s147e00 Somerton Park Last after Epiphany /Transfiguration 5/3/2000

"We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake. ... we have this treasure in clay jars ... " 2 Corinthians 4:5,7.

It is a wonderful piece of good news that we are called simply to be "clay jars". Indeed in the context St Paul makes it clear that if we try to be more than the clay jars God has made us, we will be obscuring from view the treasure we hold. And isn't this interesting, and this reflects well on how we practice and portray our faith - the more we defend God or Christianity, the more we hide God from view.

Isn't it strange that all my life I have thought that I have to become something different from what I am. I have had this conception that God only relates to me when I am devout or religious, or that my everyday activities have to have some reference to Jesus for them to be "Christian".

While I have no difficulty with ministry and educative courses, we have come to assume that "christian" ministry is when we put on an alb or other vestment and perform some service during public worship. Or it is when we visit in hospital wearing a cross or name-tag with our denominational affiliation over our name. Depending on our particular tradition the most obvious christian ministry is preaching the gospel or celebrating the Holy Communion.

I should think that few, if any, of us escape the pressure to do well, to better ourselves, to give more. I suppose it comes from the highly competitive society in which we live. Young people have to achieve at school to get worthwhile employment. There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting a good job, something where we feel we might make some small but hopefully lasting contribution to humanity.

And yet does this not seem all a bit remote from Jesus? It certainly does to me.

God loves us as we are, not just when we achieve the heights to which we aspire. God loves us as we are, when we fail ourselves as much as anyone else.

We show forth Jesus' love most clearly when we are ourselves. Our ministry or educative courses properly and primarily show us that we are called to be who we are, to accept ourselves, with all our frustrations, foibles and pain; and to accept others in the same measure.

The ultimate "clay jar" is the Cross itself. We see God's actions in this world most clearly and most wonderfully in the Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Cross is, as St Paul would say, a stumbling block and foolishness for those who want to retain a position of authority, either academic, social or moral, over others.

The salvation of the world was achieved not as Jesus was a wonderful and persuasive orator, or as Jesus was able to heal lots of people. No, the salvation of the world was achieved as Jesus accepted the harm done to him by the religious authorities.

Earlier this year, at the feast of the baptism of Jesus, I reflected that God spoke these same great words of affirmation on Jesus at his baptism, before Jesus had said or done anything. Again, before we begin Lent, as our focus turns to the events of the last week of Jesus' life, his cross and resurrection, we find God repeating the same affirmation: "This is my Son, the Beloved .." (Mark 9.6) on the mountain of transfiguration. And I ponder why God considered it necessary for this repetition. Had Jesus forgotten?

God may well have approved the healings, and the words of Jesus that coincided with "orthodoxy" that he had done and said on his way to this point, but Jesus hardly needed God's "well done" for that. Surely the point of God's affirmation was that the ways in which Jesus' actions and words differed from the teaching of the religious authorities had divine approval, otherwise the way of the Cross was in the end, rather pointless. I mean, Jesus may well have been crucified because of a mere misunderstanding. But there was no misunderstanding on behalf of the religious authorities who had Jesus crucified. And the way in which Jesus' actions and teaching most confronted the religious authorities of Jesus' day, was that he sat down and ate with those who were sinners as well as those who considered that Jesus should have been grateful for being invited to their homes.

So when we "proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord" we are proclaiming Jesus the person who was crucified by the religious authorities for sitting down and eating with others. We proclaim Jesus as Lord of all people, whom he loves, even to death, rather than dominates, as he warns his disciples not to do. When we do anything "in the name of Jesus" we are following the model of what Jesus did, and imitating the same actions for which he was crucified. Otherwise, of course, we may well find ourselves imitating the religious authorities, who crucified Jesus.

If our faith does not lead us to be gracious towards those who differ from us, then all our ministry and educative training has been for naught. Our faith leads us to be gracious towards the members of our family, particularly when sibling rivalries occur. Our faith leads us to be gracious towards those of different faiths, because to do anything less would be to dishonour Christ. Our faith leads us to sympathise with those who find faith difficult or even impossible, for surely Jesus felt much the same on the Cross. If there ever was any injustice in the history of humanity, it was surely perpetrated by those whom we would least expect it - the religious authorities.

Perhaps God acted and spoke on the mountain of Transfiguration the same words as those at his baptism, in case Jesus had forgotten. And so the paradigm is set, and I believe continues. God continues to say to us - "You are my daughter, my son". We are told this at our baptism, and it is the essence of what we are told when we come to the Holy Communion, to feast around the table of the Lord, as members of God's family. It is here that word and sacrament make plain that we are the people for whom Christ died.

When we look for what God might want to have to say to us as individuals and to us as humanity, if we were to take the (Anglican) Diocese of Sydney line, we would think that God would be calling us to do everything in our power to stop the Mardi Gras there. But throughout the life time of Jesus, the only words of God heard distinctly and passed on to us are these words "This is (or "You are ...) my son." (Neglecting Jn 12.28 of course.) They were not directions for action, but words of affirmation. So too we hear in our baptism and our communion, not words of direction, but words of affirmation.

And while Jesus might have earned these words by the actions of his life, none of us can claim any merit. So the people who are soon to parade down Darlinghurst Road (or whatever) are also daughters and sons of God, in no less measure than you or I. These people need to hear the same affirmation that we have heard - not platitudinous words of advise about dangerous lifestyles. And we in the Church need to realise that God blesses them and us, for there is no "them" and "us". We are all in the same boat, people of little faith, sinners for whom Christ died, all of us "clay jars".

As I have watched the Mardi Gras on television, their joy and exuberance of life, of course most often tested far more than we can ever know, through prejudice and bullying, shows me something more of God's treasure in "clay jars". It is a joy and exuberance I should care to have more of in my life.

I was delighted to read, in Molly Wolf's "Sabbath Blessing" last Sunday morning the words: "Maybe one of the jobs we have as saints-in-training is simply to laugh, for no particularly good reason, in grey times like this, so that we can lift our own spirits and those of others. Maybe part of the value of our being fools for God is in loosing a fair bit of contagious silliness on the world around us, because God knows, it needs it. Maybe the worst thing we can be at times is too serious, too bound up in this world's pain and evil. Maybe what this world needs most isn't to be lectured on its sins and scolded for its iniquities, but just to be given a good case of the giggles."

On the 18th of February 2000 the Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address to the clergy of the Chelmsford Diocese entitled: "The Way Ahead: Preparing the Church of England for the Challenges of the New Millennium". In it he said: "In this country, as in most of northern Europe, we face a major missionary challenge. We must be realistic: contemporary society is, in significant ways, sometimes hostile to traditional Christian belief and Christian values - however frequently we see God's grace at work in those who do not acknowledge him." The Church must expect hostility, for while we might have seen "God's grace at work in those who do not acknowledge him", the Church has rarely found the voice to express this - the fundamental gospel dynamic - the treasure in "clay jars" all around us, and not neglecting that treasure in ourselves also.

The transfiguration that happened so long ago, was not a one-off special experience for Jesus because he was so special and different from us. He too was just acknowledged as a child of God. Our lives and the lives of all around us, "clay jars" though we might be, are transfigured as we hear God say to us and to all: "You too are my son, my daughter, in you I am well pleased."

 

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