A story that changes us
Church Action on Poverty supporter Ian Ross preached at Longden Church on Church Action on Poverty Sunday. He kindly shared with us this sermon on transfiguration and poverty.
Have you climbed the Wrekin? Snowden? Everest?
What is the attraction of a mountain? The exertion? The view from the top?
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain – we do not know which one.
Nor is it clear why Jesus took them up the mountain: Matthew does not tell us. Mark says ‘where they could be alone by themselves’ – but we are not told why. Luke says “to pray”.
Just before setting off on this climb, all three Gospel writers record Jesus as saying, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Hang on – that is tough talk. Take up his cross? What does it mean?
Off they go. There Jesus is transfigured – his face shone like the sun; his clothes became dazzling white; and both Moses and Elijah were chatting to Jesus. Odd. Very odd. But then God is odd.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him”
What is going on? The disciples are overcome by fear. Jesus touched them: “Get up, do not be afraid.”
As they came down the mountain Peter, James and John were told to shut up – tell no one.
Back at the bottom, it’s back to normal – people presenting problems – a man pleads with Jesus to cure his son who had epilepsy. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the same story.
The contrast: Jesus on the mountain transfigured, transformed. Back at the bottom, Jesus confronted by human suffering, whilst also facing his own death
The story of Jesus begins in a humble shed round the back of the hotel – alone with his parents, no-one else.
The story of Jesus continues with a series of meetings with all kinds of people – those in authority in synagogue and state (he eats with sinners; he picks corn on the sabbath); those whose lives are damaged by sickness (blindness, deafness, paralysis, epilepsy); those rejected – the woman about to be stoned; the man left injured by the side of the road helped by a Samaritan.
The story of Jesus ends with his execution on a cross alongside two other criminals – alone, abandoned, mocked.
But this story of Jesus moves us – so much that we come to share in holy communion.
It is a story of freedom, liberation, hope, forgiveness, healing.
It is a story into which we are drawn – a story that changes us – transforms us.
We are to be the agents of change – the bearers of hope for others – people who care more for others than ourselves.
Church Action on Poverty is a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity working in the UK.
The Rev Ali Dorey, who took part in the Church Action on Poverty ‘Listen Up’ programme in Sheffield, said:
“Once you have seen and heard poverty first-hand, you never see the world in quite the same way again… The experience of being listened to properly, deeply and compassionately, changes people. Immediately, they become a person with a story to tell, rather than a statistic, or someone to be judged by what can be seen on the surface… “I find it increasingly difficult to live with the apparent contradiction between what we preach, pray, read and sing about in church services and how involved we choose to be with those who are destitute on our doorstep.”
Pope Francis has much to say on poverty in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, which he wrote in 2013:
We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.
How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.
Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
Who are the poor? They are people who are crushed under the burden of simply maintaining life from day to day when every act of survival seems only to serve to tighten the merciless bonds of poverty and debt and hopelessness. They are people who are despised and outcast from society because they are strangers, disabled, refugees, slaves, homosexuals, gypsies, Jews, women…. People are made poor because of injustice and prejudice. People are poor because other people are rich.
It is in the life of Jesus that the involvement of God in human history sheds all ambiguity. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus’s programme is to transform social reality – it is the wealthy, the Pharisees, doctors of the Law, priests and civil rulers who are denounced. In the Jesus programme the love of God is made concrete in terms of strength for the weak, the embracing of the outcast and the defeat of poverty. He was a menace to orderly society and had to die.
Pope Francis has challenged Christians everywhere: to build a “poor church, that is for the poor”. If our churches are truly to be communities that put the poorest first, how do we need to change? What must we let go of? What are the sacrifices that we are called to make?
How can we allow God to transform us into a “poor Church for the poor”?