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February 14th, 1999,(St. George's URC, H'Pool)
Ordinary 6, year A
Revd. Phil Nevard

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"Transforming Encounters"

I can vividly remember a moment of revelation I experienced when I was about eighteen years old. It was the Anglican university chaplain at warwick. I had come across him at various events and services from time to time, and I had formed an instant impression of him. I had him down as a guy who had it all together spiritually, someone who had no problems with his life of Christian discipleship.

One evening, during a Lent course, he spoke very passionately about his sense of failure at prayer, how he found it such a struggle. All of a sudden, I viewed him in a completely different light. Suddenly he became an approachable figure, suddenly he became approachable, suddenly he became the sort of person I could relate to. My opinion of him was transformed, and my relationship with him was transformed. He was no longer just the vicar who I admired from afar, he became an important spiritual guide through some of my late teenage years.

Occasionally something happens which transforms your whole view of a person. It shatters any previously formed ideas about who that person might be and what they might be about.

Also when I was at university I can vividly remember the first time I heard a vicar tell a dirty joke. It completely changed the way I understood vicars. It was probably the most important thing I ever heard a vicar say!

What do you think of when I hum this tune…. (hum tune to “Once in Royal David’s City”)

Once in Judah’s least known city
Stood a boarding house with back-door shed,
Where an almost single-parent mother
Tried to find her new-born son a bed.
Mary’s mum and dad went wild
When they heard their daughter had a child.

He brought into earth a sense of heaven,
Lord of none and yet the Lord of all;
And his shelter always was unstable
For his mission was beyond recall.
With the poor, with those least holy,
Christ the King was pleased to live so lowly.

Can he be our youth and childhood’s pattern
When we know not how he daily grew?
Was he always little, weak and helpless,
Did he share our joys and problems too?
In our laughter, fun and madness,
Does the Lord of love suspect our gladness?

Not in that uncharted stable
With the village gossips standing by,
But in heaven we shall see him
Which may not be up above the sky
If, in love for friend and stranger,
We embrace the contents of the manger.

Just a slight change in the angle, a slight change in emphasis can transform something which once was completely familiar into something completely different, dazzlingly new.

Has anyone ever done those pictures that look like meaningless shapes but become pictures if you look at them in a certain way? Lunatics gazing into shop windows and at displays in WHSmiths...

Just a slight change in the angle, a slight change in emphasis can transform something which once was without meaning into something completely different, dazzlingly new.

Where am I going with all of this? Some of you might have guessed already.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Peter, James, and John went up on a mountain with Jesus and there they see the glorious face of the Son of God for the first time. They had been with Jesus daily for almost three years. They had seen him, listened to him, watched as miraculous things happened at his bidding. But they still just could not see him for who he was.

It’s no accident, I think, that the two stories just before this one in Mark’s gospel have to do with not seeing well.

Mark tells the odd story of the blind man who was only partially healed by Jesus. At first he saw something like trees walking around, and only after Jesus laid his hands upon him a second time was his sight fully restored. Next, comes the more familiar story of Peter's confession. “Who am I?” Jesus had asked them. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus blessed Peter for seeing this and then told them all, “Yes, and I am about to suffer and die and on the third day I will arise.” Peter rebuked Jesus, for he did not want that kind of a messiah. Peter, you see, still only had partial sight. He did not yet see or understand who Jesus truly was.

(Bold section: Bass Mitchell)

Then comes the vision on the mountain top - when Peter sees for the first time who Jesus really is, and Peter’s life is transformed. It obviously affected the rest of his life – we had that reading from the second letter of Peter. Do you remember – Peter is reminiscing…  

“But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness. God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honored him by saying, "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him." We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven. All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true. So you should pay close attention to their message, as you would to a lamp shining in some dark place.”

Not very long afterwards, Jesus was killed. Those who loved him were devastated, beyond consolation. Mary had gone to anoint his body after death. She encountered the risen Lord in the garden - her life was transformed, changed for ever. The disciples were cowering away in a locked room in fear for their lives. They encountered the risen Lord, their lives were transformed, changed for ever. Two people were walking along the Emmaus road, the risen Lord came alongside them - they were transformed, changed for ever. Last Sunday evening we read about Paul walking along a road towards Damascus - he was on a mission to destroy the church. He encountered the risen Lord, he was transformed, his life was changed for ever.

Every single one of us here this morning has had an encounter with the risen Lord. Every single one of us here this morning has had an encounter with God - an encounter which has completely changed the way we see the world, the way we see ourselves, even if just for a moment...

I have had hundreds of encounters with God. Here’s one of them, it happened six years and a half years ago…

Hywel is born. I am sitting in the delivery room and holding him for the first time. Lythan hasn't seen him yet, he was born by emergency section, she's still out cold. It all started well enough - calm and relaxed, and Lythan and Hywel were making good progress. But then the beeps on the machine began to stutter and slow down. The midwife tried to appear calm and relaxed is if nothing were amiss, so as not to worry Lythan. But I can see by her face and by her manner that she is not calm. Suddenly the room is full of people - doctor, midwives, student nurses - Lythan is in great pain, she is wheeled away. It seems like an eternity, I am not allowed to go with her, I don't know what is happening, whether she and the baby are safe.

And then he is handed to me, and I am speechless, we are left alone. We are surrounded by chaos - the room looks like a bombsite. Equipment, swabs, syringe packets lie scattered around the room, but we just sit and look at one another - his first experience of Daddy, my first realisation of the awesome power and magic of creation.

Later I wonder whether the creation of the world must have been something like this. We read of chaos and darkness, flashing light an rushing water, and at the end of it all a day of calm and silence as God looks at his creation and says "It is good".

I have had hundreds of encounters with God, 99 times out of a hundred I have simply shrugged them off, shooed them away, dismissed them as unimportant, not allowed them to affect the way I see the world, the way I see myself for more than just a moment. A few times though, I have grasped them, and allowed God to speak to me through them.

A few times I have used them, to take another step towards God, another step towards being the person I was created to be, another step towards the fullness and the richness of life that God has always intended for me.

I few times I have allowed God to transform me.

For each and every one of us, there is always another encounter with God around the corner, something that will stop us in our tracks for a moment, something that has the potential to transform our lives, bringing us one step closer to God, one step closer to being the people we were created to be.

You have to grab those encounters when they come. You have to take that next step in your journey towards God as soon as you can. You take one step towards God, and God will take a thousand steps towards you. The more encounters with God that you let slip by, the harder it is to recognise them. Year by year you can immunise yourself against their effect

A vicar can be transformed by an honest confession or the telling of a rude joke. A familiar carol can be transformed by a new twist in the words. A meaningless collection of patterns can be transformed if you look in a certain way. The whole world was transformed by the life of Jesus. You can be transformed by any encounter with God.

My prayer is that as we approach Lent and Easter once again, you will allow yourself to be transformed by some special moment. My prayer is that you will take the time during Lent – the season of prayerful contemplation to reflect fully on your life and the complex pattern of colours and shapes that has made it up. Perhaps if you look in a certain way and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will see the face of Jesus shining clearly through it all.