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Not So Shiny

Sunday 7th February 2016
Article posted on 10 February 2016 Leave a Comment

Exodus 34. 29-end
2 Cor 3.12-4.2
Luke 9.28-36

Sunday before Lent

There is a common theme with our three readings today.  They’re all about God’s glory shining in the world.  Shining so brightly that it’s too much for us to bear.  But rather than find myself inspired by these mountain top encounters, I feel within myself ambivalence towards them.
I could preach for you an upbeat sermon about the new life we have through Christ.  That through the redemption of Christ, the veil, the separation between us and God has been removed.  With Paul from our Corinthians reading,  I could talk of our freedom and seeing God’s glory.  Another angle is that I could go for the judgemental option, ‘Well if you aren’t having supernatural encounters, if you’re not experiencing this freedom and light that Paul talks of, it’s because, as Jesus puts it at the end of our gospel, it’s because,  “you are a faithless and perverse generation”!  But those takes on the readings would be disingenuous on my part. The truth for me is that I find these readings, initially at least, a turn off, because they don’t resonate with my day to day experiences of life and of God in my life. Life is unfortunately not a constant basking in the shining glory of God.

Back in Advent, we had a speak lead a clergy quiet day here at St George’s.  He told us honestly about his struggles with his vocation and the demands in life that at times feel overwhelming.  He told us of a dream he’d recently had where he was flying away somewhere on a plane and looking at family photos with his wife.  In the dream he was in tears.  The dream expressed something of loss and struggle and missing time with his family. I was taken aback by the unguarded openness and honesty of sharing his pain and his conflict with his calling.  But paradoxically I found the honesty and rawness of it inspiring rather than worrying or depressing.  He wasn’t spouting sanctimonies or regurgitating a party line that although theologically correct leaves me cold.  It wasn’t the correct words that I’d have forgotten by the next day.  I’ve remembered it because of the brave truth of it.

A wise old nun said to me once, ‘Paul, remember that where there is truth, there is God’.  Jesus said, ‘The truth will set you free’.

There was also something permission giving about his honesty, so I asked to speak to him during the quiet day and told him of my times of struggle. I told him of times when I’m fed up with the relentlessness of the job.  I told him, and am telling you that for a while after my sabbatical I felt a bit depressed and getting out of bed in the morning was more of an effort.  It felt good to share it and to have that identification and empathy.

Now…my hunch is that some of you listening to this will be questioning why I’m saying this or whether the pulpit is the place for it, some may be surprised, but there will certainly also be people here who strongly identify with what I’m saying, and who presently feel far from God’s shinning glory on the mountain tops.  I hope this sermon gives you permission and courage to be honest to yourself and with others.  Maybe you don’t need permission, but this is for those who feel they do.

I regularly and indeed recently had someone come to speak to me and asked the age old question, ‘If there’s a loving God in the world, why the suffering?’  I gave a longer more sensitive answer, but the short answer is quite blunt and simple, ‘God’s Son was crucified; where did you get the idea that Christianity equals an escape from suffering?’

We as Christians can sometimes think that being a proper Christian, having a deep faith means that there’s not space for doubt or suffering, and we need to go round everywhere with a big Ned Flanders, ‘God bless you’ smile on our faces.

There can be, maybe particularly for Christians, a grave danger of an unhealthy conflict between our inner and outer life.  We’re after all commissioned to tell the Good News and to live it.  How am I to be Christ’s ambassador when I feel crap?  Where’s the space also to be authentic and honest?  I strongly believe there needs to be space for both.  And neither do I believe there is the conflict of interests that we perceive there to be.  I know I’ve used this line before, but as we begin Lent and head for Holy Week, let me say it again – As Christians we are called to be both Good Friday people and Easter people.  It’s Easter that gives us the strength and hope to also face ours and other people’s Good Fridays, because we know that Good Friday is never the end of anyone’s story, nor for that matter the world’s.

So before ending let’s have another look at our shiny scripture readings and you will see that they are not so one dimensional.  As I read again from 2 Corinthians please remember a few things.  This comes towards the end of Paul’s ministry.  Things have gone far from well with his baby, the Corinthian Church including them rejecting him for other leaders.  Please also remember that a 1st century mirror was nothing like the mirrors we’re used to.  So listen again,
And all of us, with unveiled faces,
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
so a level of vagueness then,
are being transformed,
hear the not yet…’being’, not finished
into the same image from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry,
we do not lose heart.
Why does he have to say that, ‘not lose heart’?   Well obviously, because we at times do, Paul included, ‘lose heart’.
We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
‘Truth’ here is with a small ‘t’ and for me, that is the truth about me as much as it is the truth about God.

Ok now, a quick jump to our Gospel.  There’s all sorts that could be said theologically about the Transfiguration but let’s just briefly read it through the lens of this morning’s focus.  Jesus invites three of his disciples for some time away and prayer with him up a mountain.  They’re really quite uninspired and are falling asleep.  Then there’s this great spiritual moment and it gets almost comical.  You’ve got to love Peter; Peter wants to somehow capture the moment, to keep the special moment.  Instead the disciples get this booming voice that tells them simply and disarmingly to, ‘Listen to my Son’.

They come down the mountain and what do they do?  Amazingly, v36, rather than running around telling everyone, they tell no one.  Do they fear that people won’t believe them, laugh at them, or think they’re mad?  Is it maybe something too precious and intimate to them to risk putting it out there for judgement or ridicule from their friends and neighbours?  Do you feel like that sometimes maybe about your faith?  Anyway, v.37, the next day, only the next day!  These same disciples have a go and fail to heal a child who is suffering terribly.  Jesus has harsh words to say to them.  It’s a kind of, ‘How can you have such a lack of faith after that amazing mountain top experience?’  Although they are strong words, I actually find comfort in them.  If Peter can get it totally wrong, miss the point on the mountain and fail to translate it into action in his life, well there sure is room for me who with St Paul presently only sees dimly as one looking into a 1st century mirror.

So to end, and especially for those here who are suffering, obviously and opening or quietly and hidden.
Please hear this.
God loves you.
God walks hidden with you in your dark valley.
Your suffering is not something to be ashamed of.
Your suffering is not a denial or failure of faith.
Continue to follow the One who lived and died on Good Friday and mapped the path to the new life of Easter.
Be truthful with yourself and with others that you trust.
Persevere in hope, faith and trust, doubt also is an acceptable part of the diet.

The Lord be with you!

Amen

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