Sunday, August 06, 2006

Glory be!

Another sermon - its been a few weeks since i posted one, but here is my offering for this Sunday, the Festival of the Transfiguration:

Shiny

I must admit to being something of a cult TV fan, and it is to Joss Wheedon's excellent, but short lived,series Firefly - that i turn for a word that strikes me with regards to today's festival - the word is 'Shiny'. 'Shiny' seems to mean 'cool', 'great' 'good', 'excellent' and lots more besides, often used ironically, but a great word nonetheless. And its the word that came back again and again as i read the lections for this week. 'Shiny'... God’s glory shines. In our reading from the book of Daniel we hear the story of a vision of ‘the Ancient one’ – similar to the vision of St John of Patmos in the book of Revelation. We read of the glory of the Ancient one and of ‘one like a human being’ (or ‘Son of Man’ as it is often translated). We are told that this ‘Son of Man’ is given ‘dominion and glory and kingship, that all people, nations and languages should serve him’ and that his kingship shall never be destroyed.

The theme continues in the Second letter of St Peter, as Jesus is described as receiving ‘honour and glory from God the Father’. We see something of God’s glory reflected in who Jesus was and is, says Peter.

And we, of course, have the striking description of Jesus himself reflecting God’s glory in the passage we heard in today’s Gospel, the event that we call ‘The Transfiguration’ – the feast we celebrate today. In this story we hear that Jesus himself was transfigured, changed, as he encountered God on the mountain and talked with Moses and Elijah.

And throughout the Bible we have accounts of the glory of God being a light that is too much to behold, the Glory of God overwhelms and inspires, it leaves those who glimpse it awe-struck, speechless and feeling only too aware of their own sinfulness, weakness and insignificance.

Our God is a God of glory, majesty, power, strength and holiness. Our God is beyond thought, beyond reason, beyond imagination. Immortal, invisible, God only wise - to quote a well known hymn. But our God is also a God of love and intimacy, closeness and even vulnerability. Our God knows what it is like to feel hunger, pain, weakness, loneliness and fear - because our God has made himself human in Jesus Christ his only Son.

And it is both sides of God that we see in St Luke’s account of the transfiguration. Though we may focus on the glory that shines all around as Christ talks to the two great figures of the Old Testament. Though we might be awed by the fact that Jesus is conversing with the two who represent the law, Moses, and the Prophets, Elijah. Though we might be overwhelmed by the splendour of the picture - we should not be distracted from what these three were discussing. Luke 9v31 “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

In the midst of all this glory there is the very real, very painful knowledge of what Jesus is to go on to in Jerusalem. They were talking about all that Jesus was to undergo. In the midst of this miraculous event the cold, hard truth of Jesus’ destiny in Jerusalem was more than apparent.

And this is the paradox of the Incarnation, the topsy-turvy way that God does business, that God’s glory is revealed not just in lights and smoke, not in a booming voice or hosts of angels, but in the very real, very ordinary, very human, Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus in his life, teaching and ministry, in his death, resurrection and ascension reveals what God is like, he is as one writer said ‘the human face of God.’ It is this Jesus who talks in terms of loving God and our neighbour, and of doing to him what we do to the least of our fellow human beings. It is this Jesus who touches the untouchable, loves the unlovable and speaks the unspeakable. It is this Jesus who is fully God and fully human whose glory is revealed just as much in the touching of a leper, in his weeping at the death of a friend, in the agony of the cross as in the glory of the transfiguration.

The transfiguration is a distillation of the glory of all of Jesus life and work, it is a moment in which God reveals himself through Jesus is a visible and glorious way. But God reveals himself constantly through all of the records we have of Jesus, and shows us how we may also show the glory and life of God through our lives. In God’s way of doing things the ordinary, such as Jesus the ordinary human being, is transformed into the extraordinary through faith. The faith of Jesus is what made his ministry, death and new life possible. Because of his faith and total obedience God was able to work in and through him, and even raise him to life again.

And God longs to change the ordinary into the special in our lives. He does it already in the sacraments, where ordinary water becomes the water of life in baptism, or ordinary men and women become one flesh in marriage, or in the sacrament of Holy Communion that we celebrate here and now. In this sacrament bread and wine become our spiritual food and drink, and represent and become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our re-enactment of the last supper of our Lord these ordinary things become special, and enable us to live and grow in God.

And we also have our own chance of transfiguration – not that we will go out on to a hill (that’s difficult enough in this part of the country!) and meet with Moses and Elijah! No our transfiguration comes as God changes us, us ordinary people, into his body in the Church. As we live in Christ, as we seek to follow Christ and serve God through faith we are drawn closer to him and, by the working of the Holy Spirit, become more like him. We will reflect God’s glory ourselves if we will only allow ourselves to be changed as we meet God through faith, in word, in sacrament, in prayer and in living out our Christian lives filled with God’s Spirit…

We are reminded in this festival, that God is both glorious and intimate, both loving and awesome. It is this God that we occasionally really do have a glimpse of, and that glimpse transforms our understanding, and makes it possible for us to show God’s light to the world in the everyday, through loving and serving God and our neighbour, through faith and devotion in our own prayer and worship and through becoming, with the Spirit’s help, more like Christ.

So our reaction to all of this should be to serve, to follow Christ and pray. We learn and grow and as we do we see the glory of God in the everyday, and we can then give thanks for the God who makes the ordinary special through faith. When we realise that this glory can be seen in the most unexpected places, even in me and you, then we don’t make inappropriate attempts to hold on to this glory and contain it - as Peter did. Peter offers to build three tabernacles in order to house the glory of God, seen in Christ, Moses and Elijah, in that place.

We too often seek to contain God’s glory in our Churches, our liturgy, vestments, our doctrine, our worship, our particular tradition or experience. When our eyes are open we will learn to see how Jesus is present in others, how the Kingdom of God is a part of the world already and is being brought in by those who are faithful, who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

And when life gets hard, when things seem darkest and most fearful. It is then that we can return to the mountain, to the Altar, to Church in order to pray for a glimpse of God in the ordinary made special in our worship. We worship the God who can fill the temple with his presence, but who longs to be the still small voice that whispers his love and strength in our ear. It is this God whose glory we celebrate in this Eucharist, and in our lives.

God is glorious, but not always in the ways we expect, may we all learn to keep our hearts and minds open to the glory of God in all aspects of life.

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