Sermon preached on the 6th August 2017 – Feast of the Transfiguration
Readings Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Luke 9: 28-36
Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration is perhaps one that doesn’t register in our thoughts as often as it might! For some of us, in fact, the term “Transfiguration” may be associated less with the Bible than with J K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” stories – where Transfiguration classes develop the art of changing one object into another.
And if you’ve seen anything of the Athletics heats taking place in London, just now, you’ll have seen an equally dramatic “change of appearance” on the faces of the athletes, as they move through nervous anticipation, to focused preparation, to determination and then to relief, or anguish, or elation – depending on how they fare.
Of particular note, of course, was Mo Farah – whose eyes almost seemed to precede him along the track and he willed himself to victory – followed by the gentle smile of success – and then, an altogether different smile, of contentment and pride, as his family joined him on the track to mark the end of his running career. Within a few minutes, it seemed, the changes in the facial expressions of one man revealed a number of truths about him. All of them good.
In the biblical accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration – his appearance is changed, before the weary eyes of his closest disciples. This was clearly quite an experience for them – not only the dazzling vision of the transfigured Christ – but also the appearance of Moses and Elijah – heralding Christ’s own imminent departure.
Curious then, perhaps that “in those days they told no one any of the things they had seen.” That final sentence, from today’s reading, is a bit like the end of Mark’s account of the Resurrection – when those who discover the empty tomb “said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid”.
In both cases, it seems an odd reaction to a truly mind-blowing encounter. Were they “afraid” that no-one would believe them if they did speak about thee things?
Were they not actually sure that they themselves could believe their own eyes? Were those on the mountain, described as being “weighed down with sleep”, perhaps wondering if they’d dreamt the whole thing? Or was it simply TOO profound an encounter for them to relate? After all, we’re told that those on the mountain with Jesus were “terrified”, as the cloud overshadowed them.
Whatever their reasons for keeping quiet – they have been drawn into a meeting of two worlds – heaven and earth – in which the changing appearance of Jesus reveals his true identity; his true nature; his true glory.
In this diocese, some years back, there was an oft-repeated phrase from St. Irenaeus -”the glory of God is a human being fully alive”
-”the glory of God is a human being fully alive”
And I found that phrase coming to mind this week on the back of a very different kind of encounter – recorded on a documentary for Channel 4, called “An Old People’s home for 4 year olds”.
Someone had decided to see what would happen, if the energy and curious enthusiasm of group of young children were unleashed upon the residents of a rather sedate and very plush retirement home – some of whom were used to children, some of whom were decidedly not!
One particular resident, Hamish – a slightly grumpy looking man with an artificial leg – seemed to undergo a transformation ALMOST as dramatic as Jesus’, but without really admitting it!
He was adamant, before the children arrived, that this was all a pointless exercise – which would not benefit anyone and would doubtless end in tears.
And, true to form, as the children arrive, we see him sitting in his usual chair, reading his newspaper as a kind safety barrier between him and them.
But he doesn’t know about children – and if he’s not going to initiate the conversation, then 4 year old Amiya is. And soon Hamish finds himself cheerfully answering a barrage of questions.
Before long, this self-professed sceptic – who really has no time for these children or this silly experiment – is to be seen lying on the lounge floor, playing dead, and then roaring to the delighted squeals of the children.
He just seemed to forget that he was supposed to be grumpy – and, for a while, we glimpsed the 4 year old Hamish peeping out from an older shell.
And there were other transformations. One lady, who had no children or grandchildren of her own, and had just lost her husband – rarely moved from her chair and was displaying signs of depression. She found herself “adopted” by one particular girl who just wouldn’t leave her sitting there to mope. Quite remarkably, she changed before our eyes.
There was a sports day – with the slightly scary sight of normally gentile octogenarians pushing themselves to new limits – three-wheeled walking aids whizzing along the track at speeds they were not designed for –
but, fortunately, no casualties!
There was an end of term assembly – for the children’s parents – with both residents and children side by side.
It was a really moving encounter – on lots of levels.
In some cases it quite literally seemed to bring back to life some who’d really given up on living. Young and old together gave a glimpse of what it is to be “fully alive” – and it left you wanting to see more of this, not on the TV screen, but in the community at large.
We live in a society in which the generations seem to be more separated than ever – both by the rapid pace of change and differences in upbringing – and also by the heightened concern to protect children from unfamiliar adults.
That protection is necessary – as is the need to protect vulnerable elderly people. And yet, there must be a way to provide safe spaces where the generations can encounter each other – and where young and old can help each other to a fuller understanding and engagement with life itself.
And I think there’s a challenge in that for us:
can we find ways to make this parish church OR perhaps the people of this parish church the natural “meeting space” for people of different ages and backgrounds?
Can we somehow draw our disparate neighbours to each other – in ways that will allow us all to discover, or perhaps rediscover, hidden depths within ourselves – the glory which is a human life lived as fully as God intends.
This year there have been lots of things bubbling up here – signs of new life budding into growth.
Now is a good time, I think, to really take stock and see how we might develop some of those things – to benefit more of us, and more of those living around us.
I’m hoping we’ll have an opportunity to do just that, after the holiday season is over, with another Parish Planning day – something we haven’t done for quite a few years now.
And so, before then, during this relatively quiet time of the year, can we consciously think back, and look out, for examples of other social groups and church projects that inspire us?
Are there ideas which we could explore – simple ways of reaching and connecting people which we could offer?
And if you CAN think of encounters of this kind, that have impressed and moved you, please don’t follow the disciples lead, and keep it to yourself!
It may just be the good news we all need to hear.
At the transfiguration of Jesus, God’s glory is revealed to ordinary people through the transformation of one Man.
Let us hope and pray and work for the transformation of our lives and those of our neighbours – in such a way that God’s glory shines through us all.