By New Brighton Union Coordinating Minister: Mark Gibson
New Brighton Union Church,
3rd March 2019
Walking along the beach watching the sea or cycling along the Coastal Pathway by the estuary I am enthralled by the movement of light on the water. The beauty is at times breath-taking. And it is always temporary. It doesn’t stay the same for long. As the sun shifts, as a cloud comes across, it all changes. One moment it as if the ocean is on fire.
The next minute the light has moved to a different place or it has gone completely. Sometimes it sparkles, sometimes it is just aglow.
Equally as enchanting is the movement of light on snow-topped mountains. Last winter I was mesmerized watching the early morning sun bathing the tops of our highest peaks
from the warm vantage point of the Mt Cook Village Youth Hostel lounge window! American naturalist and writer John Muir caught some of the awe of this phenomenon when he once exclaimed: “How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!”
Once again, the visual spectacle was brief. As the sun climbed higher in the sky the scene changed completely.
It is in this light of how light works in creation that we need to reflect on Luke’s story of the Transfiguration. So, personally I think we need to hear this more as poetry than factual report.
In the story something vital is being said about Jesus, and all who seek to follow him.
Important spiritual experiences often happen on mountains, but they don’t stay there.
I remember having a conversation in Japan with a young Buddhist priest about this.
He told me that the priest who began his line of Buddhism had an incredible life-changing experience while meditating on a mountain-top but then had an equally profound sense that he now needed to come off the mountain-top. He realised that the en-lighten-ment
he had experienced on the peak now needed to be lived out amongst the poorest members of his society.
This is surely where if we go beyond our religious boxes, we find that at a mystical level our different faiths and spiritualities are very similar. There is a oneness we can discover.
This is the unifying work of the Spirit who is not limited by the structures and divisions that we have created.
I pretty much think that what happened to Jesus in contemplative prayer on the mountaintop. The message he then gave to the three disciples who were with him was the same one the Buddhist priest shared with me.
“Enjoy this glorious, light-filled moment! This out-of-this world experience! This sense of heaven and earth as one! This heightened sense of togetherness! But it won’t last! It can’t last!”
And it didn’t! A dirty big cloud came over them and the amazing vision of Jesus, and Elijah and Moses together aglow disappeared as quickly as it arrived.
Pope Francis says that most of the time we are like Peter at the Transfiguration.
That we too say “Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this all together!”
We want to stay in this moment! But we can’t. The Holy Spirit urges us on, outward, forward. And this bothers us. It is so much nicer to be comfortable!
Francis goes on to say that he believes the critical message given is “This is my beloved Son, listen to him”. It is a message that takes them back off the mountain and into the midst of life.
He says that “there is no moment of life which cannot be lived fully listening to Jesus”.
Being led by him.
In daily life and when we are immersed in deep challenges and problems he counsels,
“let us ask the question: ‘What does Jesus want of me today?’”
I would want to add that the glory they see in Jesus can also be seen in them.
The light that Jesus embodies, can also be embodied by them.
And this is true for each one of us today.
Jesus provides a pathway by which we can live glorious lives like the sun on the ocean,
or the mountains.
When he came off the mountain, Moses gifted to his people commandments to live by. These were in essence lights to show them the way. Lamp posts to follow on the journey
On the other hand Jesus himself became a light on the mountain, and showed his closest friends and followers, and us, how we can also become lights. Through his teaching we too can become lamps on a hill! This is a reoccurring theme for Luke in his gospel.
When we listen to the light of Jesus’ teaching and act on it, we become like lamps in our community and the world. When we become particles of God’s light we too are transfigured.
So as a community of faith we need to hear the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountaintop as an invitation to us to also be transfigured by his teaching. But even more than this, for us to become agents of transfiguration in the world.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has suggested that “God places us in the world as his fellow workers-agents of transfiguration. We work with God so that justice is transfigured into justice, so there will be more compassion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togetherness in God’s world”.
I think this last point is crucial. “That there will be more togetherness in God’s world” Isn’t the world in desperate need of more togetherness right now. Isn’t the church in need of more togetherness right now?
This week we have seen Pakistan and India going to the brink of war. We have seen the United Methodist Church in the US going to the brink of blowing apart. The United States as a whole is on the brink of blowing apart. The United Kingdom is on the brink of blowing apart. Isn’t it ironic, tragic that each of these bodies has the word United in their name?
Through our mission as the New Brighton Union church, as agents of God’s transfiguring love, “there will be more togetherness in God’s world”.
“In God’s world”. Not in an other-worldly, religious bubble.
Not the exclusive kind of togetherness Peter wanted to make last forever on the mountain.
But togetherness in real communities, in real places in the thick of life, here and now.
It isn’t easy work, and now we move from the mountaintop at the climax of epiphany,
to the journey of Lent towards the cross.
Creating this kind of togetherness is costly. It is something that asks for something significant from each one of us. It means taking up our cross.