Today at St. Peter’s we will baptise two lovely Christian young women from the Middle East, refugees who are making their home in Ashton-under-Lyne. This will be a special occasion for all of us at St. Peter’s Church in Ashton-under-Lyne but an overwhelmingly special time for those being baptised. It is a big step for them on what has already been a long journey. This will be a glimpse of glory, a moment when heaven intrudes into our lives on earth. I have written about this already:
Reading the story of the transfiguration from Luke (Luke 9:28-36) I am always taken back to a moment spent on the shore of Lake Buttermere when for just that short time everything seemed right with the world and I had the strongest of senses that God loved me and that everything would be OK.
Perhaps we have had those special moments when God seems present in a special way – when we feel something of his glory, his majesty, his closeness, his love. Perhaps not just in good times, maybe in the saddest of times too – God breaks into our fear, confusion or depression, our grief or loneliness and reveals his love or a way out of the mess we feel we are in. Times when we gained a new perspective on our lives. Moments when everything fell into place. Defining moments in our lives.
But moments like these are elusive. Times when God seems so close, are moments that we cannot manufacture – we can’t make them happen. We want them to last for ever, but they don’t. They’re ‘mountain top’ experiences. And ‘mountain top’ experiences cannot last. They slip from our fingers. Just as suddenly as we have encountered them, they’re gone. They’re part of the past – good memories to reflect on.
For Peter the transfiguration of Jesus was one such moment. Just a few verses before our Gospel reading in Luke 9, Peter made a strident assertion of his belief that Jesus was the Messiah – the Christ. And now, in the transfiguration, he is granted a vision – he sees Jesus as he really is – the thin veil between earth and heaven is drawn aside and he sees – he really sees.
Peter is overcome. He’s terrified. His confident assertion has been confirmed. He now knows – he really knows – that Jesus is the Christ. He speaks almost without thinking, ‘This is a moment to die for. It must be captured. We must build churches or shrines.’
Peter wants to cling onto the experience. And to cap it all God speaks. God confirms what Peter has seen.
Then suddenly, like a cloud crossing the sun – it is gone. Everything is just as it was before. Peter is on the top of a normal mountain with Jesus and his two friends James and John. And he has to get on with the real business of being a disciple.
If we read beyond the immediate story of the transfiguration we see just how quickly this feeling of God’s closeness dissipates as Peter and the others are faced with the realities of life. As soon as they came down from the mountain, Jesus’ disciples tried and failed to heal a sick boy.
‘Mountain top’ experiences – times when faith is easier, when God seems very close; times when doubt seems irrelevant are not the normal experience of our lives. The majority of our lives are spent plodding on, aware of God somewhere in the background but without that intensity of feeling that we experience on those special occasions. … But special times can fuel our continued faithful walk as disciples of Jesus.
Memories can be a great asset, but they can also be one of our greatest problems. Churches are good at remembering! Looking back to the days when God was really at work in our community! We remind ourselves of God’s goodness in the past. Memories like these fuel our ongoing community life. Our belief that God will continue to work today. They give us courage to go on believing. To take risks in serving God in our community.
But memories can also be our greatest problem. Our danger is that we interpret the past or even the present – whatever it is like – as the way things should be. And when God speaks to move us on – we don’t hear. Or we chose not to hear. We all do it. We cling onto the ‘mountain top’ experiences of the past or even the more mundane life of the present; when God actually wants us to move on; to face the challenges and uncertainties of the future. …………. Very few of us like change and if we’re not careful we retreat into our memories they become our bastion against the world. And as a result our churches become little more than museums or places of nostalgia.
God is speaking to people in his world. These times when for a moment it seems like the clouds have been drawn back – when God seems to be there. These times are the common experience of all of us – not just those of us who come to church. God often makes himself known outside of our church buildings – the Church of England does not have a monopoly on God. He is present in and through the whole of life.
It is so easy to slip into the habit of thinking that we have God under our thumb. We know how he works. And that he works through us, here, in our church building. When actually he’s alive in the experience of the whole of our community – he’s there all the time – we don’t take him with us when we leave this building into a hopeless and Godless world. Rather, when we leave our church buildings we need to go out expecting to meet him in the lives of those we encounter each day. Ready, together with them, to try to make sense, not only of the mundane and normal, but of moments of illumination – the joy over the birth of a child; the strange insights which suddenly overcome us; the recognition of the beauty of creation. In all these things God is there speaking words of hope, words of love, drawing us back into relationship with him, in his Son, Jesus.
So many people now-a-days have no framework in which to place these experiences. God is no longer easily recognised. He’s the stranger who needs an introduction. We need to be on hand ready to help others hear God speaking.
So, next time you experience one of those special moments. Moments of transfiguration. Listen carefully for the voice of God – it’ll be the one bringing new perspective, challenge and hope; the one speaking words of love, but at the same time drawing you on into the adventure of life as a follower his Son.
And as you share in other people’s joy – help them too to hear God’s voice calling them back .
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”