Harrowing Of Hell
August 6, 2017

We have been Transfigured!

Pracher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Here we are: The Feast of the Transfiguration. One of my favorites here at Epiphany. I’m pretty sure this is my ninth time to preach on this auspicious feast day in the warm month of August as our dear rector has often observed this occasion from the front porch of his Montana cabin leaving his associate and other Epiphany stalwarts to ponder these ethereal mysteries on the banks of Lake Washington to the sounds of Blue Angels buzzing overhead.

For those of you visiting today, let me explain the nature of this sermon. After eight wonderful years of ministry and service to this body of the faithful, I have been called to be the next rector of St. John the Baptist EPISCOPAL Church in West Seattle. It is not a Baptist church as some of you have inquired, rather an Episcopal church named for John the Baptist. I am told that sometimes confuses people and entertains the ushers. Nevertheless, this is my final Sunday as your Associate Priest here at Epiphany.

While cleaning out my office, I came across numerous sermon manuscripts. It seemed as if every third of fourth one was on the Transfiguration. What’s left to say? There is soooo much left to say.

The past few weeks have been filled with a lot of looking in the rearview mirror, something we don’t do very often.I’ve had lunch or coffee, gone for walks, or simply sat and talked with many of you. We have exchanged cards and messages and hugged goodbye. I am so grateful for the opportunity to end my time here well.

And one thing I’ve noticed is this, all this looking in the rearview has caused me to seethings differently. You, people of Epiphany, have been transfigured. You are not the same congregation I encountered when I stood up here for the first time nine summers ago. You are more joyful. There are more of you. There are more services. You are lighter. And there is actually more light in here.

You have lived and loved and served and grown these past years and you have been made new. In fact, I think you might be shining, shining like Moses, radiant in glory. And I’m changed too, transfigured right alongside you. When Joel and I arrived, we’d been married a few years, did not yet have children, and Joel was still serving full time in the WA Air National Guard. Today, as we make this move back to our own neighborhood, we return a family of four. Joel has switched careers and callings and serves our community as a Seattle Firefighter working at Fire station #11 just a few miles from our home.

As I look out at your sea of faces, I see stories. I see growth and change. I see the spiritual journeys we have all been on together. And I know you see the same when you look at me. Isn’t that what we mean when we say: in the kingdom of God, relationship is primary? That’s why saying goodbye is bittersweet. Today, we heard stories of Moses talking to God and being transfigured. We heard about Jesus praying on a mountaintop with Peter, James, and John where he was transfigured before them as they came close to God.

I want to take this opportunity to tell you a couple stories about times when this community, this holy ground, has been transfigured as God has come especially near. We know that God is right here, so near, closer than skin to bone, right? And every once in a while, we catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom, or more than a glimpse, an indwelling as we step beyond ourselves – out of the kingdoms of our own making and join God in that holy space, that divine Kingdom. And there, we are transfigured, reflecting the likeness of God, shining like the sun. It is there that we live more fully into the person God intends us to be.
We function as our best selves.

As I sat with a small group in the courtyard the other night, they asked me to share my favorite Epiphany story. This is what I told them. It was the Feast of the Epiphany, 2015. The service happened as usual in the church, but then we moved out to the courtyard for special prayers and a symbolic “groundbreaking” as we began work on the renovations. Some of you remember what happened next. Doyt stood on a box and said some prayers. Ben Bradstreet read something from the Bible. The building team scattered sand around the soggy courtyard with shovels. And Sterling Stiff nearly lit me on fire. Not really.

Sterling had been tasked with getting a large fire going rather quickly…which he did. He handed me a long stick with lots of flames at the end which I used to ignite a fire in our large fire pit – the one we use for the Easter Vigil. The moment the fire started, the flames leapt up eight or nine feet tall and an angel appeared. Later that night, four or five people sent photos, taken from different angles of me lighting the fire and the figure of the angel in the flames. Holy ground indeed.

After remembering that holy night together, others in the group shared their favorite Epiphany stories and that was really fun. I encourage you to do that too. Next time you are gathered with your small group or at a dinner party or just hanging out in the courtyard after church sometime, ask someone, “what’s your favorite Epiphany story?” It’s fun to look in the rearview mirror.

But I mean it when I say this is holy ground. I love that story about the angel in fire because that night was sacred and I believe an angel or the holy spirit was present in our midst. The Holy Spirit is always in our midst, but like God’s Kingdom, we catch glimpses in which it is more powerfully or explicitly felt or seen.

And so, I have one more story to share with you about this holy ground. This happened more recently, earlier this summer in that brief window when I knew I would be leaving you, but before it had been announced publicly. It happened in the chapel at the 7:30 service as I was presiding over the Eucharist. Diane and I were standing at the altar, Tim was seated at the organ behind us, and the congregation was gathered. As I prayed over the bread and wine, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walking over by the sacristy door. Nobody should have been in that space at that time, so I glanced over and saw the angel – that same form, a figure of flame. Maybe it was an angel, maybe the Holy Spirit. Whatever it was, it was comforting. I continued the prayer without missing a beat and an overwhelming sense of calm and peace flooded my being and seemed to fill the room.

This is a special place, a holy place, and for about a year now, I have felt God tugging me towards St. John’s. Being here at Epiphany these past years has taught me so much about leadership, vision, community, and how a church can be vibrant and spirit filled. God is calling me to spread that in a new place. And that makes me excited.

I have loved you and you have loved me. This church will always have a special place in my heart. This is the place where my children were born. This is where they were baptized. This is the only church they have ever known and Epiphany will always be a place to which they return. Thank you for embracing my family.

The final week Tom Foster was in the office, he delivered a stack of papers to my desk. The top sheet came with a post it and a handwritten note saying, “in case you could use it on August 6!” Thank you, Tom, I think I will.

It is a poem called “The Mount of Transfiguration” by Ray Barraclough and the opening and closing lines capture this day beautifully.
They read:

The quiet mountain stood the same
the day before – all days beyond.
It ever seemed the same.
It was they who had been changed…
All would never be the same.
And the quiet mountain stands
waiting for the second day.

This poem reminds us that God isn’t the one who changes. It is we who are changed. As we grow, embrace vulnerability, step more fully into relationship, and work on ourselves, we do the changing. We wind up transfigured.

Your faces are shining, transfigured by Christ, so promise me one thing. Don’t cover them up. Let your face shine.

Sermon Reflection Questions
In what ways have you been transfigured?
How have you experienced Epiphany to be holy ground?
Tell someone your favorite Epiphany story.