Transfiguration of Christ
Readings: Exodus 34, 29-end, 1 Cor 13, Luke 9, 28-43a
Hymns: all in Urdu
The following sermon was given at Christ Church, Johanabad, Lahore, a poor Christian settlement where several members of this church were killed in a terrorist attack in 2015: bullet holes remain in the church. Most victims of terrorism in Pakistan follow Sunni Islam, but in proportion to their numbers, Shia, Ahmadiya and Christians are at greater risk of such a death. Entrance to the area is controlled by soldiers, and within Johanabad, young Christian men control armed barriers. Eight hundred people attended the service: an interpreter translated the sermon, which therefore had short sentences and picked up on some of the issues dealt in in various workshops I ran in the week. Sermons are usually 30-45 minutes long.
Moses came down from the high mountain, shining like the light of a million chandeliers, shining with the joy of communicating directly with God. Jesus stood on another mountain with teacher Moses and prophet Elijah, and they all shone like the light of a million chandeliers.
And us? Do we shine with the light of God? Or do we give up thinking of others, and just keep our little light just for ourselves.
Moses wasn’t a brilliant man, and he’d had a difficult start in life. He couldn’t speak easily in public, because he stammered badly, so his brother Aaron helped him out. Jesus had a difficult start too, born ‘too soon’ after that marriage of his mother Mary which gave Nazareth gossips a field-day. He and his parents were refugees, but even when they came back from Egypt, he felt, and he was, different from other children.
Despite Moses’ unpromising start, he was chosen by God to receive the Ten Commandments. We shall think about these in Lent. I’ll just say now that we are each responsible if we choose to sin. If we steal, or cheat, hit our wife or give our favourite child better food, we have chosen to sin and so the guilt is just on us: no one forces us to sin. This is clear in the Commandments
Jesus is God come to earth to teach us to love God, others and ourselves. He was chosen by God for that demanding, lonely and sacrificial job. All the readings since Christmas have explained who Jesus is, and his responsibilities. We read of his baptism, when God said ‘Here is my Son in whom I am well-pleased.’ We read of the power Jesus first showed at the wedding of Cana, where he saved the shame of the bride and groom when the party wine ran out. We read of his power to heal, to make whole, when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. And today we heard of another affirmation by God when he said ‘This is my Son, my chosen one: listen to him.’
God was talking to Peter James and John, three disciples close to Jesus. They were committed followers, but they didn’t understand very well: they were often a bit slow. We are often slow to, slow to understand and very, very slow to affirm each other. This is strange. God affirms us with his loving support, but we rarely affirm other people. Perhaps we hold onto the love God freely sends: are we afraid affirming and encouraging others will take away from what we have, because so often we don’t seem to have much? That’s crazy, because if we don’t affirm others, if we try to save up God’s love just for us, it will sit like a stone inside our body. Such bitter selfishness is useless! God’s love is endless, and the love we receive we can pass on to others in justice and mercy.
On that mountain, Moses and Elijah, representing law and prophecy, talked to Jesus, and told him he would leave this earth at Jerusalem. The three disciples slept while they were talking, and when they woke up, they suggested making huts for Moses, Elijah and Jesus, there on the mountain. But Jesus knew his job was not staying comfortable in the glory of God’s light, but taking that light to the people. Moses is law, and Elijah is prophecy: Jesus is equal and lively love for all. Jesus loves and respects people in a basti just as much as he loves and respects people in a palace, he loves and respects people from Jaipur just as much as he loves and respects people from Lahore, and he loves and respects women just as much as he loves and respects men: Jesus knows that that every person is made in the Image of God. And his job was and is to make that clear to us all.
So Jesus came down the mountain and met a man whose son had epilepsy. His other disciples hadn’t been able to heal the child because, as Jesus said in his irritation, they lacked full trust in his teaching. Jesus healed the boy whom no one but his parents cared about, because for Jesus, and for all of us if we try to live in Jesus’ way, all people matter, all people are equally God’s children, all people are loved. But this love isn’t like a film, or a dream, smooth, perfect and easy. As St Paul told us today, ‘love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude.’ People who try to follow the way of love do not hit out with fist or foot when they are annoyed, they trust the members of their family and do not try to control every minute of each family member’s life, and they are as polite to people who have less money and worse clothes than they have. ‘Love does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right.’ People who try to follow the way of love do not look out for every tiny wrong thing people do, so they can pounce on them like a vulture: they are happy when others succeed in what they are trying to do.
But understanding Jesus’ ways of love is not done when we reach 21, and if we still think at 40, or 60 or 80 as we did at 21, we haven’t tried to grow in understanding, and probably haven’t grown in loving all God’s children. St Paul made that clear, saying ‘when I was a child, I thought like a child, but when I grew up, I thought differently.’ The journey of faith is slow, and there are many holes in the road and traps on the path. We need the light of Christ to light up our way, to be a lantern to our feet.
Last Sunday in Germany, we celebrated the end of the Christmas season. Everyone lit candles and put them on the altar. At the end the service, I asked them to take their candles and blow them out but, I said, ‘keep the light you put onto the altar in your heart and take it with you as you leave the church, to shine in the world.’ None of us here are important like Moses or Elijah, and none are perfect like Jesus. But every single person in this church can tend the light of Christ in their hearts, and share it with others as we each go along the road of faith, hope and love.
May you all be blessed today and every day this coming week
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Lahore, February 7th 2016