Living the Transfiguration

Train from Leeds to Edinburgh. Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow to Oban. Ferry from Oban to Craignuire. Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. Ferry from Fionnphort to Iona.

It would have taken less time to get from Leeds to Paris than from Leeds to Iona. But when I boarded the ferry for the short crossing to the island. Tears ran down my face. And I had a strange sense of homecoming.

Whilst I run the risk of being an Iona bore – I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned my pilgrimage there. It is relevant for today because Iona has become for me a place of transfiguration because I don’t think I really got what it was about until then.

For it seems to me that this moment described in our Gospel this morning in which Jesus is revealed with startling clarity is not just a singular event but part of an ongoing revelation given to invite and encourage us to see things differently as we go about our daily lives.

And that’s why I began with Iona because there I learned about this. For there the normal pace of life is suspended; you stop rushing about and take the time. To truly see the person before you. To savour the bird song. To appreciate the light. To see more deeply. To listen.

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Step in. Step out to see the big picture.

Most of the time we live just getting on with life. Wake up. We get up. We step into the day with its tasks and challenges. We eat. We drink. We rest. We go to bed and so it goes on.

But then occasionally, hopefully we sometimes step back too and consider whether we are in the right career, or the right home, or even the right relationships. We step back to consider the big picture.

It’s true of our life with God too. Much of the time we get on with it, we say our prayers perhaps, read the Bible, come to church, receive the sacrament. e step into our life with God daily.

But then every so often, if we are wise we step back and consider how that life with God is going perhaps accompanied by a friend or counsellor, whether we feel God close or distant.

Sometimes this stepping back happens painfully when we are confronted by something specific our mortality, an illness or a grief for example.

But it can happen at other times too, when we reach a significant birthday for example, or as we pay attention to an underlying sense that we are not as fulfilled as we might be.

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Party People still?

If we were to undertake a survey to try and discover what people have missed most since we began this journey we are on. I imagine the answers would include, seeing friends and family, having a hug, family celebrations like christenings and weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and so on.

And we miss these things so because fundamentally we are made not to live isolated lives (as I am at the moment having tested positive for the virus on Wednesday last week) distanced from one another but to be together. To be in communion.

In the story of creation as we have it in Genesis we read that ‘the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone;(1) We are meant to be together. 

And whilst the Gospel for today often comes round at this time of year, it feels a bit as though its rubbing salt into our wounds at the moment. For we have not been together, we have not had a party to celebrate for ages, birthdays of note have passed, anniversaries celebrated differently.

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References

1 Genesis 2.18

Who do you think you are?

Who do you think you are? We are a people immersed in story

‘Who do you think you are?’ asks a television programme that explores some celebrity stories. From Judge Rinder to Ian McKellen. Mary Berry to Julie Walters.

What often makes the programme memorable is how relevant and helpful it is for people to learn how something of their ancestors’ story lives on in them. Of how they shared similar interests and motivations – knowing about them helps them know more about themselves.

As the youngest of six children I didn’t know my Mum’s parents at all. And though I knew my Dad’s indeed Nanny came to live with us for a time they were aged and not so interested in a youngster.

So, most of my sense of those who went before me comes in the form of the memories of others. Of hearing their recollections about what they were like, what they did and so on.

For example, there’s the entertaining Uncle. The not so nice Great Grandfather. The deaf Aunt with a lovely smile. I’m sure you all have similar stories to tell.

And to return to that beginning and the question ‘Who do you think you are?’

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Experiencing God

Why are we here? What’s the point of life? These big questions have been around since our beginnings and we all ask them at some point in our life.

Whether it’s the child becoming an adult, or the adult confronted by the cruelty of life as they grieve a loved one – why are we here is a question that persists.

In the ancient world the Greek culture was one in which these kinds of philosophical questions were discussed.

Learned men (as they were then) gathered at the Areopagus in Athens to engage in dialogue and it is where we find Paul in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

I imagine him to have listened to the different discussions learning about the different strands of Greek culture and belief. And yet he is there not just to listen but to speak and so is asked ‘May we know what this new teaching is you are presenting.’

Paul’s speech begins by identifying their devotion to the search for meaning. He directs them to consider an altar he has seen dedicated to an unknown God declaring that ‘what therefore you worship as unknown. This I proclaim to you.’ At the end some scoff but some want to know more.

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Troubled hearts? Maybe, but…

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ Jesus says things like that. Says things knowing that we do have troubled hearts.

Says things like ‘Consider the Lilies of the field.’ That we should stop worrying, as if we can stop it just like we turn off a light switch.

But beyond our immediate sense of inadequacy perhaps these words are more of an invitation than a command for Jesus knew what it was to be human.

He spent time with people like you and me. People who were worried, who were troubled by big things and small things. None of us want to be troubled or worried but we are.

At the moment we are troubled by this virus that has limited and changed our lives. Troubled too perhaps by what life will look like in the future.

Thomas words from the Gospel this morning find echoes in our current situation ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going.’
Part of what makes this time troubling is that we do not know where we are going. We are learning to live with uncertainty.
And so, we need to hear the words.
Words that comfort us. Words that give us hope.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ says Jesus ‘believe in God, believe also in me.’

But at times like this Philip’s words in that Gospel may be ours too. He demands a sign of Jesus ‘Show us the Father’ he says ‘And we shall be satisfied’ as if Jesus were a conjurer.

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The voice of Jesus calling us into community

If someone says they’ve been hearing voices we most likely look at them strangely.

We’d probably think they were a bit mad.

And yet if we think about it for a moment don’t we all hear voices.

That little voice that says “Go on have another biscuit.”

That says “I should go and help that old lady cross the road.”

That says “That was a cruel thing to say” and so on and so on.

And then there are those voices we hear when we dream. Those vivid moments in our sleeping when our unconscious mind comes to the forefront.

So perhaps we do hear voices and with that in mind hear again words from the Gospel this morning ‘the sheep hear his voice.’ Jesus was likely recalling the 23rd psalm that begins ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ a psalm I reflected a bit on in the midweek musing last week.

He is of course using it as a metaphor, as he does when he also talks of the narrow gate. This image connects this Gospel with the first reading in which we get a glimpse of the shared life of the first Christians.

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Transformation

It’s all over. No not coronavirus – Masterchef.

Last Friday we learned that Thomas Frake who specialised in English classics, despite a soggy bottom on his last cheesecake was the winner.

I really enjoy Masterchef and thanks to lockdown I watched most of the episodes – a rare treat.
The food cooked is interesting. John Torode and Greg Wallace make for a lively double act of judges.
But most of all I enjoy it because its about passion and transformation.

Passion in that those who succeed really love making food, and making people happy through their food.
Transformation because we share the journey some of the contestants go on as they learn new things as they are opened to new possibilities and ways of cooking.

If they’re successful the contestants get the chance to meet famous chefs who teach them new skills and give them ideas.

It’s always interesting to watch this and see how different chefs interact with people. There are those who are demanding, critical and pushy. There are others who show them the way, guide them and encourage them.

Both are valid ways of learning though I suspect most of us would thrive more in one than the other.

But what has this got to do with Easter and the reading’s we’ve just heard? Well, both readings speak a bit about transformation.

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