PAY ATTENTION!

Sermon delivered at the service of the Holy Eucharist on the Feast of the Transfiguration on the 6th August 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at St. Alban's Church, 461 Shedden Road, George Town.

Scriptures: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14     2 Peter 1: 16-19     S. Luke 9: 28-36

2 Peter 1: 19 "You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."


In our Christian life we have a deep well to draw from. We draw from a source that cannot be seen, and yet is light; a source that cannot be felt, and yet sustains and restores our emotions and our balance; a source that cannot be heard, and yet puts healthful words upon our lips. It is a deep, deep well, and as the Lord described it, a well of living water. Because of the depth of this well, we may more readily admit to the dryness, or the shallowness, or the fears and frailties of one sort or another with which our lives, our bodies and souls are often afflicted. For while we are afflicted with these things, for us that is not at all the end of our story. There is a well from which we can draw, that sustains and helps us now, and cleanses us and makes us fit, in spite of all that may be wrong with us, for eternity.

For 2nd Peter, the “well” that I speak of is called “the prophetic word made more sure”, as the phrase in 2 Peter 1: 19 is rendered in the Revised Standard Version, and this is something we are told that we “have” and must pay attention to. Without this gift of grace, we are in a dark place, and we need the light of this gift as a “lamp” to show us the way, until the dawn of the coming day. “The prophetic word made more sure” is the Old Testament word of God, seen as prophecy, “made more sure” by its interpretation or fulfilment in the New Testament. We are fortunate in modern times that we abundantly possess this great gift, this “well” that is filled by an invisible Source, from which we may restore our souls, in the form of the printed words of Scripture as well as the Prayer Book and our other formularies. In earlier days of the Church, such a “well” was not nearly as accessible as it is to us now. So today we have it to hand, but do we pay attention to it as much as we should? I suggest that we can hardly claim that we do: and because of this there are consequences that in our own time have reached great severity. For it has long been said that "nature abhors a vacuum." May it not equally be the case that the nature of our minds abhors a vacancy of the prophetic word made more sure and seeks to fill it with words that are increasingly contrary? (The trashiness of a high percentage of TV programmes, blogs, text messages etc. etc.)

Today's Gospel declares the Transfiguration of Christ before His three closest disciples Peter, John and James. This occurs at a time of crisis for the disciples, when for the first time after they started to follow Christ they are having to grapple seriously with ideas that are foreign and unwelcome to their ordinary mindset, that for instance the Christ will have to suffer and be rejected by the religious and political authorities of the day. Moreover to be a disciple of the Messiah will also involve the disciples in suffering. That was not really what they had in mind when they first followed Jesus. Their shallowness, their fears and frailties were being exposed. They did not understand His new emphasis on dying and rising again, or what He was demanding of them in His teaching about having to deny oneself and take up one's cross and follow Him. They are beginning to take note that instant gratification was not part of the agenda, and they are confused and a bit hurt by this. But Jesus now shares with them a mountain-top experience, in every sense of the phrase. Peter so characteristically reacts to it in heady excitement. And then in effect the voice from heaven tells the disciples they must put themselves in tune with Jesus. "This is My Beloved Son", says the voice from the cloud, which signifies always in Scripture the presence of God. "Listen to Him," the voice goes on to say. When He says, "Go forward!" then go forward. When He says, "Wait!" then wait. The disciples are told to pay attention and to get in tune with His mind and His pace. And we, who want and look forward to many things, must do the same, as we draw from that well that is accessible to us. St. Matthew refers to the Transfiguration as a “vision”. This “vision” was to Peter, James and John their “well”, from which they drew from a Source that restored their souls in their time of need. Like us, they were to pay attention to what could sustain them.

About the Transfiguration, a writer called Campbell Morgan suggests that what the disciples saw in the changed appearance of Jesus was not the effulgence of deity but the glory of sinless and perfected humanity, in that the Lord at that moment was ready to return to heaven again without dying (for death is the result of sin and He was sinless), but, as Morgan wrote, "for the second time turned His back upon heaven, in order that He might share in the mystery of human death." If this is the case - and we recall that Elijah too (who appeared at the Transfiguration) did not have to suffer death - the event signifies a crisis and then a waiting period for our Lord Himself. He chose not to pass over immediately to the Resurrection, which at the Transfiguration He was touching, in order to die the death of the cross first, and so redeem His brothers from death. He too then was being sustained through a challenging time. And at the Transfiguration His disciples were being taught to share a portion of His experience.

The prophetic word of the Old Testament to us today is part of the visions of Daniel, which are visions of divine judgment of this world’s empires (be they Christian, secular, Muslim or other), and the presentation to “one like a son of man” of dominion over all. We should take note from this of a word that should be heard by those who are referred to as being “in power”, and to those who especially in election times refer to themselves as “seeking power”. We should let them know at all times that their power is never absolute, and that it is always under divine judgment, and that they too are to pay attention. And that is the same for the various international human rights and other commissions that are set up in various parts of the world and internationally. How should they speak so authoritatively if they do not "Pay Attention" to the deep well of the Living Word? That is the word of the Lord to them, a word even from the Old Testament today, that is “made more sure” as 2nd Peter has it, by the manifestation on the earth of the one like a son of man, the One who indeed referred to Himself as the Son of Man.

In the Son of Man our Lord Jesus, the true “power” was manifested on earth for a time, but will be manifested eternally in heaven. The only way that exists to that lasting power and glory is the way of His Cross, to which we must be discipled and which we must follow. It is not the world’s way of glorying in “power” or seeking “power”. Ultimately the true power may be more accessible to those who are painfully aware of their frailties. We learn of this life-giving way of faith, love and obedience through the prophetic word made more sure, the words of Scripture of both Testaments, as well as our formularies, to all of which we “do well to pay attention ... as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts."