Transfiguration - 7th February 2016

7th February 2016 Sermon by Clare Heard


I have some bad news for you…..the church is going to change……

I have some more bad news for you….the church is not going to change!

I think we often live in fear of the word change. It can take us out of our comfort zone, we are not sure if we will like it, we might actively dislike it….. but maybe even worse is the idea of nothing changing, of the church continuing year after year, exactly the same each Sunday, no change, no transformation.

Clearly I’m taking a pessimistic approach but that’s is because I’m aware that us church folk can often be rather pessimistic in our view of church. Either we get upset because there is something we don’t like and it’s not being changed, or we get upset because a change is being suggested and we don’t want it. 

A friend of mine bumped into a man in a pub and mentioned church and the man said he always thought of cheese and wine when he thought about church – cheesy songs and whiny people! How has this happened? How has somewhere that is supposed to reflect the glory of God and the love of Christ, managed to get a reputation for being judgmental, stuck in the past and full of whiny people?

Well, the answer to that is simple – because it is made up of people, people like us, who are not perfect. But here’s the good news…..this isn’t the end of the story and the church will change….and there’s some more good news - the church will remain the same.

The church will change because it consists of people and each person who joins the church brings their own unique identity, their own gifts, their own issues. Each of us contributes to our church and helps to make it what it is, and as we gain people, and as we lose people, and as we grow together, we transform, we change. 

But the church will remain the same because it will always be the bride of Christ, the church who worships the God who is Father, Son and Spirit. We are a church who values not only the bible but also the traditions of those Christians who have gone before us. We are a church whose vision and mission should always be the same – to glorify God and to share God’s love and compassion with our world.

I guess the sticking point is that we will probably not entirely agree on which parts should change, and which shouldn’t! The devil is always in the detail!

So with that thought, let’s look at today’s gospel reading. This is the story of the transfiguration. Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, John and James, and he changes, he becomes dazzling white, (and yet he stays the same  - still Jesus, God’s son). 

He is then joined by Moses and Elijah, often taken to represent the law and the prophets. So even here, we have Jesus talking with the one who set the foundations of the Jewish faith in place by bringing the people the law, but also with the one who looked to the present and the future in the living out of that faith and demanded change.

I wonder how you understand this passage, what it means to you? It sounds a bit strange really – the appearance of historic figures, shining faces, voices coming out of clouds. How do we make sense of this, isn’t it just artistic license on the part of the writer? 

This is about something happening which is beyond our understanding and yet which does have huge significance for us. And very aptly, it takes at the top of a mountain. 

Have you ever noticed how mountains can change our whole perspective on things. When we at the bottom, we are reminded of our own insignificance and smallness, and yet when we are at the top, we can look at the world in a completely new way, we marvel at what we are able to see and we marvel at God’s creation. We can get a new perspective. And so it is hardly surprising that God often meets people up mountains – Moses received the law, Elijah heard the still small voice of God, and Jesus again hears his Father’s voice saying “this is my Chosen One”.

So why is this story so significant? And what has it got to do with change?

Firstly, it reminds us of the glory of God, and that helps to put our concerns in perspective. 

The apparent trinity at the top of the mountain is wrapped up in glory – it renders the disciples speechless, makes them want to stay in that place as they realise how glorious it is. 

Like the disciples, as we reflect on the glory of God together, as we sit in his presence and receive his spirit, we can put our concerns in perspective. We can re-focus and place Jesus back at the centre of our worship, and we can do this together, remembering that sharing God’s love should be at the heart of our concerns and decision making as a community. 

With Jesus at our centre, and the Spirit as our inspiration, we too can start to reflect the glory of God in our church. With this glory shining through us, we illuminate each other, strengthen each other, and give meaning to past and future events in our lives. We live in a community, which has the law and the prophets as our foundation, and the light of God’s son as our guide.

