As a young Tasmanian minister, I once faced the mystery of a haunted house. It was an ordinary brick house, with an attached bakery, on a busy highway. The resident family was terrified by strange knockings and footsteps, self opening doors, one dank cold room, their cat spitting at something unseen, and occasional apparitions of a short old fashioned man in a bowler hat and waistcoat with a fob watch and chain. A fellow minister and I reluctantly agreed to try and control the spirit or spirits by a service of exorcism. Near the end of the service, with the family in the kitchen, the young pregnant wife screamed loudly, and happily the mysterious events came to an end.
There are many mysteries in life which we do not understand. The universe itself is a mystery from beginning to end. So too is the nature of matter, the origin of life, our own genetic codes, the diversity of living things, and our personal sense of being a living, developing, active spirit living in a finite ageing physical body.
Albert Einstein, the famous scientist said: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. A person to whom this emotion is a stranger, without wonder and awe, is as good as dead". As human beings we live and develop most fully, physically, mentally, spiritually from our sense of awe and wonder about life and people.
The Bible is a book of collected experiences and reflections of people confronting the mystery of God and the world of the Spirit in their lives. It depicts our human existence as exciting and wonderful, because we can sense and respond to unseen spiritual realities and powers, which can influence and change us. In the Bible heaven and earth are not closed, separated and remote. In the Bible those two realms can influence, interact, and affect each other.
1. On this last Sunday before Lent we confront again the mystery of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and its message for our lives. On a mountain peak with a few chosen disciples, Jesus is changed and transformed by a strange glorious light. Moses, Gods great lawgiver, and Elijah, Gods great prophet, appear to strengthen Jesus for his exodus or departure. They seem to be preparing Jesus and the disciples for the humiliation, rejection, pain and death of his cross. The disciples are struggling to accept Jesus plain teaching just before this, that he is Gods suffering Messiah, who must save others by his own suffering, sacrifice and death. Then from an overshadowing cloud they hear the voice of God Saying: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him and accept his message". Gods stamp of approval apparently.
The transfiguration is an event full of mystery and of God. Its purpose seems to be to convince the disciples that they must go with Jesus to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die terribly. God seems to confirm Jesus in his mission with his glorious light and radiance. But even when we so understand the purpose and message of this event, there is still mystery for us.
What really happened up there on Mount Hermon? Was it a vision or hallucination brought on by lengthy prayer and meditation in the thin air? Was it a strange breakthrough of the spirit world into our everyday physical world and life? Why were the disciples forbidden to make shrines to commemorate this remarkable event? Why does it all suddenly stop leaving Jesus alone with the disciples just as before? Why does Jesus pledge the disciples to silence about what happened, instead of letting them share this revelation of God with others? Even when we think we have understood the transfiguration, there are still plenty of mysteries and unanswered questions for us.
2. So it is the mystery of the transfiguration we need to focus on today. This key event for Jesus and the disciples reminds us that our own life and experience is filled and surrounded with mystery and needs it.
It reminds us that we need to develop a spiritual eyesight as well as physical eyesight to make sense of life. It assures us that we need and can develop a sense of wonder, awe, mystery, faith to understand ourselves and others, and our life purpose.
Many of us have those transfiguring spiritual moments and experiences that reveal meaning, awaken our spirit, give new understanding, deepen our God consciousness, bring change and new direction to our day by day living. We can be stopped in our tracks by the wonder and mystery of life. We can be gobsmacked by the beauty and immensity of the universe. We can be overcome by the beauty of an ocean sunset, a mighty storm, powerful music or poetry, and other life experiences which awaken us spiritually. We can react violently against human greed, violence and inhumanity, or be deeply moved by acts of love, sacrifice, compassion and courage which unlock our own potential. Human relationships of love and intimacy can raise us to new levels of awareness, purpose and depth. Our lives can be changed, redirected, empowered, and enabled by our transforming spiritual experiences. It is our awareness of this spiritual dimension to life that makes us truly human, new people, better neighbours, and full of possibilities.
For you and I to physically exist and survive is not life. Jesus said: "Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. You are not just children of human parents, but also children of God". Life is knowing and experiencing a spiritual reality and dimension to our life. Life is being aware and responsive the mystery of eternity, love, goodness, God. That is why Jesus also said: "I have come that you may find life life in all its fullness. Seek and you will find, ask and it will be given to you, knock and the door will be opened for you".
Have you ever watched pond skater insects speeding about on the surface film of a pool of water, which they never break through? They see and experience the wonderful world above their pool. But they never see or experience the marvelous unseen water world just below them with all its teeming plants and creatures great and small.
How often we all live and act like that ourselves? We live and exist on the human physical level, without living and growing spiritually as children of God. We skate about frantically on the surface of life from one task or priority to the next. But we are also bored and dissatisfied with the sameness and monotony of our existence. Somehow we lack purpose and depth, hope and satisfaction, faith and humanity. We live too much cut off from the deep satisfaction and purpose of life in contact with the world of the Spirit.
The Transfiguration was not just for Jesus, but also for the disciples and ourselves. It showed Peter, James and John, hard practical fishermen that there is more to life than catching fish and earning a living. It showed them they were living in a world where God is present unseen and active. So they begin to follow Jesus towards the cross in Jerusalem, giving and finding their lives and their selves in the process.
It is the same faith that Paul proclaimed in Athens: "God is not far from any of us, for in him we really live, move and have our being". The God whom Christians know as love gives depth and meaning to our lives. Yet how seldom many of us stop to become aware of the mystery of God and the Spirit, and the new purpose and life we can find.
Next week we come to the special time of Lent. Lent is a wonderful season for developing our spiritual awareness, depth, meaning and experience in life. The 40 days of Lent before Easter recall the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the desert seeking God. Lent begins traditionally with Pancake Tuesday and Ash Wednesday which are days of worship, celebration, and openness to spiritual change for us. Lent is a time of huge potential for mountain top experiences of transfiguration and change in our lives. It invites us to make times and places for stillness, listening, reflection, prayer and meditation. In those still times and places we can all become more aware of God and the Spirit, growing and developing spiritually. Above all it is coming closer to Jesus, who shows us Gods light and glory, and moves us to deeper faith, compassion and action to reflect him to others.
The French Christian thinker Pascal once observed: "Hurry in modern life is not only of the Devil. For most of us it is the Devil". Our hurry and busyness in life bring all sorts of evils to us because we do not know how to be still and know God and find our true selves. That is why the great saints and souls of humanity have their mountain top times quietly alone and separated from normal life. Moses gets his mission from God after fleeing to the desert on a murder charge. Buddha finds enlightenment in meditation under his Bo tree. Mohammed receives his messages from God in his lonely cave like Elijah. Jesus sorts out his life and mission during his temptations in the desert. Paul discovers his destiny as apostle to the Gentiles alone and blind in Damascus. Luther found inspiration as a reformer while translating the Bible as a prisoner in a remote castle. Martin Luther King heard his calling to be a civil rights leader alone after a late night bomb threat. Like many prisoners who find God in jail, Nelson Mandela gave up violent terrorism for faith, forgiveness and peace making during 20 years of solitary confinement.
We are the same. We are most likely to find God and experience his Spirit when we are a little detached from normal life, quiet, seeking, waiting, searching, listening, receptive to God and his mystery. Amen.