Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Sunday next before Lent: 2011 - posted in September!

There are times in life when one knows one has become so deeply immersed in the place and path one is walking along that it is ‘taking over’ one’s life – and this week, I knew it.

Speaking with a colleague in the Deanery this week, who is also preaching today, we were looking up the Greek for the account we have come know as the Transfiguration. We were looking particularly the word translated in most Bibles as transfigured – hence the name of the Feast of The Transfiguration we celebrate on 6th August each year, when we hear this account again.

In my trusty Bibleworks computer program, I zipped through the various places where the word transfigured is used, and each time, the result was the same – it could be translated as either to transform or transfigured. Interestingly though, for us anyway, was the fact that the word transfigured is used in both Matthew and Mark for the account of this event, in the Authorised Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and also the New International Version – but not the word transform.

It’s just the kind of conversation clergy have on a Thursday afternoon... and I don’t believe it was even wet!

So why one word and not the other?

Perhaps it is to do with transform being to do with change, although you could say this about transfigure too. However, transform seems to imply a change that is brought about at the very centre, the inside and the whole of a thing, or a person. All is changed. In the account we have before us, the appearance of Jesus is changed. We don’t know what is going on inside, it is true, but we read, just as we do with the account of all that happened to Moses later in the Book of Exodus, the appearance of Jesus changed. Moses’ face was radiant, such that the people were afraid to come near him... here the disciples too are afraid, so much so that they fall to the ground.

There is an external change that can be seen and witnessed, and this external change reveals something of what God is doing, where God is, what God wants to show us.

With Moses, his face was radiant, and the people knew that he been in the presence of God: the Hebrew uses a phrase that I love: The Lord spoke to Moses, face to face, and Moses’ face shone with the glory of God.

Jesus’ appearance is transfigured, his clothing too, and the disciples have the privilege of seeing the glory and splendour revealed in the face, the clothing – the whole appearance of Jesus Christ. As we read in 2 Corinthians 4:6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is indeed shining out of darkness, the darkness of the mis-comprehension of the disciples, the darkness of the rebuke against Peter – get behind me Satan. These are dark and confusing times, just as they would be for Christians in years to come, and it is the account of the Transfiguration that we have heard today that will offer hope and solace to them all.

The disciples witnessed the shining forth of God’s glory in this transfiguring. God’s glory was revealed, Jesus’ glory was revealed. Jesus wasn’t changed – as use of the word transform might suggest if it had been used in the translations handed down to us – Jesus was transfigured so he could be seen as who he truly is. His bodily frame remains intact, his clothing too, but there is light, there is glory and there a new understanding for the disciples, even though they are at first too terrified to look.

I wonder how confident we are to look at Jesus: are we confident, or are we also terrified? I wonder how confident we are to come into the presence of the glory of God as Moses did: are confident or are we terrified? I wonder how confident we are to tell others of what we might have seen or experienced if we have sat in the presence of Christ and experienced something of his power, his light and his glory: are we confident or are we terrified?

A few verses before those we heard read today from the Letter of Peter, he writes, 12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you.

Peter reminds the people because he is aware that their practising of their faith is lukewarm and lack lustre. They live as though the Kingdom was an untruth. Peter makes it plain that all that they have heard of Jesus Christ is not mere stories or make believe: 16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. All that readers of Peter’s Letters have heard of is true, and because Peter affirms he has seen it, he wants these people to be strong and secure in their faith. He does not want them to live out of peace with one another, or with God. Peter wants them to be strong and confident. Peter wants them to be bold. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

And this is what God wants for each of us. The transfiguring of Christ was in the presence of the disciples so that they could tell others of what they had seen. This truth is for us as well... so that we can be confident, so that we can be bold, so that we can tell others of this truth.

I began by remarking that there are times in life when one knows one has become so deeply immersed in the place and path one is walking along that it is ‘taking over’ one’s life – and this week, I knew it. I knew it wholeheartedly, and was glad. I was glad, not because it made me feel smart or clever, but rather because I was seeking to gain a deeper understanding of what it is exactly that the Word of God in the Bible we read day in, day out – or maybe not quite so often for some... what it is exactly that the Word of God in the Bible can reveal to us, reveal to us of God.

This is the journey each of us is invited to make. To wrestle with the texts, to overcome any fears we may have, to gain confidence so that we can see Christ in his glory, so that can come face to face with God, so that we can reveal the truth through our transfigured faces and beings.

In encourage each of you, just as Peter encouraged the people to whom he wrote, to be confident, not to turn away. I encourage each of you to come and see Christ anew, to come and know God anew, to come and receive all that God offers anew – this day and always. Amen.

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