Sermon Preached Sunday February 25 2001
Today is not the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is on August 6, but the readings are of the episode which was of such significance that all three Gospel writers include it in their accounts.
In Hong Kong last October I was invited for a walk. After a twenty minute drive, which is about as long as you can drive in Hong Kong without going into mainland China or dropping off into the sea, we reached a place to park and went on a walk. I never knew what to expect, which was a good thing because in temperatures in which I would normally be seated on a wooden bench in a sauna we began a walk over something called the Devil's Back. This walk took hours, after which I was somewhat tired and greatly appreciative of a long rest. But I was surprised when we reached the top of the mountain ridge, it gave me a view of Hong Kong which I had not expected, vast mountains covered in forest, sandy beaches and beautiful seas. I was glad that I had been and it was hardly believable when we left to be back in the incredibly busy city life that it normality in Hong Kong.
The mountain provided a time of space, away from the hustle and the bustle and the hurry. I wonder what the disciples expected when they set off with Jesus that afternoon? Peter, James and John all off on a walk up a Mountain. I wondered how much of a walk this mountain would be. Tradition has it that it was Mount Tabor in Lower Galilee. Opinion seems divided on how tall it was between about 1,600 and 1900 feet, but the surrounding area is quite low and so it dominates the landscape. But as I looked at a picture of it, it didn't seem as high as my mountain in Hong Kong. Did they think that they would have time to look out over this sights the place where the Israelite general Barak had triumphed over the Canaanite leader Sisera (11c BC) in the time of the judge and prophetess Deborah. Would they have an intimate conversation among the four of them? A chance to talk Jesus out of that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving or losing their lives?
Of course, whatever they expected, they got much more than they bargained for on that mountain: a dazzling experience of the holy, an encounter with the transcendent, Christ transfigured before their very eyes. Biblical scholar Eduard Schweitzer said that
"for a brief moment the curtain . . . is drawn aside," and the disciples are "allowed to see in Jesus something of the glory of God and God's kingdom, of that other life to which human eyes are otherwise blind."
It is important for us to remember the fact that Jesus is · more than the fellow from next door, · more than a good buddy with whom we can walk and talk, · more than a good example for our children and our grandchildren to emulate. Jesus is nothing less that God in human flesh. We all need time to be transfigured I do not want this sermon to turn into, we all need to take time out. That is not the point of this story. The message is that we all need to set time aside away from the normal routine to be with God. Sometimes I think we forget this. We fall into our daily routines without a thought about the divinity that surrounds us, without any real awareness of the power that surrounds us and holds us up. We have business to do, we have people to see, we have kids to move from A to B to C and back again. And in the bustle —in the hurry—in the work that we do we loose track of where we are going; we lose track of whose we are and what has been promised to those who are attentive to him. We all need to take time to spend in the presence of God.
In the Gospel of Luke we read how important it was for Jesus to pray. At the key moments of life he speaks with God and prays. If it was important for Jesus to take time out to be away from the normal activity of life, how much more do we need that time too. This year our Lent course will be on the Lord's Prayer, and it is my prayer that as we think afresh about praying as Jesus taught us, we will all be brought closer to God and experience his presence as those disciples did so clearly. Life is never going to be all mountain top experience, human life is not like that. We are all trapped within mortal bodies, with far too many things crowding around us. But if we are always in the valleys and we never know God's presence to be with us, then we need to listen to things like the Lords' Prayer. We need to capture some of the power which is available to us to enable us to cope through life.
Somebody said we are what we eat. I am sure that you have all seen pink flamingos? Of course flamingos aren't pink all their lives? When they are hatched they are an entirely different colour. When flamingos are very little, they are green. By the time they are three years old, flamingos turn from green to pink. It's because of what they eat! Flamingos eat two kinds of food, sea algae and shrimp. The sea algae and the shrimp cause the flamingo to change colours, from green to pink. Because of the kinds of food that flamingos put into their bodies, they eventually change colours.
Our spiritual lives are very much the same, what we put into them has a very important effect in terms of what we get out. If you are afraid today, if you are troubled. Then the very best things that you can do is to Take time to step aside for a while, to find the quiet space in which you can pour out your heart to God, to climb the mountain of transfiguration and to fix your eyes upon God's presence, to pray—and to listen.
