There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a priest asking a group of children what a saint was. One of the children pointed at the stained glass windows and said. “They’re the people the light shines through” which I’ve always thought was rather lovely.
That is the way I’d describe what was happening in this story, now known as the Transfiguration of Jesus when his face and his clothes shone dazzling white.
In order to ram home the point of the closeness and intimacy Jesus enjoyed with God the story is set on a high place. High places were always thought to be especially Holy places in those days. Then another metaphor for God is employed – a cloud – envelops them and then the cloud representing God speaks and repeats the form of words Jesus heard at his baptism “This is my beloved Son – listen to him”
As I have said before, the presence of Moses and Elijah is there to show the Jews that followers of Jesus saw him as the culmination, the zenith of everything their religion had been hoping for.
I always thought that transformation was a central goal of all religion – that in putting ourselves in God’s way, as we are doing here this morning – perceptible change would happen. When I was at Mirfield, and we knew which was to be our first parish we’d go to after training – our vicars where we were going to serve came up to visit us.
I always remember Brian Sharp, vicar of St. John’s Margate asking me. “What do you expect to see in your ministry?” I said “Transformation”. He then said in his deadpan way “You are going to be very disappointed”. And he was right.
Not only in my ministry but in me as well. Transformation, the changing of habits, becoming kinder, more loving, braver, bolder, just doesn’t happen overnight.
Change does happen, but it is slow, steady, almost imperceptible. Change comes gradually. It is bolstered and encouraged by regular practice. Coming close to God, the source of that light, is what we are doing in church. It is what we do when we pray and meditate.
Ironically the biggest and fastest change in my experience comes through trauma; death, disease, divorce. It appears that we have to die a bit inside before we can grow again, this time a little differently. The central Christian motif of death and resurrection couldn’t be truer in this case. The trouble is that we have to die inside first before we eventually grow the fruits of resurrection, and even then it may be slow and may indeed never happen.
That is not to say that there are not people who do let the light shine through in their lives a little more than others. I often hear people talk of Peggy Conway in those kinds of terms, who I have never met but obviously left a deep impression on all who know her and on Tuesday I conducted the funeral service of Nancy Deas, and Maureen spoke of Nancy in just those terms.
Unusually for a funeral we didn’t have the usual readings about death – we had Paul’s hymn to love – 1 Corinthians 13. Maureen also linked that to something else Paul wrote about the fruits of the Spirit. A list, not exhaustive, of what our characters grow into, how we change when we let more of the light of God shine through our lives Paul writes “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control”
And of course Jesus said. “By our fruits will we be known”.
The trouble is, that when we compare our own lives with that impressive list the outcome could be depressing, when we see where we don’t measure up. I’m sure my life is pretty spare of most of the things on that list.
That is where the other , and actually the most important Christian understanding of God is so important. We believe that even when we don’t measure up – God loves us unconditionally anyway. That idea is called GRACE.
No, perhaps we don’t measure up. Perhaps we never will, though we want to. That is why we continually put ourselves in God’s way by coming together to commune with the divine and each other Sunday by Sunday.
Transformation does occur. But it is slow and sometimes brittle and it relies on practice. And as I say, often the most dramatic change occurs through trauma – but it does happen.
The way to personal growth is to bask in God’s unconditional love for you. To know that you are infinitely loved is the greatest and most fertile soil you can have to blossom and grow.
But we can often forget that simple fact, as I often do myself. We need reminding often.
We are infinitely loved.