Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday Sermon

August 12, 2012 Transfiguration Sunday We could call him, Paparazzi Peter. He's peering at Moses, Elijah and Jesus. This is a career-maker. But there's a problem. No camera. No film. No nothing. Probably not any parchment or coal crayons to write with; assuming the fisherman knew how to write. We can sympathize with Peter's predicament. Let's be frank: Peter would've done us all a big favor if he had been better prepared. We could visit today his shrine built to immortalize the moment if only he had been ready. Imagine your grasp of history without Abraham Zapruder's 26 seconds of film, shot with an 8-millimeter camera on November 22, 1963. We'd be stuck with Oliver Stone's revisionist montage in his film JFK. Or without the grainy footage of Neil Armstrong taking "one small step for man" replete with scratchy audio. It's a good thing that The Who is now available on digitized and remastered compact disks - along with every other LP in your collection - because it is increasingly difficult to locate a working stereo phonograph. And if you own a copy of I Love Lucy classics on Betamax, forget it. Those eight-tracks of Tony Bennett? Worthless, unless you have borrowing privileges at the Museum of Obsolete Machines. The film of JFK, the Apollo 11 footage, the census data stored by the government risk disintegration or being obsolete in a few short years. We can launch photographs of the kids through cyberspace, but we are losing the photographs of our own childhoods, not to mention our ancestors' childhoods, due to humidity, sunlight and general aging. This hurts. It hurts because we have such a hunger to hang on to history. As the parents of Baby Boomers move into retirement communities, their storage closets - left unexplored for decades - have become fascinating excavation sites revealing both the history of their own families' precious moments and the history of home movie cameras: the 8-millimeter camera, the Super 8, the camcorder, the Supercam, the Digital camcorder, the MX Pro Mixer with Fire Wire Technology. I joke, but I am one those with things such as these in storage. These closet digs show that the first generation of parents wielding home movie cameras did a pretty decent job at documenting Christmas morning and birthday parties, graduations and weddings. And clearly today's parents are following in their footsteps by dutifully documenting all the usual life-changing moments of their children as well - those transformative transitions from fetus to newborn, from crawler to walker, from preschooler to kindergartner. But, because film today is less expensive or because they're more self-absorbed than ever, postmodern parents also capture those NOT-so-special moments: little Amber eating French fries, sitting in the wagon, banging on the piano, digging in the dirt, rolling in the leaves, playing with the telephone, wearing a hat, smelling a flower, holding a book, watching TV, singing a song, throwing a ball, kicking a ball, sitting on a ball, dropping a ball.... you get the picture. If you're an average family, you've captured more than 1,800 minutes of videotaped footage and over 3,000 still photographs of your daughter's life. She is only 6 years old. Unfortunately, your daughter may clean out her own closet 40 years from now, only to discover countless faded photographs and a mountain of obsolete cartridges with no working video machine to play them. We're losing history. This, despite the fact that more and more people are documenting more and more information every day. We want to preserve every special moment, and yet ... armed with camcorders in one palm, hermetically sealed scrapbooks in the other arm, and countless files filled with images and personal data in our computers, aren't we in danger of missing something even more monumental? Missing - in our craving to capture it - the God-given moment itself? Peter, of course, had no camcorder, no digital camera, no hand-held micro tape recorder to capture the extraordinary moment he witnessed along with James and John. It was literally a mountaintop experience, an once-in-a-lifetime experience for three ordinary Joes who, as disciples, were still searching for a clue. Peter, understandably, was absolutely awestruck. It was to have been a quiet retreat, a time apart from the crowds, but an extraordinary event was unfolding, a moment in history so sacred that Peter, as Vice President in Charge of Doing Something, had to do something. So he proposed building a booth or kiosk or shrine - whatever - to preserve the moment. We're not told how he was going to do this, whether he had hammer and saw at the ready, or a few fisherman's tools in his belt. Your options are limited when all you've got is a sewing needle. But then Peter was never one to let details get in the way of a dream. A cloud dimmed the moment, however, before Peter could throw anything together. Out of the cloud a voice: "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" God didn't say: "Get a shot of the three of them over by that cedar tree." Didn't say, "Be sure to capture the moment!" Just, "Listen to him." What a bummer. Like tourists who see Paris through their viewfinders, Peter, who wanted to keep the moment from passing, was in danger of passing the moment. Let's face it: We, too, are easily distracted. Our lives are noisy. Televisions, radios, VCRs, DVDs, quad speakers, telephones, IPads and IPods all blaring out Pandora, construction tools, and computer games fill our world with incessant sound. It isn’t that these types of devises are bad in themselves, just that sometimes they control our lives in that they control our attention. Hard to hear the voice of God these days. Just as cameras can be programmed to print the date on the film in order to remember exactly when an event occurred, Mark's gospel tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John up to this mountain exactly six days after reminding them that "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it". It's not a bad idea to ask ourselves, "What are we really losing and what are we really keeping, in the big picture?" What will it profit us to preserve our life's history, if we forget the fundamental reason for remembering? Home movies may jog our memories of family birthday parties and graduations and weddings and so forth, but here's the danger. Focusing on the image, we forget about its meaning. We are losing the sense of the sacred in the mundane. More weddings are ruined by overzealous photographers than by spending more time enjoying the wedding banquet and mingling with the wedding guests. If we can keep the meaning behind the memory, then it is not so bad. So throw away the camcorder and go live. Sacramentalize the mundane. Divinize the moment. Listen for the voice of God. We go through life too busy trying to film the Transfiguration. We look but don't see; we hear but we don't listen. So what? So what if we have acid-free scrapbooks filled with ticket stubs and report cards and pressed corsages, if we have forgotten what made those moments so sacred? God's advice is to listen. Listen to the children, listen to life, listen for the sacred, divine the divine. Take time to smell the roses, as it were. Listen to Jesus. God Love You + + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church San Diego, Ca.