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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Goodbye and Hello with my Dad as guide

Alleluia Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It will come as no surprise to you that these words have taken on fresh significance for me this year. Words that proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

Faced as I have been with the death of my Dad I’ve been left asking fresh questions about the resurrection. About what it means for me and what difference it makes as I say goodbye to someone who has helped shape the person I am today.

That saying goodbye has taken place over the last months of his life. Sometimes that goodbye was spoken of and at other times it was observed.

Though he was still Dad bit by bit, day by day we said goodbye; to conversations once had about all sorts of things, to his laughter and smile, to his mobility and appetite for both food and life.

It wasn’t easy journey but it never is, as so many of you know having walked alongside loved ones as they’ve come to their final days.

It is the hardest thing in life to say goodbye to those whom we love most something Mary, Jesus’ mother knew as she stood at the foot of the cross to say goodbye to her son.

We can only imagine her anguish and pain though we know something of it through goodbyes we have had to say.

Yet even if you’ve not said goodbye to a loved one recently, we all know there are times in our life when we say goodbye.

Perhaps to a relationship, to a child leaving home, to a job, to a school, to not being as young as we were, to hair in my case. Goodbye is part of life.

Yet what the story of my life has taught me thus far is that though there are goodbyes, the God in whom I believe in is one who offers us hellos too.
Indeed on this day we celebrate and give thanks for the God who reveals through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that goodbye is not the last word we shall say. For goodbye leads to hello.

And God’s hellos sometimes arrive in surprising ways. Scrapbooks for example, something that my Mum is a great compiler of. Through them I have remembered afresh the story of our life with Dad. They have been a hello amidst the goodbyes. Helping us rediscover the man who led such a rich and full life.

There are hellos amidst goodbyes in the Easter Story too. Mary Magdalene, and Mary head to the tomb of Jesus, it was part of their saying goodbye. Perhaps they chatted on the way, they remembered the good times their tears were tempered by laughter.

They arrive to ‘see the stone rolled back.’ The angel serves as God’s hello ‘He has been raised; he is not here.’ What were they to make of it ‘terror and amazement’ seizes them and they are ‘afraid.’

‘He is not here.’ My Dad has died. His body is still here, yet I believe, I know that ‘he is not here.’

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Graceful Judgement

It’s the stuff of fire and brimstone. The words we have heard this morning are just the ammunition a preacher needs to frighten his listeners. It’s what captivated the imaginations of medieval artists who depicted the words they heard on wall paintings in churches. Just take a trip to Easby near Richmond or Pickering and see just how vivid the images are.

Nowadays we tend to treat those wall paintings as historic artefacts, something to be gazed upon with curiosity and so we don’t take them too seriously. That might even be true when we think about judgement as a whole. If that’s so then our readings this morning invite us to think again.

In Hebrews we heard that ‘all are naked and laid bare to the one whom we must render an account.’

And then in our Gospel Jesus when asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ speaks of both the commandments but also more. His questioner is sent away ‘shocked’ and ‘grieving’ because though he has followed the commandments it isn’t enough.

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More than Meets the Eye

If you’ve ever listened to Saturday Live on Radio 4, you’ll know that every week someone gets to choose their inheritance tracks.

These two tracks comprise one song or piece of music they cherish, usually because it reminds them of a particular time, place or story together with a track they would like to pass on to the next generation.   For both we hear why they have chosen them.

Listening to it recently, with Elliot Peter Christie’s baptism in mind, made me ask what would be the inheritance track of my faith. What words rather than a song would I want to pass onto him that might accompany him through his life?

I decided that for me, the one thing, the one phrase, in a slightly obtuse way, about the faith so central to my life, would simply be this, that there’s more to life than meets the eye.

There’s more to life than meets the eye.

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What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?

‘It’s sometimes been said that if someone came up to you in the street and whispered, ‘They’ve found out! Run!’, nine out of ten of us would.’ These are the words which Rowan Williams began his Enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003.

I want to begin there because I think that by the time Kind Herod reached the end of his days he had come to embody the kind of paranoia that sees people out to get him at every turn. When he thinks that every conversation in hushed tones is part of a plot to overthrow him.

And so stripped of all his defences, mindful of the choices he made to protect that power, I think we can be pretty sure that if Herod were in the shopping centre at Crossgates and someone crept up behind him and said run – he would.

We meet him this morning as he begins to hear rumours about Jesus, another threat to his power. No doubt the order he gave to murder John (to preserve his popularity after a foolish promise) has worried him, so in his paranoid state he thinks ‘John whom I beheaded has been raised’.

History tells us that the traits which defined Herod have defined despotic leaders ever since. Even today we can look around the world and see those who will do almost anything to protect their power. But in some small way we all know a bit of what it is to be paranoid, to be anxious and fearful to think that others are talking about usand plotting our downfall.

In contrast to Herod’s paranoia that defines the Gospel St. Paul in our Epistle gives a different vision for life. A life lived ‘so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live to the praise of his glory.’ Paul invites us to live in hope.

And as we think of his words I think we know enough about Paul to know that he wasn’t immune to worry and anxiety, those things which left unchecked lead to paranoia, rather his security wasn’t bound to what other people thought of him. Continue reading “What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?”

Holy Baptism for Joshua Iles – What’s in it for me?

Well Joshua Jonathan Iles you’ve flown a long way to be here. Whitkirk isn’t Texas and yet if you had been baptised in the lone star state, it would be just the same.

The waters of baptism there and here are just the same, they have the same power to unite us with Christ as we obey his command. And yet perhaps Joshua if he were a little older might be thinking what’s in it for me?

It’s a good question and sometimes people seem to have the wrong idea of what baptism can do for you.   It certainly doesn’t offer any guarantees or security that the tragedies of life will not affect you, it doesn’t mean that you won’t make a mess of your life, it isn’t some kind of invisible force field to protect you from evil. However it does unite us with Christ and that unity is about life.

That brings us to reflect on the Gospel for today. We heard of the the woman who struggled for so long  with haemorrhages who is healed as she touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak and that event is framed by the raising of Jairus’ daughter. It is a dense and rich gospel passage that is at once disturbing and encouraging.

Why disturbing? Simply because we have no experience of what it describes. Just this last week the church was full to bursting for the funeral of a local 19 year old lad who’d had cancer. His parents had journeyed with him and they together with family and friends were here to participate in something no parent should have to.

For them the raising of Jairus’ daughter is likely difficult because that cannot happen for them or indeed any parent whose precious and beloved child is taken from them.    Continue reading “Holy Baptism for Joshua Iles – What’s in it for me?”

Parables invite us to see more

Jesus was an unpredictable fellow. I reckon it was sometimes pretty frustrating to be around him.    He did unexpected things, he is elusive, difficult to pin down. He tells stories without explaining them, leaving you with more questions than answers.

Its part of what makes him, for me at least, such an intriguing and engaging figure. Our friend yes but taken seriously this isn’t a cosy, easy friendship, life with Christ is full of surprises.

I think that’s why in each of the Gospel’s in one way or another, they ask the question ‘if you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ In other words make it obvious, keep on message and tell us what we think we need to hear.

But no, that kind of question invites the wrong answer, hence Jesus’ reluctance to engage with it.    Instead as the Gospel reminded us today ‘he did not speak to them except in parables.’ But why?

The reason for me is about the nature of our relationship because we’re invited into a grown up relationship with him. So Jesus is not our master and we his slave at least not in the conventional sense rather he is our friend and companion.

That’s why he sometimes seems elusive because he invites us into a depth of relationship beyond the superficial, invites to say yes to him, not just once but again and again as we go through life sharing our journey with him.

On that journey we meet him in so many ways not least through his parables, we heard one this morning. These are great stories that get beneath the surface of things, they challenge us and lead us to think about things differently. Consequently they might sometimes give us more questions than answers, but exploring those questions is part of what faith is all about.

But isn’t always easy, that’s why we sometimes want to echo those words ‘If you are the Christ tell us plainly.’ The desire for simple answers seems to run deep. Continue reading “Parables invite us to see more”

Clay and Friendship

‘We are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.’

What a wonderful image to have in mind as we begin this blessed season of Advent

It made me ask that when a potter takes a lump of clay, sits at the wheel whether they know exactly what they are going to make.

Sometimes that must be true and the potter Edmund DeWaal is famous for producing hundreds of what appear to be exactly the same pots.

Likewise a potter may sit and want to make a bowl because they have received an order for them and so they make six.

However I have dwelt on the idea that on some days the potter my simply sit at the wheel and see where their imagination takes them.

Maybe Isaiah had seen a potter at work one day and seen the work being done as a metaphor for God’s relationship with us, and it’s still a lovely image ‘we are the clay’ he wrote ‘and you are our potter.’

God has created each one of us, we are the clay, the same in terms of physical components but each one of us unique in terms of looks, size and shape, mind and imagination.

God moulds us in our Mother’s womb, we take our first breath and live and in living we learn that as we grow and experience life, we are re-moulded through it again and again.

Life is the potters’ wheel that turns. We are the clay shaped by that life and we are in the business of discerning God’s hands at work in our lives, revealed to us in all kinds of ways. Reshaping and remoulding us as we seek to live to his glory.

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