Secondly, the reading points us to the shadows as a place to hear God’s voice. When Jesus and the disciples disappear, they disappear into a shadow, a cloud, and from that cloud comes the voice of God affirming Jesus. So we too are to enter the places of shadow in our world and share the light of Christ if we are to hear God more clearly. We need to be looking outward to those uncomfortable place, those difficult people, those that are invisible to much of the world, rather than looking constantly inwards, if we are to truly hear God. 

Thirdly, the transfiguration of Jesus is a radical change and shift, an event that transforms those who go through it. Jesus is not only illuminated but also prepared to go back to the people and continue his ministry. While the disciples wanted to hang out there amidst those giants of faith, basking in the glory and transfiguration of Jesus, they were not given this option. They had to go back to their lives and communities, back down the mountain, back to the mess. And so with us, as we come to church to catch glimpses of the glory of God, of the love of Christ, so, at the end of each service we are sent out, back into the world – to live and work to his praise and glory.

Lastly, in between the transfiguration and the noisy streets of our lives, we learn to keep silent before the sacred. We keep silent trying to figure out the transfigured Jesus, knowing that we are part of this transfiguration and that means that God will transform our lives, our thinking, our actions, our path. It is amazing how silence can change conversations. Praying before a difficult encounter, taking a few deep breaths if feeling annoyed. Stepping back and being silent can help us reconnect with God and remember his love and his grace. When we listen for and meet with the transfigured Jesus we change. We are transfigured, and transformed, as we join with him who is eternal.

So the transfiguration asks us to open our eyes to the greatness and glory of God, to change our perspectives, as we allow ourselves to be transformed with Jesus, and to do this in community. But it doesn’t stop there. There is a further part to today’s gospel reading and it is at this point, we can understand why we need the second part of the text that talks about the miracle of healing of the possessed boy. 

The disciples were not transfigured enough to deal with it, they had not taken in enough of Jesus glory and Jesus has little patience with their lack of power, their lack of understanding. Thus, Jesus' indictment of their faith “‘You faithless and perverse generation”. Doesn’t this sound just as true to us as disciples of Jesus today? 

Our world is dashing the poor against the rocks of despair, hunger, and abandonment everyday. The homeless, the immigrant, the incarcerated, the single parents struggling to feed their children, they are all like that boy, thrown into the shadows of our society, suffering day and night right in front of us! 

And we, who often forget the transfiguration of Jesus and our own transfiguration may not even notice these people but focus only on church asking Jesus: can we dwell in our worship tabernacles basking in your glory? Can we stay away from the people and their pressing needs? Can we argue about the way we do church, the format of our services, whether clergy should wear robes, whether women should be bishops?

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss these things, there is certainly a time and place for such conversations, but what the second part of the transfiguration story tells us is that we can’t stay here indefinitely… and we need to get our priorities right.

We need to get out of the fortress of our worship spaces and shed light into the lives of the poor of our communities, or we will never know what transfiguration means. We need to focus on bringing God’s love and healing to our world, not on doing church perfectly – because actually – if we do focus on receiving and sharing God’s love, then we will be doing church as perfectly as we possibly can.

Now, we can have a sound theology and say that in this passage, Jesus is the point of beginning and end, the past and the future giving weight to our present, the conciliation of opposite poles, change and constancy, the connection between the shadow and the light of God, the incarnation of the most divine glory. 

However, if in the name and by the grace of God we cannot contribute to the healing of our communities, our country and our world, then, as Claudio Carvalhaes says, we will never know what transfiguration means, what shared glory looks like and we will never be “astounded at the greatness of God.”

So today I pray that we would all open our hearts and minds to the glory of God, that we would allow ourselves to be transfigured and changed as we follow Jesus in the power of the Spirit, that we would catch glimpses of God’s perspective and that we would share God’s glory and love with each other and with our world as we look out from our place of worship and see how great God can really be.


Ref: Cláudio Carvalhaes

Holland Park Benefice