The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r202.htm
s202g98 Last Sunday after the Epiphany / Transfiguration 21/2/98 Somerton Park
"Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"" Luke 9:35.
A note to the liturgically conscious. The feast of the Transfiguration has become much more prominent in the Anglican Communion since the 1927 Deposited Book in England included it as a feast on August the 6th - which I personally think is a good thing. The three year cycle of readings included the feast as the gospel for the second Sunday in Lent. This position is at least prior to Holy Week and Easter, so it puts it in its place chronologically in the earthy ministry of Jesus - and it is celebrated each year on a Sunday - which is even better. In the RCL it is now optional to have a special feast as the Sunday next before Lent as a celebration of the feast. I have not yet made up my mind about this. I suspect the move is motivated by a desire to make the Sundays in Lent more penitential. As I have often said however - the BCP makes it plain that all Sundays, including those in Lent are feast days. I note the desire to make Sundays in Lent more penitential in the long standing tradition in the Anglican Church not to have flowers in Church during Lent and to omit the "Gloria" following the Catholic tradition. Can any celebration of the Eucharist totally focus on penitence and be bereft of joy? I wonder what this says about what we have to present to those who attend? I am also bemused that the Sundays after Epiphany are now green rather than white. I will be naughty and celebrate the feast today, but in white, before changing to purple (the colour of kings and victory - not penitence - which is sackcloth) next week.
Every time I have climbed a mountain (and it is indeed a long time since I have done so) I've arrived at the top very sweaty and dirty. Recollections of Army Cadet exercises spring to mind. I was pretty dirty and sweaty even at the bottom of the mountain, carrying my ".303". By the time I had got to the top of the hill to sit and ponder the view south down the gulf, being physically transfigured with clothes dazzling white was about the last thing I would have thought of happening let alone wanting.
We have no evidence what so ever that Mary or Joseph had been given the gift of levitation. This might make us smile, but it is important to make the point. We are meant to understand that the voice is of course God's voice. The biblical writers were very cautious about mentioning God's name, or ascribing events or words to God directly. It was not respectful. Sadly this has not always been the case with everyone since. Every Tom, Dick and Harry are want to sprout just what God would or would not do, or what God should or should not do. I am beginning to become particularly conscious of prayers which seem to suggest that we are more aware of what is happening in this world than God is, or rather more perniciously, that we have to remind God to be merciful to the creation, as if we are more readily merciful than God.
When God says "Listen to him!" - what sorts of things do we hear Jesus saying? To the sinner he says: "your sins are forgiven!" (Mr 2:9) To the blind he says: "Your faith has made you well!" (Mr 10:52) To the deaf he says "Be opened!" (Mr 7:34) To the tired he says: "Come unto me all you are heavily laden and I will give you rest!" (Mt 11:28) To the disciples he says: "I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you!" (Joh 15:15) To the dead and buried he says: "Come out!" (Joh 11:43).
All of these examples spoke to the particular people where they were, and addressed the particular needs each of them had. So when Jesus speaks to us we can expect him to speak to us personally, not laying upon us difficult or unusual tasks, but addressing the real needs we all have.
How has God addressed us? The catechism tells us God addresses us in remarkably similar terms to how God addressed Jesus on the high mountain. It too tells us that at our baptism God tells us that we are "children of God", "members of Christ" and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven", just like Jesus. It is not that others who are not baptised are children of the devil, members of Satan, and candidates for hell - just as Jesus was not these things prior to this affirmation by God. The affirmations of the Church cannot be turned around, and used negatively towards others. The Church, in the name of God tells us that we are "children of God", "members of Christ" and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven". And as I say to my confirmation candidates, there is nothing more for us. The Pope in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the greatest living saint, whoever he or she might be - not one of them are one iota more than a "child of God", "a member of Christ" and "an heir of the kingdom of heaven".
And the service of Holy Communion, whatever else it might be, at it's most basic, this is God's table, God's feast, with God as the host. At the Holy Communion we come into God's presence to share the life of God's family. So by coming we reaffirm we are "children of God", "members of Christ" and "heirs of the kingdom of heaven". Again it is not that if we miss coming then we are less of these things. Indeed in other Christian traditions, where the Holy Communion is not the central act of worship of the Church, or when it was more usual in our Church to have morning and evening prayer as the main services of worship - God sorts these things out, and finds ways to reassure us that we are God's children.
What God is about is enabling us to live life within the community which is around us. To contribute as we are able and to receive the help that others are able to provide us. To be ultimately victorious - not over others - for in fact it is not a competition to sort out who is right and who is wrong. I noticed in the Advertiser a while ago a quote by the writer Gore Vidal: "It is not enough to succeed - others must fail". No, it is to be victorious for other people and for ourselves. The cross shows us that.
We are God's sons and daughters just like Jesus. God has told us that. In the midst of the trials and tribulations of this world, the fact that we are God's sons and daughters unites us to God, to others and to ourselves. We have no need to prove who we are to God, to others or to ourselves, even if proof were possible. God spends his / her existence, quietly reassuring us of this fact which transfigures our whole existence; it brings meaning, purpose and love into our lives.
Coming down from the mountain is also a not uncommon experience, and we too meet others who need to find the peace of God in their own lives, as Jesus met the man with the son who experienced seizures on returning to the plain. The transfiguration was also for the son, and for the father, as some sense of peace and normality returned to their lives. Again in the Advertiser recently, you may have also seen the picture of Prince John, an uncle of Queen Elizabeth (Feb 13 p29). Apparently he was hidden from public view because he was an epileptic, lest he caused embarrassment. How sad to have led a life denied acceptance for whom he was.
We come down from the mountain, because unlike Peter who wanted to keep the glory to themselves, the glory is to be shared in the ordinary lives of people just like you and I, amongst the sweat and dirt of the ordinary existence we share.
And because we see transfiguration in ourselves and others, in the mountain top as well as in the dust, transfiguration is a daily experience ... not a once in a lifetime ... never to be repeated ..
Transfiguration is a way of life, happening daily, as we see God with us and God with others. As I say, sometimes it will be a mountain top experience, at other times it will be as we see transfiguration in another individual as we accept them for who they are, as we affirm that they, like us, are simply children of God, members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. We have only to have eyes to see ...
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