St. Paul’s, Dunany, August 6th, 2017
Lord, consider my thoughts, guide my words and make them acceptable to you and accessible to those who would hear them. Amen
Today is officially the feast day off the Transfiguration of Jesus and I think of someone who is transfigured as someone who has gone through a very rapid change from one form to another. Transfiguration, or transformation, is something we probably think doesn’t happen, and we see it most often in fantasy films. Superman is an obvious one.
Clark Kent with his formal clothes and black framed glasses, like I used to wear in the seventies much to Cheryl’s dismay when we got married - they appear in all our wedding pictures. Clark Kent goes into a telephone booth, or if there isn’t a convenient telephone booth, behind a bush (much easier to imagine here in Dunany) and comes out as Superman - transformed. And that’s where the Superman stories really start to take off.
Likewise in Beauty and the Beast, the Beast is transformed back into his princely form at the end of the story when he falls in love with Belle and demonstrates to the enchantress that he can love.
The reverse occurs in Shrek when Princess Fiona, who has fallen in love with Shrek, is transformed into a being like Shrek
There's lots of light and swelling music, which makes us expect a Beauty and the Beast transformation in which Shrek turns into a handsome prince, but it's a setup. We discover that "true love's true form" isn't one of conventional beauty and royalty, but one that makes Fiona perfectly suited for a life with Shrek in the swamp -- potentially a lot more fun than life in a palace.
Transformations have a purpose. They are there to tell us something and the Transformation of Jesus is no exception. Normally transformations come at the end of a story and they are part of the climax, as was true in Beauty and the Beast and in Shrek. But the Transfiguration of Jesus is not the climax and it comes in the middle of the Gospel story. In that sense it is more like the Superman transformation.
It is to let you know who Jesus is. It is not the climactic moment in the story of Jesus, but it is the moment in which Jesus' true nature is decisively revealed to the three disciples who are present to see.
After the light subsides and the divine voice proclaims Jesus as God's chosen one and the cloud disappears, Jesus goes back to looking just as he has while he and the disciples have been traveling around Galilee. He continues teaching and healing, and setting people free from the powers that bind them.
The disciples tell no one of what they have seen and so they are the only people to whom Jesus’ nature has been revealed. Which is not to say that they fully understood, because we see throughout the Gospels that they did not.
It was not the Transfiguration of Jesus and the juxtaposition with Moses and Elijah that proclaimed to the Disciples who Jesus was. It was his resurrection which changed everything. The resurrection of Jesus was seen by the Jews who followed Jesus as the first example of the end of time, when all would be judged; if good, then resurrected, if bad then sent into eternal damnation.
But the end of time is another story for another day. It was the resurrection long after the Transfiguration that convinced Paul and the other Disciples that Jesus was the Son of God or the Son of Man.
The first reading today was from the Book of Daniel. It is the passage in the Old Testament to which Paul and the Disciples and the followers of Jesus pointed after his death in order to demonstrate that Jesus’ coming was predicted in the Old Testament. Most of us know about Daniel surviving the lions’ den but this is actually more significant. According to the early Christians, it was Daniel who predicted Jesus’ coming.
Let me read you that part again. “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days (meaning God) and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Jesus puts the question clearly to the disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” The story of the Transfiguration is one that formalises the identity of Jesus as Son of God, but only through the experience of suffering, death and resurrection. Kingship through death and resurrection does not make rational sense; it didn’t then and it doesn’t now. But just because something is not rational does not mean it is not real. Our call as Christians is to see the difference between earthly Kingship and spiritual Kingship.
The problem is: deep down inside, many have trouble believing or accepting all the elements of the story of Jesus, as told in the Gospels and the letters of Paul. They recognise the Bible for a multifaceted document written by many inspired people over a very long period of time a long time ago. Many don’t know if they really believe in Daniel’s “son of man” or in the Virgin Birth or in the resurrection or in life everlasting and then the question becomes “Who do we say Jesus is?” or put another way “Who is Jesus to you?”
Deep down inside, many think Jesus may have been A son of God, A child of God, A religious genius, A great prophet. The core of Christianity. The core of our religion. Many believe that all religions have their place in the world. I don’t know if any of you remember the O GOD movies, there were three of them with George Burns playing the part of God. There is a scene in the original one in which John Denver, the singer who plays the part of a store manager, asks George Burns, “Tell me about Jesus.”
God says, “Jesus? He is one of my boys. He is one of my sons. Of course, I have other sons (like Islam’s Mohammed, like Buddha, like Hindu’s Vishnu.) Jesus? He is one of my boys.”
I think the significant point here is to figure out who Jesus is for you.
What were his teachings? Love your enemies. Be kind to those who harass you. If somebody slaps you, turn the other cheek. Forgive. Let go of bitterness. Follow the Ten Commandments. Right after this sermon we will say together what is known as the “Hear O Israel”. It is a quote from Deuteronomy and was used in the Book of Common Prayer; many of you will know it. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first and the great commandment. The second is like unto it: Love your neighbour as your self. There is no commandment greater than these.”
If you are clear about who Jesus is to you, then much of the rest will fall into place.
If your faith becomes a journey towards the truth, a quest for right behaviour, striving towards Jesus’ truths, then it becomes easier to understand and follow.
If your faith is an absolute unchanging truth that you have to believe or not believe, black or white with no shades of grey, then it is harder to break but once it does, it shatters completely. We see many examples of that around us.
If you never question, doubt or examine your faith, then it remains shallow, easily put aside when inconvenient.
If however you evolve in your faith, learning more about it from life’s experiences, understanding it better, then it matures and becomes more resilient.
Be clear about who Jesus is to you and your faith will also become clearer. What it is and also what it is not.