Sermon from Sunday 19 February

Do we reflect God's beauty and peace in all we do?


Reading(s): Exodus. 24:12-18 2 2 Peter 1:16-21 and Matthew 17:1-9. This sermon was given by Sally Kerson at St Mark and All Saints.

70 years ago today 14 men were preparing for a major expedition to climb mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, which at that time no one had succeeded in reaching its summit. Then on 29th May 1953 Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak, and they went down in history to become the first climbers to achieve this. Since then, thousands of people have climbed mount Everest, some have lost their lives in the attempt, but those who survived would have no doubt been changed by the experience in some way or another. Soon after the world celebrated that momentous ascent, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned. Just as in 1953, 2023 will also become a coronation year when King Charles III is crowned in May. It will also be an opportunity to look back over the past 70 years during which the world has changed so much - in some areas beyond recognition. Those of us who have lived 70 years or more will have also changed a great deal; both in our physical and our spiritual lives. The life and certainly the worship of the church has moved on throughout those decades, but has it moved with the times? Some would say yes, but very slowly, whilst others would say it has changed too much and not for the better!

Change is also central to our readings today. In our Old Testament reading from Exodus, we hear how Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness and towards the Promised Land. It was a journey that would take many years. It was a journey that would change the Israelites forever. God called Moses to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the laws and the commandments that would hold this wandering nation together in the wilderness, as they learnt what it meant to have just one God that would care for all their needs. God called them to movement, God called them to change, God was present, and his unconditional love was the glue that held a nation together throughout all that change.

In our Gospel reading we have Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. It is no coincidence that we have this reading today on the last Sunday before the start of Lent. In the chapter before the reading we heard this morning Jesus predicts for the first time the Passion Story. For the first time Jesus tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and he starts to teach them that he must be killed so that on the third day he will be raised from the dead.  

In the second reading the Transfiguration is recalled through the voice of Peter, who is probably writing this near to the end of his life. The older and wiser Peter understands more fully his experience on the mountain top and how it shaped his future and the future of the world.

There must have been a wonderful scenic view from the mountain of transfiguration. We all feel calmer when surrounded by the breath-taking beauty of God’s creation. It’s a fact that everyone has something to say when rainbows catch us by surprise, the joy of seeing butterflies in flight, sunlight on trickling streams or fields of flowers, to name but a few wonders of creation. These sights pull us out of the mundane elements of life, offer us a vision of something beyond ourselves, and might even be an inspiration. Many artists have been so inspired by a beautiful landscape or vision that they have tried to capture it in some way using paint, clay, marble, wood, or some other medium. Composers, inspired by beautiful sounds, often compose grand symphonies or simple songs to build upon the beauty they have experienced. Beauty has an element of transcendence and inspiration that can be incredibly powerful.

The Transfiguration, as recalled in our Gospel reading is a moment of great beauty and Peter, James and John were a witness to this beauty when they accompanied Jesus up the mountain, where his glory was revealed, and God spoke. Peter says that it is good to be here, on the mountain in that holy place and he wants that moment to last, he wants to make three dwelling places one for Jesus, one for Moses and the other for Elijah. He wants time to stand still to keep everyone as they are. That compelling desire to want to stay in the moment when we experience a glimpse of God in our lives can be very powerful, although often it is a fleeting moment and may not always recognised at the time, but that wasn’t the experience of those disciples on that mountain. In fact, they were at first frightened and alarmed and fell to the ground, but Jesus tells them to not be afraid and to get up and carry on and use that vision of beauty and wonder to tell others, but only after his resurrection.

As we move ever closer towards Lent, we are given a chance to stop and reflect on how the church can be an agent of transformation in a world that is hurting and deaf to the message of peace. We are bombarded with pictures in the newspapers, television and social media of the war in Ukraine and now the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, of people’s lives being wrecked beyond comprehension, homes becoming piles of rubble, no beauty to look on and admire, the complete opposite, only destruction and pain. We pray for them; we give our money to the aid agencies, and we hope that help will come, that their lives will get better, and they will get through this torment.

Today, more than ever, especially given the increasing poverty, violence and injustices in the world, the Christian church is called upon to embrace, engage and continue with its task of being an agent for transformation and change. It must (we as congregations must) help in that transformation in order to fulfil the Gospel imperative of making the world a better place for all to live in peace and harmony. As the years go by, we are realising that the goal is not to get people to church but to get the church into the world, to transform the world with the justice and peace of God so that all may experience the ‘fulness of life’ on earth. It seems that society is not so much interested in what we believe today (yes I know that is sad) but it is interested in what the church can do in helping to transform society and the world. History has shown that throughout the ages the church has always been involved in the transformation of society, particularly when it has taken sides with the poor and oppressed. Obviously there have been times it has seemed to have lost its focus, but somehow, it has managed to sustain this mission responsibility. In this endeavour I believe that the church must work with local councils, government, businesses and of course the community, to help create a better life for all people, we can’t go it alone, there must be a collaborative way of helping others.

One transformation I have seen in our benefice over the years is the increased use of our buildings not so much for worship but other activities that reach out to our communities. However, I do acknowledge it is hard work with very few volunteers to help with these activities, but it is the way that the church, we as followers of Christ need to be seen in the world. So, I leave you with this question. Do you believe that people see God’s glory shining from this church, shinning from us? This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season when we descend into a valley that culminates in the painful and ugly reality of the cross. Yet God transforms even that moment into one of great and transformative beauty. May we carry the hope of this beautiful transformation with us throughout this season and as we leave this space may we continue to reflect God’s beauty and peace in the world around us.