Sermon preached at the Szak-Collegium Chapel, Budapest to the Chaplaincy of St Margaret of Scotland, Diocese of Europe

Categories: News

It is rather appropriate that we meet this morning on the side of a mountain, at Svabhegy in a place that 200 years ago would have been a dark and forbidding place! I have always found it hard to pin down the Transfiguration which is this morning’s Gospel reading.

It seems so other-worldly. Think of the story: Jesus takes his inner circle of followers up a mountain. It’s a hard slog and they are tired when they get there but manage to keep themselves awake. Suddenly the scene is changed as the mountainside is bathed in light and Jesus is seen in conversation with two individuals, identified as Moses and Elijah: symbolic of the law and the prophets who between them were God’s revelation to his people. Then the vision fades and the mountainside is again dark and threatening.

What is it about? The clue is in what follows afterwards: Peter, James, John and Jesus return to the others to discover chaos and confusion. They have been trying to emulate Jesus in healing and are failing. Jesus and the others are met by a distraught parent of an epileptic child who complains bitterly that they haven’t been able to help. Jesus of course heals the child. Transfiguration is not about escapism from the world but about our meeting with God.

Why are we here this morning? I do not think that it is because it is the respectable thing to do on a Sunday morning. Each of us will have met God in a very real way which is personal to each one of us, There is no simple formula, but there will be times, often very intimate and personal, when God has seemed much closer to us than normally, and from these experiences we have found the certainty of God which carries us along when the clouds come down upon our lives, when the worship which inspired us in the past, now seems humdrum, but we remember those times when a sermon brought new inspiration to our lives, when the words of an often familiar hymn suddenly took on new and enlightening meaning.

Peter blurts out on the hilltop, Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah. It is a type of escapism into which Christians have all too often and easily found it convenient to sink: we shelter behind beautiful words, music and imagery so that we do not have to get our hands dirty in the muddiness and corruption of daily life: we become so heavenly minded that we are of little use to God for daily life and witness.

The world outside the doors is a hard world: it often pays lip service to Christian values while at the same time ignoring the same values. The Church lumbers on as the disciples did at the bottom of the mountain, imitating yet getting nowhere. Where, people were asking, was the healing of the Jesus movement among those who claimed to follow him? The child’s distraught father cries out from his heart, ‘I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not’. Was it in Jesus’ followers or a magic within his life alone?

And today we stagger on. In some places Church institutions find it impossible to extricate themselves from privileged positions and yet Jesus himself had no wish for popular acclaim or power. In today’s world we must make a struggle for right, for love, for an end to suffering, greed and exploitation. We cannot run away from the suffering of the world but we are called to follow Jesus, to affirm the humanity of each and every man, woman and child, all made in the image of God.

Right across Europe these responsibilities have suddenly and uncomfortably come to the fore as thousands upon thousands of men, woman and children have fled westwards and northwards, away from unspeakable suffering of an intensity not seen for seventy years. There has been a chorus of politicians talking about Judaeo-Christian values, but in fact erecting barriers of fear and alienation. I have heard it in my own country: weasel words about taking in thousands and in fact the number of less than fifty. Excuses trip from the lips of politicians when some undesirables slip through a net leading to calls to exclude all.

I wonder how that impresses those who come looking for help and see how these Christians love one another. The memories of the Crusades still live a millennium on from the time when the streets of Jerusalem ran red with Arab blood and the Cross wearing Crusaders who were supposed to follow the God of love rejoiced! What will speak authentically of healing in the life of Christian people is the love that inspired an apple farmer to go to the point of need in this city with a load of apples, or our chaplaincy in Athens to set in motion support mechanisms for those in desperate plight for whom nothing was being done. I may assure you that these and many other acts of love and mercy were reported in our media and not just the Church papers at the other side of Europe but the secular ones as well.

