A sermon preached
Reading: Mt 17:1-8
BBC News Website: Photo 2
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the
brother of James,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
There he was transfigured before them.
His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here.
If you wish, I will put up three shelters
— one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them,
and a voice from the cloud said,
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!
When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified.
But Jesus came and touched them. Get up, he said. Don't be afraid.
When they looked up, they saw no-one except Jesus. ”
Well last night was the night of the Mint Pantomime
and thanks to all who entertained us with Aladdin.
Eat your heart out, Laurence Olivier – it was superb stuff.
And some of us may never quite look at Nina Black
and Lynne Green
– or Trevor Jones - in quite the same way again….
it be great if we could just take out Aladdin’s lamp,
give a quick rub, and “whoosh” – as fast as Peter Coleman could sang “Bang”,
there would be a Genie
(looking not a little like Debbie Myhill with a feather in her hat)
ready to sort out all the problems of the world…..
No more asylum, no more refugees, no more African debt…..
But for good or ill, such magic tricks only happen in pantomime.
in the real world, God knows our wishes, hopes and dreams,
and indeed his Word (says the Psalmist) is like a lamp unto our feet.
Yes, God will guide us & direct us & strengthen us, if we will allow him:
But no genies.
It is only through the likes of you and me that he will work –
It is only through the likes of you and me that the world
enmity and war, refugees and asylum seekers, sorrow and heartache
will be transformed.
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the Transfiguration.
Jesus appears to the disciples shining in glory.
Peter hopes this is a happy Pantomime fairy tale ending –
“Lord, lets build tents and stay here and live happily ever after”
No says Jesus, you’ve got to go back to the valley.
And what was true for Peter & James & John is true for us all.
the mountain top experiences do not mean we withdraw from the valley –
quite the reverse.
mountain top experiences of God
actually drive us back to the valleys of sorrow, darkness and death.
you’ve been to the Mountaintop,
and you’ve had a sneak preview of the end of the story –
you’ve seen the glory to be -
So you can go and live your dreams back in the valley.
And some of you will just have heard the news
that our dear friend Sheila Mitchell died an hour ago
at 10 o’clock this morning.
And we rejoice.
We rejoice because Sheila has been talking with us
and praying with us in her hospital and hospice bed
during this past week waiting for this moment –
because she understood, and she understands,
the relationship between the mountain and the valley.
And she had met with her Lord
and she had offered her life in service
within the valley of human existence in this life.
And as she walked in the valley,
and finally into the valley of the shadow of death,
she did so with the glorious vision
of the coming Kingdom of God in her heart -
knowing that that was what she was working for in this world,
and that that was her final destination.
She, with her Christian sisters and brothers,
had seen that glorious advance vision of the coming Kingdom.
And she was ready to go there.
And so today, for her and all the saints who have gone home before us,
we do not shed too many tears - though we must be sad for ourselves.
For what she awaited has come,
and for Sheila we rejoice that she is home.
and I: we are not yet to remain on the
but we are to go into the valley with Peter and James and John
and there we are to look for God to work miracles,
not just on the mountain at the end of time and at the end of our life,
but in the valley in the midst of life,
that is where God works his miracles with you and with me if we will let him.
When ordinary folk like you and me start catching the dream of the kingdom
and living it now in small ways and in small places.
That is how the world ceases to be disfigured and becomes transfigured
and the glory of God breaks into everyday life
Martin Luther King’s oratory was sublime and his
experience a wonderful one –
I’ve been up to mountain and seen the promised land! –
I’ve dreamed a dream of a world when all God’s children shall be equal together…..
the real miracle was worked in God’s power by countless unnamed individuals
who lived that dream in the dark valleys and the Washington marches and the Alabama buses.
Let me tell you about another less well known Mountain Top dreamer.
Simon Bailey was an Anglican priest in a small traditional mining village in Yorkshire.
He knew about the valley of the shadow – indeed he was to die of AIDS in 1995.
he also knew about the dream and vision of God’s coming Kingdom.
Listen to these words he wrote not long before his death:
dreaming about a church of sensitivity and openness,
…of healing and welcome.
dreaming about a community of friends
that celebrates differences and diversity and variety,
a community that is forgiving, cherishing, wide open.
dream of women and men
who minister life and laughter and love;
…healing & harmony & hope;
…I dream of the clear panorama of the vision of light
Right at the top of the mountain.
So Simon Bailey dreamed his mountain top dream
of God’s inclusive Kingdom of love and peace.
But what happened in the valley?
How did a priest dying of AIDS
fare in a conservative traditional Yorkshire village?
Well, the villagers received him with open
They set up care teams to help him,
and began to wear their scarlet ribbons to show the world their solidarity.
No longer just a mountain top vision of the future –
it became a living present sign of the Kingdom in the valley below,
embedded in the day to day reality of a transfigured local community.
So today we reflect on refugees and asylum seekers.
And I want to share with you one
final miracle story –
this comes from Donald Eadie, Methodist Minister
formerly Chair of the Birmingham District
and a good friend of some of us here.
recalls a day back in the late 70s
when Vietnamese Boat people were arriving in the UK as refugees.
Donald tells how a group of refugees arrived in the street where he lived –
just two doors up the road. He recalls how
“…Slowly the children came onto the streets to
The windows opened and the washing was out…
and also the smell of food.
And a door opened and
in went a letter from the neighbours ….
complaining of the noise, washing and smell!
And the letter was translated.
And the reply was translated and carried to the neighbours:
“Come to a party – we will prepare the food,
but you bring your English songs and dances!”
And some came to the party but without songs and
And many stayed away.
But that night people struggled with language and
in order to find each other.
And they laughed!
And something happened on that street that night to transform it.
I sensed that there was laughter both in heaven and on earth”
[Donald Eadie, “Grain in Winter” Epworth Press 1999, p.146]
hope you will all come and share Korean New Year on Wednesday –
you may struggle with language, and with chopsticks,
but you will be living out a sign of the coming Kingdom
when all shall be one family in love and peace.
when Exeter City Council or the Tabloid press
turn against asylum seekers and refugees,
let us pause before we heed them
Let us go back to the mountain with Peter and James and John.
us recover that glorious vision
of God’s glorious rule over all peoples in heaven above.
let us return to the streets of our cities
to live that dream of inclusive love and care.
Then perhaps we will hear our laughter echoed in Heaven.