Let us pray. O God, open our hearts and minds and bless our lives through the hearing of your living Word and in our worship as we gather today. Amen.
Some of you will recognize me as a longstanding member of Grace Lutheran, and through earlier activities we have been engaged in together. However, today I also come to you as a diaconal minister of the ELCIC, serving in our BC Synod. Today is Transfiguration Sunday. And, it is also Diaconal Sunday. I will attempt to weave both of these into what I have prepared to share with you.
There is a common thread in our readings about mountain tops. Mention of mountain tops serve as a signal to us, the listener, that something very important is about to happen, something that is going to forever change the lives of those involved.
In thinking about your own life, have you ever experienced what we might call a mountain-top experience, a peak moment? Has there been a time when you experienced something that has remained unforgettable, something that was life-altering, something that was profound because of its effect on you? Maybe you remember a special trip, an adventure or holiday time? Maybe it was celebrating an important milestone in your life, a first love that endured; a special birthday; the birth of a long- anticipated child into the world; being given a clean bill of health after undergoing treatment for an illness? Or, maybe during a time of quiet contemplation some new insights or deep truths became apparent that forever changed how you view life? Such mountain- top experiences are memorable and significant because something happened, something we experienced was life-altering. Sharing our story we might refer to our experience by saying, “before this happened, and then afterwards this….” ; or we might say “from this moment onwards life was never the same; life for me was different”.
In my own life I recall a time when I was in my early 50’s. I had returned to the workplace after completing my master’s degree and after being a stay at home single parent. One particular day I recall having had this internal dialogue with God, in which I became aware, for the first time, that my work as senior manager of volunteer resources was a form of ministry. It was a God moment for me. Like the voice in the cloud when God said to the disciples, “ listen to him”. Listen to Jesus speaking into your life. Even though I had been very active in leadership roles in my own congregation at Grace, I remember what a profound new awareness it was for me, to realize that I could approach each workday, and my encounters with others, as ministry. I recall vowing that day, that for the rest of my life, no matter what work I might be engaged in, it would be as a woman of faith, in service with, and for, others. This has remained true for me ever since. There is one small detail that would be easy to overlook in the account of the transfiguration of Jesus. Did you hear it? Listen again. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Rather than savour the afterglow of his transfiguration and the power of God’s voice affirming his identity, Jesus’ small gesture is one of utmost loving kindness and concern for his disciples. By the touch of his hand he assured them that he is still Jesus, the one they know, in human form. Hearing his familiar voice, “Get up and do not be afraid.”they were comforted, because it was a voice they had come to know and trust. Jesus’ small, but not insignificant gesture, conveyed to them the tender loving message that he was attentive and looking out for them. His loving touch and his voice helped to ground the disciples back into their present surroundings. In so doing he was also preparing them to begin their journey together, back down the mountain, back into the ups and downs of everyday life. Because it was in the everyday of life where Jesus’ ministry primarily occurred.
Reading past today’s texts we learn that one of their first encounters upon returning to everyday life was Jesus being approached by a father to heal his son suffering from epileptic seizures. Here he was, soon after their mountain-top experience, resuming his ministry. This story of healing the son with epilepsy is so consistent with what we know of Jesus’ ministry. His focus was so often on serving the immediate, the present, the particular need in front of him, the individual with whom he was presently relating. It is as much in his singular encounter with an individual as it is in his feeding of a multitude that he demonstrated his boundless love and compassion for others. And it is in the everyday of life where we too catch glimpses of God in others, at work in our neighborhoods, and in the world.
In our lifelong faith journey, and as disciples of Jesus, God has given us the gift of one another, in community, where we are shaped and equipped to go into the world and serve God. It is in community, and through our relationships, where we have the greatest opportunities to grow, and to be changed through our interactions with one another. These changes may be imperceptible to the visible eye. They may involve a shift in our attitudes and outlook on others, the world, and even ourselves. I recall how significant it was for me to realize that I need to see each person I encounter as being one of God’s beloved, just as I am. It changed forever how I wish to relate to others. God’s transformational work is ongoing, in you, in me, in the church, in our neighbourhoods, in the wider world, in all creation. God is indeed birthing something new, and we are invited to join as partners in God’s work in the world.