And all this has its source in experiences of transfiguration, those times when God has revealed himself to us in glory to sustain us in the difficult times when the clouds of life hang glowering over us and life itself is unrelieveably dark and drear. It is the glory that sustains our hope, that tells us that we are never alone but God is always with us and nothing can separate us from his love, his power and strength.

On Wednesday next we begin the season of Lent. It starts by remembering that after Jesus’s first great moment of moment at his baptism, he retreated into the wilderness to sort out the significance of what had happened. He knows that he is faced with choices: he can concentrate on using his gifts to attain political power or monetary wealth, or he can follow the Spirit of glory which has been gifted to him. He chooses the latter and calls us all to take up our cross and follow him. On the mountainside the glory too fades but the Spirit remains and he sets his face towards Jerusalem.

It is those moments of glory that help us to maintain that path, to keep travelling on with Jesus on what is the only way to heaven. To carry our cross is to travel through the eye of the needle and find that we must unburden our lives of the loads we carry, the loads of culture, pride, selfishness, greed which weigh so heavily upon our shoulders. Jesus, the gospels remind us, travelled light to the cross. He had left aside all but the bare necessities, so that he was not distracted by the things which so often compromise us in our confrontation with the standards of our society and whisper in our ears to put first ourselves and the temptations of this immediate time. ‘Arthur’, they whisper, ‘put those apples on the market and look after yourself’. But Jesus says, ‘share your store to meet your neighbour’s need’. There will be those seeking your support by promises of the sun and the moon and the stars instead of principled government and a society where all are cared for because rich and poor they are made in the image of God.

In facing the temptations of easy words and little action, the bedrock of our lives must be the times of transfiguration when God has stood beside us and his light has illuminated our minds and our lives in a way you wish would last for ever. Cherish the light for even weakened by the passing of time it still has the power to be your guide, and when we need refreshment God renews his nearness, and reminds us that our calling is not to a cosy life but one which spreads the life and love of God abroad in human hearts. Only then may we travel unencumbered by our fears until we reach the kingdom of his love where the light shines unencumbered and clear and the vision does not fade into the background of memory but is the constant light of our lives.

 

 

 

 

It is rather appropriate that we meet this morning on the side of a mountain, at Svabhegy in a place that 200 years ago would have been a dark and forbidding place! I have always found it hard to pin down the Transfiguration which is this morning’s Gospel reading.

It seems so other-worldly. Think of the story: Jesus takes his inner circle of followers up a mountain. It’s a hard slog and they are tired when they get there but manage to keep themselves awake. Suddenly the scene is changed as the mountainside is bathed in light and Jesus is seen in conversation with two individuals, identified as Moses and Elijah: symbolic of the law and the prophets who between them were God’s revelation to his people. Then the vision fades and the mountainside is again dark and threatening.

What is it about? The clue is in what follows afterwards: Peter, James, John and Jesus return to the others to discover chaos and confusion. They have been trying to emulate Jesus in healing and are failing. Jesus and the others are met by a distraught parent of an epileptic child who complains bitterly that they haven’t been able to help. Jesus of course heals the child. Transfiguration is not about escapism from the world but about our meeting with God.

Why are we here this morning? I do not think that it is because it is the respectable thing to do on a Sunday morning. Each of us will have met God in a very real way which is personal to each one of us, There is no simple formula, but there will be times, often very intimate and personal, when God has seemed much closer to us than normally, and from these experiences we have found the certainty of God which carries us along when the clouds come down upon our lives, when the worship which inspired us in the past, now seems humdrum, but we remember those times when a sermon brought new inspiration to our lives, when the words of an often familiar hymn suddenly took on new and enlightening meaning.

Peter blurts out on the hilltop, Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah. It is a type of escapism into which Christians have all too often and easily found it convenient to sink: we shelter behind beautiful words, music and imagery so that we do not have to get our hands dirty in the muddiness and corruption of daily life: we become so heavenly minded that we are of little use to God for daily life and witness.

