SERMON FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION – 2021
We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. –from II St Peter 2
And today we are like Peter, James and John climbing with Jesus; not to the top of that mountain, as they were, but to the “summit” we are so looking forward to, the end of the pandemic.
In the course of this Epistle St Peter not only records his personal experience on that journey, but also an important theological principle: “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” In other words, he is making clear that when he speaks of this remarkable event, and of the prophecies which he and the other Apostles received, are not concerned with their personal opinions, because what he has told about that day is a divine revelation to which they were witnesses.
The Apostles must have been overwhelmed. First they saw Jesus in a dazzling light, then Moses and Elijah before them talking to the Lord, then suddenly gone! And then they heard wha, Jesus said, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of Man be risen from the dead.” What, do you think, surprised the Apostles the most, this vision they had just seen, or that Jesus wanted them to seal their lips, or that death and resurrection lay ahead for Him? This was a time that they would keep in their hearts forever.
Here we are, two thousand years later, still dealing with what happened to those men so long ago, still contemplating the remarkable story of Jesus Christ.
Those Apostles needed to have that special vision of Christ in glory, because all this was so unfamiliar, and they had not yet experienced the fullness of revelation. Now He was transfigured before them. They saw not just a good man, a youthful figure, strong and engaging, a great leader, but so much more.
We not only read about Him in the Gospels, and the interpretations in the Epistles, but most of us have holy pictures and even statuary that keep Jesus before our eyes, too. And what exactly do they represent for us? That is what counts in our lives.
To quote the question as it appears in Scripture, “What think ye of Christ?”
We have the answer before us, when St Peter tells of the words which he and the others heard, spoken by a voice that came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
And yet we know that there have been private interpretations from many sources. There are those who prefer to think of Jesus simply as a holy man who kept Himself close to God, a very great man, but still just a man. That is why a narrative like this one, from Peter himself, is so vital. And he recognised that the life and ministry of Jesus had been prophesied by holy men of Israel over the centuries, and they had witnessed the fulfillment of those prophecies.
“They saw no man, save Jesus only.” That is the need of every soul, to get through the clouds of ideas and the crowd of great leaders and prophets to the one Person who can keep us in the light and close to the Father.
And so we have the witness of these men on that mountain top. And why do we take their witness so seriously? Because they were willing to proclaim this truth even though they were placing themselves in danger, and indeed would sacrifice their lives in order to proclaim Him as our Lord and Saviour. Clearly He is the Person who calls into question the power and authority of not only their Roman overlords but even their Jewish rabbis. In fact, when you stop and think about it, the revelation of God in Christ is a challenge to every other concept of reality, and so it was perceived as a threat by all the powerful on earth.
And as we look around us today, we can hardly ignore the fact that the truth as Jesus has given it to us is still at odds with so many human systems of thought. Scientific humanism, communism, and every godless way of thinking have all set out to transform the world, but only to their image, not to the likeness of Christ. The result has not been “the beauty of holiness” but the nightmare of the ungodly.
But way back at the beginning of the Christian Church Saint Peter put it so plainly, when we consider all the man-made philosophies and creeds, “We also have a more sure word of prophecy.” This can make all the difference.
And yet the struggle has continued far beyond those first days in Palestine. “By the will of man” humanity and civilisation have been threatened and dominated time after time by those who see no vision, and do not believe.
This means that our faith in Jesus Christ is vital not just to our relationship with Him and our eternal destiny, it is essential to maintain and develop the kind of human character and society which God intends.
Every time we are tempted to accept some distorted vision of reality, let us remember what those three Apostles heard: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.”
The world is now a place of instant communication, and a host of ideas compete with the teachings of Christ. We are called to be steadfast in our resolution to trust in God above all. There is no satisfactory way to straddle the fence between the worldly and the divine.
Our time on earth is brief. What a tragedy if we allow any false ideas, and “isms, “cunningly devised fables,” to lead us off on a spiritual tangent that can cause us to lose our close contact with Jesus. We who are the followers of Christ and members of his earthly body, the Church, must be resolute in walking the way of Christ, and seeing in Him alone the way, the truth, and the life.
The Apostles were especially blessed, because the divine sonship of Jesus Christ, who would become their Saviour, was revealed to them one day when they chose to climb a mountain with Jesus.
For us, especially those of us now advanced in years, life itself is climb enough; but Jesus wants us to continue onward and upward with Him, so that we shall one day be in the presence of all the saints of God with Him, and come to the fullest realisation and personal knowledge of what God the Father told those Apostles long ago, “This is my beloved Son.”
Jesus was transfigured, so that Peter, James and John beheld not just the fellow human being before them, but the divine Person who existed in that body and motivated him.
So Jesus was revealed at last. From that time onwards, we have before us the evidence that through his influence on our lives, we too may go through a kind of transfiguration, by which we can become more like Christ, as the power of the Spirit changes us, when we place ourselves in his hands. Instead of a sudden change, it is a lifetime transformation. Step by step, when we walk with Christ, we can gradually develop into the souls the Father created us to be. His transfiguration is a sign of the possibilities.
Jesus came to earth, and He took on the “form of a servant,” in the image of man, so that we might identify ourselves with Him, and then see Him as He truly is. And the more we are close to Him, the more we can become all that God means us to be.
O Father on high, may we desire in heart and mind to ascend the heights of truth and love, where we may be with Jesus Christ, and see Him as He is, thy Son and our true friend and Saviour. Amen.
Fr Stan is the spiritual mentor of Mr Berkeley Stewart, who is a member of the congregation at All Saints.
With his permission, Berkeley has been forwarding us Fr Stan’s sermons. They are published here, as well as a brief biography of this remarkable priest:
The Rev. Canon Stanley R. Sinclair
The Rev. Canon Stanley R. Sinclair of Church of Our Saviour, Victoria, was born in 1931 in Ross, California, across the north bay from San Francisco. In the coming years his family lived in the Sierra Mountains and later in the Napa Valley. At an early age he felt called to the ministry and after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956 he fulfilled his vow and entered the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, also in Berkeley, under the authority of the Bishop of San Joaquin (the central valley diocese of the Episcopal Church in California).
In December of 1953 he married Sonja Swinnerton von Savoye in the historic church of St James’, Sonora, which was “family church” to both the Sinclairs and the von Savoyes. During these years he was employed at the University Library and he graduated as Master of Divinity Cum Laude in 1956. He was ordained Deacon in the family’s parish church in Sonora, CA, and later priest as Curate in St John the Evangelist, Stockton, California.
In the Stockton years Sonja and Father Stan became the adoptive parents of baby Erik Alexander von Savoye Sinclair, and of Grace Amy and Sarah Mary-Elizabeth, the two girls who had come to them as foster children—all within one year!
The following decades took the Sinclairs to various parish assignments, which included new fledgling congregations, fading parishes in need of a “lift,” from less than a hundred faithful up to 1300 in one parish! It involved building churches, starting two parochial schools, and working with many wonderful people, both clergy and laity; and finally moving all the way to Canada. After 15 years in Victoria and Calgary, since 1991, Father Stan has served as rector successively of two churches in Victoria. Although now officially retired, he is still serving as best he can at the age of 89.
Although now unable to travel, both for reasons of the pandemic and old age, the Sinclairs have previously enjoyed spending a good deal of time both in their ancestral homeland of Scotland and seeing many parts of the United States, Canada, and on the continent of Europe.
It has been a full life, with many sorrows but also many joys.