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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: If stars shine then so can we…
Date/time/service: 9th August 2020 Transfiguration Sunday 11am Eucharist
Passage of scripture: Luke 9.28b-36
In today’s gospel we hear the dramatic story of Jesus climbing a ‘high mountain’ with Peter, James and John, three of his closest friends, and while he was up the mountain his face began to shine like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.
I have read this story many times and, indeed have been fortunate enough to visit the Mount of the Transfiguration on a few occasions. What struck me about this story this time as I read it, is that it is very matter of fact and physical. Most people believe that Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as well as the gospel that bears his name, and when he describes the day of Pentecost in Acts, another dramatic event, he says things like, the sound was ‘like the rush of a violent wind’ and ‘divided tongues as of fire, appeared among them’, making the point that there wasn’t an actual violent wind or actual real fire. The story of the Transfiguration is told in a very different way. According to Luke, Jesus’ physical appearance actually changed. It does not sound like metaphor for an inward spiritual feeling. There is no hint of poetry. It feels like a straight, factual description of what the disciples saw with their own eyes.
So what is an old liberal like me, who likes to try and explain stories like this by seeing them as metaphor, or imaginative descriptions of spiritual experiences, to make of this story?
There is no doubt that Jesus had a physical body like ours. He got hungry, he got tired, when his body was cut, it bled. It’s this physical body, like ours, that is transfigured, that shines with light. We tend to be very dismissive of these bodies of ours. We look after them while we have them, take them to the doctors when they are ill, try to keep them fit and well, but essentially we tend to think of them and use them as vehicles in which our souls are carried, believing that when we have reached the end of our life’s journey, these bodies are no longer required so they are destroyed and our immortal souls go to heaven. That seems to me to be what most people think, but it is profoundly un-Christian and un-biblical. In fact yesterday we celebrated the Feast Day of St Dominic who made his name, in part, by refuting the heresy which says that all that is physical and material is bad and only the Spirit is of God. St Dominic stood for the truth of our faith which is that this physical world, these physical bodies, are created by God and in Genesis we are told that God saw all that he had made and it was very good. Nothing that God makes is bad or sinful or disposable. Perhaps the story of the Transfiguration is reminding us that our bodies, this corporal world, is not merely a temporary vehicle for souls, but is essentially good and is part of God’s great work of creation and salvation?
We all say in the creed week by week that we believe in ‘the resurrection of the body’ but we have all been to burials and cremations and don’t really have any idea what we mean by ‘the resurrection of the body’. Some of us will have seen Stanley Spencer’s great painting set in a churchyard with bodies clambering out of graves, and it is beautiful, interesting and unsettling but ultimately, if pushed, we’d all probably say that it is absurd.
But perhaps it’s not so absurd? Remember the feeding of the five thousand, the gospel last week? Jesus tells the disciples to gather up the scraps of what is left over at the end of the meal and 12 baskets are filled. This tells us something of the abundant generosity of God and it also tells us that nothing that God creates is ever wasted. Nothing that God creates is disposable.
There’s a song by someone called Moby and its title is, ‘We are all made of stars’. If we accept the ‘Big Bang’ theory of creation, then this is certainly true. We are created out of the chemicals and gases which are a part of what I would call God’s Big Bang. We are all made of stars. Is it so ridiculous to consider the possibility that God, in God’s time, can work with this physical stuff we are made of, to make glory shine more intensely in and on creation? I am no astrophysicist but I know that when we look at the stars at night we are seeing light that is hundreds, sometimes thousands, of light years old. Is it really so ridiculous to consider that in the great scheme of God’s creation these physical bodies of ours, made of stars, can and should be shining intensely with God’s light, with God’s glory?
So let’s not dismiss this story as one of those that we consign to being just a about Jesus or just a metaphor for significant spiritual experience. Let us accept this story as Luke tells it and also accept that it is potentially about us as well. What happened to Jesus on the mountain can and should happen to us – these physical bodies, this physical stuff is made by God and is good. Salvation will not come when a mass of holy souls are wafting about piously praising God in some ethereal, purely spiritual heavenly existence. These physical bodies, this physical stuff is made by God and is good and is an essential part of God’s work of salvation. These physical bodies, this physical stuff can and should shine with the light of divine glory.
The process of transformation, the process of transfiguration works from the inside out. The thing about the light of transfiguration is that it is not just a reflection, God’s light reflecting off our lives, no, the light comes from the inside out, we are not simply reflectors of God’s light, we are sources of God’s light and that light begins to glow through small acts of everyday kindness and love and potentially can become brighter and brighter so that eventually the whole of creation shines with goodness and love, shines with God’s glory.
We are all made of stars, and, like them and like Jesus, we should shine!
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