Sermon of Note
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST, 14 February, 2021 Something More
(Rev’d Robyn Boyd, 13th February, 2021)
Nearly twenty years ago, in the full flush of my excitement about leaving Sydney to follow this calling to the priesthood, I did the rounds of different groups of friends, saying my farewells and talking about this new phase of vocation. It was sometimes difficult to try and explain this activity of God in my life, particularly with my friends and family who didn’t have a Christian faith. They were supportive, but couldn’t really get how someone would give up a six-figure salary and leave a comfortable life behind for a funny sort of job in the church. And I’d be left trying to explain.. “but it’s something more…there’s something more. This isn’t about a new job or about helping people, it’s about hearing an invitation from God”. How crazy does that sound? Hearing voices! It’s not always that simple to find words that adequately explain something so other-worldly, which defies logic and doesn’t belong to the known rational world.
In today’s Gospel, we enter right into “other worldliness”. Into the “something more”. We hear that Jesus was “transfigured” – metamorphosed, radically physically changed –in front of his select disciples, Peter, James and John.
There they were, up on a mountain top - traditionally a place where the ancients expected to have holy experiences, a place where it was believed that the divine touched the human – when Jesus suddenly transfigured; his clothes transformed into a flashing, supernatural dazzling white (“such as no one on earth could bleach them”!!), right in front of them, and was seen talking with long dead heroes of the faith, Elijah and Moses.
Falling back on human reason and on established Hebrew tradition, Peter attempts to contain and explain this phenomenon. “Let’s build three booths – three tabernacles” he says “one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah” To be fair, he’s trying to find an appropriate way to acknowledge and pay homage in the face of Jesus’ mind-blowing divinity, but his best is to put Jesus in a known religious box or booth or tabernacle, as it were. After all, when Moses had experienced the glory of the Lord on Mt Sinai, he was then given instructions to build a tabernacle for the Lord to dwell in. Perhaps, too, if Jesus were to tidily go and put himself away in such a booth, this ‘divine otherness’ could be kept a bit more conventional and would be able to be explained within known dimensions. Too much uncontrollable divinity let loose amongst humanity could lead a person into dangerous and unchartered territory; into socially unacceptable places, as the disciples were already experiencing, and certainly into risky places outside Hebrew custom and ritual.
And, then, to top off the frightening eeriness of the scene, a voice boomed out of a cloud which overshadowed them “This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him!” Then suddenly, the disciples were left alone with an un-dazzling Jesus. Here on this craggy, bleak mountain top Peter, James, John stare into a stark unveiling of the divine face of God in Jesus; an unavoidable confrontation with the full meaning of who Jesus is: Jesus, divine and human, God’s Son, and the one replacing the prophets (like Elijah) and law-makers (Moses) of old.
And here we glean an invitation to enter into this transformation ourselves. If we truly grasp hold of, and believe, that this is who Jesus Christ is, then all our reference points for understanding what life is really about must change – something beyond the normal dimensions of our natural world is now factored in; nothing can ever be quite the same. We are taken beyond our otherwise limited perceptions We can either discount it, or choose to follow regardless of how much we understand.
What could something like this possibly say to us in our day to day lives, or in the midst of yet another hard lockdown?
A week ago, we heard the beautiful verses from Isaiah, about mounting up with wings like eagles – lifted high above the world, being able to look down on what was happening and seeing it differently, from God’s perspective. In the same way, the impact of Jesus’ transfiguration is to bring about our own transformation – a renewal of a mind set from how it is so often for us – we get caught with how things are and can’t see beyond or above them...to being able to see and experience things with the mind and heart of God.
In the face of God revealing himself to us, we’ve got choices in how we can respond. We can respond like Peter – let’s keep all this under control, hold onto known tradition and build a shrine where we can tuck God away and keep him safe and at a distance and domesticated; essentially saying: “let’s not get carried away with this; let’s keep God contained; who knows what might happen if he’s let loose in our lives?” Or the other choice: be open to the transforming, transfiguring power of Jesus Christ. And listen to him!
In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us that we, too, can expect just as much a radical transformation in our own lives that we see with the dazzling white Jesus– this is the transformative effect of God shining in our hearts. One contemporary rendering of these verses says it beautifully: ‘The very God who kicked off creation by calling for light to shine from darkness has now filled our hearts with the light that comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Christ and knowing it for what it is.” (Nathan Nettleton)
So, back again to the question: what does this mean for us in our lives? Basically, the promise and gift of a transformation that comes from joining our lives with Christ’s.
Once we’ve begun to follow Christ, however we may come to that, something changes, irreversibly; life’s not just about here and now earth-bound material realities; we begin the journey to seeing and understanding things of God, and seeing life through God’s eyes. This is a lifetime journey of being transformed, not a once-for-all event. And it’s not something we are making happen on our own. It’s God who is the change maker, who breaks through from heaven to earth, who “shines in our hearts” and switches on the lights, lifts the veil. And yes, the journey will come with lots of questions and much struggle and apparent blindness. Those disciples came away from the mountain top and they weren’t immediately changed: they struggled, quarrelled and stumbled. But God’s sort of revelation and transformation is one that unfolds itself and begins to make sense only as we follow.
Listen further to what transformation meant for the Apostle Paul, reading a contemporary version of today’s reading.: “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message –(this life of Christ)- around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but God hasn't left our side; we've been struck down, but we haven't broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives!” (2 Cor 4:7-11, mostly from The Message)
In the midst of lockdown, in the midst of daily living, we have a gift – a God who has revealed his glory to us..... a God who can re-orient our perspectives.... a God who is with us in the battering and bruising of life.......and a God who shines through us, and can transform us, from the inside out. There’s something more to life, revealed and offered to us in Jesus Christ.