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s147e03 Lockleys 2/3/03 Last Sunday before Lent the Transfiguration

"We do not proclaim ourselves " 2 Cor 4.5

Transfiguration happens to us all. Indeed the 10th of the 39 articles of religion tells us that no one can "do good works pleasant and acceptable before God without the grace of God, preventing us" &endash; the grace of God inspiring us. Now coming to Church is something pleasant and acceptable before God &endash; even if we do not always pleasant and acceptable to us :-) So this means that each and every person here in Church is here, not because you decided you might come, but because God has moved you to do so. So no one has any more right to be here than anyone else &endash; everyone here is here because God has called them. This means that this is not any one person's church &endash; least of all mine. The Church doesn't belong to those who built it, those who maintain it, or those who minister in it. This Church belongs to everyone who walks through that door, because it is God who has called each and everyone here.

God comes to each of us in manifold different ways, for God deals with each of us individually and personally. This individual and personal interaction with God is the substance of the transfiguration we know. Being so personal, it is exceedingly precious and woe betide anyone who denigrates our experience of God. But just as our experience of transfiguration is precious to us, other people's experience of God is equally precious to them &endash; so we are called not to denigrate the experiences of others as we would not like our own experiences of God denigrated.

Some people can point to a particular, unique and powerful conversion experience such as St Paul had on the road to Damascus &endash; but such experiences are hardly the "norm" by which all other experiences are to be compared &endash; usually unfavourably! The reality is that Paul, on his way to Damascus, thought he was going to do the will of God, when in reality he was doing precisely the opposite. And what was he going to do? He was going to stop the ministry of other people who had a different experience of God to himself. The reality is that God does need to use spectacular means to change the minds of misguided religious people when they put down others - whoever they are! We see here that Paul was not stopped in his tracks because he wasn't going to Church, because he was about to rob a bank or break one or other of the ten commandments. He was stopped in his tracks because he was stopping others ministering, in the name of God. This is what God does not allow.

So if we are ordinary sorts of people who are trying to mind our own business and help others where we are able, then God has no need to use such heavy handed tactics - like God had to do to Paul. If we are one of these sorts of people, we should be pleased that this is so, and not envious of those who seem to have had a more "specy" conversion experiences than ourselves.

In his book "Encounter with God" in 1972, Morton Kelsey reports that surveys in America showed that 98% of adults "say that they believe in God" (page 22). I have little doubt that this is based, not on obedience to doctrinal teaching of the Church, or fear of eternal damnation - but on intuitive experience of God of some form or other - for it is on the same page that Morton notes the declining influence of the Church. So the experience of God, in all its variety - far from being unusual - is actually entirely normal. It would be far more unusual to find someone who claimed that they had not experienced anything of the divine. Indeed the most strident atheists are often the most devout humanists and their atheism is a direct result of their experiencing the Church failing to be humane.

What has happened in the Church is that experiences of the divine are categorised into the "Christian" camp and the "non-kosher" type. If we do this, how we miss out! The reality is that if Jesus hasn't been raised to life, if God allowed the powerful religious to get their way in stopping Jesus from blessing others &endash; none of these experiences - "Christian" or "not-so-kosher" &endash; would in fact continue to occur. So the very diversity of experiences of God in other people is our best guarantee of the resurrection of Christ.

Again - the paradigm of the religious authorities trying to stop God blessing the experiences of others which lead to the Cross &endash; is clear.

Indeed of course, often the Church still spends its time questioning the reality of the experiences of the divine that other Christians have, and that other Anglicans have. In a paper for the Archdeaconry Strategy meetings next week, the Rev'd Peter Stuart of the Ministry Development Council states in our own Diocese: "From time to time Anglicans use terms such as "liberal-catholic" or "evangelical" to describe themselves, their parish and their diocese. Each description is limited. The use of such descriptors may not lead to an affirmation of diversity; rather it may result in polarisation. There are some people representing church traditions that state that they feel marginalised, particularly people who prefer an "evangelical" style." (page 9).

Actually, if my experience of the Church is anything to go by, most parishes perceive themselves to be quite distinct and unique, thus giving them a "raison d'être" - a reason for the Diocese to keep them going in preference to neighbouring parishes. Similarly the myth that a parish has a common spirituality accepted by all people in the parish - is precisely that - just a myth. Parishes might be "evangelical" or "catholic" on the surface but there is little or no consensus of what these terms actually mean. A minister might think people are 100% behind him or her, but I suspect that is because no one questions whether this is so in any sort of rigourous way.

So if Anglicans regularly question the sincerity or reality of other Anglican's experiences of God, it is even less likely that we are open to the experiences of those who we perceive to be outside the Christian faith. In doing so we will fail to be uplifted by the shear diversity of experiences a whole range of people have. If one looks at that figure &endash; that 98% of people have had some experience of God &endash; this means we have something in common with 98% of all humanity &endash; and isn't that something to think about!

For the difficulty is that we can look at our moments of transfiguration and think that they make us something special and distinct from others. These moments certainly do make us special but in fact their importance is that they make us the same as everyone else &endash; and so they enable us to talk about things of the spirit to all sorts of people as equals and with mutual respect.

St Paul tells us: "We do not proclaim ourselves we proclaim ourselves as your slaves " Our transfiguration is not for us alone, but for others as well. Or to put it another way, if our transfiguration serves to put others down, then God's reason for our transfiguration is thwarted.

The church ceases to be the Church when it sees itself as distinct from the community about us. Indeed we effectively try to crucify Jesus anew as we too are affronted that the risen Christ might continue to sit down and eat with people other than ourselves. The church begins to be the Church as we acknowledge and affirm the diverse experiences of God in the lives of those outside (and, of course, inside!) *our ranks*.

I started to read Paul Tillich's book "The Shaking of the Foundations" last week and the 6 chapter where he quotes Psalm 139 - in that lovely old language: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit, Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?". I've never thought about it before - how could people who know God and enjoy being is the kingdom, want to flee from this gracious God?! But then I thought, this is precisely what the religious authorities of Jesus' day wanted to do, because the word of Jesus was that the kingdom didn't just include them - and it is precisely this that they could not countenance.

If our exercise next week in our Archdeaconry Strategy meetings doesn't embrace this &endash; then I do not believe we can expect God to bless us and we can expect the Church to decline for all we manipulate the structures.

But I do not want, on such a feast as this, on this last Sunday before Lent, when we are supposed to think of ourselves as miserable sinners, to end on a negative note. Transfiguration continues to regularly occur, to you and to me. As I said at morning tea last Sunday - I continue to find new insights as I look at the readings and begin to prepare a new sermon each week - if I didn't I would give up. But it is not something magical or mysterious that enables this to happen. It is precisely the conception that God blesses other people too - that I find examples again and again throughout the pages of scripture - in places I hadn't even thought to look - and each delights me. I am no one special and so I am sure that anyone who cares to look with the same eyes will see and see more the truth here.



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