Sermon for Transfiguration / Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Reading: Mark 9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
Lord, I pray that the words that I speak, and the words that are heard contain something of your transforming glory so that we can join together in the work of bringing about your kingdom here on earth. Amen
In Mark’s Gospel so far, Jesus has been leading his followers up a metaphorical mountaintop to give them a new view of God’s kingdom which he was ushering in. However so much of what Jesus has said and done has been a mystery to those experiencing it. Gradually, though, their eyes are being opened and they are starting to get glimpses of things as they really are. Jesus’ many miracles and parables are starting to show them that he is the Messiah and they are beginning to understand more fully what that means.
At the Transfiguration, it is no longer just metaphorical, we are on an actual mountaintop. God’s voice confirms what the disciples are gradually realising: “This is my Son, and I love him”. Just like Moses and Elijah received their calling from God on a mountaintop, Jesus also meets God on a mountain. He is sent out to finish the work started through the Law and the Prophets. The transfiguration is a sign of Jesus being entirely caught up in the transforming love, power and kingdom of God, so that it transforms his whole being with light. This is the sign that Jesus is not just indulging in fantasies about God’s kingdom, but that he is speaking and doing the truth. It’s the sign that he is indeed the true prophet, the true Messiah.
For us, experiencing the kingdom of God in Jesus shouldn’t mean merely a few minor adjustments to our ordinary lives. Jesus’ whole being was transformed until he was shining with the light of God. The transfiguration account invites us to a whole-hearted transformation of ourselves, so that we too can pick up our cross, like Jesus did, and follow him. We should be transformed by God’s light, until we’re overflowing with the light of the world. We know that, but do we really allow ourselves to be fully transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Are there areas of your life that continually resist full transformation?
Our Chapter of Mark continues with the argument between the disciples about which one of them was the greatest. It amazes us that they have spent so much time with Jesus and yet they still don’t understand the upside down kingdom that he has been talking about and bringing about. But, if you’re honest with yourself, do you really get it? Are you completely immune to the pressures of this world for material success and status?
We know that in God’s upside down world God is biased towards the poor. The theme of Church Action on Poverty Sunday is “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”. What can the account of the Transfiguration teach us about what we should be like as a church? If our churches are to be communities that put the poorest first, how must we change? What must we let go of? What sacrifices are we called to make? How can we allow God to transform us into what Pope Francis has called a “poor Church for the poor”?
First we need to see God in Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel the accounts of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are two times that Jesus is identified as the Son of God, both times by a voice from heaven. The only time he is actually recognised as the Son of God by a human being is at his crucifixion. And this wasn’t by someone who had walked with him and listened to him – Jesus was recognised for who he really was by a gentile, a Roman centurion. And it didn’t happen when Jesus was at his most powerful. In fact it was when Jesus was at his most vulnerable – he had been stripped of everything and was at the mercy of the authorities. Jesus’ divine identity was most truly revealed when he was at his weakest.
We need to see God in Jesus and then we need to see God in each other. I think Emma reminded us last week that the Quakers try to see “That of God in everyone”. Do we really see God in those who, by the world’s standards, are weak and seemingly at the mercy of the “system”? Those people who are as weak and vulnerable as Jesus was at his crucifixion? When we see people in poverty do we see the face of Jesus Christ, and want to listen and learn – or do we see “them” as people who are not “us”, do we see “them” as a problem, do we want to fix “them” and sort “them” out? Fixes that come at cost to “them” but not to “us”; that change “them”, but fail to transform “us”?
Part of Church Action on Poverty’s mission has always been to give a voice, a face and a name to those of us who experience poverty on a daily basis. To create a space where there are different voices and people truly listen to each other.
I think we, at All Hallows, are not too bad at doing this. We have a lot of things going on in our building during the week. Through our work with refugees, through our café, and through many other things that we as individuals are involved with we encounter people different from ourselves.
In our café just last week we took part in a Big Conversation as part of the End Hunger UK campaign which is co-ordinated by Church Action on Poverty, and Student Christian Movement is part of. Emma, Sarah and I asked people to write on paper plates their response to the question: “What one thing would you ask the government to do to end hunger in the UK?”. The significance of using paper plates was that we were asking the government to “step up to the plate”! It was fascinating to listen to people’s conversations as they struggled to narrow it down to just one solution! You can see the ideas they came up with displayed in the café. It was a vivid reminder to me how much I have to learn from listening to people and learning from their experiences.
Have a think about your week ahead. How often will you make time to encounter someone with a different lived experience to you? Can you make some more time to sit and listen, maybe to someone who has had their benefits sanctioned or who has had to make the impossible choice between heating or eating? Can you make more time to hear people’s experiences for yourself and be transformed by them?
When thinking about the possibility of being a poor church for the poor I’ve been challenged to think not only about what we do in mission but also about our act of worship here on a Sunday morning. We like to think of ourselves as an inclusive church, and we try very hard to be, but how varied are the voices who lead us? Heston is very conscious of being a white male, although at least he is from another country and challenges other stereotypes of a parish priest! How many people of different colours, countries and financial situations are involved in designing our worship services? Is it actually possible to be inclusive for the person who struggles to read, while being inclusive to those who love the beauty of liturgical language? And what about being inclusive of the person who didn’t finish school, while being inclusive of those who like an intellectual debate about the finer details of eschatology? I don’t think there are easy answers but, to truly be an inclusive poor church for the poor, they are issues we need to be grappling with. How do we ensure we are a church where people from all backgrounds and life experiences can meet with the transforming love of God?
Instead of providing our own opinion of the solution, how do we equip and enable those individuals with personal experience of the challenges of life to exercise leadership? How do we empower them to make the changes they themselves have identified as necessary? It’s probably more costly, especially in terms of time which is a real challenge when we feel so time poor, but is it what we should be doing? Like Church Action on Poverty, how are we ensuring that we’re not just a voice for those without a voice, but that we’re helping those who are not heard to use their own voice?
As I finish I’ll leave you with some inspiring words from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche which could transform us as individuals and as a church if we’re brave enough to follow them and really become a poor church for the poor:

“If you enter into relationship with a lonely or suffering person you will discover something else; that it is you who are being healed. The broken person will reveal to you your own inner hurt and the hardness of your heart, but also how much you are loved. Thus the one you came to heal will be the healer. If you let yourself be moulded thus by the cry of the poor and accept their healing friendship, then they may guide your footsteps into community and lead you into a new vision of humanity, a new world order, not governed by power and fear but where the poor and weak are at the centre. They will lead you into the kingdom Jesus speaks of”.

Lydia Groenewald

For further inspiration: ‘Poverty is many things’ by Tony Walsh

Poverty is not entertainment, it’s not noble or romantic.
Poverty is… heavy.
It’s heavy hearts and heavy legs.
It’s sore skin and hollow eyes.
It’s upset and downhearted.
It’s hunger. Malnourishment. It’s always thinking about the next meal.
Poverty is bailiffs, it’s food banks, it’s queues and lists, it’s never being told what you’re entitled to but always being told.
Poverty is being shown up then put down.
It’s missed payments and mistrust.
It’s always answering questions but never answering the door.
Poverty is hiding in plain view. It’s hiding.
Poverty is high bills and low pay.
It’s higher costs and lower self-esteem.
It’s invisible scars and visible pain.
Poverty is living nextdoor, it’s living on your nerves, it’s not living, it’s… barely surviving.
Poverty is… everywhere. With… nowhere to turn
It’s a gut-wrenching silence, screaming.
Poverty is depressing, demotivating and dehumanising.
It’s degradation, desperation and despair.
Poverty is feeling… worthless, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling excluded, it’s feeling rejected, it’s feeling ashamed, it’s feeling trapped, it’s feeling angry, it’s feeling fffrustrated, poverty is…. exhausting.
It’s not feeling anything. It’s… numb.
Poverty is… crushing. Empty. Lonely.
Poverty is cold. It’s damp. It’s ill health. Bad housing. Sadness, fear and human misery.
Poverty is ignored and abandoned. It’s sanctioned and sectioned. It’s late payments and early deaths.
Poverty is not something that happens to… “others”.
Poverty is our old people, our young people, our sick people, our disabled people, our mentally ill people, our homeless people. Poverty is people seeking asylum, it’s people who are refugees, people who are migrants. Poverty is over-worked, under-paid everyday people.
Poverty is people. It’s children. Babies. Not… “them”. Us.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
Poverty is growing in our country. In 2017.
Poverty is many things, but
it is not
acceptable.

A collaboration between Church Action on Poverty and Tony Walsh

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