The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s147g06 Internet Only Feast of the Transfiguration 26/2/2006
"let us make three dwellings" Mark 9.5
What a curious thing -- why would you instinctively reason that you would have to make three dwellings -- one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah? My perverse mind wonders if there is an assumption that Jesus wouldn't get on with the other two .. ? Or I suppose -- to be more Christian -- the assumption that Moses and Elijah wouldn't get on with Jesus? :-)
It is another curious thing that I begin to prepare this sermon when I am not entirely certain of the dwelling waiting for me. I have here to acknowledge the efforts of Fr Max and Fr Howard in seeking out suitable accommodation for me in my new position. I step out in faith, but constantly reassured that everything that can be done will be done to smooth my moving. And I am very grateful.
But the dwellings that Peter wanted to build here described are not the usual sort of domestic dwelling such has been arranged for me -- these booths are quite different -- they are a refuge and an excuse to not return to the real world.
We are tempted to think of the Transfiguration as simply the vision that came to Peter, James and John, "apart, by themselves". But the Transfiguration, in its entirety, encompasses the whole, the vision plus the injunction to the inner sanctum of the disciples to "listen to him" and the coming down from the mountain, back into the real world.
Peter, James and John were told by God to listen to Jesus. Again, what a curious thing! The founder of the early Gentile Church, the leader of the early Jewish Church and John, who was to write the Gospel, letters and the Revelation -- were told by God, in no uncertain terms -- to listen to Jesus. It could be fairly argued that they were most likely doing this already -- why on earth would God in what must be admitted is a fairly rare occurrence -- breaking the virtual silence for all of eternity -- tell the chief disciples to do something that they were already doing? But to continue to listen to Jesus they too would have to climb down from their mountain, following Jesus as he went down as well.
The temptation for them was as powerful as the temptation that faces each and every one of us, to avoid returning to the real world. This is the essence of not listening to Jesus -- to try to remain separate, apart from the "hoi polloi". (My internet search to check the spelling tells me that the "hoi polloi" are the common masses, the opposite of the high and mighty; the "hoity-toity" :-)
If God was ready to break his (or her) almost invariable silence to tell the three chief disciples to listen to Jesus when they seemed to be doing this already, we should not be surprised to hear the same words in Church. It may seem as if we are listening as they seemed to be, but appearances can indeed be deceptive.
As I reflect on this passage, the transfiguration is remarkably similar to the incarnation: the leaving of the glory behind and the coming into the real world amongst real people. The purpose of the transfiguration is the same as the incarnation, to come and be a part of humanity, recognise the good in others, rather than just somewhere else, in some especially sacred place to which only some select few are privy and criticising everyone else.
Listening, being a part of the mass of ordinary humanity, without any pretensions to greatness -- this is what we are called to do. And this is transforming. My mind returns to Jesus' words "Who are my mother and my brothers?" It was those listening to him rather than his "relations" outside.
Now it might be thought that the message of this sermon is an injunction to read the Bible, and I suppose that this is not a bad thing to do. But if our bible reading puts us above others so that we think of ourselves as more spiritual than others, then we've climbed a mountain and seen the glory of God, but want to remain there. We need to continue to listen to Jesus, and Jesus is always found in others, in real people, people God has put around us.
Likewise it might be thought that the message of this sermon is an injunction to come to church, and I suppose that this is not a bad thing to do. But if our church attendance puts us above others so that we think of ourselves as more spiritual than others, then we've climbed a mountain and seen the glory of God, but want to remain there. We need to continue to listen to Jesus, and Jesus is always found in others, in real people, people God has put around us.
We are told that as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded the disciples to remain silent about what they had seen. Nothing was more important than the coming down to be among ordinary people. No vision on the mountain, not the words of the Lord God almighty, not a blinding light such as stopped Paul in his tracks on the way to Damascus, no conversion experience; all these things have to be put aside, forgotten about completely -- in our efforts to be at one with others.
Many evangelical Christians look back to a time of their conversion, a precious moment in their lives, which often sustains them on their Christian journey for many years. And I would be the last person to criticise this sustaining. But I suspect that if it sets one apart from others, then that sustaining will eventually dry up. It might be encouraged as one shares with others who have had similar experiences, but I suspect that even this will become cloying over time. In my experience, it is when I break out of those circles of like-minded individuals that further sustaining comes.
Of course there are in fact few Anglicans like-minded to me :-). But when I'm amongst Anglicans it seems one talks in "Anglican-speak" about matters Anglican. Often it revolves around who is doing what in the Diocese -- matters political. The most interesting spiritual conversations I have are with my Yoga teacher. I suppose the same things I say about Anglicans getting together apply equally as well to those into Yoga. They are as likely to talk about things Yoga together and they would rejoice to have something different in terms of conversation.
I was talking a while back about the myth I was brought up believing, that Australia is essentially a monochromatic society, which really was never true. But there is also the myth that everyone in the Anglican Church believes in the same things. We have a model of discipleship that is remarkably like conformity. So we skirt around our differences when speaking our Anglican-speak, and we fail to be encouraged by the variety of differences in our real beliefs, which complement our own.
I have often had cause to think that Anglicans are good when it comes to giving money for church buildings; it is where we can make a lasting mark on our society; a not especially dissimilar motivation to those who make their mark in less acceptable and less permanent ways in graffiti. It is much more difficult finding the ongoing costs to provide a stipend and allowances for a priest. But the booths we build can become all consuming and they can just as easily set us apart from other people, and this, if taken to the extreme will find us not listening to Jesus, not amongst real people who deserve our encouragement.
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