Live in the Light

Randall Tremba
February 19, 2012
Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Mark 9:2-9
Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

* * *

Sixteen years ago this month I officiated a memorial service at the Isaac Walton lodge on the Potomac River near Whiting’s Neck. It was a service for Ben Schley, a renowned fly fisherman who had once served as fishing guide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Jimmy Carter, Howard Hughes and also served as a mentor, a second father, to our own Bill Howard. Before retirement, Ben’s career was spent with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ben was a naturalist and a pantheist. He reverenced the whole earth and especially her waters. He was kind, humble, and frugal. But he wasn’t religious. Or so he said.

Ben certainly was not a registered member of any church. Standing waist deep in a river with a fishing rod in his hand was all the sacrament he needed—baptism and communion all in one. Ben wasn’t the first or the last to be transfigured by a river. And if you don’t mind me saying so: if a river or a mountaintop doesn’t light up your life, don’t expect God to!

I didn’t know Ben well but well enough to consider him a friend. Over a ten-year period our paths crossed fairly often. We had once undertaken a writing project together. Despite his achievements and renown, Ben was not one to boast or brag. I knew of his reputation from others.

Sixteen some years ago, I was visiting a parishioner at City Hospital and while walking the hall I heard a familiar voice coming from a room. I poked my head in the room and there was Ben. He was lying in a hospital bed.

I said hello and expressed my surprise at seeing him there. He was grateful that I had stopped in and then shocked me by saying he was going to die in a week or so and that no matter what his family might say he emphatically did not want a religious service and, he added, he’d like me to say a few words. He didn’t want a religious service and he wanted me to do it!

At that point in time I had not thought of myself as a non-religious minister but if that’s what Ben saw me as, I’d gladly take it. (Reminds me of the next book on my to-read list: Christianity After Religion by Diane Butler Bass.) As it turns out I don’t mind being religious in some ways but I certainly don’t want to be religious in certain other ways.

Listen to this from the Persian poet Hafiz

Do sad people have in

It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
And often go there
And do a strange wail and

What is the beginning of

It is to stop being
So religious

I don’t want to be religious like that. I’m guessing you don’t either. And that just may be why this church is perceived as not being so religious like that.

In case you hadn’t heard, many churches have written or unwritten rules that disallow funerals or weddings for non-church members or non-Christians. I’m glad and grateful that we are an exception.

I hope you are as honored as I am when a so-called non-religious person’s dying wish is to have his or her memorial service held here in this Meeting House. Here many “non-religious” people feel safe and welcomed in part because they are in good company—whether they know it or not. “Tell us the god you don’t believe in and there’s a pretty good chance we don’t believe in that god either!”

As it turns out, Ben Schley did me and this congregation a big favor 16 years ago by inviting me to step outside the “religion box,” outside those compartments that limit the divine, outside the doctrines and dogmas religions often enshrine.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Well, yes, it is good to be on top of the mountain. That’s not a bad thing.

It’s good for us to be here.

And, yes, it is good to bask in radiance. That’s not a bad thing.

It’s good for us to be here.

Yes, it is good. But, it’s not good for only you to be there. It’s not good when it’s only good for a few.

And if you don’t mind me saying so: it’s not good to enshrine three Jewish men on top of the world.

No, no, no, never, never, never.

And it’s not good to enshrine a masculine God on top of the world.

No, no, no, never, never, never.

And it’s not good to enshrine one religion on top of the world.

No, no, no, never, never, never.

Yes, it’s good to get up and away from the pressures of life from time to time. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s not good to leave the world behind for good.

And so Jesus said what Love always says: Let’s go. Times up. There’ll be no glorification of selves on my watch. It’s time to go down and walk that lonesome valley again.

Remember the voice: This is my Beloved. Listen.

And so let’s listen to what the Beloved says. The Beloved says, I did not call you to live on a mountaintop. I did not call you to live in the past. I did not call you to live above the world. I did not call you to be wealthy, famous or secure.

I called you to bear the light into the world. I called you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothed the naked, provide blankets for the cold, visit prisoners, shelter the homeless, befriend the friendless, resist evil, confront injustice, and walk with the dying through the valley of the shadow of death.

It’s true: I have called you (like Moses) to cultivate a community, a community of peculiar and diverse people rooted in freedom, practicing wholehearted love for God and others. And, yes, I have called you (like Elijah) to act with justice, to challenge the powerful, to confront people and systems that crush the poor.

I have called you to live fully, to love tenderly and walk humbly. But I have not called you to be religious. I have not called you to worship me, or Moses, or Elijah, or any man, woman, god or thing. I have called you to be fully alive. Follow love and you and the world will be transfigured right before your eyes.

As Bishop Desmond Tutu put it: God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no opposition that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned into love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.

Without a word, without a sound the voice said, this is my Beloved. Listen. Which is to say: Listen to your life and you will hear the call.