The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Sermon Title:  The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Date: 6th August 2017
Preacher: Roxanne Addley
Church Calendar Date: The Transfiguration
Lectionary Reading: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14, Psalm 97, 2 Peter 1:16-19 (20-21), Mark 9: 2-10

God is with us, God goes before us, God works through us. Amen.

Well, it’s great to be back with you, and preaching on the Transfiguration.  I’ve also just started back at Trinity College and the theme this semester is spiritual formation.  This week we were talking about Monasticism and Mystics and last week we were responding to the question of “What is spirituality and how is it part of our lives?”  I was thinking of this because in today’s Gospel reading, we have the account of a spiritual moment: a moment when three disciples encountered God in a very explicit and revealing way.  The Transfiguration is a unique occurrence, and in Mark’s Gospel, it is one of only two times in which Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is stated to the reader or audience by a heavenly affirmation.  The other time occurs at his baptism.  We have a heavenly voice, we have a radiant Jesus talking to ancient prophets and we have confused and terrified disciples, all of this on top of a mountain. What are we to make of this, in today’s 21st century?  This morning, I want to look at this encounter in three ways: firstly, as a spiritual moment, as a moment in which we meet God. I’d like to explore how we meet God.  Secondly, the identity of Jesus and how we interpret his divinity and his humanity, and thirdly, how we respond to God saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Well, the Transfiguration is narrated in all three synoptic gospels, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. That it is repeated, almost verbatim, underlies its importance and significance in the Jesus tradition.  It’s a story of an encounter with God and like a number of other such encounters recorded in scripture, takes place on a mountain. This has echoes of Moses going to meet with God up on Mount Sinai, and Elijah meeting God on Mount Horeb, and indeed these prophets also feature in our story today.  Scripture tells us of many mystical encounters between humankind and the divine.  From Abraham and Hagar in the Old Testament to Mary Magdalene and the Apostle Paul. These are just four of many people in the Bible who had profound meetings with God.  How do we meet God today, in a world where scientific knowledge and evidence based research dominate the narrative of why things happen?

Well as I said earlier, last week we went back to theology college and were talking about spirituality and the Mystics, and we were asked to pair off and talk about our own personal spiritual experiences.  Judging from the conversation that was generated in the room, there did not appear to be a shortage of spiritual experiences to discuss.  And while we weren’t called on to share in the larger group, it seemed to me from my own conversations and those we were overhearing, that many encounters with God had been experienced – it’s just not something we generally talk about.  Have you had a particular God moment?  Do you to see God in the world around you?  Perhaps in a beautiful rainbow, just as God promised to Noah.  Sometimes when I’m out driving in an overcast day I’ll see a massive ray of light come through a break in the clouds – I like to think of that as a God moment.  Perhaps you’re someone who meets God through art or music, or worship and sacrament. Or perhaps you see Jesus in the people around you, in a special moment with a friend, child or partner.  Perhaps you see a suffering Jesus in those experiencing grief, pain or loss.  Our spiritual life is something rather personal, isn’t it? Something, perhaps a bit mysterious and unexplainable, something special.  As Christians we base our spirituality, our understanding of the transcendent, on Jesus.  And this brings us to the main character in our Transfiguration narrative.

Well the Gospel of Mark is usually considered to be the first of the Gospels to be written.  It’s certainly the shortest, just 16 chapters long. And much of it you will also find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, often as in this case, almost word of word.  It’s written in a plain style and I think that you can hear the oral tradition on which it was based.  It’s an extraordinary document – really the first Christian theology.  Mark’s Gospel is a theology of Good News in a time of suffering, colonization and uncertainty. Jesus is portrayed as intensely human, a person who also understood suffering, with a range of human characteristics and frailties.  He got angry and became frustrated. He got anxious and scared.

The Transfiguration occurs when Jesus is at the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem following his ministry in Galilee. It happens 6 days after he reveals his death and resurrection to his disciples, for the first time.  He then takes Peter, John and James up to a mountain where he is transfigured, or transformed, in front of them, and they see him talking to Moses and Elijah. The description of his transfiguration uses the same language as our reading from Daniel which describes the appearance of the heavenly being.  Added to this, a voice from a cloud says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  We, as the readers of this Gospel, are told for the 2nd time by God of Jesus’ divinity.  And we hear this from a 2000 year long Christian tradition – perhaps we are not surprised! But for the disciples, they are having their very own God moment, confronted both visually and then orally with their Messiah’s true identity.

Jesus, the man who suffered terribly on the cross.  Remember he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And then, after three days he rose from the dead, as he tells the disciples coming down from the mountain. Humanity and divinity in one being – God incarnate.  Hope for us all in good times and bad.

So, how do we respond to this? How do we respond to our God, as revealed in Jesus?   Like the disciples?  Will we be like Peter who is always putting his foot in it.  On this occasion, he’s blabbing about building houses on the mountain for Jesus, Moses and Elijah! They are “terrified” at this event.  I think I’d be terrified too!  And they don’t understand what “rising from the dead” could mean.  And I’m not really sure what it specifically means either!  But in their spiritual maturity, these disciples responded to God’s call and listened to Jesus.  Peter, with all his faults and foibles, goes on to be the rock of the new Christian church.  He goes on to “feed my sheep”. John, many speculate, wrote the Gospel of John.  And James was the first disciple to be martyred.

How do you listen to Jesus?  How do you develop your own spirituality?  Do you see God in the sunrise or hear God’s voice calling to you in music?  Do you listen to God in prayer or meditation?  Do you meet God at the Eucharist, in Holy Communion?  I’m currently doing a weekly meditation program for four weeks at the Carmelite Centre in Middle Park.  I’m trying to develop a discipline of listening to God and discerning God’s path for me.  We also run a weekly meditation here at St Paul’s on a Wednesday at 5pm.  Why not try it?  I’m finding it very beneficial to actively and intentionally still my mind.  It’s so easy to be overstimulated and anxious in today’s media driven world.  Making time for God in our busy world is important I think – to listen and to pray those things that are on our hearts and minds.

The Transfiguration is an important spiritual moment in the lives of Peter, James and John.  As time went on, they came to understand its meaning more fully.  Deepening our spirituality is something that takes time and is indeed a life long journey.

Where are you up to in your spiritual journey?

Let’s finish with this prayer from St Anselm of Canterbury

O my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you,

Where and how to find you…

You are my God and you are my All.

You have made me and remade me,

You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,

Still I do not know you…

I have not yet done that for which I was made….

Teach me to seek you…

Let me seek you in my desire, let me desire you in my seeking.

Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you.

 

Roxanne Adderley – Theological Student.