Sermon preached by Archdeacon Trevor Harrison at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity 25 December 2019 It’s a marvellous, wonderful,... read more
In 2010 I went to Israel to study at St George’s College. Part of our course took us on a trip up the winding, narrow road to the top of Mt Tabor and to the Franciscan church marking the site on which the Transfiguration took place. Mt Tabor is no higher than the Kaitake’s but it commands a view across the plains to the sea of Galilee and on that day was bathed in such hot clear sunlight that it was a relief to enter the cool interior of the church and stop for a while to contemplate the miracle of the transfiguration of Jesus depicted in stunning mosaics in the sanctuary.
When we come to look at the story of the transfiguration – we’re presented with two extremes : the other-worldly radiance of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah who represent the Law and the Prophets – and the very human bumbling attempt by Peter to ‘do something practical’ to mark the occasion.
Let’s focus on the transfiguration of Jesus and see how it might relate to us two millennia later. It is one of the miracles that appear in the Gospels of Matthew, and Mark and Luke:
So firstly Mark’s gospel verses 2b and 3:
Jesus was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them.
Matthew’s 17.2 :
‘ And he was transfigured before them , and his face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light.
Luke’s gospel gives us far more detail – reporting that Peter and the other disciples woke from sleep and ‘saw his glory and the two men who stood with him’
It is as if Jesus shows himself to be LIVING, LOVING LIGHT – utterly himself – in glory – fulfilling both the law and the prophets …
We’ve seen hints of this living, relational light before in Scripture. In Exodus chapter 3 we hear the story of Moses encounter with the Burning Bush. This light has a NAME: I AM or more fully I AM WHO I AM – a personal revelation of the power and glory of God to Moses who would go on to lead the Hebrew people out of bondage in the exodus story, just as Jesus is about to lead all people in a new exodus out of the bondage of sin and death into a new post-resurrection relationship with him by his Spirit.
Just as the transfiguration allowed his disciples to see Jesus’ true spiritual nature so it allows us to see what we are made of – both matter AND spirit – a sacred energy that is capable of loving, discerning, and creating… and that transcends death.
I want to share with you two stories – one from the mid 20th century and one from the 21st century – and both are true.
PETER MARSHALL -
Peter Marshall was a Presbyterian minister and at the time of his early death in 1949 from a heart attack at the age of 46, was Chaplain to the United States Senate,
In her book ‘A Man called Peter’ his wife Catherine recalls being summoned the hospital and then gathering the courage to enter his room alone. What she found there not the coldness of death which she had expected but two transcendent presences – Jesus and her husband Peter. They stayed there for about twenty minutes, long enough for Catherine to know the reality of the continuation of life after death.
ENID MORTON – story told with her husband Don’s permission
Enid and Don’s son Richard and his wife, who live in Ireland, were woken when their bedroom filled with light in the middle of the night. The quality of the light was such that they weren’t at all afraid but felt that all was well. Shortly after they learned that Enid had died on the other side of the world - yet somehow they knew she was there with them thousands of miles from New Plymouth.
Just spend a moment reflecting on these two stories …
There is mystery here - of course – stories like these remind us that there is far more to this world and the world beyond than we can possible imagine. But always, always, our faith teaches us that the Holy Spirit dwells within us to teach nurture, challenge and change us to be more and more like Jesus –
- ‘to be changed from glory into glory’
- to make the choices Jesus would make,
- to walk alongside the people Jesus would choose to walk alongside today.
We are being invited to follow the way of Jesus, and that means taking to heart God’s words spoken powerfully on the mountain top : ‘This is my beloved son - listen to him’
It is the only way things are going to change in us, in the world –
How do we listen to Jesus ? Well it’s not that hard -
We act as if Jesus is real and wants to connect with us
We quieten our minds
we reflect on scripture
we talk to God honestly about what is going on for us
we practice the prayer of listening
we pay loving attention to our natural world
we review each day, giving thanks for whatever good we have seen and where there are regrets, admitting these and praying for a fresh start
Both our other readings today speak of God’s invitation to greater trust – to risk venturing into the unknown without having all the answers, having only the map of their absolute trust in God’s capacity to bring hope out of uncertainty, and new pathways out of dead-ends.
There is a lovely line in Psalm 119:105
Thy word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path … [ have little lamp ]
This is the sort of oil lamp Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar with … it gives out enough light to see a little way in front of us, so we can start to move forward even though it doesn’t illuminate the whole pathway ahead.
We are being asked to step out in faith too – to let God lead us as we move into the unfamiliar territory of the Cathedral development project.
We’re being asked to trust God with the early steps of this journey without knowing the details of the route or the terrain –
We’re being asked to trust that nothing is impossible with God, and that countless people whom we will never live to see, will be blessed because of what we are prepared to begin …
The purpose of the Christian life is to become like Jesus who described himself as the light of the world and used the same words to describe his disciples and us:
14 “You are the light of the world… 16 …, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NRSV)
You’ll remember the children’s song – JESUS BIDS US SHINE
Jesus bids us shine,
With a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner,
And I in mine
How are you becoming more and more like Jesus?
How clear and pure is the light you are shining in your small corner of God’s world?