Thursday, August 6, 2020

Too much heaven on their minds?

(Luke 9.28-36)

The story of the Transfiguration is told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Peter also refers to it in his second epistle.  So what’s it all about?  All these shining faces, and visits from long-dead prophets?  The main purposes of the story are two-fold:

First – the story is intended to re-assure us that Jesus is the continuation and culmination of the past.  He builds on the great Teacher of the Law, Moses, and he fulfils the predictions of the great prophets, represented by Elijah.  Remember that the first readers of the Gospels would have been mainly Jewish, or at least people mightily interested in Jewish ideas.  They would have been grappling with the question of who Jesus was. Through this dramatic, mountain-top story, they were being encouraged not to doubt for a moment that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who coming was foretold.
Secondly – at the climax of the story, we hear the voice from heaven saying ‘This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him.  The first readers of these Gospels, and indeed we ourselves, are being encouraged to take Jesus seriously – and especially to take his teachings to heart.

This is a moment of high meaning, and of high significance.  Peter doesn’t want it to end, does he?  He wants to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  He wants to capture the moment, and tie it down.  Which is a very human thing to want to do.

Our beautiful churches are a bit like that.  God sometimes feels a bit distant, doesn’t he?  We get glimpses of him, in the world, in our imaginations, in those sparks of sudden insight which we all experience from time to time.  You know – those moments when the things we’ve learned about God drop into place.  “Ah!  I get it,” we say.  But those moments are fleeting.  They are incredibly precious.  But fleeting. Because our little brains can’t hold on to the enormous reality of God for very long.

So like Peter, we feel a deep, human need to construct something in which to preserve our sense of those precious moments.  We build it with great care.  We fill it with the work of craftsmen; stained glass and beautiful ornaments.  We place it in the heart of our community, as an ongoing sign of those precious moments of connection with our Maker.  And we visit it – as so many have done since our doors re-opened – to search, once again, for that feeling of connection.

But, just as Peter, James, John and Jesus himself had to do, we have to move on from those moments.  Life should, and often does, contain moments of spiritual ecstasy.  But, real life, the daily task of becoming more like God, that goes on once the moment of ecstasy is passed.  In simple terms, ‘you have to come down from the mountain’.  For Jesus, that meant a dark and dangerous journey to Jerusalem, and to his death.  

But what does it mean for you and for me?  It certainly means realising that we can’t remain on the mountaintop all the time.  If you keep your head in the clouds, you’ll quickly become ‘so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly use’.  

Will has been teasing me this week.  He’s been grabbing – and then publishing! – pictures of me caught in practical action…fixing noticeboards and pressure-washing pigeon muck off the bell-tower staircase.  It’s all been jolly good fun.  But it’s also been a reminder that the work of serving God doesn’t just happen in the Sanctuary, or here at the Altar.  We have to come down from the mountain, with our sleeves rolled up, and our hands ready work, and our mouths ready to speak the words of Jesus.

So let me ask you this.  

What can YOU get your hands into this week?  

To whom could YOU speak Jesus’ words?  

You, who believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, continuation of the faith of ages past.  How can you come down from the mountain, and be his hands, feet and mouth to a dying world in need?  

Whom can you bless with your charity?  

Whom can you help along the road?  

Whom can you help to heal, or house or feed?

In response to your faith in the Chosen One, whose words you are commanded to heed…what are YOU going to do?


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