The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s202e07 Transfiguration 18/2/2007
'all of us .. are being transformed' 2 Cor 3.18
On the 5th of February I 'celebrated' the 30th anniversary of my ordination as a deacon though riding a little 250cc motorcycle 1158 kms across a very hot Australian desert highway is hardly a way to celebrate such an anniversary :-)! It was curious that I happened to be invited to preach at the Taize service on the 3rd in the very Cathedral where I was ordained, particularly now that I am living in another state of Australia so far away. How much has changed in those 30 years for me, for the church and indeed for the world.
When I was given a copy of the 'Ad Clerum' in 1977 in Adelaide there was a rule that no layperson was allowed to read the Epistle! We were still called the Church of England. There was no provision for remarriage after divorce. Most places were still using the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The ordination of women was not even being discussed. The status of gay and lesbian people was not mentioned.
But as I say, the world has also changed enormously. The general use of contraceptives has liberated women from a life entirely devoted to childbearing and the advent of television has meant that people find enlightenment from places other than the pulpit and groups centred on the parish church.
I was surprised to find that it was John Lennon who wrote: 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans' in his song 'Beautiful Boy'.
A recent editorial on Anglicans Online says: 'We hear arguments that 'In the past we did it this way' or 'It should be done the way it has always been done'. The word 'Tradition' refers to the past. The Past. But which past is The past? Last week? Last year? Your childhood? My childhood? The early years of my country? The year my favourite hymn was written? We've found that if we dive into a discussion with someone who wants 'to do things as they've always been done', and press for details about what they really mean, that 'always been' refers to that person's childhood, or memories of childhood. The hymns we sang when I was six years old.'
I suspect that many Anglicans think that the church we belong to has been like it is now forever - when in fact the Church has changed enormously, and thanks be to God that it has! No thinking person can still sing: 'The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate, God made them, high or lowly, And order'd their estate' (Cecil Frances Alexander 1823 1895 A&MS #573 vs3 1924) and assume that this is ordained for all time and nothing should be done about it. Curiously my copy of 'The Methodist Hymn Book' of 1904 #875 omits this verse as does my Congregational Church Hymnal of 1933 #713. It begs the question as to why the Anglican hymnal should not demur to use such an elitist verse, and rather more congregational churches realise the error. I have little doubt that what we sing in hymns actually has a good deal more impact on what we believe than what might be spoken from the pulpit or recited in the creed.
I recall an elderly parishioner once saying to me that I would change the hymnal being used in the church 'over his dead body'. He wanted to retain the Ancient and Modern Revised book which was set for choirs and I wanted to change to the then new Australian Hymn Book because that was set for congregational singing. Well - he did die - and soon after we found some money to purchase new hymn books.
When I was ordained I promised to use the 'Book of Common Prayer' and none other except as permitted by lawful authority. Nowadays clergy regularly use their own words for parts of the service, and no doubt this is a good thing even if I still find myself uncomfortable with the practice. I have had to review my own perceptions and one of those perceptions is the recitation of the Nicene Creed in worship in a mental hospital.
I have had to review my own perceptions that marriage is a life long sacrament, that love conquers all, that God will favour those who worship him. I was recently reading the account of the temptations in the wilderness and the words of the devil came to me: "I will give you all .. if you worship me'. It is the devil who promises personal blessings in exchange for worship not God. Look out for these words in next week's gospel.
My point is this have we not changed? Is not transfiguration all around us - while we're busy making other plans?
The latest issue of 'Market Place' has an article about the new Archbishop of Melbourne meeting people in public spaces there. His itinerary will be published on the diocesan website (www.melbourne.anglican.com.au) and he will regularly update his blog with his findings. Here is someone who is embracing people and the future and no doubt it will be transfiguring. No doubt others have other plans for him!
The communications revolution that surrounds us all means that we hear about so much more and can formulate our own views. The days when people spent their whole lives within a 5 mile radius of where they were born are long gone and thanks be to God. Women now have almost as many choices in life as men and praise the Lord that this is so and may it continue.
And even personally, the fact that God blesses people other than those who worship God, worship God in a particular tradition, or worship God with an especial fervour is good news, for it means that there is a possibility of peace for this world.
When I preached last Saturday at the Taize service I spoke about lay people being 'at one' with ordinary people rather more than clergy, and so lay people, like Jesus, are more effective agents of forgiveness, atonement, and enlightenment than clergy. I was speaking from the text Hebrews 2.17: 'Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.' Since I said that I have realized how true this is. Looked at in the reverse, there are not too many clergy who are suicide bombers, generally they are lay people. If we were actually like our brothers and sisters, we could not blow them up, marginalize them like women have been marginalised, or alienate others, like gay and lesbian people have often been alienated.
So to return to my text, we are all being transfigured into .. becoming like our brothers and sisters in every respect so that all may find forgiveness, atonement and enlightenment.
The journey down that mountain that Jesus and his disciples took, down to the ordinary people at its base was not the inevitable fading of a fleeting glory, but in fact the real transfiguration - the one that would continue forever - that continues to this day - and that will continue for all time. Jesus and his disciples not remaining on the mountain but being with all people for all time bringing to all forgiveness, atonement and enlightenment.
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