflect upon these two visions because they parallel the two visions of this historic church. We are a people of two minds. We want to preserve the past and we want to charge into the future. To accomplish both, we must recognize that to be the strongest, in Christ’s Kingdom we must be the most gentle, the most self-sacrificing, the most concerned about the other and the least concerned about ourselves. It is not easy to respond to such a call, because it is invariably a call to metanoia—which is not just a call to change, but a call to transformation.
If our Christian life, like Lent itself, is framed between those two points, that teaches us something of the vision that we need to have as members of the oldest American Church in the San Gabriel Valley.
On the mountain of transfiguration, as the Gospel tells us, Peter, James and John see that behind and within the human flesh and blood of Jesus there is an unbearable light and glory. And then in Gethsemane they see that that glory and brightness is exercised and made real in accepting the pain of the cross for the love of humankind. They see that the blinding power of God is exercised not in crushing and controlling, but in the sacrifice of love.
The mystery of Jesus Christ is precisely that glory is most fully opened up, its depths revealed and, in the very darkest moment of Jesus' self loss and self sacrifice, all of that infinite power which is God's is directed like a laser beam, to the welfare and the healing the very weakest and most forgotten of God's children.
William Blake, a couple of centuries ago, prayed to be delivered from the single vision of Newton's sleep, by which he meant the scientific world view as a thing in itself which gave a person, according to Mr. Blake, a one-eyed vision of the world. It's very easy for us to have one-eyed vision, just as our American political world is now comprised of two “one-eyed” camps which each see the world with a single eye. But the Gospel requires us to have full, binocular vision. To see with both eyes
So as we move through our 150th year, let us strive to see with both eyes and look at how we can celebrate our history with pride while embracing whatever changes will be required of those who have witnessed a bright light on the walk up Mt. Tabor in order to be ready for the walk through the Garden of Gethsemane.
On a more personal note with reference to the two eyes with which I am looking…
Some of you know of my personal experience of Mt. Tabor in the Altiplano of Peru, the brightness of God’s presence that I was blessed to experience there. Most of you are aware of the Garden of Gethsemane through which Peg and I will walk in the years ahead. The Garden’s name is Alzheimer’s. To Mt. Tabor I walked alone. Through Gethsemane, I will not allow Peg to walk alone. There is no decision nor any particular announcement that is part of this personal note. Only that I must be of two minds in my sixth year at COS—one of completing nine years as leader of this strong and gentle, old and new, rich and generous, English-speaking and Chinese-speaking congregation that has cared so well for Peg and me, but especially for Peg; the other mind is to figure out how to make use of the time in the Garden before the temple guards arrive. The only decision implied here is contained in the mantra of my first weeks as priest-in-charge—in a very different environment—nearly six years ago:
Let us leave the past in God’s keeping,
the future for God’s mercy to clear,
so to live this present moment …
God’s gift to draw us near.
Peg and I have most certainly been blessed by God’s keeping us here and we continue to be blessed to embrace this present moment as God’s gift of an extending family, a family also of two minds—this wonderful, 150-year old family of The Church of Our Saviour.