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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Last Epiphany – Year A

My father had an extreme form of dyslexia. As a child growing up in the thirties he was unlucky enough to be severely learning disabled at a time when if you could not read you were simply considered stupid. My father was anything but stupid. And while it pains me when I remember teasing him as a child because he could not even read the TV guide, I knew there was more to him than his inabilities. In fact, my father was one of the most gifted people with numbers I have ever seen. He was terrible with letters but the numbers danced around in his head and came together in complex ways that were truly amazing. As a result, he spent his entire professional career as an accountant for Exxon in Northern Virginia. However, I know that my father never quite got over the idea that he was less than he should have been, that he did not quite measure up to the family standards. You see he was the son and grandson of inventors. His grandfather invented the tabulating machine and the Hollerith Tabulating Company was the immediate precursor to IBM. His father was a brilliant mechanical engineer and a heavy task master who never came to terms with the fact that his eldest son had major learning disabilities. In fact, I am sure that my grandfather either said or implied things to my father, who was his only son, about his inabilities that hurt him very deeply. As a result, all of his life my father carried with him the painful notion that he was damaged goods, that he was in some way failure. He bore it well, but it hurt me acutely to see a man, who was in fact so wonderful, have such a low opinion of himself.

We carry too much stuff in this life. We carry with us through life too many negative and painful ideas and experiences that we need to put down. St. Paul says it so clearly this morning – “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal.” “Forgetting what lies behind,” that can be a difficult thing. The painful words from a parent that leaves a child feeling unloved or unlovable, the brutal teasing of playmates in the school yard, the experience of physical or sexual abuse burned into our souls, the pain of terminating a pregnancy because of the overwhelming complications of life, the harsh words traded between spouses whose purpose is only to hurt and wound the other. These and so many other experiences like them can create what I call tapes in our heads, negative tapes that play all the time and constrict the health of our lives. They are built in recordings, built in ideas about who we are and our value in the world; recordings that get enshrined in our psyches as enduring fixtures much the same way Peter wanted to enshrine his experience of the Transfiguration. We hold onto them, we make them permanent and they do us harm. Most of us have one kind of tape or another. I am not sure where they come from but they play from time to time and they say things like – “You can’t accomplish that so don’t even try,” “You are not good enough,” “You have not proved your worth,” “If people only knew you then they wouldn’t really like you.” And these tapes are quite minor compared to the painful messages some people carry and confront on a daily basis.

What does it mean to grow in faith? What does it mean to walk the journey of life with God? Well it means lots of things. However, one thing is for sure, growing in faith involves putting down some of this stuff. Growing in faith means turning off the tapes that run in our heads or at least becoming so familiar with their messages that we learn to identify and ignore them as the lie they are.

In his letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” In Christ we are a new creation. This is not just a spiritual truth; it is a personal truth as well. Our God who loves us, who gives himself for us, sees us as the pure creation we are intended to be. Christ bares our burdens and carries our pains so that we don’t have to. We can leave them behind.

In our Gospel for today, Peter and the disciples wanted to seize on their experience, on the power of the Transfiguration and lock it in place. They wanted to build booths to enshrine it. But they were not allowed to do so. They were reminded that there was more to Jesus and his ministry than this mystical experience and they were called down the mountain to continue their journey to the cross.

Let go of the past and move forward. Don’t enshrine something that only limits you. Forget it and move on. We carry so much baggage in this life. For some of us it is baggage that requires years of therapy. For others, it is baggage that limits our ability to grow and succeed. We have to put it down Paul says. Over and over again, we have to put it down, let it go and forget it. We have to strain forward and reach for something else, for something better, for the prize of the upward call.

I never got to say these words to my father; he died eleven years ago and eleven years ago I was much too young. But he knows the truth now, he is with God and he knows his worth. The best I can do is to say these things to myself and to my children and to all of you. As the old prayer made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous says – May God give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

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