160207 – Sacrament of Life

Yr C ~ Transfiguration ~ Exodus 34:29-35

Today is the end of the season of Epiphany which is all about the revelation of God’s light. To top it off we get a story about a guy who was so utterly filled with the light of God that he glowed so much he needed to wear a veil over his face because he was too dazzling for the other people to bear looking at. Wow!sacrament-life
I’m looking around here and I don’t see anyone in a veil. Does that mean we’re not aglow in the light of God? I hope not!

I hope that this reading today, and the conversation we’re about to have, doesn’t seem too alien to you. I hope that you’ve had many, many experiences of feeling all lit up in the Presence of God. I hope that you’ve felt your heart strangely warmed, your pulse race in delight, your breathing fill you so fully that you thought you’d burst, your knees quiver and wobble in awe, and your mind boggle at the wondrous mystery that surrounds and enfolds us. And if you haven’t, after today maybe you’ll be a step closer to that.

Let’s talk about Moses. First it’s a burning bush and now it’s a mountaintop glow – it’s like this guy can’t get away from the Presence of God! (ahem!) Moses goes up the mountain, encounters God’s Presence, gets the 10 commandments, and goes back down. The encounter leaves his face with a perma-glow. He’s radiant, dazzling, oozing light.
It says his face was shining so brightly that the people were afraid. That’s an unfortunate translation that misses the real meaning. The Hebrew word for afraid doesn’t mean “Boo, I scared you!” it means to be so overwhelmed by awesomeness that it overpowers your ability to take it all in. So on a certain level, yes, that’s frightening, but a much better word would be awestruck!

Has anyone ever looked at you after you’ve had an experience of God and become awestruck by the afterglow?
No? Are you sure?

32 Later all the Israelites came up to him and he passed on the commands, everything that God had told him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face,
34 but when he went into the presence of God, he removed the veil until he came out. When he came out [he] told the Israelites what he had been commanded.

That’s pretty much the whole story. Moses encounters God, gets lit up, and then shares with the people what he’s experienced.

Today is also Transfiguration Sunday. Did hearing about Moses make you think about Jesus? It should have! In the Transfiguration story Jesus goes up a mountain to pray and while there he is bathed in a blinding white light and his face is transfigured – transformed – set aglow! The images of Moses and Elijah appear and the Presence of God takes the form of a cloud from which a voice declares Jesus to be blessed and tells the disciples to “listen to him!”

See any parallels? Mountain – check. Presence of God – check. Glowing – check. Message to be shared – check!

Now, it’s going to seem like I’m dramatically switching gears here and talking about something else but I’m really not. Both of these stories are examples of sacraments.

Where do we know that word from? Well, from church, obviously. In our denomination we celebrate two sacraments – the sacrament of baptism, and the sacrament of communion. If you were a Catholic you’d have 5 more (well, some of you would, because one is only available to men!). Catholics also name as sacraments confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, and the anointing of the sick (aka extreme unction or last rites).

So what’s a sacrament? The root word is sacred.
A sacrament is a thing that demonstrates something sacred.
A church sacrament is a ritual or an action that uses something tangible and physical as a means to focus ourselves on the Presence of God in that moment.

Think about Jesus’ baptism. He goes under the water and comes back up and when he does the heaven’s tear open (symbolizing no more separation between God’s Presence and Jesus) and God declares Jesus blessed – then he goes out empowered to do ministry.

Think about the last supper. Jesus breaks bread and pours wine and shares it with his disciples saying that when they eat and drink they’ll remember him, feel his Presence, and be blessed and empowered to do ministry.

A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace.
It’s a physical experience where the Presence of God is uniquely connected with, and by participating in it we are strengthened for ourselves and strengthened to do ministry.

There are tons of issues around sacraments though.

Like why do we only let “licensed” people preside at them?
The good part is that it honours and upholds our tradition, that there is good theology (hopefully) undergirding them, and that they will be done in an appropriate way.
The bad part is that it makes it seem like ministers have some sort of magic that makes sacraments holy. It’s not me that makes them holy – it’s God!

And by limiting sacraments to 2 (or 7) and limiting them to being clergy driven we’ve inadvertently (or maybe advertently) created a theology that says God only shows up in churches and only when the minister says the magic words. Clearly this is absolutely false!

Can we have sacraments outside of church?
Can it be a sacrament if an ordered minister isn’t leading it?
Of course it can!

I will argue in favour of only allowing ordained, or commissioned or licensed people celebrate the two “official” sacraments during public worship and formal church services. Our two official sacraments are part of our liturgical practice and there needs to be solid understanding of what’s going on.

That being said, I want us to completely obliterate the idea that sacraments are in any way limited to this place and this table and this font.
A sacrament is a tangible, physical experience of the Presence of God that lights you up, draws you into communion with God, and empowers you for loving the world. Every week I say over and over that God is in this place and EVERY place. God is not limited to 2 or 7 sacraments. God’s Presence can be perceived and experienced and communed with anywhere and everywhere.
There aren’t 2 sacraments – there are 2 million! Everything is potentially sacramental.

