SERMON @ MASS (with Holy Baptism) @ ST PETER-IN-THE-FOREST
SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE LENT – YEAR C
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
SUNDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2013
In just a short while, we will admit Patrick and Samuel to the Church through their Holy Baptism. Before, we do so, some thoughts about today’s scripture readings and the themes of this Sunday before we embark on the season of Lent, on a Sunday often referred to as ‘Transfiguration Sunday’.
And – since Patrick and Samuel’s parents are both teachers of English and I have the privilege of currently working alongside Tom, their dad – and because I know him to also share some of my love and experience of teaching film: I am going to draw on some film materials as I reflect with you, this morning…
In a scene in George Lucas’ 1973 film American Graffiti, the director sets his action in the mid-50s. He is, through the central character Curt Henderson, played by Richard Dreyfuss, conveying a sense of what it was like in his own youth to grow up. In a strange scene, amidst the apparent realism of the scene, of youths cruising the strip in their winged convertibles, a POV shot sees a mysterious beautiful blonde in a neighbouring car at the traffic lights mouth ‘I Love You’ to this excitable late teenager. The film then continues to explore the goings-on of the last night the guy spends in his home town before leaving for college. The scene is a transfiguration. Which of us, also, can admit to having a reconstructed memory in our minds which remind us what it was like when we grew up out of childhood and into adulthood?
I think also of some scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window. It tells the story of the principal, Jeff, played by Jimmy Stewart, who is a foreign correspondence photographer resting up his leg which has been broken during a war shoot. He is confined to his chair, simply staring out of his ‘rear window’ at his neighbours’ apartments and their goings-on.
Early in the film we see Jeff spurning the advances of the beautiful Lisa, played by Grace Kelly. Soon after, we hear Jeff being reprimanded by his nurse for being foolish in being so hard on Lisa and so negative towards her.
And through such scenes, we soon come to learn that Jeff is a commitment-phobe, scared to let himself be vulnerable to a woman’s love. Then, later in the film, together, Jeff and Lisa attempt to expose one of their neighbours, Thorwald, as the murderer of his wife. A memorable scene from late in the film shows Jeff watching Lisa through his binoculars, as she rifles through the belongings in Thorwald’s flat hunting for evidence of the crime. As she lays her hands on the wedding ring, evidence of Thorwald’s crime, Jeff simulataneously spies the killer approaching his flat down the corridor adjacent. In this moment of discovery, Jeff’s heart leaps into his mouth. He realises how much he cares for Lisa, and he is unable to help her, his broken leg making him both literally and figuratively unable to come to her aid. When she signals to him, it is with Mrs Thorwald’s wedding ring, which becomes simultaneosly Jeff’s exposure and, paradoxically, the sign of his final realisation that he does wish to be married to Lisa, after all.
Why do I use these illustrations? Because today’s readings ask us to reflect on Our Lord’s Transfiguration. Let me take a different tack…
I am sure you will have had it preached many times before in this church. Each of the four Gospel books in the New Testament is a little bit like a game of football. A game of two halves!
For St Luke, this story of Jesus’ Transfiguration marks the turning point from the disciples witnessing Jesus’ miracles and absorbing his teaching, to being commissioned, challenged, to go out in mission and do likewise.
This ‘interlude-story’, if I can call it that – to extend my cinematic metaphors for today! - was perhaps added by Luke as a bridge to hint at those experiences of life in which the signs of God’s working and the Christ-rooted reality of God’s dealings with us are strangely united. The transcendent experiences which exist to spur us into action.
For notice what happens – Peter and John and James marvel at the sight of Moses and Elijah with Jesus, but they then make a fundamental error. They want to build dwellings for them – they want to stay on the mountainside, construct permanent structures to ‘hold the moment for ever’. But God does not wish this. He urges and commands them towards something quite different. “This is my Son, my Chosen,” God says from the midst of the terrifying cloud that envelops them, “Listen to Him!” And then reality crashes back around.
And then what? Straight into the next day, and a story about a distressed and disturbed boy, and an anxious father seeking healing and wholeness for him. The man claims, “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.!” And Jesus reprimands them, declaiming “You faithless and perverse generation!” Jesus expects of His disciples to be up and doing what He is doing. Anything short is perversity, less than what should be, oddly misshapen.
So, if I may return to our film examples. American Graffitti offers us a reflection on the option we have – to remain trapped in our memory, real or imagined, of those moments of glory and transfiguration and revelation that touch us; to remain in a kind of frozen moment when we remember it, like we’re stuck at the traffic lights forever; or to use it as an occasion for thankfulness, but move on straight away to what is next before us. To get the car into gear and move ahead.
Or, thinking of Jeff in Rear Window, we can allow ourselves to add extra layers of immobility to those things which may already limit us. And by doing so, we cannot act as we need to, with honesty and generosity, until it is too late.
These lessons from the Transfiguration are for all of us. God’s promise in Jesus is that we have seen, and will continue to be given visions, of God’s glory. But we are not to get stuck there, or self-indulgent there, or limited there. Those moments – and I pray you have had some such moments of revelation of God’s glory and will continue to look forward expectantly to others in the future – exist not for themselves, but as a reminder that God wants us in on the project. That the Transfiguration may show us that God, in Jesus, is calling all of us, and all of creation, into the heart of the Divine nature, but meanwhile, folks, there’s work to do! And today, not least - in Patrick and Samuel’s Baptism – this call is for them, too...
May God be with you, and with me, as we do the work set before us. In Jesus’ precious name. +AMEN