The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s202g10 The Transfiguration 14/2/2010
'they saw .. Moses and Elijah, talking to him' Luke 9.30
In the novel 'Barchester Towers' the former hospital chaplain Septimus Harding takes his replacement Mr Quiverful to meet the old men who were formerly in his care. 'Arm in arm they walked into the inner quadrangle of the building, and there the five old men met them. Mr Harding shook hands with them all, and then Mr Quiverful did the same .. 'It is a great satisfaction to me to know that so good a man is coming to take care of you, and that it is no stranger, but a friend of my own' ..' said Mr Harding (Anthony Trollope ch 52)
How often have businesses gone to the wall because of the lack of succession planning. It is all about the FUTURE, it is not about the past or the present.
Matthew and Mark do not know what Moses and Elijah said to Jesus, but Luke tells us that they 'were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem'. Actually the details of their conversation were unimportant, for Jesus was about to leave his disciples and THEY would have to take over the mission he started. The message was for Peter, James and John, that they were to become leaders of the fledgling community.
Jesus was leaving the church in the hands of very unlikely people, one who was to deny him, others to argue over who was the greatest. They were not the theological or spiritual 'movers and shakers'. The church is incarnated into the real world and led by ordinary and very fallible people. To elevate anyone to sainthood or infallibility is to remove them from the company of the ordinary and the fallible. Indeed it is only in the acceptance of the ordinary and the fallible that the church is what it is meant to be.
I spoke about the transfiguration being about the future. So often the church looks ever to the past and to others. If we look to the future it is most often with dread because others refuse to sanctify the past like we have been taught to do. But Jesus turns this all around, for he sanctifies people as they are, by acceptance and inclusion. The transfiguration invites us to look to the future and to look to our selves and others as the locus of the work of God.
So the transfiguration is not a past event but something that invites us into transfiguration, to no longer cower in deference but to stand before the Almighty along with each and every other one of God's creatures.
So where is transfiguration in this world? Surely it is not a resurrection of the past! In their front page editorial for last Sunday / Monday the writer of Anglicans Online said: 'Often we're confronted frequently by resounding silence when someone suggests that those who wish to rewind the church to one more resembling TFODTOS must accept that divorce and remarriage would not be possible in such a church. .. It isn't possible, it seems to us, to accept the church's expanded understanding of its historic position on divorce and remarriage without allowing an expanded understanding just what marriages the church can countenance and whether marriage in church is possible for those attracted to their own sex. (As the Biblical evidence for Our Lord's position on divorce quite clear, the church's enlargement of the understanding of marriage and divorce was nothing less than seismic.) Similarly, a revision in the understanding of Holy Orders that made it possible for women to be ordained to the priesthood would have been unknown within TFODTOS. As well, the understanding of Holy Orders within denominations outside the Anglican Communion changed dramatically in the early 20th century, as well. In the US Episcopal Church from its beginnings, it was impossible for a minister from, say, the Presbyterian Church to preach from the pulpit of any parish. As alien as it may seem to us, such ministers were regarded essentially as lay people, not having had the charism of Episcopal ordination. Do those who invoke TFODTOS in the States wish to return to that historic understanding?' I read this front page religiously every week. http://anglicansonline.org/
The transfiguration transfigures our existence by giving us authority to move on. If it isn't it is a quaint but unlikely historical event of no real significance. The transfiguration means we can leave the past where it belongs, we can leave original sin to those who clutch on to it so ferociously, and look to the future with some expectation that it will not be another rerun of what has gone before, an eternal ground-hog day. The god who would condemn us to eternal reruns is a demon and no God. Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner were one of my favourite cartoons and they were funny as long as you weren't Wile E Coyote. But endless reruns would get boring.
And I note that God appears when Jesus, Moses and Elijah come and talk together. God comes in power when religious traditions communicate, one with another. Matthew remembers Jesus, in his discourse on forgiveness, saying: 'For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18.20) Again, we are encouraged to take this personally and forget that it is more likely to be appropriately applied corporately. It is the transfiguration, the holy synod of the legal, prophetic and sacrificial aspects of Judaism, when God speaks. And God speaks, not for the benefit of Moses, Elijah or Jesus, but for the benefit of Peter, James and John the representatives of the institutional, legal and mystical aspects of the new faith. God appears when these come together, not when they separate themselves off one from another.
Do we think that Jesus is present when 'two or three' in a prayer group spend some time in mutual admiration and corporate denigration of others who aren't present? Do we think Jesus is present in our congregations when we spend our time congratulating ourselves on making it to church and complaining about others who 'haven't made the effort'? Do we think Jesus is present in our diocesan Synods that are largely concerned with our identity and self-preservation? Do we think Jesus is present in the mega churches where thousands gather to praise God in the name of Jesus, rather than Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, the creation, the dreamtime or whoever?
When we talk to people of other faiths and people of no faith, with mutuality and respect, then no doubt God will appear powerfully also. All separation in the name of God actually denies God to people to others certainly, but also to our selves! The separatist church becomes an agent of alienation, not communion.
The transfiguration is a promise to be grasped, as God blesses our communion with all others.
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