If someone were to ask you what the point of being a Christian is, what is our goal, or even the point of the journey we are on, I wonder what you would say?
If asked myself I would have no hesitation in saying that one major point of the journey, is that I myself am changed, that I become a more rounded, more virtuous, more content human being who through my actions people might see God at work.
Being changed, being transformed, in common parlance “becoming a better person” is a part of every Christian tradition and denomination, but nowhere is it given greater prominence than in the Orthodox churches.
Being changed through knowing the presence of God’s spirit within us and shining with that light is the whole point and goal of the Christian faith which is why the transfiguration of Jesus, the story we heard today, is absolutely pivotal to their self-understanding.
The transfiguration is a symbol, a representation of the goal of every Christian which is to shine with the light of God.
In Peter’s letter in which he talks of seeing the transfiguration on the mountain he says “You do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v.19)
I think Peter means by this, Gazing with awe on the spectacle of the transfiguration is good but it is not the end, it is the means to an end – the end is when the morning star rises in our hearts.
To be transformed as I have emphasised before was the core message of Jesus. “Metanoia” he said – be transformed because the kingdom of God is at hand.
The motor that drives this process of transformation comes with the realisation that God loves you as a Father loves his child and that this God of love is close to you. This process Jesus calls being “born again”. Knowing that each of us has another source other than our biological parents – a spiritual Father.
Change is not pain free though. As I wrote this week, all change, no matter how positive carries with it a sense of loss. Resistance to change in other parts of our lives, church life included, is a good example of the resistance to change that we have regarding our own hearts and minds and actions.
Overcoming that resistance takes a group effort which is why we meet communally every week. Encouraging and strengthening and yes, challenging each other is also a part of church life. All of Paul’s letters bear witness to that fact.
As we enter the period of Lent, a time where traditionally we set aside time to contemplate and discern our priorities in life and the nature of our faith. Stephen Cherry, whose book “Barefoot prayers” is the chosen book for this year’s Big read calls Lent a journey to resurrection (that ultimate symbol of transformation). And that without our sights set on resurrection Lent would be a sad and sorry time.
The motor of all Christian transformation is love, and Stephen’s prayer for this Sunday before Lent is titled very simply.....
As I set my sights on your empty tomb,
As I begin to imagine the dangerous route
Of desert and temptation,
Fasting and fear,
Loneliness and crowds,
Silence and noise,
Desertion and betrayal,
Bread and wine,
Cross and nails,
Vinegar and gall,
Water and blood,
Spice and earth,
Cave and rock,
As I imagine and foresee all this,
And stoop not to tie but to unlace my boots,
Take off my shoes,
Slip off my sandals.....
I pray for just one thing:
Your gift of love.