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Sermon for 6 August

 

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Luke 9:28-36

I read a book recently which was really good. It’s good for lots of reasons, but one of them is its title. It’s called Paradoxology.

That isn’t actually a word - the author, Krish Kandiah has just made it up - but it’s a great word to have invented. The two words he has mashed up together are * Paradox - two things that seem contradictory but which, on paying attention turn out both to be true and Doxology - a word or statement of praise; like for instance ‘Glory to God in the Highest’, which we’ve just said.

Paradoxology then is praising God through things that seem to be contradictory. Or perhaps, discovering something of God’s glory, something worthy of praise, in things that aren’t simple. 

Our faith is built on paradox. Jesus is fully human and fully God. God is Three; God is one. The Kingdom of Heaven is here; the Kingdom of Heaven is still to come.

And the word Paradoxology, and the simple-complex truth it calls us to understand, might have been invented to help us understand the story we just heard - the story usually called The Transfiguration.



This is one of those stories that is built up from other stories, and to understand it we need to understand something about those other stories that it is building on. It’s a bit like watching the third part of Lord of the Rings or the final film in the Harry Potter series. You can enjoy what’s going on if you haven’t seen the previous films, but you will never get the full meaning.

And I want to have a look at a couple of details in that story first, and then to look at some of the paradoxologies that it contains. 

Going up mountains in the Old Testament is always a signal that something important is happening. 

Think of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark ends up. Mount Horeb, where Moses sees a burning bush and Mount Sinai, where Moses meets God and receives the 10 commandments. Mountains are where God does business with his people. 

So we know, when Jesus ‘goes up a mountain to pray’ this is going to be important and that this is a serious God-encounter we are about to witness.

And then Jesus’ face changes and he becomes pure white. In Mark’s version of this story he includes the detail that Jesus’s clothes were a brilliant white, ‘such that no one on earth could bleach them’. Jesus hasn’t used a particularly good washing powder - he is burning white with God’s glory. 

In the reading we had from Daniel we hear that The Ancient of Days - God himself - is ‘white as snow’ and elsewhere in the bible too, this kind of pureness is a sign of divine glory and holiness; dazzling white as a symbol of something unsullied by the mess and dirt of the world. And note that, unlike some of the bible stories, when people meet God and something of his bright shining pureness is reflected onto them, with Jesus that bright light shines out of him. The glory in the Ancient of Days is the same glory that blazes out of Jesus.

And then, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, Moses and Elijah appear alongside Jesus. It’s like one of those adverts for football in which the latest star appears alongside footballing gods of previous generations. 

*This one makes it clear - Pele, perhaps the greatest player of all time, gives his blessing to the new ‘chosen one’, Neymar, sold this week to his new club for £200 million.

The difference in this story though is that it’s the new boy - Jesus - who is the real deal. He is the Messiah, not of an aspiring and newly rich football club, but of the whole world.

One more Old Testament hint to pick up on. Moses, Elijah and Jesus have a chat and the subject under discussion is Jesus’ ‘departure’. The word in Greek is ‘Exodus’. Moses led Israel through the sea in the great Exodus story - the founding story of the People of God. Now there is a new Exodus about to take place. And this one carries a whole new level of danger - not from the sea, but from the hatred of those who have been whipped up into a terrible fury against Jesus - a fury that carries with it all the hatred and brokenness and misery of a sinful world. And where the original Exodus set a nation free, this one, the one that will take place though the death and resurrection of God’s own son, will set everything and everyone free. 

That’s the background, 4 Old Testament foundations, retold through Jesus, all of which say - this is a new start. God has come and in Jesus, he brings a pure love and justice with him, and he is here for a new Exodus, a new freedom.


So what about these paradoxologies? There are three to pick out. Three ways in which this story invites us to see something of God by inviting us into a paradox.

