Sermon: Last Sunday after Epiphany (B) – 15th February 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am, 10am and 6pm

Readings:       Exodus 24:12-18;  Psalm 2;  2 Peter 1:16-21;  Matthew 17:1-9

I have never had a dramatic conversion experience or an occasion when God spoke to me in an unmistakable manner – like Isaiah’s call in the temple, or Moses’ experience at the burning bush. As a young person, in a more evangelical parish than this, people were always having conversion experiences and demanding to know of others and me “When did you become a Christian” as if to say that there had to be a date and time that I could state as the time I met God.

While I do acknowledge that God does reveal God’s self to many people in very dramatic ways, I for one have not experienced such. God being revealed to me has been a process over the years since my birth. Some revelations are more pronounced than others but no blazing light or booming voice. No mountain top visions of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, just simple movements more in keeping with the concept of the still small voice or as modern translations translate the Hebrew “the sound of sheer silence!”

The American Lutheran writer Marcus Borg who now worships as an Anglican in his book CONVICTIONS – a manifesto for progressive Christians (SPCK, 2014), speaks of a number of what we would call transfiguration experiences which he has experienced during his life. He refers to a personal journey ‘through the doubts and uncertainties’ of his teenage years, before having ‘a series’ of ‘dramatic and unexpected mystical experiences’ which then underpinned his mature sense of faith. The book vividly describes those mystical experiences, which were often marked by a shimmering light suffusing his surrounding environment. Very helpful and exciting for him but not part of my experience.

The Uniting Church minister, Dorothy McRae-McMahon, once told me that when she was the Minister of the Pitt Street Uniting Church, she visited St James King Street for an ecumenical liturgy and as the chalice was lifted up by the then Rector at the end of the consecration prayer, that there appeared a glowing aura around the chalice and in a wonderful manner God spoke to her.

You know that I am always asking for contributions for the Parish Magazine. The task is always ongoing. Articles for the Magazine can be anything about life as everyday life is holy. Last week I asked a person at St Aidan’s if she would write something and I received the response that I have heard many times before. “My life is boring. What would I have to write about that others would find interesting?” I said to her that all our lives are boring to a certain degree but each of our stories and accounts of our encounters with the divine are all different and special whether they be mountain top experiences or mundane day to day life.

Celtic Christianity speaks of “thin places”, spots where the divine and human touch each other in life-transforming ways. However, every place and time reflects God’s presence and purpose in partnership with human creativity and freedom. Every place can be a thin place; every encounter a theophany, or revelation of God, in which God calls us to arise, shine and act, for our light has come.

There is no dualism of God and the world, sacred and secular. No division. Rather, the whole earth is full of God’s glory for those with eyes to see. Life-transforming power is ours when we awaken to what is God’s gift of possibilities and the divine energy actively present to help us make real these possibilities within each moment of our life.

We don’t need to worry about the ways and the means of ascension or transfiguration, nor do we need to worry about the factual account. Such concerns are “modern” questions, grounded in one-dimensional, closed-system thinking of both fundamentalists and rationalists. What are at work here are God’s deeper mysteries; the deeper meaning and reality of events in a multi-dimensional universe. In a universe with forty billion galaxies, each of which may have a billion or more solar systems like our own, there is no need to be humble in our imagination. We can “think big” and know that divine presence, power, and possibility is “more than we can ask or imagine”.

Some moments, however, may more fully reflect God’s intention in the dynamic call and response between God and humanity. However, even here in these life-defining experiences, human response is still needed. Even when we are “moved by the Holy Spirit”, those who are moved experience the Spirit from their own unique vantage point. Still, all places and encounters can reveal something life-transfiguring about God and us.

Transfiguration captures the spirit of Epiphany. The season of Epiphany begins with a world transforming star, guiding the magi from the East, and concludes with glory abounding on a mountaintop. The mood of Epiphany, perhaps more than Christmas, is a time of wonder and glory, radiating from a humble dwelling to encompass the whole earth.

