Sermon for the Transfiguration of Jesus (22 February 2009)
2 Corinthians 4.3-6
We sang before,
The splendour of the King,
clothed in majesty.
Let all the earth rejoice,
all the earth rejoice.
He wraps himself in Light,
and darkness tries to hide
and trembles at his voice,
trembles at his voice.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples Peter, James and John had what Matthew’s Gospel calls a vision; a vision in which they certainly saw the splendour of the King. Clothed in dazzling white, between the two great heroes Moses and Elijah, Jesus is called the Beloved Son by a voice from a cloud. God’s voice.
Today takes us towards the end of a season of the Church called Epiphany. Epiphany means revealing—the revealing of Christ. It begins with the revealing of the young boy Jesus to the wise men from the East. It includes the baptism of Jesus, in which God also says, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved’. This year, it proclaimed Jesus the deliverer of the man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Cana, Jesus the healer of Peter’s mother-in-law and of the leper.
And now this same Jesus is revealed in absolute glory. No wonder Peter wants to capture the moment! If he’d had a mobile phone he’d have had it out, taking a photo, flashing it to his friends and calling the press. What a coup! How good was it to be a friend of Jesus! Wait till the gang at home hear about this!
Not so fast, Peter. You don’t get it. We can understand that the disciples’ response is fear: Peter didn’t know what to say, ‘for they were terrified’.
Now, last week we talked about the bushfires in Victoria, and we said that they were not a punishment from God.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fear God.
Let’s be clear: perhaps ‘fear’ used to be the right word to use, but it’s not a great word for us. We shouldn’t fear God in the sense that God may punish us; we don’t fear God because God is likely to smite us. We fear God because our lives are in God’s hands. If I imagine being about to go to surgery for an operation that will mean life or death for me—‘fear’ is something like the feeling I might have for the surgeon whose skill I put my trust in.
We fear the God who is good—we revere the God who has our good at heart—we live our lives in awe of the God who is love.
We live in awe of the good God because if we don’t fear God, we fear other things like losing money or status or health or control of things. If we fear God—if we live our lives devoted to God—then we need fear nothing else at all.
But if we leave it there, we might put God at a distance from us. It seems to me that the religion of Islam teaches that God is to be feared, that we are to be devoted to God’s will, but that God is ‘out there’.
Yet on the Mount of Transfiguration, God says, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Christ…is the image of God’. We Christians believe that God has come very close to us. In fact, that God is now one with us.
This awesome God, this God of earth and sea and sky, the God who created the world accepted the limitations of being human. God who made everything was one of us, and so knew what it is to live in the everyday, the ordinary.
We need this. It is good to know that God became human in the person of Jesus, someone who could be heard and seen and touched.
A little boy was woken up during a thunderstorm. It was dark. He was scared. He went to his Mum’s room. His Mum said, “Don’t be scared, God will keep you safe.”
“But Mum!” the little boy cried, climbing into bed with her. “Right now I need a God with skin on!”
We need a God with skin on. We need a God who shares our humanity. We need a God who would even die for us.
And that’s just what we have.
When we fear God, we are in awe of the God who made all things, and who loves us enough to do whatever it takes to win us back.
We are in awe of the God who accepted the human lot of needing to eat—and sleep—and even to take time alone to seek out the will of God. We are in awe of the God who hung helpless and naked on the cross, all for love.
Where does that leave us? The glory isn’t for us. Yet. The shining robes will have to wait, we still have to bundle our gear up and stuff it into the washing machine.
What is ours is this: glimpses of the glory of Christ in the everyday. Glimpses we catch by faith. It may be the way the light plays in the leaves of a tree, or the smile on a child’s face. It may be an unexpected kindness. It may be suffering undergone willingly.
We prayed earlier,
In the moments of glory,
let us see the everyday,
and in the everyday,
may we recognise heaven’s glory.
Christ is all around us—risen, glorified, but still with those nail-scarred hands. Can we see the glory hidden everyday?
A girl of about six or seven in Huddersfield, Yorkshire was in an lesson in which her teacher blindfolded the children as a kind of trust exercise. When the teacher had put the blindfold on her, she asked, ‘Can you see?’ ‘Yes,’ the young girl replied. The teacher checked it. It looked secure, so she asked again, ‘Can you see?’ ‘Yes,’ said the girl.
She was sure the blindfold was secure, so the teacher asked, ‘What can you see?’ ‘Flowers and trees, and rivers and mountains,’ said the girl.
What would you teach that little girl? ‘Oh no, you can’t see anything. That’s just your imagination.’ I hope not.
This girl could see everything and anything even with a blindfold on. And with the eyes of faith, we can see too.
Lynn and Gary, you are going in a couple of days to India, where you’ll work with the Church of South India in Chennai. When you get there, keep your eyes and ears open. You’re bound to see things that we don’t see here. Your senses are likely to be assaulted by new and challenging things.
You’re not taking Jesus there; he’s already there. Look for Jesus, prepare to be in awe of his presence. He’ll be there in the most unexpected places. He’ll be there in the everyday, but not necessarily in white shining clothes. He may be there in a beggar, or a child with learning difficulties. He may be there in the church, or in a person of the Hindu religion. Look for him. His suffering and his victory over death are for the people of Chennai too, so he’s there already.
And when you return, share with us where and how you saw him. Share with us those who bore the scars of suffering and revealed Jesus to you. Help us to share your awe at what God has done.
And be God with skin on for the people you meet. Amen.