The three disciples were invited to see Jesus for who he really was and it was a very special invitation. But that invitation has now been extended to each one of us. Each one of us is invited to climb the mountain, each one of us is invited to enter the holy of holies, into the place where God abides. We experience the mountain top so that we may come back down I am sure the disciples, before they left the mountain that day, glanced wistfully over their shoulders at the place where things had been so clear for them. They must have hated to leave that place of ecstacy, contentment and vision, especially with the earlier stark teaching Jesus had given about the inevitability of suffering for those who would follow him, still ringing in their ears. We too look over our shoulders. There's a Peter in each of us, wanting to hold on to the special moments that feel so special and unending. But of course this is not the end. We then carry the light that shines upon us in these places into the world—into the place where not only we see it—but others may see it as well.
I hope that everybody in the Partnership knows how we organise our decision making processes. Decisions at the highest level affecting our two churches are taken by the Partnership Council. They were the people responsible for the decision making on behalf of our churches surrounding the appointment of our new Minister. At their last meeting they made an interesting decision. They agreed that an advertisement would be placed in the Beds on Sunday similar to that placed at Christmas. In this advertisement we would mention Easter and invite people to our special services. It was also decided to put a free offer, if children come to church and present the advert cut out then they can receive a free Cadbury's Creme Egg!
Now before we go any further I want to say that this was not my idea. It might sound like it was my idea but it was not. However I do thoroughly approve. It is wonderful as a minister to be surrounded by a body of people like the Partnership Council, but more so when they are a group which is outward looking and concerned with the Mission of the church. I don't really care if it is a daft idea, which it is not, the important point is that they are not just asking 'how can we have a nice Easter in church' they are actively looking at ways in which we as churches can communicate with those outside of the church community the good news of Easter. This is what we as a church exist to do. Mission is at the most fundamental level of critical importance to the life of our church. As a church stops engaging in the process of mission it is as if a body stops breathing. Mission is at the core of our being as individuals and as a church. If we cease to consider it to be of fundamental importance to go then we rapidly turn in on ourselves and become nothing more that a cosy club for like minded people. Emil Brunner nicely sums up this simple truth in one inescapable sentence. "The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning." No burning, no fire. No mission, no church. Churches which have tried to ignore it, make church into a private club, a comfortable chaplaincy, and a fund-raising and fund-dispersing organisation. But churches that ignore the call to active mission dwindle and die. In contrast, churches that make mission their focus thrive - whether they are large or small, the spirit in congregations that look outward rather than inward generates the light of Christ and attracts new life.
Mission cannot exist without missionaries—people who go forth and enter into relationships with other people in the name and spirit of Christ, whether going means across the street or across the world. It used to be that as Christians we were told that if we did not escalate our efforts to communicate and convert then thousands of souls would disappear into hell. With the advent dare I say it of a softer more liberal preaching which prefers to leave the details of divine judgement to the divine, there can be a tendency to say 'well it doesn't really matter that much we can leave the whole things to God and everything will turn out alright in the end.' Well this might be a very helpful interpretation for us to put on the bible, but it is most certainly not an accurate reflection of the command which Jesus gave to his disciples and does not capture the urgency with which they interpreted his words. As Christians we understand our message to hold the very keys of eternal life as such we must be willing to go and work out our faith in order that others might believe.
I want to be very clear what I mean by Mission in this sense. As Christians we use the word in all kinds of ways to include sharing our financial resources, working with charities, all manner of Christians good works. However, specifically Christians are charged to make disciples, to bring into the family of the church those from outside who have not appreciated that through Jesus Christ we can now become children of God's Kingdom. We can share many thoughts about how this can accomplished, how we must be careful and respect the views of others, how our Christian actions must match our words. This conversation however only takes place once we have accepted the imperative that we as Christians must go.
I hope and pray that this Lent we might all be able to have time to spend in prayer and bible reading and in thinking a bit more about our faith. We might not have a 'mountain top experience,' but as we spend time with God we will be uplifted and grow in our faith. Then as we grow we will be more empowered to share our faith with others. Amen.