During Epiphany we have been immersed in Jesus’ message. This message focussed on the commonwealth of God that through God’s work was beginning to appear, and on the radical character of the life it was calling into being. We have seen that his message both continued the prophetic tradition of Israel and how it transformed it. We are called to understand we must spread the news that Jesus announced and show how he enacted the fulfilment of that tradition. It was about him that the prophets spoke. He was God’s King: The descendant of David. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God for all humanity. It is still in the process of completion but Jesus is the King now and forever.

The transfiguration reminds us that Jesus is always more than meets the eye. As God’s beloved child, he radiates the light of creation. But, transfiguration challenges us to remember that we can see more than meets the eye. We can receive divine vision, opening us to the holiness of others, all creation, and ourselves.

Whether or not we have an overpowering experience of God or the experience of “the sound of utter silence” we are called us to personal, vocational, congregational and global transfiguration. It all begins with our understanding of God and God’s nature. We are the children of quantum energy. We glimpse wonder in images from the Hubble telescope. Let us see with new eyes and embrace a larger vision; let us go beyond the ecstasy deprivation that leads to consumerism and war making.

Enlivened by divine light shining in every soul and every soul, we can aspire to live by the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven
and every common bush
afire with God;
And only he who sees,
takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it
and pluck blackberries.”

On one hand the gospel writers affirmed that we are all children of God. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that peacemakers would be called “children of God”. To declare Jesus to be God’s son would not necessarily separate Jesus from others who serve God faithfully. Clearly those who heard God speak understood the words involved to be more significant than that.  Jesus is God’s “beloved son” in whom God is well pleased. God’s declaration certainly singles Jesus out as bearing the title in a unique way.  Jesus is not just one among many “sons” of God. Jesus is uniquely beloved, uniquely pleasing to God.

On the other hand, we cannot read back into the words he attributes to God the supernatural ideas of later generations of Christians. Like Moses and Elijah, he is clearly a human being. Like them he is a truly extraordinary human being with an extraordinary message and mission. For most Jews, equality with Moses was virtually unthinkable. Yet, here, in the midst of a vision of Moses, Elijah and Jesus, God singles out for recognition Jesus.

This singling out of Jesus from among all the spiritual giants of Jewish history as the one to whom we should especially listen continues to be appropriate for us today so that we can apprehend God. The story of the Transfiguration is a wonderful example of each moment being influenced by the past, (the presence of Moses and Elijah), and the influenced by God, (“This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him.”)  At each moment Jesus was able to unify the past, with what was heard and understood, to be God’s invitation.

The creative energy Jesus gained allows him to become even more integrated with God’s vision of possibilities for the world. By following the encouragement of God, even when it meant his own death, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth. Is this an example of creative transformation at work?

Mystifying disputes have too often blocked listening to Jesus’ words over the years, the Gospels reveal Jesus. The church would be renewed if believers once again really listened to him.

In a moment we will sing hymn that speaks beautifully of God’s transfiguring presence in all of creation, “Be still for the presence of the Lord”. It is printed in the Bulletin.

“Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.

Come bow before Him now with reverence and fear.

In Him no sin is found, we stand on holy ground;

Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.

 

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around;

He burns with holy fire, with splendour He is crowned.

How awesome is the sight, our radiant King of light!

Be still, for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.

 

Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place;

He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister His grace.

No work too hard for Him, in faith receive from Him;

Be still, for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.”[1]

 

May your thin place and my thin place somehow today reveal to us a little bit more of the God who is love, loves us and is beyond names and shapes.

 

[1] This sermon composed using material found at

http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2014-03-02/last-sunday-after-epiphanytransfiguration written by John B. Cobb, Jr. and,

http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2011-03-06/last-sunday-after-epiphanytransfiguration-sunday http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yearb/2009-02-22/transfiguration-sunday-last-sunday-after-epiphany written by Bruce G. Epperly and

http://processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yearb/2003-03-02/last-sunday-after-epiphany written by Keith McPaul

 

The Reverend John Cornish