Monthly Archives: February 2017

Matthew 17:1-9 – The Transfiguration

transfiguration-2I have two brothers and a sister – all younger than me. Academically, three of us did pretty well: we could read well before we went to school, we passed the 11 plus and got into the local grammar schools where we lived in King’s Lynn in Norfolk.

One of my brothers was different (and I hope he does not  mind me talking about him here). He struggled with his reading, only really getting going when he was about 8 years old – he went to the local secondary modern, and for the first 4 years there achieved little more, academically, than propping up the class with his results. Nothing academic seemed to interest him.

At least that was true until he decided what he wanted to do with his life. He set his heart on being a policeman. He was told that he needed some basic CSEs to get into training college and he began to work, he worked his socks off. He scraped the CSEs he needed and got into Hendon Police Training College in London. He had found something he loved and he was transformed – when he graduated from Hendon he came top of his intake.

Dare I say that he was transfigured by his desire to be a policeman? You may know a similar story of someone you know being changed in quite a dramatic way.

Late in his life, the Cellist and Conductor Pablo Casals was full of arthritis, but even at the age of 90 whenever he picked up his bow and began to play his Cello he was transformed. He became agile and supple – the artist that he had always been – consumed by what he was playing.

Illness and incapacity have been part the experience of many great people – Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Florence Nightingale (she did most of her campaigning from her sick bed) – to mention just a few. For them, like Pablo Casals, when they were engaged in their most brilliant work, the limits which bound them just seemed to fall away.

You see, people can be transfigured in their experience of life. In some cases, out of pain, … beauty, humanity and ingenuity can be born.

And the more mundane of us – you and me?

Our lives too can be transfigured by finding our vocation, the thing that we do well. This is something that many people who have been called to be priests say, it is almost as though they have found themselves in a way that they had not done before. If you are interested, try asking one of us clergy, or perhaps someone else in one of the caring professions, perhaps even try reflecting on your own experience of discovering what you were going to do with your own life.

We’ve read today of Jesus’ transfiguration. … At the transfiguration, Jesus is revealed, as more than a carpenter turned Rabbi; more than a man whose legs ached as he walked round Israel; more than a preacher whose voice could fail after hours of speaking to crowds. More even, than one who could bruise and bleed when tortured and crucified. He’s revealed as God’s Son in human form, truly God and truly human.

We don’t know how Jesus= transfiguration relates to our perhaps lesser experiences of transfiguration. He was, after all, divine as well as human. But through his resurrection, and through our own baptism, we have been promised some share in his divinity. And simply by being human we have a capacity for being more … for being different. When our attention is held, much that’s negative in our lives, seems to get set aside.

It is possible to change, to be different.

Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. It is God’s work, and it is an essential part of the Gospel which we believe; that we are not trapped, not held captive by our past or by our present. This is a theme of our Gospel reading as we approach Lent. Transformation, transfiguration, is possible for us who follow Jesus. Not just momentary transfiguration, but transformation that will affect and change our future.

We know that this happened to Peter, James and John – cowering, frightened men became powerful proponents of the Gospel, fearlessly facing danger and death because they had been transfigured, transformed by the love of God. Jesus momentary experience became their permanent experience. The Gospels ask us to believe that the same can happen for us, as we let God work in our lives.

Salt and Light – Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20

During this past week we have celebrated Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation. It is a point of change int he church’s year. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple to receive God’s blessing.  There they meet Simeon and Anna, two old people who had been faithfully waiting for God to break into their world.  When they saw Jesus they realised that this was who they had been waiting for – in Simeon’s words; “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” But Simeon also says to Mary, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Just as Mary’s thoughts are disturbed by Simeon’s words, so at Candlemas, we mark the end of the season of Epiphany and start our journey towards the Cross and Good Friday, through Lent and Holy Week and on to Easter.  Candlemas is often celebrated surrounded by candles, the theme of light is important The reading set for the 4th Sunday Before Lent continue this theme.

In the Old Testment reading, Isaiah talked about what God looks for in his faithful people – let me remind you of his words…..

“When you share your food with the hungry
    and provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked and clothe them,
    and do not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,”

Isaiah reminds us that shining with the light of God’s love in the word around us is about caring for those who lack food, shelter and things to wear and caring for those who are oppressed.  He also reminds us to take care with the way we communicate – that if we point our finger and indulge in malicious talk then we are not letting our light shine.   The challenge is clear … “let your light rise in the darkness,” says Isaiah. Challenging stuff indeed!

Matthew uses two images to help us understand what it means for us to draw people closer to God.  “As Christians,” he says, you are called to be salt and light to the world.  To be ‘the light of the world…… letting our light shine before others, so that they may see the good we do and praise God.’  To be the ‘salt of the earth’.

Both salt and light make a great difference.  Salt not only preserves and disinfects but it brings out the full flavour of other ingredients.  Light allows everyone to see clearly what’s around them.  So, we are called to do those things that let God’s light shine out from us, we are called to make a difference in the lives of those we meet.  In all we say, think and do, God asks us to reflect his values, his love, his life, his light.

However, if light and salt are not used carefully they can destroy rather than enhance. When you are cooking, adding the right amount of salt is critical to producing a dish that has a good flavour.  Too much and you’ve ruined the dish, all you will taste is salt and no-one will want to eat it.  Just the right amount, and you won’t actually taste the salt but the dish will be delicious – all the other flavours will be enhanced.  Used well, salt is helpful, used in a way that dominates, it is overpowering and destroys!discerned_saltandlight

We also have to be careful with light.  … Have you noticed how when people drive towards you in the dark, often your eyes get pulled towards their headlights and you get distracted from the road in front of you. … or if someone has shone a bright light straight at you, you’ll know how you are blinded and can’t see anything.  For light to be useful, it has to be carefully directed and its level balanced.  Too bright and in the wrong direction and no-one can see anything.  But just the right level of brightness and shining at what we want people to see, then it makes all the difference in the world.

Matthew prompts us to think about whether we are salt and light, but he also prompts us to consider how we are salt and light.

Things had gone wrong for the people Isaiah was talking to.  They had made their adherence to their religion a show – something to boast about. They were being heavy handed with the salt and shining the light too brightly into the eyes of others, so that all anyone could see was them carefully following religious practices. Their behaviour hid the reality of God’s love.  They didn’t make a difference in the lives of others and so were not working with God but against him.

1d5e83e00422b659f2c4a4a8dddb2678What about us?  What do people see when they look at us? Do we obscure the light? Or do others see people who are different, who are making a difference?  Do they see people who reveal God’s love, God’s peace, God’s joy and God’s hope?  Do they see people who are salt and light to the world?

What might we do to ensure that we are both salt and light in our world? I think Isaiah is very clear, and we could do a lot worse than listening to his agenda for mission:

“When you share your food with the hungry
    and provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked and clothe them,
    and do not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness.”

Amen.

 

matthew5-13-15-scripturephoto_lg