17 February 2003

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In the name of the father, Son and Holy Spirit  Amen

So today we acknowledge, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, and the story of the Transfiguration is one of those stories that occurs in all three of the synoptic Gospels, those Gospels that, if you like, are a narrative of Jesus’ life. Matthew Mark and Luke each tells a story and in each one it is almost the same, there are very few variations in the story there’s a slightly different emphasis in each one and some of them bring out elements that the others don’t. But overall the telling of the solid is fairly solid. One wonders if such an important and miraculous story, though, why the church has made so little of it. It’s pretty good with Christmas and we’re pretty good with Easter, but comes the Transfiguration and in fact we’re not even quite sure where to put it so some churches will celebrate the Transfiguration during Lent, it’s one of the options for a Lent reading, and a number of others will join us today in putting it on the last Sunday after Epiphany.

And the reason that we place it as the last Sunday after Epiphany is that it is a very similar kind of story to the one with which we began the season of Epiphany. So the coming of the Three Wise Men is the story of enlightenment, the story of revelation, a story of something Divine shining through mysteriously and being seen. It’s a big story, some commentators would argue it really completes the story of the Three Wise Men.

We might have a look at it as a story and say, it’s one of those miraculous ones, what part do we play in it? What is it, what is in it for us today? And I think when you begin to look at a story and to say what is in it for me, one of those confusing paths we can go down is how do I need to be transformed? So one reminder is that it is a transfiguration story not a transformation story. The Gospel and the Scriptures are full of calls to us to be different, to transform our lives, to transform ourselves out of the mundane into that which glorifies God constantly. But this is a transfiguration story and I think the difference might be that to be transfigured is not so much an activity that we engage in, in order to bring about something different and more wonderful than us, but rather transfiguration is about having that called out of us and letting it be called out. And so one of the things I think the transfiguration is – we must try and find ourselves open to and attentive to that which does transfigure us, and my sense is that we all do touch it and glimpse it now and again. That which calls us out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. What is it, that force which does that? Now most of the time (oh! Projection…) - some of the time, all of the time, bits of the time, most of the time we can go through the world thinking it’s our force that needs to move us from that place. And I think that’s OK, because I think that’s one energy that we do need to tap into, to recognise that were not just clods of ailment, we are actually lights that are kindled to burn, and we can obviously do something about that ourselves. But when in the darkness – and the darkness can actually be that really deep, all-pervasive darkness where you are not actually sure where the way out is – or it can be that dull darkness, the sort of in-between the darkness, the drizzle, so that nothing looks particularly exciting, but rather, it just is, and who cares? Because it just is. And if you do care, well will it do anything, because it just is. Either of them – out of the darknesses – you are lifted out sometimes. It might be a word, it might be something that you see, it might actually be something within. You are just lifted, perhaps momentarily. It can even be just a knowing. Something in the mind, it doesn’t have to be physical and out there, but you experience a lift. The interesting thing I think about the transfiguration story – it’s got parallels with other stories as well. And there’s a clue there in the reading of the story from Corinthians, where Paul I talking about the Gospel being veiled. Paul, I think, in that story, is relating to the veiling of Moses’ glory. When Moses walked into the cloud and just bathed in the Glory of God, when he came out of that cloud, his face shone so much that he had to wear a veil. Otherwise people would go ‘No, no, no Moses!’ Again it is a transfiguration. Paul is talking about that now in the way we hear the Gospel, the way we hear and experience Jesus is sometimes veiled, and we’ll get to where the veiling occurs in a minute. The parallel with this story is that it is for us for us sometimes difficult to see where that light shines. And follow the story. In order for this story to occur they had to go by themselves, apart, up a mountain. Now mountains represent in the tradition where we are looking, mountains often represented the dwelling place of God. And they did that for a number of reasons. First of all they were closer to heaven where God lives, which we might laugh at today but in a world view where the earth is flat, hell is below and heaven is above, mountains become quite important, because the further up you go the closer you are to God. The other thing that occurs with mountains and probably the reason they thought that God dwelt in mountains, was once you get up the world looks different, the world suddenly looks different. You can see more of it and you see the creatures of creation probably with the eyes of God because when we look at the world from here, we actually look quite bit and almost if not quite as big as everybody else. When you get up a mountain you look down and you see tiny little people, and you think gosh that must be how God sees it, because God is always bigger than we are. So mountain tops have in many traditions have and continue to be places of the holy and the sacred. In another perspective perhaps they do take us closer to God,  not because God lives up there but because there is a sense of us leaving the world behind but still being able to see it. So if we now look at that story and say so what, so what, what’s it got to do with me, maybe we can begin to appreciated that in order to be aware and attentive of the force that transfigures us, we too need to climb a mountain. Let us set ourselves a path. Last weekend a number of the women in the parish, they went off. And when they came back, listening to them talk about what their retreat was like, there is a sense of shining in how they talked about it. Because they were true and attended to that force which is transfiguring. Choosing to spend time attending to God rather than walking through in that state of darkness, knowing the light but having the light veiled almost just out of reach. What happens in this story that we hear today is that when they actually get there and the transfiguration occurs, first of all we hear that they were terrified, and that is another thing that may keep us from acknowledging the force of God that constantly seeks to transfigure us. Fear. Imagine what we would be called to do if we fully realised the power that we have been given. It might be that we would miss an episode of Neighbours in order to heal someone. Now it is much easier, perhaps… well, we’ll let go of the possibility of healing… because then I don’t have to miss anything. But imagine if we did allow it to be drawn from us – that power that transfigures. Peter, James and John  - and it’s put onto Peter and I think that’s significant, and we’ll hear later on that Jesus will say ‘Peter you are the rock on which I will build my church’ Peter sees this radiant mystery unfold before his eyes and what does he say “Whoa, this is great! Lets build three dwellings!” I don’t think they were dwellings in order to share hospitality, because there was one for each of them. Peter wants to put them in a box. And I think it’s very interesting when we make the leap from what Peter saw, his fear, his response, which is then to say, I’m going to build three dwellings, that’s what I must do, and then the Church, which is then ‘built on Peter’ – so that we can put Jesus and Moses and Elijah into booths or dwellings, we can create shrines to put them in so that we may then wonder at them. And in that context, is that where the Gospel becomes veiled, as Paul says? Because then what we can do is we can come and visit the dwellings wherein those people are. Someone did a reflection once on stained glass windows, the ones in the Baptistry, and they are stunningly beautiful. They reflect and they give life and light and often they’ll have a text at the bottom about the glory of God . They are designed to be seen from the inside. They are not designed to be seen from inside. They are not designed to be seen from the outside. The glory of stained glass in revealed once you are in. This is a story the other way round. Jesus said no, don’t build those booths. Don’t seek to contain, don’t seek to build shrines that you can come and visit, rather you’ve seen, now let’s go back into the world. Tell no one until you’ve appreciated the fullness of the story, the Son of Man will rise from the dead. Then you can tell everybody. However in the telling, in the telling the Gospel must then be made real. And the reality, making the Gospel real, is about letting the force of transfiguration enlighten us, enlighten us so that we might be more open minded, enlighten us so that the darkness that we find ourselves in we draw on and are drawn by the light that will dispel the darkness. And enlighten us so that we will stay true to our baptismal call. For somehow this is a story also  - it occurs in this point in the Church’s year – where we have had the baptism and we now see the shining of the Christ. In our baptism were we not called and charged to do the same? To shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.

The Lord be with you.