The world outside the doors is a hard world: it often pays lip service to Christian values while at the same time ignoring the same values. The Church lumbers on as the disciples did at the bottom of the mountain, imitating yet getting nowhere. Where, people were asking, was the healing of the Jesus movement among those who claimed to follow him? The child’s distraught father cries out from his heart, ‘I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not’. Was it in Jesus’ followers or a magic within his life alone?

And today we stagger on. In some places Church institutions find it impossible to extricate themselves from privileged positions and yet Jesus himself had no wish for popular acclaim or power. In today’s world we must make a struggle for right, for love, for an end to suffering, greed and exploitation. We cannot run away from the suffering of the world but we are called to follow Jesus, to affirm the humanity of each and every man, woman and child, all made in the image of God.

Right across Europe these responsibilities have suddenly and uncomfortably come to the fore as thousands upon thousands of men, woman and children have fled westwards and northwards, away from unspeakable suffering of an intensity not seen for seventy years. There has been a chorus of politicians talking about Judaeo-Christian values, but in fact erecting barriers of fear and alienation. I have heard it in my own country: weasel words about taking in thousands and in fact the number of less than fifty. Excuses trip from the lips of politicians when some undesirables slip through a net leading to calls to exclude all.

I wonder how that impresses those who come looking for help and see how these Christians love one another. The memories of the Crusades still live a millennium on from the time when the streets of Jerusalem ran red with Arab blood and the Cross wearing Crusaders who were supposed to follow the God of love rejoiced! What will speak authentically of healing in the life of Christian people is the love that inspired an apple farmer to go to the point of need in this city with a load of apples, or our chaplaincy in Athens to set in motion support mechanisms for those in desperate plight for whom nothing was being done. I may assure you that these and many other acts of love and mercy were reported in our media and not just the Church papers at the other side of Europe but the secular ones as well.

And all this has its source in experiences of transfiguration, those times when God has revealed himself to us in glory to sustain us in the difficult times when the clouds of life hang glowering over us and life itself is unrelieveably dark and drear. It is the glory that sustains our hope, that tells us that we are never alone but God is always with us and nothing can separate us from his love, his power and strength.

On Wednesday next we begin the season of Lent. It starts by remembering that after Jesus’s first great moment of moment at his baptism, he retreated into the wilderness to sort out the significance of what had happened. He knows that he is faced with choices: he can concentrate on using his gifts to attain political power or monetary wealth, or he can follow the Spirit of glory which has been gifted to him. He chooses the latter and calls us all to take up our cross and follow him. On the mountainside the glory too fades but the Spirit remains and he sets his face towards Jerusalem.

It is those moments of glory that help us to maintain that path, to keep travelling on with Jesus on what is the only way to heaven. To carry our cross is to travel through the eye of the needle and find that we must unburden our lives of the loads we carry, the loads of culture, pride, selfishness, greed which weigh so heavily upon our shoulders. Jesus, the gospels remind us, travelled light to the cross. He had left aside all but the bare necessities, so that he was not distracted by the things which so often compromise us in our confrontation with the standards of our society and whisper in our ears to put first ourselves and the temptations of this immediate time. ‘Arthur’, they whisper, ‘put those apples on the market and look after yourself’. But Jesus says, ‘share your store to meet your neighbour’s need’. There will be those seeking your support by promises of the sun and the moon and the stars instead of principled government and a society where all are cared for because rich and poor they are made in the image of God.

In facing the temptations of easy words and little action, the bedrock of our lives must be the times of transfiguration when God has stood beside us and his light has illuminated our minds and our lives in a way you wish would last for ever. Cherish the light for even weakened by the passing of time it still has the power to be your guide, and when we need refreshment God renews his nearness, and reminds us that our calling is not to a cosy life but one which spreads the life and love of God abroad in human hearts. Only then may we travel unencumbered by our fears until we reach the kingdom of his love where the light shines unencumbered and clear and the vision does not fade into the background of memory but is the constant light of our lives.