Sermon 3 March 2019

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 02 MARCH 2019, TRANSFIGUATION SUNDAY

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-3rd-march-2019 

 

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain,

a great crowd met him.
Just then a man from the crowd shouted,

“Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks.

I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Luke 9:37-40
 

On the day of two baptisms (Miles & George) the gospel portrays a tale of two sons.

On a mountaintop, Jesus erupts in sudden light.  

The Divine Voice, humming with parental pleasure, sings with the stars:

“This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him.”

 

The scriptures are big on mountains.

Moses at Mount Sinai (receiving the Commandments)

Elijah huddled in a mountain cave, outside the raging storm;

Jerusalem, the holy city, set upon a hill.

“Come” entreats the prophet Micah,

“let us go to the mountain of the Lord…that he may teach us his ways….” Micah 4:2

So, when Jesus takes the inner cabal, John, James and Peter

up on the mountain to pray,

we are well to be attentive.

 

Hills – sometimes wild, sometimes peaceful;

a height to regain perspective, drink in beauty, rejuvenate vision.

A look out, from which to recall our place in things,

our connections to eternity.

Thin places, sacred ground.

Perhaps that is why Jesus led them there;

with luck, you too know such places too.

 

Taking the high road, the gospel accounts are layered with clues and symbol –

mountain, dazzling light, glowing countenance –

so reminiscent of Mt Sinai.

The presence and commendation of Moses and Elijah –

venerable dignitaries, representing the Law and the Prophets.

Lest we be in any doubt: A cloud descending – very presence of God;

the Voice: “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him!”

 

Luke’s Transfiguration, conveys both the importance

of all that has come before and all that lies ahead.

Like a lighthouse beam, rolling rhythmically round, 360 degrees.

Behind and before. Before and behind.

 

Luke starts:

“Now about eight days after these sayings…

Which sayings?

“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus.

“The Christ” trumpets Peter.

But to Crown, Jesus responds, Cross.

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected…be killed

and on the third day be raised.”

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves

 and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

 

Eight days later the great witnesses, Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus;

speaking of his departure,

which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Our translation is departure; but the word Luke uses is exodus

a wondrous, explosive word, for those shaped

by Israel’s long walk to freedom, out of Egypt’s chains.

 

Luke uses exodus both in the sense of journey and more profoundly, death.

The Transfiguration is an assurance,

before the end, about the end.

A glimpse, a confidence, a provision for the way, manna –

something to feed on when the going gets tough.

Something in time, that will defy the apparent meaninglessness

of Jesus’ vicious, filthy, tortured end.

His exodus, not a dead end, but gateway to a Promised Land.

 

But after the Big Reveal“what happened next?”

 

On a mountaintop, Jesus erupts in sudden light.  

But in the valley, a boy writhes in the dust. 

Convulsed by forces that possess him;

a crowd gathers, eager for spectacle.

Some jeer at Jesus’ disciples, who standby helpless.

“Frauds! Where’s your master now?”

The disciples shrug, gesturing vaguely at the mountain;

accused by their sense of inadequacy.

A voice rings out: “Please. This is my beloved son;

listen to him.”

There are two beloved sons in this story.

This is a strange painting – an uncomfortable pairing –

by three gospel writers;

eternity on the mountain, but simultaneously, dust in the valley.

While some disciples glimpsed glory,

others felt only the absence of their Master –

especially in the face of painful and poignant suffering.

As one contemporary theologian asks (Debie Thomas):

“Here is the great challenge to the Christian life,

the great challenge to the Church:

can we speak glory to agony, and agony to glory? 

Can we hold the mountain and the valley in faithful tension

with each other – denying neither, embracing both? 

 

Denying neither, embracing both –

To comprehend both the reassurance of God and the absence of God –

not as things divorced – but as different manifestations of a Divine reality.

The realistic way that life is – and faith is.

Perhaps new parents are well placed to imagine this – living between the miracle and exhilaration of new life – and utterly familiar with its exhaustions and despairs.

That I hope is a helpful reminder, as we approach Lent this year –

a season where traditionally we intentionally enter the suffering road of Christ

 

The agony and the ecstasy – denying neither, embracing both:

I finish with a few words of American pastor, Heidi Neumark –

Who served a parish in a very deprived part of the New York Bronx for some twenty years.

In her memoir, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey on the South Bronx –

She described  arriving at a church struggling – amid poverty, drug abuse,

lack of education and opportunity, lack of hope –

the church mostly kept its doors shut tight to the world around it.

 

When the disciples of this Bronx church unlocked the doors of their private shelter

and stepped out into the neighbourhood,

they did meet the distress of the community

convulsed and mauled by poverty…

But they also discovered transfiguration as a congregation

in connection with others.”

 

Transfiguration as a congregation – in connection with others.

“(But) living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration…

It was never meant as a private experience of spirituality

 removed from the public square.

It was a vision to carry us down,

a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.”

 

May the hills of the gospels so envision us.