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May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure. Luke 9.31
When living in exile just before the 1917 revolution, Lenin is said to have written that, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.” What I think he was referring to, was the tendency for a society to remain apparently stable for long periods of time, during which time ideas and beliefs bubble under the surface and eventually, for good or ill, pour out in the events that we then read about and see in the news.
Both on a societal and on an individual level, what we see going on on the surface is an indication of what’s happening underneath. Our actions betray our thoughts. Every time I sit and listen to a sermon preached, every time I read a Christian book of any kind and, dare I say it,
every time I stand in a pulpit, I’m aware of how we are called to live out our beliefs. The whole point of preaching is that you and I are invited to read our lives and our Bibles together in the hope that each might help us to make sense of the other. And yet, there are weeks when so much darkness happens in our world that it feels difficult to see the promise of peace which is reflected in the pages of our Bibles being equally obvious in the text of our newspapers. That’s a rather longwinded way of saying, how might you and I hold onto the stories about Moses, Jesus and the transfiguration that we have heard this morning and use them to reflect on the unsettling realities of what’s happening in Ukraine.
To try to do so risks seeming to trivialise the current political situation and yet to shy away from doing so would be to fail in our responsibility as Christians to see the world and its history as belonging wholly to God. I don’t have any easy answers to that, actually I’m not sure I have any answers at all, and so, as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s, and just in case you are feeling a little lost or sad or frightened by it all, I hope you’ll permit me to share some thoughts in the hope that God and the safety of all God’s people might be for a few moments in the meditations of all our hearts.
Writing about a hundred years before Jesus, Marcus Varro wrote “Antiquities of Human and Divine Things.” The work is long since lost but Augustine preserved Varro’s thinking for us in one of his books. Augustine seems to have liked Varro’s distinction between three different versions of theology: mythical; political and natural. Mythical theology is the accounts of the actions of God told by the storytellers and written in the pages of the Bible. Natural theology is the works of God glimpsed in the beauty and order of our world. And political theology is how human beings make their own, let’s be honest often faltering attempt, to reflect divine beauty and order in our own social structures – including this one. The distinction between these three things is, I think, a good one but only if you remember that they can’t actually be separated. The job of every human being, as God’s pilgrim people, is to live out the story of God: that means looking for God’s truth in our world and living out God’s values in our relationships.
And that’s why, even when the news is difficult, we begin by returning to the Galilean countryside to meet with Jesus. And this morning, you’ve just heard Jesus and his disciples having what can only be referred to as the greatest of all mountaintop experiences. Just for a moment, Jesus disciples are surrounded by “light inaccessible, hid from our eyes” as we will sing in a few minutes time. They are lost in very presence of God. Is it any wonder that they ask to make dwellings for Moses and Elijah and one for Jesus himself. In other words, let’s stay here forever. Let’s just get lost in our beliefs. Let’s just tell the stories of our faith. Let’s just look for God in God’s divine light. Let’s be mystical and natural theologians without having to do the uncomfortable job of being political ones too. You can’t do that, says Jesus, and he sends them back out again. What follows the transfiguration is a story of how they come down from the mountain, and into a crowd where Jesus heals a sick child. Is Jesus making the point, I wonder, that mountaintop experiences are great but the more open we are to the presence of God, the more willing we have to be to return to really engaging with the sufferings of our world.
NT Wright puts it like this: we have to remember that “it was that the glory which they had glimpsed on the mountain, the glory of God’s chosen son, the Servant who was carrying in himself the promise of redemption, would finally be unveiled on a very different hill, an ugly little hill outside Jerusalem.” Jesus’ hope for a better future always means engaging with the lived reality of his world, even if it hurts to do so. I wonder whether that’s what he meant to teach those disciples that day: that it’s good to be lost in worship but it’s only truly worship if God’s redemption promises somehow play out in their lives, and ours. Being people who live out the story of crucifixion and resurrection means that we are at the same time willing to stand alongside others in the sufferings of our world and also alive to the hope that God will bring and end to suffering. We are called to be people who are changed by the divine promise of a future hope. This week, I wonder what that means for you? For me, it means that Jesus reminds me that violence is never an answer, that the suffering of the innocent is never right and that injustice has to be faced down even if to do so is costly. Our lives too must be transformed by our beliefs. It also means that, while the peoples of Russia and Ukraine may feel a long way away, you are I are called to somehow come down from the mountain, to somehow engage with issue, even in the midst of our confusion and sadness, even not knowing what we might actually do. If nothing else, we are called to pray for those who suffer and for those who work for their freedom, as we continue to tell the story of God’s future hope to a world that longs to hear it.
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