Transfiguration B, 2012
Mark 9: 2-9
A Liturgy is also available
GOD WISHES TO REFRESH... AND UNSETTLE US!
You can blame it on Adam,
you can blame it on Eve,
you can blame it on the apple,
but that I can’t believe.
So wrote the English poet and song writer Sydney Carter
in his poem Friday Morning in the mid 1960s, (when I was just a wee lad!)
But that I can’t believe!
In the 1960s that was a typical reaction to much Christian thinking.
And so people such as Bishop John A T Robinson
wrote many popular books on theology
in the hope some would see there was a constant need
for fresh formulations of the reality of God.
Then, from the late 1980s through to now, this work is being carried on
by John Shelby Spong, another Anglican bishop.
I share this with you this morning
because today’s gospel story by Mark is about one of those
‘but that I can’t believe’ incidents, full of
myth and pre-modern images.
A so-called incident in the life of Jesus called the Transfiguration or Shining.
As a story it is very imaginative.
Storyteller Mark says Jesus and some of his closest friends
climb to the top of a mountain.
Immediately we hear a connecting link to other existing ‘hero’ stories.
Going to the top of a mountain is a common thing in Israel’s stories.
Because mountains are regarded as ‘thin places’
- when God, the Divine, the Sacred - can be experienced.
They climb to the top of a mountain.
They enjoy the magnificent views.
They breathe deeply the fresh air.
This experience recharges their flagging spirits
and re-sensitises their imaginations.
They are refreshed by Creativity God.
Then out of the blue, pious Peter attempts to secure this experience in some tangible way:
‘Let’s build our own chapel, and you, Jesus, can be our private chaplain’.
But as our storyteller says, a booming voice puts paid to that bad idea.
Ched Myers, the radical evangelical scholar whom I have quoted
on several occasions these past few weeks or so,
has this interesting comment:
"After all, in Mark the true impediments to discipleship have nothing to do with physical impairment, but with spiritual and ideological disorders..." (Myers).
Or, as another has said:
“Because of their relationship with Jesus, Peter, James, and John experience a walk up a mountainside in an exciting and enlivening way. Because they have allowed themselves to see life through Jesus' eyes, however fleetingly and partially, they have come to know God in new ways and to see Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing” (P&F Web site 2000).
Once again the hand or pen of the storyteller is there.
After coming to know God in new ways
and of seeing Jesus as the vehicle for that new knowing,
the storyteller reminds them and us
they are to climb down from the top of the mountain.
They are to refresh others as they have been refreshed by God.
Or in other words, they are to move
from a private refuge (chapel) to a public presence (community).
Now, how can we approach this mythical, supernatural story today?
I guess we can approach it with a historical question...
‘How/where did this happen?’
Or we can approach this story with a theological question...
‘What connections can we make to this story?’
For me I think I would want to start close to the second question.
So let me wade in at the deep end, so to speak.
It seems to me that at least one of things being suggested
in this story by the one we call Mark, is
it is saying something important about God.
And that something is not about any so-called supernatural power or event.
That’s the 1st century mythical and cultural baggage.
The important bit for me, I think, is that God is to be ‘experienced’
as a creative transforming presence in ordinary people’s lives.
Not by coercion and power over, but rather by lure
As Jesus was transfigured or ‘changed’ before Peter, James, and John,
God’s so-called ‘will’ (to use tradition language) is to transform us
in the everyday moments of our lives.
How might this be? In very personal-sounding language one colleague suggests:
• If your deepest experience is loneliness,
it is the will of God to transform you from loneliness
to human connectedness.
• If your deepest feeling is fear and anxiety,
then God wishes to move you creatively past that,
to love and to trust.
That is, he is suggesting, God wants to move us beyond the meaninglessness of life
to the intensity of living, characterised by joy and by vitality.
To a new level of depth in our existence
that will provide joy and zest and empowerment.
There is good news in this story for 21st century ‘moderns’ like us,
despite all the mythical baggage.
And the good news is, God is not aloof and detached,
but rather works like the new metaphor of an expert weaver.
Continuing the metaphor, God uses the fibres of our lives,
weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love and creativity.
And as it is with us, individually, so too is it with us, as church.
It is the creative transformation of God that wants to
move congregations beyond being a cosy club with ‘feel good’ attitudes,
to being people at mission who meet
and serve others where they are.
So if we are to continue to be the inclusive people of faith we say we are,
we must continually be people who are radically open
to the creative, transforming presentness of God...
Calling us to a better way of being the church.
Because the fact of the matter is, God wishes to both refresh and unsettle us.
Once again I reckon John Shelby Spong sums this up well:
“God, the source of life, calls us to live fully. God, the source of love, calls us to love wastefully. God, the Ground of Being, calls us to have the courage to be ourselves. So when we live, love, and have the courage to be, we are... expanding our humanity” (Spong 1998: 226).
For what God refreshes, unsettles, changes, God does so through us.
So let me give the last word to Jack Spong.
“The mission of the Christian Church is not to convert the world, but to call all who are also part of the creation into the fullness of life” (Spong 1999:196).
So be it!
Myers, C. 2008. Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Special edition. New York. Maryknoll. Orbis Books.
Spong, J. S. 1999. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.
Spong, J. S. 2001. A New Christianity for a New World. Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born. New York. HarperSanFrancisco.