s202e01 Somerton Park 25/2/2001 Last before Lent, the Transfiguration.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17.
(This sermon has become something of a preface on spiritual experience, meditation and renewal. It is somewhat shorter because I am having a missionary preacher at the first two of my three services this morning. I should like to have had the necessity to produce a full sermon to refine my thoughts, which are still in the germination stage. However that will probably require time and thought. It is a "work in progress" - as I have come to realise are most of my sermons. :-)
I suppose that we would all, when we hear the words of the story of Jesus transfigured on the high mountain, consider it to be the spiritual experience "par excellence". The occasion of speaking with such worthy ancient religious figures, with such amazing changes of appearance is quite wonderful. And there are of course some people who are somewhat mentally challenged who claim that God has spoken to them ... The current push for de-institutionalisation for some people means that we as the public will have more contact with such people than ever before. And, by and large, most are harmless, and it is inappropriate that all be locked away for the sake of a few who are violent. Though it is a pity that society is not more of a community to be of assistance to some who need more than the usual care. "Normal" life is fairly alienated and alienating, sadly.
It is worthwhile pointing out that while Jesus was certainly praying to God, Jesus was only talking with Moses and Elijah - it is Moses and Elijah who appear. Even in this spiritual experience "par excellence" Jesus was not alone. He was with others.
And this marks this spiritual experience as one "of God" - whereas the majority of those suffering delusions is that their experiences come when they are alone. It may be that they are in fact in a group of people, but all the while they are self-possessed with no real contact with those around them. They are too occupied with wrestling with that which ails them to consider what effect that they are having on others. No, God comes to us, not as individuals, but as part of a group, where the experience can be evaluated and shared.
And the second thing I notice is that when God speaks, it is not to Moses, or to Elijah, or to Jesus. The words of God, "This is my son, my Chosen, listen to him" are directed at Peter, John and James. We can presume that Moses and Elijah were well aware of who Jesus was, and that they had no need to take notice of Jesus' words.
So this spiritual experience "par excellence" was not actually for Jesus, it was for the disciples, and so by extension it is for us, who follow as disciples.
And so any spiritual experience that we may have had, has never been for us, to magnify our power and authority over others, but for others, that they may be magnified.
The words of God are obvious to those who hear them - those with ears that are open for them. There is some evidence of personal authority which impresses themselves on us. The authority is obvious - it doesn't need to be pointed out or explained.
However inextricably linked to that personal authority is that our freedom is respected.
Immediately after the transfiguration on the mountain, we are told of this spirit - possessed boy. This unclean spirit robbed the youth of being able to control his own actions and life. So unclean spirits rob us of our self determination and self control; clean spirits enhance our self determination and self control. So any exercise of power which seeks to control others, even if it is done for the others "own good", is not of God.
I find it exceedingly significant that Moses did not know that the skin on his face shone. Whether he actually possessed a mirror I don't know, nor do I know whether he would have seen his face shining, had he looked in a mirror.
We too are most frequently unaware of the presence of God in our own lives, when in fact it is quite clear to others. Again this is an expression of the same truth, that such gifts and talents as we have been given are not for our own self glorification, but for the encouragement and upbuilding of those around us.
One of the things I have always had much difficulty with is meditation. The last thing I could ever do is sit quietly by myself, chanting a mantra, and being transported to other levels of consciousness. Perhaps others can do this - I wont speak of what I don't know. St Paul speaks of himself being "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2), but he prefers to boast of his weeknesses.
My own "debriefing", for want of a better word, happens as I walk along the foreshore at Glenelg. I need the presence of other people, even if only to be amongst, to allow my thought processes to take over. And it came to me recently that no book on meditation I've read talks about the necessity of being with others to assist in meditation - but I should immediately add that I've not read all that many - so I could well be wrong here. William Johnston in his book "Silent Music" comments in a chapter on Meditation and Intimacy: "But what interests me here is that not infrequently deep interpersonal relations and intimacy are associated with profundity in meditation." (p141) It would be my suspicion that relationships initiate and generate meditative states without us having to manufacture them ourselves. Johnston sees intimacy and friendship as the goal of meditation. I wonder if it is not in fact the starting point and the driving force. I think I should now be wary of any form of solitary meditation, especially by a person without a spiritual director. If Jesus needed Moses and Elijah, we too need the guidance and support of others.
And St Paul talks about both boldness and freedom in this passage. We might focus on the boldness and consider that we are being given a mandate to tell others what they should and shouldn't do. But along with this we have also to allow others the freedom to choose. And if they choose a path we consider inappropriate, there is no point in raising our voices, and giving our orders ever more insistently. We cannot take away another's right to choose. But there is another sort of boldness, the sort of boldness that Jesus exhibited, as he was not afraid to be in anyone else's company. He wasn't afraid of ritual defilement. He was bold in his acceptance of other people, their company and their hospitality. This sort of boldness honours othhers, allowing others their space and recognising the validity of their decisions. This sort of boldness engenders in others an acceptance of others too.
The Spirit is ever given to hear and recognise the words of the alien and to respond in their language. It is never given to the alien to understand our language, the language of the Church. So spiritual experiences always take us out of ourselves and our own concerns, and direct us toward understand others.
It is my observation of the various "renewals" within the Church, purported to be movements of the Spirit, that eventually they run out of steam. I suspect that this is because there is a limit to the number of people who one can get to follow a particular "way". I have been told that some movements then go down the path of increasing legalism to retain their fervour. So I understand some pentecostal churches, originally very open to the ministry of women, "mature" into institutions restricting women to more subserviant roles. However if renewals were to look to the evidence of the Spirit outside of themselves, they would find themselves naturally enriched and blessed. So efforts to renew the Church might be useful in the short-term, but unless they follow Jesus in our acceptance of the other, they will not be lasting.
The whole of the gospel story is not about the long ago event on the high mountain when the Son of God was given a clean set of "clobber" to make him presentable in Jerusalem. The gospel is about the transfiguration of the whole of society, you and I and all people, corporately.
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