The Transfiguration - A lamp shining in a dark place

A sermon preached by the Rev'd Ivo Morshead at St George's Campden Hill, 5 August 2012

Words from this morning’s epistle;

This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased..  and.. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed, You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the dawn and morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1 v 19

I was lucky enough 45 years ago as a theological student, to have Robert Runcie, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, as my earliest preaching mentor. His dictum was that the preacher should always  have in his mind the words that the congregation should be pleading, namely ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’. It is to help us all to see Jesus that is the aim of the Writer of this epistle of Peter.

This morning’s  epistle reading is what is known in Latin as a probatio which translates as a Presentation of the Case or Proof. In this instance Peter’s aim is to destroy the myth that the transfiguration was not a real event, and to provide proof that it was real. There were and are many who believe that God does not and has not broken into the flow of the world,  what Peter has called in his epistle cleverly designed myths. Peter is adamant elsewhere that God has made himself apparent, in 2 Peter chapter 3 he cites the flood as evidence of God’s treatment of the disobedient but with Noah’s Ark as an instance of his ever loving care. In doing so Peter would awaken the knowledge of his readers to the text in  the Old Testament  Psalm   2 v 6 to 7 again showing God’s intervention and I quote; I set my king on Zion my Holy Hill, I will tell of the decree of the Lord - he said to me and you are my Son today I have begotten you. Such would have been seen as a covenant of Jesus coming in Judgement. Peter is adamant that God intervenes here in the transfiguration. Was he not present himself and a witness with James and John? Did he not hear himself the words both in the epistle today and todays Gospel, This is my Son my beloved in whom I am well pleased?

Todays Gospel begins, Now about 8 days after these sayings. They are key words for they link what went before with what follows, namely the Transfiguration . What went before was God’s intervention in the form of Jesus’s miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 which last Sunday we heard read in the Gospel for the day and linked in the sermon to the opening ceremony of the Olympics about 8 days ago. It is an important link because after the feeding of the 5000 Luke tells us how Jesus went away from the crowds to pray alone with only the disciples near him, He asks them who do the crowds say that I am? They are rather vague and offer as answers, John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets who have arisen. Jesus says to them in effect that is not good enough, who DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?  Peter answered the Messiah of God. Jesus then speaks very seriously to them. The Bible uses the word sternly. First he tells them of his own great suffering, how he will be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. Second he warns them all that if any want to become his followers they must  deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. These then are the sayings relevant as a prelude to our Gospel reading. As it began Now about 8 days after these sayings.

About 8 days ago those of us who watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics will have been amazed at the lighting of the Torch. The manner in which it took place perhaps can help us reflect on the Transfiguration. Any-one who wants to become an athlete of Olympic standard has to be wholly devoted  to his aim of winning gold for himself or his team. Ideally they have to be trained from a very young age and put aside every other distraction to concentrate on perfection in their chosen sport. It is incredible to me how brave the gymnasts are in leaping from one bar to another, how strong the cyclists have to be to ride 44 kilometres in under an hour and of course the same applies to every other sport including even more the paraplegics. The flame of the torch represented all the 204 nations of  the world taking part and it was lit by the young torch bearers who first went to the group of the elderly previous medal holders who embraced them symbolically passing on their spirit. They then lit the bowls of  each nation which together  completed the blinding flame of the torch itself.

The Transfiguration is depicted as a blinding light. Christ is at its centre with the elders, representing the previous martyrs in the form of Abraham and Elijah, below them are the representatives of the present generation of those who are to become martyrs , the three apostles Peter, James and John.   Suddenly a cloud appears into which the disciples enter and hear the words, This is my Son my beloved in whom I am well pleased. The disciples were witnesses. As it says in the gospel in verse 32 they saw his glory. It is this witness to the event that Peter pleads in his probatio or statement to help us along our way of Faith and discipleship.

How then are we to respond to this feast of the Transfiguration? One way to which we are directed by the First lesson this morning is to reflect on our own lives at this time and to examine the choices that we make every day. This first lesson was from the Book of Daniel and conjured up for us a picture of the deity on a throne. Daniel speaks of the ancient one with his clothing white as snow. He is surrounded by tens of thousands of angels and presides over a court of judgement. The task of the court is to examine the books which were opened for inspection. These books contained the good deeds done by the people of God.  Daniel’s vision however is more than about judgement it is also the giving of a promise of the coming of a saviour. Only one man can be wholly good and that man was as described by Daniel one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. Hence the reference to the clouds in the gospel.  For the Christian church that one man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came down from heaven, was crucified, died and rose again  and lives among us now as the Risen Christ.

Scripture reminds us always of the choice of paths that we can take in life. There are many from which to choose. One path is that of  following Jesus and his righteousness. We shall end this service today as we celebrate the feast of The Transfiguration with an unusual form of blessing, the sections of which  require the response AMEN.
The first ; Christ whose glory fills the skies fill you with radiance and scatter the darkness from your path. We shall respond AMEN

The second; Christ the SUN of righteousness. (remember this is spelt with a U referring to the heat and light of the sun) gladden your eyes and warm your heart. We shall respond Amen.

Just as about 8 days ago we gasped in wonder at the lighting of the flame Olympic and took in its symbolism of the handing on of the spirit of the Games from the old to the young . So too Peter and his brothers were struck by the glory of the transfiguration.
May we heed the words that Peter wrote as we continue to aim high in our lives whatever our age and ability;

This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased..  and.. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed, You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the dawn and morning star rises in your hearts. 1 Peter v 19

As with athletes, the life of faith is a hard one of dedication and sacrifice, as Jesus warned his disciples. May we all continue to strive until the dawn and morning star rises in our hearts.
Holland Park Benefice