Did you notice I said potentially? Nothing can be sacramental to you, offering you communion with the Presence of God, if you don’t notice.
Richard Rohr talks about how it often seems to us that God is absent, but that, “ironically, becomes the deepest recognition of Presence, because it is thus awaited and needed. The entire world is indeed sacramental and mediates the message [of God’s Presence], and yet it is hidden in such a way that only the humble and honest— and suffering— will find it.”

You’ve heard me say the same thing in this way – God is always Present; we however are not!

Rohr says, “There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments— and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred [or sacramental] universe, and we are all a part of it.” (from Rohr’s book Eager to Love)

Maybe you’re thinking about some evil or nasty things that don’t seem very sacramental. I don’t think anything is inherently evil, however I absolutely do think there are sacred things that have been desecrated. Underneath every evil thing is human behaviour gone terribly wrong – greed, pride, and self-interest are probably the worst causes.

Ok, here’s where it gets tough.

What does it mean to say that everything is holy, that everything is a sacrament?
What would it mean to say you live a sacramental life?

How would your day-to-day living be impacted if you treated everything and everyone as a sacrament? – Filled with God’s Presence, holy, wondrous, lighting you up and drawing you into communion with God.

What if everything and everyone was as pregnant with God’s Presence as the bread and wine we are going to share?
Would that change the way you interact with people and the world?

Now, let’s go back to Jesus and Moses. What can we learn from them here? I want us to see that what they did was show us a pattern for living a sacramental life. They weren’t enacting one of our 2 formal sacraments – or even the 7 Catholic ones. They were experiencing the sacrament of life. Here’s how we can too.

There are 5 steps to this, and we’re going to use the vowels to help us remember them. AEIOU.

It all starts with Awareness – awareness that there is Something More, a holy Mystery, and that it is possible to commune in deep ways with it. Awareness that God’s Presence is available!

Next is Expectation. It’s not stated outright but I firmly believe that Moses and Jesus went up their mountains with every expectation that they’d encounter God’s Presence in their prayers. It didn’t happen by accident. They didn’t just stumble into it. If you expect to meet God you’re much more likely to do so.

Third is Intentionality. It really is necessary to go “up the mountain” – to set apart time and space for God. Yes, notice “as you go” and infuse every moment with mindfulness but there also needs to be a “setting apart” of time and space. Moses and Jesus regularly went “up the mountain” – what makes us think we don’t need to?
And then, the paradox is that you have to be intentional about doing nothing.

That’s the fourth thing – Openness. We can’t know exactly what happened in these scenes, of course, but we can discern from the stories told that both Moses and Jesus “allowed” themselves to be transfigured and transformed. Perhaps it’s a subtle nuance, but it’s an important one. They didn’t go up and demand light. “Ok, I’m here God, lay it on me – light me up!” Even if that was exactly their deepest desire and they arrived with expectation the point is that once there the appropriate posture is openness, surrender.
Yes, we have to wade out into the stream in order to feel the water but then we don’t “push the river” we allow the river to move us.
I call it the paradox of being actively passive!

So, awareness that God is Present and available, expectation that an encounter will happen, intentionality of carving out the time to show up, openness to whatever may come, and the last piece, Union – or maybe we are more comfortable with the word communion. It amounts to the same thing. The purpose of any sacrament is to tangibly connect us, to draw us into union, with the Presence of God in the here and now.

AEIOU and sometimes Y. No, it’s always Y! – well, actually “why?”
Why do we do all this?
Is it for our own gain?
Is it to puff ourselves up and feel better about ourselves or superior to the next person?
Gosh, I hope not. Don’t get me wrong, communing with the Presence of God feels wonderful. It has indescribable personal benefits for your life, your outlook, your energy, your peace, your stress, your demeanor, your passion, your understanding. But it’s so much more than that.

The “why” isn’t for us it’s for the world. It’s been said that the Church primarily exists for the benefit of others. Yes, you get to feel good yourself. But the real Why is for the transformation of the world. We commune with God “so that” we can be more Christlike and love the world.
So that… You go up the mountain in order to come down and do something with what you experienced. The mountaintop empowers you to go and love it out.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t just happen on mountaintops, and it doesn’t just happen in formal church rituals – God’s Presence can be experienced sacramentally in all aspects of your life. Unless we humans have done something to desecrate it, everything that we encounter has the potential to reveal God’s Presence for us – to be a sacrament for us.

And like the mountaintop for Jesus and for Moses, and like the water of baptism and the bread and wine of communion, if we are aware of the Presence, expect to encounter it, are intentional about making ourselves present, open to whatever the experience brings and however the Spirit moves, we can experience communion with God – anywhere, everywhere, and be lit up and filled. This is the sacrament of life.

And the best part of a sacramental life isn’t that it makes everything in your life seem more alive and special, which it does, it’s that you don’t have to wait ‘til special Sundays to commune with God, and most importantly to be filled with light and love SO THAT you can in turn love the world and share that love with everyone you encounter.

And then, hold onto your hats, maybe for that person you encounter YOU can be a sacrament!

Amen!