The first is the paradox of glory and suffering. This is a story all about the overwhelming, awe inspiring, majestic glory of God. Peter and James and John see it. They get a glimpse into heaven - just as Daniel did in his vision - and through the story they passed on, we get to see it too. And it’s glorious. We can’t imagine it really, but this is a sneak preview of the purity of goodness and love that exists where God dwells. A ‘place’, if we can call it that, where there is nothing harmful or bad, no sadness, sickness or suffering, no injustice, poverty or pain. It is a place of pure and complete perfection. Total joy, total love, total goodness. 

This is God’s glory. The same glory that shines from Jesus’ face. The glory that is also his.

And yet we know that he destined for something different. His throne will not be a gold plated chair in the heavenly places, it will be a rough cross on a rubbish heap. The glory he is heading for looks remarkably like a terrible disastrous defeat. 

In God’s economy, glory and suffering sit together. And so we are likely to know the true beauty of God in the hardest places, in the toughest times and in the most abandoned of people. You might have seen in the press that the Bishop of Burnley made waves this week - he challenged the Church of England to remember who Jesus calls the church to minister to - to the poor. His talk is very challenging and well worth reading. Amongst other things he said this - Jesus chose the poor and the weak and the powerless, he chose those who knew their utter dependency on God because they quite literally had nothing else to depend on, and with them he blew apart the whole meaning of what it is to be human.

Godly glory is pure, beautiful and majestic. Godly glory is failure, poverty and weakness.

Both are true and that paradoxology lies at the heart of our faith. Praise God for his glory. Praise God for his glory.

Here’s another paradoxology.

What the disciples see is as plain to them as the hand in front of your face. They saw Jesus right in front of them, shining like he is heaven’s door thrown wide open, and they want to capture the moment in hastily erected shelters. But they can’t, too quickly a cloud came down to cover the view. The door was closed again.

Maybe you’ve had a taste of that glory in your life as well. Maybe like Daniel and like the disciples, you’ve been granted a glimpse of the heavenly places, or you’ve sensed it just round the corner. An awareness that there is a reality beyond this world which is totally different and utterly good. 

And if you have, you will also know that we can’t stay there for long. Like those disciples we want to capture it forever, to box up the experience and make it last. But you can’t. God’s glory isn’t for capturing. It is fleeting and beyond us.

God’s glory is here. God’s glory is far away.

Both are true. That paradxology lies at the heart of our faith. Praise God for his glory. Praise God for his glory.


One more paradoxolgy. 

This is a dense, multi layered story, full of meaning and mystery. Contained within it are hints and nuances, and it is impossible to capture the fullness of its riches. But there, in the middle of this complexity is the answer to everything. ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’. That’s it - faith is that simple. Jesus is God’s Son and we are to listen to him.

When I was a boy we had a board game called Othello. It was something to do with black and white counters which you had to turn over had various points - I can’t remember much about the games, but I do remember the tagline on the box. ‘Othello; Takes a minute to learn. Takes a lifetime to master.’

And that is true of our faith as well. To be a Christian is the simplest thing in the world - all it takes is to say that Jesus is God’s chosen son and then to listen to him. That’s all. All the books and learning and discussion and angst about the big questions of life boil down to the simplest of messages. Jesus is God’s Son, we are to model and mould our life around him. We are to listen to him.

And yet figuring how to live that out will take us a lifetime. Faith is complex and learning to listen to Jesus will demand everything that we’ve got.

Faith is simple. Faith is complex. 

Both are true. That paradoxology lies at the heart of our faith. Praise God for his glory. Praise God for his glory.

 

This story means and says many, many things. More than one sermon can capture. But one of them is - come on in and discover God. Discover him in the full messiness and complexity of life. Discover that many of the things we think of as contradictions are designed to draw us deeper into faith. Discover that we don’t start praising God when we’ve figured out all the answers - we praise God in the midst of all the questions. 

It’s all about paradoxology. Praise God for his glory. Praise God for his glory.

Posted: 06-08-2017 at 14:17
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