2 Corinthians 4:3-6
May the words that I speak, and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my Redeemer.
My favourite character in the Harry Potter books is Professor McGonagall. Which is good because she is played by Maggie Smith in the film, who also happens to be my favourite actor. She also played the Mother Superior in Sister Act, which is my favourite film before Harry Potter. I mention this because as I was preparing for today’s sermon I can’t believe, being such a huge Harry Potter fan, that I didn’t make the connection before my sister did. Professor McGonagall, you see, is the Transfiguration teacher!
In Transfiguration the Hogwarts students are taught to use spells to turn objects into other object, teacups into gerbils, matches into needles etc. More advanced spells make wizards able to completely change their appearance; into stags and dogs, rats and cats and more. That is what transfiguration means – to change appearance.
Some parts of the Bible are really difficult to get your head around. Most of it, actually, if I am honest. And today’s Transfiguration is up there with some of the oddest. It leaves us with a lot of questions. What does it all mean? How was Jesus changed? What were Moses and Elijah doing? Why were they up the mountain? How did the disciples respond? What difference does it all make?
The star character in this reading, who really stands out for me, is Peter. You’ve got to love Peter, haven’t you? He’s always there at the forefront of things, making a fool of himself to make the rest of us feel semi-competent. The Bible really is full of misfits who show us that God uses the broken, the battered and bruised, the forgetful and doubting, the cowardly and shy, the zealous, the headstrong.
Have you ever spoken and then wished that you hadn’t? Opened your mouth and then instantly regretted it? Thought you had something really witty to say and then realised it was actually hurtful? Been so sure of your strong opinions and then had to back right down? Don’t worry. Peter’s done it all before you.
Peter is the one who takes Jesus to task for saying that he would suffer and die and then rise again. Imagine being the person who takes Jesus to task – it doesn’t go down well! “Get behind me, Satan!” is Jesus’ cutting response. But still, it is Peter with him six days later, climbing a mountain along with James and John. Peter is full of faith and full of doubt all at the same time, all rolled into one. Sounds like the story of my life. Is it the story of yours?
At the top of the mountain comes a time of change.
I wonder what they had discussed on their walk. Had they talked about what Jesus had said six days earlier? Maybe they’d chatted about fishing. Maybe they’d rested in the shade of a tree and admired the view. They were alive and this was their mountain top moment. So full of wonder and awe, so filled with hope. They were with Jesus. Their lives were so different from how they’d once been. What must have been going through their minds?
And in this moment they saw Jesus anew. Perhaps their eyes were opened to who Jesus really was, to what their following him meant, who God is, where they had come from, their whole heritage. It must have been awe inspiring. And also terrifying.
These disciples had gone through a lot of change. They had given up everything to follow Jesus. Their lives were unrecognisable. Perhaps they thought they knew what they’d got themselves into. I think Peter thought that he knew. And that was OK for them. After a period of change, we long for stability and security, don’t we? Whilst change can be exciting and full of life and hope, it can also be exhausting.
When I was at University, I prayed one year for God to use me in whatever he wanted. Whatever. It was the most incredible year for me. So many things happened that year that I never thought I would experience. It was exhilarating. But the following year I was much more reluctant to pray the same thing. I wasn’t quite prepared to keep up that level of change.
I suspect we meet Peter in a similar place in this reading. And for Peter, the first thing he engages is his mouth. “If in doubt, say something,” seem to be Peter’s motto in life.
“Let’s stay here,” he says. “It’s good to be here.”
The temptation to stand still is enormous. To stay where we are and to soak in the moment. Mums with new babies want time to stand still as they enjoy the wonder of the precious new life they hold in their arms. If only they could hold this moment forever.
Peter is in his mountain top moment and he doesn’t want it to end. It’s frightening, it’s odd, it’s strange. But it’s exhilarating. Stopping in this glorious moment seems good.
He says the first thing that comes into his head. Please, let’s not change anything anymore!
I feel a bit like that in school. Successive governments have tinkered and changed what we teach, seemingly for fun. This year we are getting to grips with a new curriculum. It seems every time my head teacher opens her mouth I want to say, “No! No more change! Please!”
I am resistant to more change.
Peter is resistant to more change.
But change must come.
If Peter had stayed there on that mountain top with Jesus, what would that mean for us? If Peter is to help others, to make a change, to be the rock for the church to be built on, he’s going to have to come back down the mountain.
Steve Chalke says our lives must be a balance of intimacy and involvement. We need those mountain top moments with God. We need to worship, to bask in his glory, to learn from him, hear from him, love him. But if our lives are only filled with intimacy, our worship becomes vapid and empty. Our worship becomes self-centred and selfish. And that makes it no worship at all.
We need to get out into our communities; to seek out the lost and the lonely, the sick, the sad, the hurting and hopeless. We need to be involved. But if our lives are only filled with involvement, if our lives are only filled with action, we become burned out, tired and worn. And that makes our action no good at all.
Instead we must climb the mountain with Jesus, spend time with him, get to know him, worship him and enjoy him. But then we must come back down the mountain and get involved with the messiness of the world around us.
Peter is resistant to change. But change must come. And when he lets himself be changed by Jesus he becomes the rock on which the church is built.
Change must come.
Allow yourself to be changed by Jesus.