As well as it being Transfiguration Sunday, today it is also Diaconal Sunday, the one Sunday in the year in the ELCIC when focus is given to the diakonia of the church. Diakonia means, ‘to be in service’. On this day, Diaconal Sunday, we are reminded of the gifts and promises of our baptism, and the covenant of our shared calling.
Whenever we reaffirm our baptism together we hear these words:
To live among God’s faithful people,
To hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
To proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
It is out of gratitude for what we have first received, and in response to God’s love for us, that we are invited to respond with a ‘yes,’ to God’s invitation to commit our lives to serving the needs of others for the sake of God’s love of the world. This is the diakonia of the church. This is the shared call to service we receive as the baptized. And this is the reason why diaconal Sunday is applicable to each and every one of us.
Some of us, (maybe one of you?), feel a sense of an inner calling to pursue serving in a public leadership capacity in the church. In this process of discernment one is listening for God’s voice, to become clearer about whether one is being called to ordained ministry, whether that be as pastors, deacons, or rostered ministers in specialized ministries, for example, as chaplains. In the ELCIC there are approximately 30 diaconal ministers whose expressions of ministry are as unique and varied as we are as people.
An aspirational vision for the future of our church was shared by the ELCIC in the document Reimagining our Church, a vision that includes reimagining the collaborative work of being the priesthood of all believers, both as laypersons, as well as ordained ministers. Much creative work and thought lies ahead of us to live into this preferred future, experimenting with new and innovative ways of being God’s church together, ways that are life-giving and life affirming in our mission and ministry in service with, and for, others.
My own call to Word and service as a diaconal ministry was publicly affirmed in a meaningful service in May 2017. I am called by the BC Synod to specialized ministry, not by a particular congregation. As a diaconal minister I represent the BC Synod in the Southern Vancouver Island region. My focus of ministry is community engagement, which is reflective of my life experiences and interests. I have been gradually growing into my ministry, giving a portion of my time and energy to my involvement with individuals from 28 organizations (and growing) who have formed a community coalition in our region called Greater Victoria Acting Together, or GVAT for short. Together we represent more than 55,000 members of faith communities, unions, environmental groups, post-secondary institutions, and not for profit organizations. One of the goals of GVAT is to train leaders and strengthen their organizations to be effective in working collaboratively together to bring about positive changes for the common good of all citizens in the Greater Victoria region. There is strength in our diversity. And, there is strength in serving and working together on shared goals with so many passionate and committed individuals.
I am aware that there are numerous ways in which you are giving of your time, your passion, your energies in serving others within your congregation, in the wider community, in our Synod, our national church, and beyond. Whether it be through sponsoring refugee families, through the activities of the truth and reconciliation committee, the public events organized with Intrepid Theatre to bring awareness to social issues like dementia or hearing loss, music in the park in Cobble Hill, the advocacy and support work shown towards the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, or being in solidarity around the need for reconciliation and seeking justice for our Indigenous nations your presence and service is appreciated. In all these ways, and likely many more unnamed, I give great thanks for the numerous ways in which you bless and enrich the lives of others. In having said ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to serve, we all embody diakonia. Following Jesus example, we are God’s hands and feet serving others in the world God so truly loves. May God continue to guide and bless you in your ministry together.
I want to finish by sharing with you a poem, written this week, by Ted Dodd, a United Church deacon, who is serving as the president of DOTAC, an ecumenical gathering of 12 diaconal communities of deacons spanning north, central, south Americas and the Caribbean. With his permission I share this poem, titled, ‘Prayer for Transfiguration’, with you.
Prayer for Transfiguration
Lead us up the mountain, O Beloved Child of God.
Transfigure us with your transcendent holiness.
Shine upon us with your sacred illumination.
Dazzle us with your grace and compassion.
Transform us with revelation.
Change us with new insights.
Move us from the ordinary day-to-day to the divine extraordinary.
Let the prophets of old educate us.
May the saints of the past accompany us.
Allow the wisdom of the ages to inform our hearts and minds.
But do not let us get stuck:
building shrines to former glories,
erecting edifices to distant memories,
commemorating occasions when we need to move on.
Speak to us your comforting, challenging word.
Teach us to listen to what is most important.
Help us to know what is most faithful, most true.
And when we fear failure, or exposure, or pain, tell us in your gentle, assertive way: Be not afraid.
And gather us up to come down from the mountain, And to love the world.
- Written by Ted Dodd, United Church deacon, and president of DOTAC, 2020