Transfiguration

In his response to The God Delusion book by Richard Dawkins, the Revd Nicky Gumbel (who is the pioneer of the Alpha Course) in his book called Is God a Delusion? tells the story of a nun working as a missionary in the Middle East. Apparently, whilst driving her jeep one day she ran out of petrol. There was no jerry can in the vehicle but, because of her work with children, she did have in the back of the car a potty. So she walked to the nearest petrol station and filled up this vessel with petrol. She was just pouring it into the tank when a Rolls Royce drew up and the occupants were absolutely fascinated at seeing her pouring the contents of the potty into the jeep. One of them leant out and said to her ďMy friend and I donít share your religion but we greatly admire your faithĒ!

Well, that got me thinking. Our faith is based on pretty sound reasoning and personal experience down the ages but, just as in that story, it may look totally irrational to an outsider.    

Many of the things we do must look very strange to others. Do you remember how the sacraments are described? Ė an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Yet other people see the signs, the actions and they donít get beyond that point. What we do just appears, to them, to look completely irrational. That can be true even here - group singing: who ever sings in a group with other people these days, unless you do it as a hobby or youíre on the football terraces or I suppose if youíre drunk! Kneeling to pray - who ever kneels these days? Praying itself; repeating words in unison with others; receiving a minute circle of manufactured wafer; bowing to the altar or the blessed sacrament; making the sign of the cross and so on.  

The se are all perfectly rational and sensible to us - as I say theyíre symbolic or they show respect or reverence or focus or repentance or they are there to make worship a special, a unique, experience - but to non-believers they simply look mad. 

It reminds me very much of something which appears in that Agatha Christie novel - one of the Hercule Poirot ones - The ABC Murders. The television version was an adaptation and it didnít contain these very insightful lines which appear in the book : "If a man insists on going out and squatting about in nothing but a loin cloth, his conduct seems eccentric in the extreme but once you know that the man himself is firmly convinced that he is Mahatma Gandhi, then his conduct becomes perfectly reasonable and logical".  

Do you see the point? Once you understand then everything makes sense. Once you share the same beliefs, the actions donít seem mad or irrational at all; theyíre perfectly in keeping with what is believed.  

Thatís the task I believe we have for others. Itís not so much to change or adapt what we do to try to match other peopleís unbelief, itís surely to try and bring those people to belief, to faith, to understanding, so they can experience the joy of worshipping and having a relationship with a living God. The n, everything we do will seem sensible, rational. Our faith will become their faith. 

That was the clear instruction from Jesus to his disciples: "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel, make disciples of all nations, for this is the will of my Father; that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life".

Are we not Christís disciples? Thatís why weíre here isnít it? Not because itís something different to do on a Sunday or because all the shops are shut - in fact they are not. Weíre here to worship God, to give thanks, to receive His strength to carry on, to pray for others. Weíre here because we are Christís disciples, so that clear instruction from Jesus applies just as much to us as it did 2,000 years ago to Peter and James and John and all the others.  

We must try to bring others to God, help them to hear His message and, most importantly, help them to understand it. We must continue to ensure our fuel tanks are constantly filled up - it doesnít matter if it comes out of a potty as long as what we are pouring in is the Holy Spirit. The n weíll have the fuel, the power, the drive to inspire others.  

What has all this got to do with the transfiguration? Well, I have to admit, thereís no immediately apparent link but this is an important Sunday in the church calendar. The transfiguration - when Jesus and three of his Apostles go up a mountain and Moses, representing the law and Elijah, representing the prophets - both appear and Jesus is transformed, becoming radiant. Itís the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth .

Apart from Tim, who lives over there, all the rest of us have had to climb up to this church today. OK, some will have done it by car but we have all somehow ascended this mini-mountain. This, right here, is the place where we meet God, where we can get a glimpse of heaven, where once again Jesus is the connecting point and where we can all be transformed.  

When we descend from here, will our faces be shining? Remember those words from Corinthians: Our faces are not covered with a veil. We all display the Lordís glory. We are being changed to become more like him. Yes, we too can be transfigured. We too can become radiant. 

So at the end of this service letís go back down the hill again with that radiance shining; shining on others. Let them see the light of Christ of in us. Let them see his love, through us. Let them see how knowing Christ can transform, can transfigure us and let them understand it can transform and transfigure them too.  

Itís not disfiguration or configuration; itís transfiguration - defined quite simply as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. It happens right here.

Thank you so much for your attention this morning and each time Iíve spoken over the last few years. Just so you know where I'm coming from and what Iím taking away from the privilege of having been allowed to do preach to you on various occasions over the past four years, I leave you with the words of the author of the Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith:  

You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips .

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire July 2016

This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 10 February, 2013