Friday, 24 February 2012

The Sunday before Lent: The transfiguration within


2 Corinthians 4:3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


The transfiguration did not happen just once. If we permit it, because we are given the choice, a transfiguration can be taking place right now within us. It may be a slow process, or it may move along in fits and starts, in moments of revelation and periods of quietness, but nevertheless a transfiguration, if we so choose, can be happening right here and right now.

Listen again to the words that St. Paul wrote:
For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are all here because to one degree or another we know the truth of this, that within us, within our very hearts, the light has begun to shine in the darkness. I believe that we can use the Gospel narrative to help us understand and grow in this phenomenon simply because the story of Peter, James and John can also be our story.

To understand what I mean we need to dissect the elements of what took place. When we do this the first thing we find is the deliberate work of Jesus. The writer explains that after six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and they went up a high mountain. This was not an accident. Jesus took them with him.

There are three names attached. This was not like some of the other miracles which took place. Jesus was going somewhere important and he wanted them specifically to be witnesses to what he was doing and what would take place. He chose them by name. Why them? To be honest we really don’t know, but for us the significance is that he chose these people.

And that is our story too. You are not here today by accident. Jesus took you with him too. He called you by name and invited you to come and travel with him. You have come here because at some point in your story, in your journey through life, Jesus took you with him. You may find that you can look back at the decisions you made, or the decisions others made for you, and at the mistakes you made, either accidental or deliberate, and what you find is the grace of God.

Interwoven into your story is the same story of Peter and James and John. Jesus was going somewhere and he wanted witnesses, and he has taken you with him to witness to what he is doing in this world, and more importantly in the context of what takes place in this story, he wants you to be a witness as to his true nature.

You are not a believer by accident. Jesus took you with him. Your part was simply to agree to come along. How sad for those who ignore him tugging at their sleeve. How unfortunate for those whom he calls but who find other things to be doing. Imagine what these three disciples would have missed if they had said they were too tired to climb with him.

Let’s go on. Not only did Jesus take them with him, he took them away from everyone else, up a high mountain by themselves. For many of us we like to take this literally because it is when we go up a high mountain by ourselves that we feel able to get away from the world. But this here, this building in many ways has the potential to be our local high mountain.

You have come here, some of you away from your families or friends. They’re out shopping, or still asleep, or eating or doing something else. You are here, up this high mountain, doing something extraordinary. You are dwelling in the presence of God. Now you can do that anywhere but the fact is you have chosen to come here, or more correctly you have chosen to be led here, up this high mountain, with the sole purpose of being in the presence of God.

And when we get here we find that we are not the only ones who are witnessing to who Jesus is. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. What you know of God through Christ is true not just because he has revealed himself to you personally, but also because he has revealed himself through scripture long before he was born into the world.

But what I find most interesting in this encounter is the response of Peter because once again this is our response too, Peter gets into this most holy place and he starts talking. A witness cannot be aware of the truth of what is taking place around them if they spend their whole time trying to speak about it and make sense of it.

The whole point of a mystery is that you observe it, that you let the beauty and wonder of God fill you. And the same thing can and should apply to some of our worship. Many of our services are filled with lengthy liturgy when all that is really needed is to be still and in God’s presence. That’s one of the reasons why I encourage people over and over again, to come and to be still.

I find it vital to knowing the presence of God that I stop, slow down, cease to speak and simply dwell with God who has come to dwell within me. But I wonder how often we do that? Do we arrive at church and look for who to talk to? Do we find ourselves offering a commentary to what is going on around us. Peter and James and John are about to hear God speak, if only they will be still enough to hear it.

How often do we practise that kind of stillness? How often are we happy to just sit? Are we content to make space for awe? You see when we do, slowly but surely we become aware of the voice of God within us pointing at Jesus saying, ‘Here is my Son who I love; listen to him’. We don’t have to just do this in church. Indeed if this is the only place where we are trying to be still then our stillness will not be very far-reaching.

This story of the transfiguration then can be the story of our lives and of our worship. It is a story of how each of us is called by name to accompany the Lord. It is a story about how that journey will require effort. It’s not like sitting in a taxi where Jesus is the driver; it’s a climb up a mountain where he is our guide.

It is a story of how, in our worship and in our stillness we are called to find that place where we begin to see who Jesus really is by being still enough to become aware of the transfigured Son of God within us. Finally then it is about being changed by that presence. As the Lord unveils himself within us so we will be changed, and those who are seeking for truth will know that change within us and be drawn towards the Lord.

The transfiguration of Christ can take place within us, and its far-reaching consequences can reveal the Lord to us and to the world. But first we must learn to be still and aware. Amen.

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