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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Feast of the Transfiguration
6 August 2008

A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume

O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thy well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36

Over the past few weeks I have been talking to you about the parables of the Kingdom. I have been reflecting both on the nature of that kingdom and the way in which Jesus tried to explain it to his followers and, indeed, to anyone with ears to hear. Two weeks ago I talked about the ways in which that kingdom was unlike any earthly kingdom. At its centre is Love and relationship and the way in which it operates is through persuasion not coercion and leadership by example and not by fiat. Membership in this kingdom is offered to all and invitations, like the strewing of the sower’s seeds and casting of the fisherman’s dragnet, are given out indiscriminately and with abandon. God is calling us into a kingdom that is both already upon us, inaugurated by Jesus’ incarnation, and not yet fully realised. Until now, Jesus has taught us about this kingdom by telling stories and giving examples, all taken from the fabric of daily life. He wants us to “get” the kingdom by relating it to what we already know and have experienced.

Here, at the Feast of the Transfiguration, Jesus shows us another, different, glimpse of the Kingdom. This is a glimpse given us not with the elements of daily life, but by Jesus’ extraordinary self-revelation on the mountain top. There on the mountain we and those who have heard and read this story from earliest days, like Peter and John and James, are given, for an instant, a peek at God in Christ in his full glory. We see God in Christ transformed, and in the words of the Markan account, “transfigured before them and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:2-3). Indeed, I much prefer Mark’s account for here the economical, terse evangelist has chosen to use his few words to paint for the hearer the clearest possible picture of what Peter and James and John saw and found so compelling. Indeed what they saw was so compelling that Peter, good old human Peter, wants to build those booths so that the moment can last as long as possible.

The Transfiguration is that moment in the synoptic Gospels, always related as taking place after Jesus has told his disciples that “the Son of man must suffer man things, and be rejected ..., and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22), where we are given a taste of the Kingdom of God in all its glory. We see heaven and earth, past, present, and future, joined in an instant of complete understanding, complete relationship, all encompassing love. We see, in short, a foretaste of resurrection life. Peter and James and John see what Jesus will look like after all that pain and suffering, after the rejection and trials. Peter and James and John and we see the power of the Resurrection to dazzle us and make us wish that this beatific vision will last for ever.

Alas, this vision does not last. Alas, as soon as Peter suggests they sit down and stay a while, God comes and overshadows the vision and announces that “this is my Son, my chosen, listen to him” and then it is all over. God comes in and reminds us that there is still work to do and that we are to follow him in the person of Jesus Christ. What is more than this, by calling Jesus his “chosen,” he puts all who would have first heard these words in mind of another Chosen, the Chosen Servant of Isaiah’s prophesy,

in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

The servant, the chosen, has work to do and work to do with us as his helpers. The servant, the chosen, is called forth to bring about the kingdom, slowly at first, and then more and more. This work is hard, it is not accomplished by violence, but by witness and action and at the heart of this work is justice, which, in the words of one of my favourite writers on Christian ethics, is simply “love distributed.”

The vision of the Kingdom accomplished, which is the deepest heart of the Transfiguration, the in breaking of God’s dominion into our lives and into our hearts is what sustains us to share with Christ in his reconciling purpose, his work as the Chosen Servant. And what is more, the vision of the Kingdom accomplished is not simply something we find in Scripture or experience in its liturgical celebration. No, reading and worshipping, in fact, prepare us, train us, to see the visions of the Kingdom, glimpses into the reality of God’s deepest dream for us and for Creation, that are there for us to see, however fleeting, each and every day in the world.

Whenever see love—the deep and generous sharing of the self with another—enacted in the world we can get a little vision of what God has accomplished and what he continues to work towards. Wherever love breaks into our lives, whether it is someone giving up their seat on a bus for someone who needs it or asking someone they find lying on the ground if they are OK or doctors and nurses working in an intensive care unit or a firefighter risking his or her life to save someone in a burning car, wherever we see these acts, we can see that the Kingdom is real. Indeed, we see nothing less than God’s love breaking into our lives, pulling us out of ourselves, and bringing us all a little closer to the moment when Jesus may very well allow Peter to build those booths.

Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Feria, 4 August 2008

©2008 Andrew Charles Blume.