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'Can we do it...'
Revd Susan Lucas' first sermon as priest-in-charge, Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Matthew 17:1-9

I came of age in the 1970s: that meant kipper ties and flares; David Cassidy – or Donny Osmond; teetering clunkily around on platform soles; it was before mobile phones, and so meant stretching the curly telephone wire as far as it would go to get a bit of privacy for all those intense intimate chats with best friends, away from prying parental ears – usually sitting on the stairs! And of course, Saturday Night Fever, and John Travolta in dazzling white…

It takes a degree of cool to get away with dazzling white – as anyone who has owned a pair of white jeans knows; and dazzling white at Wimbledon or Lords is always a sight to behold. And then there is liturgical white – usually resplendent with gold for festivals and holidays…and there is the white of a wedding, where it is the symbol of faithful, committed love.

But there are other echoes as well – and today, the New Girl, in my own newly pressed white alb, I feel a little like Jacques’ description of the schoolboy in the Seven Ages of Man speech in As You Like It – ‘with shining morning face…walks unwillingly to school.’  No, I’m not unwilling – I am here with great joy and full of hope; yet Shakepeare here conveys something of the vulnerability that shiny newness brings.

All of these themes are present in today’s Gospel; Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John; and they go up a high mountain – and mountains are the place of the encounter the living God: Moses, on Mount Sinai and Elijah, on Mount Horeb; and Moses and Elijah encounter God – and are sent back to earth, as it were, transformed – not simply for themselves, but in order to speak out against the powerful who exploit the weak; Moses and Elijah feed the people when the rulers cannot – or will not.

They become themselves transformed humanity, in order to give back humanity to those whose humanity has been trampled. And they do so not in power and strength – for in meeting the living God, they eschew the one thing the powerful cannot: they empty themselves of all power and become utterly vulnerable;

So the dazzling white of Jesus today shows him to be the new Moses, the new Elijah, the one in whom the new humanity and new creation is come to us. Not in power and majesty – for the dazzling white is the dazzling newness of vulnerability – a vulnerability which Jesus embraced fully – for he is the human one, from the vulnerable baby in the manger, to the broken man on the cross.

It’s not a bad way of reflecting on the beginning of a new ministry; for we all – priests and people together – are at our most human when we say simply, ‘just as I am’ – fully embracing our own humanity, our ordinariness, our vulnerability; for it is in precisely this that the glory of God is most visible; ‘the glory of God is the human being fully alive,’ said Irenaeus of Lyon; ‘and to be fully alive is to be in the presence of God.’

And to be in the presence of God is to be vulnerable; for to be in the presence of God is to have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The response of the disciples, faced as they are with God’s strange glory, God’s odd mercy, God’s paradoxical power – is perhaps understandable; there is fear – there is a need to do something, and, in Peter’s desire to build booths – perhaps thinking festival of Succoth, or tabernacles – there is a desire to fall back on tradition, to try to find a place for this in what we know and trust.

None of this is wrong in itself; the fear of the Lord as the psalmist says is the beginning of wisdom; but not its end; we are called to do something real and practical with our faith to help others; and tradition, rhythm, routine, helps us to practise our faith, to keep on keeping on.

Yet none of this is quite enough; for, just as more is asked of the disciples, so more is asked of us as disciples of Christ, baptised into the death of the Lord; we too are asked to come into the presence of God in all our vulnerability, in all our humanity – to be ‘just as we are’ –  in all our human glory and brokenness;

Can we do it?  Well, we do whenever we feed on Christ in the sacrament, on broken bread and wine outpoured; for to say ‘this is my body and this is my blood’ is to say Christ bodies himself into all this – all that is joyful and sorrowful, all that is wonderful and wounded, all that is, like the host, blessed and broken.

Can we? For we become what we consume; we become the body of Christ; for in receiving the body and blood of Christ, we allow ourselves to become more and more the best human beings we can be – in all our vulnerability and fragility; and in coming into the presence of God in that humanity, we discover the God whose nature and name is relentless, committed love – for us, and for all humanity; and in that discovery, we become, in Austin Farrer’s memorable phrase, walking sacraments; for the sake of one another, for our neighbours in this community – and for the life of the world.  Amen.

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