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Pastoral Letter, February 22, 2023

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday. The ashes of this holiday symbolize two main things: death and repentance. Ashes are equivalent to dust, and human flesh is composed of dust: " . . . the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." Genesis 2:7.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to say that we are sorry for our sins and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy.

With this focus on our own mortality and sinfulness, Christians can enter into the Lent season solemnly while also looking forward in greater anticipation and joy to the message of Easter and Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death.

This Sunday's lessons will be from Paul's meditation on sin and death from Romans and, of course, the temptation of Christ: "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

The sermon will focus on our journey through life inspired by the faith of Job and all the saints: “I know that my redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

Thank you all for your faith and steadfastness and support of the San Carlos Community Church.

- Pastor Richard Hyde Community Church of San Carlos

Last week's sermon:

2023 0219 Epiphany 7 Sermon Transfiguration Sunday

At about this time in history, February 22nd, was the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington, born in the Colony of Virginia (1732). Washington’s father died suddenly of illness when he was just 11 years old, but George’s mother, Mary, remained influential in his life and lived to see her son elected president. George traveled 50 miles to Mount Vernon to see his mother the day after he was elected, where he found her on her deathbed with breast cancer. He told her that he was going to decline the office, but she insisted that he “go and fulfill the high destiny which Heaven has foreordained you to fill.” He then served as president for eight years. In his Farewell Address to the nation, he warned that his greatest fear for the new country was that forces would try to divide Americans and undermine the country’s principles.

Now let me give you a riddle: What do these middle weeks of February have in common with the middle weeks of August? Both in terms of the climatic season and the church season?

In terms of climate, they are both times when a season is at its fullest, yet starting to wane. In February we have Winter carnivals, the winter Olympics and so on, yet the waning of winter is becoming noticeable because the days are getting longer.

Likewise in August, we often have our warmest days and the lake or the ocean where we go to swim is at its warmest; yet the first hints of fall are becoming noticeable as the days grow shorter and the harvest rolls in.

In terms of the church season, the answer to my riddle is that we are celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration today, whereas many churches celebrate this same feast in August. Indeed, the Feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated in August for some fifteen hundred years until the Protestant Reformers came along.

Now why is this?

Back at the beginning of the church, the church decided to coopt a popular pagan summer harvest holiday around the beginning of August and chose this mountaintop experience with Jesus and his disciples to celebrate instead. So it went for some fifteen centuries until the great Protestant Reformers decided to move this celebration to the end of Epiphany. They decided that now is a more logical time to celebrate this event on the mountain top so that Christ makes himself fully known as Lord at the end of this celebratory season of Epiphany and then we have the penitential Lenten season in which to prepare ourselves for the sacrifice on Calvary, followed, of course, by the Resurrection.

So today we read about this spectacular, terrifying revelation imparted to Peter, James, and his brother John.

"And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus."

When we hear about experiences like this, like the revelation to Moses or the appearance of Gabriel to Mary, or the Apostle Paul being knocked off his horse by the Risen Lord, we wonder sometimes how come these revelations happened to them and not to us; or happened then, but not now. And if we meet contemporaries who claim to have had these sortsof experiences, we tend to wonder if they’re crazy.

Some 70 years ago, there was a man who was desperate for some direction in his life. He needed direction because he drank too much alcohol. He went to various doctors and psychiatrists for help to no avail. He even traveled to Europe to spend a year under the care of the famous Dr. Carl Jung. After treatment, he returned to the United States and resumed drinking to intoxication within a short time. Desperate, he went back to Dr. Jung and begged to be taken into his care again. Jung refused, saying that he could not do anything more for him, nor, in his opinion could anyone else. His only hope was for a deep. life-transforming religious experience. For that he recommended that he place himself in a religious community and hope for the best. How's that for a doctor's prescription?

The man returned home, joined a fellowship of the Oxford Group, which was started in the 1930s by a bunch of British intellectuals including CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, and in this atmosphere of prayer, group support and service, he soon had a conversion experience and quit drinking and did so well that he began to help others. One of those he helped turned out to be a man known ever after simply as Bill W., who soon had his own conversion experience, after which he and a close friend known as Dr. Bob, borrowing practices from the Oxford Group, founded Alcoholics Anonymous to help others find the spiritual resources they needed to quit drinking and be restored to sanity.

Years passed. These dramatic conversion stories became legendary in the world of AA and in January, 1977, someone was moved to ask some questions in an official AA publication, because, it turned out, these legendary experiences left some people not just uninspired but downright depressed because they had never experienced anything nearly so powerful. Was there something wrong with them? Was their conversion somehow defective? Were they doing something wrong?

Someone responded:

“I can remember, early in my sobriety, feeling depressed because I had not had a spiritual experience. I was sure that I alone had not undergone a sudden change of heart.

This impression came from listening to some other members describe their spiritual awakenings. They described them simply and honestly. There had been, they said, no flashing lights, no burning bushes. But there had been a moment when they experienced total surrender, a sudden change of attitude. It was, they said, an experience that immediately changed their lives.

I assumed that all AA members had undergone a similar experience. I was sure that those who did not speak of their moment of truth were too modest to describe it. And I was also sure that I was the only one who had not experienced an instantaneous change.

Fortunately, there was a small group of us who were all new to the program and very close. It was among them that I made a series of discoveries.

First, I discovered that I was not alone. All of us agreed that, whatever a spiritual experience might be, we certainly hadn’t had one. We had all been waiting for it to happen, and by now, most of us were certain that it probably never would.

Second, we discovered that most of the other members had not undergone an instantaneous change either. We learned by listening at meetings and talking to our sponsors, that the majority of those we admired had undergone, like us, a gradual change. So we weren’t inferior. We were the majority.

Third, one of us read Bill W.’s own discussion of spiritual experience where he explained that there are many kinds of spiritual experience. Some are like the conversions of the great religious leaders of the past; others seem purely psychological. Some are sudden or instantaneous; others area a gradual learning experience. But all of them, whatever form they take, have one effect: They make people capable of doing something they could not do before.

Here’s the quote from “Bill”: "When people have a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that they have now become able to do, feel, and believe that which they could not do before on their unaided strength and resources alone."

In other words, these folks, these questioners in the AA program, had been undergoing a spiritual experience without knowing it. Their questioning about a Higher Power, their changed mental attitude, the subtle but important improvements they had made in their lives had all been part of a spiritual awakening. Without knowing it, they had been in contact with the source of life, and were experiencing their own transfiguration.

Religious conversion, the gradual transfiguration taking place in all of us, is not just the flashing lights, the burning bush, the voice from heaven, the transfiguration of Jesus, or even the sudden, overpowering sense of conviction. Most importantly, conversion, redemption, transfiguration is the ability to do what we previously could not do, a new-found confidence, a new-found ability to love and be loved. This experience may come suddenly or just come gradually from regular practice.

May God’s light gradually illuminate us in this coming Lenten season, both individually and together; may we all, slowly and steadily, be transfigured.

Mark 9:2-8

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.

And there appeared to them Eli'jah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.

And Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah." For he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."

And suddenly looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.

2 Pt 1:16-19

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

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