The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s080g08 Transfiguration 3/2/2008
'coming down the mountain' Matthew 17.9
Jesus and the three disciples had to come down from the mountain. Peter's attempt to build three dwellings was an attempt to stay on the mountain by themselves. But if they were to follow Jesus and to listen to him as they had been directed to do, they had to come down the mountain with Jesus.
Much of what we consider religion is the mountain top experiences, the times when we are alone with God, or perhaps with just one or two companions. The dignity of a solemn mass, the joy of lots of people praising the Lord, the conversion experience of long ago which has sustained our faith for years afterwards. These personal highs are the times when we think that we are most in touch with God, and we yearn for them to remain. But we too, if we want to follow Jesus and listen to him as we have been directed, have also to come down from the mountain, to return to 'ordinary' life.
Quite some time ago the leader of a group invited those there to tell of a particular highlight in their lives. All spoke of a time alone, including me, as I recalled walking on the island of Iona, listening to the sound of bagpipes floating over the hills. Yet I reflected afterwards why I didn't speak of the time when I had my first kiss, the time when I 'fell in love' or the first time I experienced sexual intimacy.
Again, how often our perception of religion separates us from others, when God calls us to be in relationship with others. So in fact we are closer to God as we follow Jesus and listen to his voice, in and amongst the ordinary people with whom he associated, both then and now. As I say, again and again, we are at one with God when we are at one with other people, all other people.
Transfiguration, if it remains a personal thing will always be fleeting, whereas if we can transfigure our relationships, there is a possibility that it may last a bit longer.
Transfiguration, if it remains a corporate 'Anglican' thing will always be fleeting, whereas if we can transfigure our relationships with other churches, there is a possibility that it may last a bit longer.
Transfiguration, if it remains a corporate 'christian' thing will always be fleeting, whereas if we can transfigure our relationships with all other people, there is a possibility that it may last a bit longer.
Each of these involve a change of perception on our part that 'my' salvation is assured and sufficient, that 'our' salvation is assured and sufficient but that God loves all people, even those different from me and us.
When it comes to the ordination of women, the opponent will say that they accept the ministry of women, but if they want to be ordained women need to change their gender a hard ask if ever there was one. The proponent of the ordination of women only asks of those opposed to change their minds a certainly easier ask, though perhaps not any more likely :-)!
We are called, not to change the world, but to love the world, and this fact ought to transfigure our relationship with all others, which involves us changing our minds, not expecting others to change in ways that would be impossible for anyone, including ourselves.
If our religion is only about personal transfiguration then we have no message for society in general except how privileged we are and how damned others are. Other peoples' salvation will only come through experiencing what we have, an experience which ultimately distances them also from the rest of humanity. This distance we put between ourselves and others will mean only a continuation of what we know only too well, division, hatred and war only for our part we pretend that we have God's sanction!
So God calls us to come down from 'our' mountain, and see the transfigured Christ in the midst of the world. Only this change of perception on our part can lead to any sort of change of perception for anyone else. The transfiguration we seek is not apart from others, but in the very midst of life as we now lead it.
We have just 'celebrated' the feast of the incarnation, when God became an ordinary human person. We are about to begin the period of Lent when we learn that this Jesus was crucified for being far too 'ordinary' for the religious. This ends with the resurrection, God's answer to those who would deny and try to stop the risen Christ who continues to associate with the 'ordinary'.
There is no doubt that God does come to all sorts of people in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes, like when Paul was off to Damascus to sort out those who thought differently from him, God comes to stop us in our tracks and to turn our lives into something more accepting. People glimpse the divine on mountains, in gardens, in solitude, in relationships. It is not that there is any lack of spiritual experiences, in fact there is a plethora of them. The trouble is that having one can lead some to think that there's has to be normative for everyone else. Logic tells us that if God acts in different ways for different people, then God blesses differences and variety. God will not remain on the high mountain nor in the sealed tomb, because there are others that need to know blessing. Gentiles, women, gay and lesbian persons, people of other faiths, people of no faith.
The transfiguration and the command to follow Jesus down the mountain, tells us that the divine is available to all people, not just to the Sir Edmund Hillary's of this life. We do not have to find a mountain to find God, we have only to look around us and see the risen Christ in all.
And the fact that the divine is available to all people means that there is an inevitability about this. We do not have to fight to bring about the kingdom, it is all about us, if we only care to look, to acknowledge and rejoice.
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