s080g99 Somerton Park 14/2/99 Last Sunday before Lent - the Transfiguration.
I am very grateful for some encouragement to find out how to remove the addresses at the top of these postings. Deep within the bowels of my hard drive I have finally found instructions as to how to "BCC" - blind carbon copy - using my emailer package. This simplifies my posting procedure considerably.
I feel some call to perhaps begin a message board on my geocities site dealing with clergy's experiences of antagonists / antagonism within the Church. This seems to be a universal problem often hidden away - and I myself have experienced it. Perhaps clergy who have been subjected to this might care to write in an anonymous way. I could "cut and paste" the body of emails to a page relatively easily.
"If you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Matt 17:4
Oh what a helpful person Peter was! Enthusiastic, willing to put in the effort, and even humble. He had no thought of building a shelter for himself (or James and John). But he was ready to do all that was necessary to enable them to stay on the mountain - rather than return to the plain - among the "hoi polloi".
Every time I celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, my mind always returns to poor Elijah, fleeing the wrath of Jezebel, travelling 40 days and nights aided by the sustenance of the angel, to get to the mountain of God. And what does Elijah get for all his troubles? God asks him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He was immediately sent back to become embroiled, not on the periphery, but right at the centre of the political and prophetic events of his day.
I guess I am no different from anyone else. I think of other places where the grass seems greener. And one of those places where the grass is reputed to be greener is the Church - where love and joy abound - where there is no politicking or dissension - where everyone gets on with everyone else and is kind and encouraging ...
When we realise that such is not the case, and probably never will be, we look to other utopias to find our mountain top experiences. I think it is important to see that the desire and the motivation for all this is universal - it is the lot of all humanity to desire these things. So when I say that some look for such experiences by taking drugs - we need to see that the motivation for others to do that is essentially no different from what drives us to gain similar experiences through more conventional or respectable methods. The "saints" of old did it by fasting and solitude - the modern youth achieve similar things with loud music and head banging. Some look to other partners for escape from the humdrum of their present existence. Others might travel to India or other exotic places. And whatever we do, wherever we go, inevitably it seems we end up wanting to stay on the high - to leave the ordinary and mundane behind. Like Peter, we are not content with the temple in Jerusalem in all it's beauty. We enshrine our vision and build rude huts - which are of course much more authentic because they are rustic. It really doesn't matter as long as it's somewhere else - away from those who trouble us. Even better if it is somewhere where others look up to us.
I was impressed when Fr Martin spoke a fortnight ago about the impact Billy Graham had on him, so many years ago. You will recall the story he told about Billy Graham saying if he had discovered a cure for cancer and kept it to himself - perhaps only allowing family members to share in the cure and Billy Graham put the question: "Would people call him uncharitable, or evil?" Yet Fr Martin put this in the context of missionary work in India - caring for the lepers. What I took from Fr Martin's message was that so often the Church is reticent to speak the good news, perhaps through feelings of inadequacy on our part, but also more probably because we actually aren't sure that God loves all people and sent Jesus to die for them.
So, for instance, in the back of our minds we think we can't proclaim God's love to those who see themselves apart from the Church, because we reason that God can only love them when they do become part of the Church ... This is, of course, a nonsense. God loves all people. Jesus died for all people. If we explained to such they might actually believe, and come and join us and disturb our solitude and position where people look up to us.
The feast of the Transfiguration is not when the work of God was done in Christ. For all it's importance, the real work was done on the Cross - in amongst the crowds of the festival, the fickle mob and the conniving authorities. The jibes and the pain, which we all, myself included, not particularly unnaturally, try to avoid.
And our real work too is done, not in the prayers and devotion of this quiet sanctuary, but in the real world to which we return. And it is done in our acceptance of all those around us as legitimate objects of the love of God made manifest in the death and resurrection of our saviour Jesus Christ.
The work of God is in our day to day lives - not as we escape to this or that other place - but as we stick with it - doing our "duty in that state of life it shall please God to call me" - a quotation from the old catechism. Our duty is to try to get on with those around us - not to become religious.
The importance of the feast of the Transfiguration is that it prepared Jesus for the journey ahead - it reassured him before he went to do the work of God in Jerusalem. In the same way the baptism of Jesus, (quite significantly) a similar experience, reassured Jesus prior to doing battle with the devil in the wilderness.
So we too here in Church are reassured that we are also God's children as we go out into the community that God has put about us, into the family God has blessed us with, to be supportive and encouraging. Of course none of us are here alone, worshipping God. There is a community here in which we are bidden to be supportive and encouraging.
Here in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, Jesus genuflects to us, reassuring us that we are sons and daughters of God, that Jesus died for us; that we might take the message that baptised or no, communicants or no, Jesus died for one and for all. We and all people are that precious to God.
I am very grateful for the words of Fr Robert Cromey, Rector of Trinity Church in San Francisco, for his words on Spirituality:
"Spirituality is the newest chic style in church life. (There is) an expensive rug called
a labyrinth. Religionists walk around in it so they can get spiritually high. Safe, non-controversial and quiet are values popular now in the church. In the General Theological Seminary Bookstore from 1953-1956 there was a tiny half shelf of books on spirituality. Now that section takes up six six-foot cases of bookshelves.
(He continues:) "Robert McAfee Brown, the Presbyterian theologian, writes "spirituality" is the most dangerous word in the Christian vocabulary. He means that the emphasis prevalent in the church today on prayer, Bible study and developing one's spiritual life unhooks the Christian from the moral and action-oriented demands of the faith. Brown quotes Leonardo Boff, "Prayer is not the first thing that a person does. Before praying one experiences an existential shock." Now listen and read a word from Karl Barth, "To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."
"Over the forty years I have been a priest I have seen the rise of spirituality in the church and the decline of social action and concern for (those on the margins of society) ...
"No book I have ever read on spirituality fails to proclaim that the spiritual life calls us to action. They say we should go out into the world and serve the Lord. The trouble is none of those authors do it. Few of those spiritual types push the church and society cause change in the conditions that oppress the human beings on this planet."" (Unfortunately it has been taken off the Internet at the URL where the whole paper once resided, otherwise I would commend the whole paper to you.)
But it is not an issue "out there". In this parish, with our beautiful church, is this our Transfiguration, our time of solitude and quiet, which we too would like to last forever? But no, we have to eat and drink and sleep and get on with other people, people who often worry or trouble us. God here calls us his sons and daughters, God genuflects to one and to all, here in this place, to enable us to go down to the plain, to mix with real people and to be a blessing for them also. For that is where the real work of God is done by us - or not.
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