Sermons from St Faith's

Fr Neil Kelley, August 2009

I’m sure that many of us have had an experience which was so enjoyable, it meant so much to us, that we didn’t want it to end. Perhaps a holiday? a pilgrimage? perhaps a marvellous performance or piece of art? some event which at the time was so wonderful that we didn’t want to end. Perhaps it was the ‘barbecue summer’- that has ended!

The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain – the festival we celebrate today – is told in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Peter refers to it in his second epistle. Each time, it is made clear that God’s salvation is for all and Christ is the one who brings that inclusive salvation. The testimony of the Law and prophets to Jesus are given by the presence of Moses and Elijah and the event also pre-figures the resurrection, giving a foretaste of the life of glory.

Well – a heavenly experience.... Such was that experience of Peter, James and John on top of the Mountain with Jesus. ‘Master, it is good to be here’ says Peter. “‘tis Good Lord to be here” – we sang in entrance the hymn. ... Like us with that experience we wanted to hold on to, to capture for ever, They wanted to capture the moment and hold on to it – hence the comment about making tents. The experience was just so great they would have done anything to keep hold of it.

The Transfiguration had two clear purposes.

Firstly, it was to show that Jesus was the Messiah. He wasn’t just a prophet, a do-gooder or just a kind helpful person. Jesus was the Chosen One – You are my Son, says the Father’s voice from heaven (as we heard in the second reading today). Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is the one chosen by God. It is his death and resurrection that will accomplish the work of God.

The second (and most) important  reason that Jesus appeared to his disciples was to banish fear. They were worried about his forthcoming agony – like all human beings they were worried about the future of someone who was very close to them. The physical sight of Jesus overwhelmed the disciples – they wanted to hold on to the glory – not to let it go. His appearance helped to strengthen their faith and their knowledge that Christ was doing the will of God.

 The issue of assisted suicide is very much in the public domain at present. What is the Church’s teaching on this? As this important debate unfolds I believe we need a forum here for the subject to be discussed – perhaps at one of the discussion groups planned for the autumn? People often say that it’s not so much death that they fear, but dying... Fear can be very real and very frightening. There are times when the way ahead is not at all clear. There are times when we feel confused, bereft and isolated. There are times when we feel that deep down within us there is a sadness or unhappiness, an emotional aching which seems not to go away. At times like this we are often tempted to put our trust in things which are not of God. When life is unclear, confused and frightening it is tempting to give up trusting in God. Our prayers seem unanswered, like a lone voice crying in a wilderness. When life is difficult there are many places to which people turn. Perhaps they turn to...

The number of practicing Christians who seem to think that these things are OK is quite astonishing. These things are clearly contrary to orthodox Christian teaching: to indulge in such practices is to doubt the power of God and his guidance in our lives because it means placing our hope and trust in things which are not of God or directed by him.  Well. It’s only a bit of fun, some might say. But it doesn’t take much, believe you me, for that fun to become an unhealthy obsession.

So is our 100 club a bad idea? I hope not – the church needs the money! Is buying a lottery ticket bad news? No – partly because many charitable causes are on the receiving end of lottery money but we do have to beware – the love of money is the root of all evil, not money in itself, the love of it. The compulsion driven by greed or sometimes financial hardship, is real and potentially destructive.

The awful pain of bereavement can lead some people to want to get in touch with a loved one ‘on the other side’. That is completely contrary to the Christian hope expressed in the liturgy when we pray ‘rest eternal, grant unto them,’ We pray that they may rest completely in the peace of heaven not that that rest is disturbed by people wanting to ‘get in touch’.


Like so many through the ages, we ask questions, we want more answers to what life holds. Yes, the invitation issued by Jesus - ‘follow me’ means carrying our cross and sharing the sufferings of Christ. It is difficult to be a Christian as Jackie pointed out in last week’s sermon. But it doesn’t stop there with the pain of Good Friday. God’s gift is new and eternal life in heaven. We don’t earn our way there – it is his gift.

The disciples were worried about Jesus and his forthcoming passion. Of course they were – they were human. It didn’t matter how close they were to Jesus, they had the same fears as we have.

 What does happen when we die? That is the sixty-four thousand dollar question! People often ask me, expecting me to be able to describe in perfect detail a place that I’ve seen. Those of you who wish to be bereavement visitors, you can be fairly certain it is a question you will be asked at some point by someone who is bereaved. But if we are known to be Christians, then any of us can be asked that question at any time! It is by faith alone that we believe in the promise of eternal life. Our Creed asserts that Jesus rose  from the dead, but there is no report about what it was like there! Perhaps S. John in the Book of Revelation gives us the clue when he says of heaven: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."  If we are putting our trust anywhere, it is in that vision of heaven described by S. John. 

Since the world began people have wrestled with good and evil, faith and doubt and have had to make choices and difficult decisions. It was the case two thousand years ago and it is the same now. The apostle Paul writing to the people of Phillipi, encourages them to restrain from all earthly gain and security and to place their trust and hope in God. St Paul wrote:

 For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord.

A friend of mine once said that his picture of hell is eternity with all those people to whom one has said over the years, do come and stay sometime (hoping of course they never do!).  Well, what is your picture of heaven?

Jesus's meeting with Elijah and Moses is a sign that heaven is going to be recognisably human, a great reunion, not only with those we already know and love but all the great and good in human history - in other words it will be a place in which there are no longer any barriers to human friendship and we will finally have time for everyone. So in this Gospel we not only see Jesus transfigured - we also glimpse humanity transformed.

When our faith is tested, when we are not sure which way to go, let us open our hearts to the leading and prompting of God. And as we draw closer to Him in our daily prayers and as we go about our daily tasks let us have a faith which can say with certainty and confidence, echoing those words of Peter, “Master, it is good to be here.”

Jesus's meeting with Elijah and Moses is a sign that heaven is going to be recognisably human, a great reunion, not only with those we already know and love but all the great and good in human history - in other words it will be a place in which there are no longer any barriers to human friendship and we will finally have time for everyone. And that is the experience which will have no end. Amen.

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