Don’t let the newspapers get you down – be transfigured

My aunty Kath has a fabulous figure and she dresses amazingly.  She is my mother’s younger sister and she lives in Leeds.  She likes her jewelry – and she wears lots of it – big gold bling.  She has big wavy hair like an American model, and she used to drive a gold mercedes.  She is quite a character and I think you would say that she enjoys life.

She is just a couple of years younger than my mum, and if my mum were alive today my mother would be almost 90, –  so you can work out aunty Kath’s age for yourself – although she looks 30 years younger.

She is no Mother Theresa, but she is a Christian woman and she says her prayers.  What is more for the last 30 years or so she has been a volunteer.  She has done the late night soup run to the homeless in Leeds city centre with the Salvation Army – apparently the homeless men and women just loved it when she rolled up in the merc. looking like a blond Joan Collins.   She has helped out at the night shelter at St George’s in central Leeds, spending hours talking glamourously with the down and outs in the Church crypt.  And for the past 20 years she has been a lay member of the chaplaincy team in Armley Prison.  Once a week she would go to prison and interview new prisoners or speak with older prisoners who had requested to see a chaplain.  Of course, for her prison work she has to leave her diamond rings and gold bracelets at the security gate, but she still looks pretty good.

Now Armley Prison in Leeds is not just any old prison.  The prisoners my Aunty Kath talks to are not nice polite men who have fiddled their expenses.  Armley is a high security prison.  She has sat in rooms with mass murderers, rapists, and people who have tortured their victims.  She has listened to depraved fantasies about women and she has not been shocked by anything that she has heard.  It’s all part of what a prison chaplain does, and she does it well.

However the shocking part for me is that in spite of all she has heard and in spite of all the people she has had to talk to, she has never lost her faith in humanity.  She can sit opposite violent, abusive, murderers who show no respect for other people’s lives, people who look at her with hatred, or anger, or worse,  and she says that she always tries to see the small child in the grown man.  She would wonder what was it that turned the small child, who had once been trusting, and hopeful and who just wanted to be loved by parents or carers into the monster that sat in front of her.  She would reflect that children are not born racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or angry or violent – they are born fragile, with eyes full of wonder and that they want to be held and to hold, to love and to be loved.  So my aunt had a great gift.  She is able to see, somewhere deep inside each person, and find the child in the murderer, the human being in the monster – the child of God.

Now I don’t have that gift.  I am not at all like my aunt.  I am much more like Peter, James and John in today’s Gospel reading.  I am ‘weighed down’  -  not with sleep – although I seem to be quite often weighed down with that as well -  but rather weighed down with the worries and fears and above all with disillusionment about this world.  I don’t understand people -  I don’t understand why some people can throw acid into other people’s faces just to to steal an old iphone, or can knife people in the neck to steal a watch, or why an old gay couple are beaten up by a gang of youths just for being old and gay, or why a young black man is killed for living in the wrong post-code.  I just don’t understand how some people can be so hateful, so violent, so cruel, so unthinking, so inhuman.  I am weighed down – weighed down by wickedness not only in this world, but in this city, here in our streets.  It’s hard to read stories like these in our newspapers and then think of the wounded child who has grown into the violent adult – as my aunty Kath would do.   It is hard to feel compassion for those who have no compassion on their victims.

And this – I think – is where I need God to speak to me this morning.    I need God to wake me up as well from being weighed down by all that depression – and wake me up to see something else going on all around me.  I need God to say to me – wake up – don’t let those horrible newspapers get you down Paul with all their stories about one bad person here, or a group of violent people there – look around you and see ordinary people on the streets : your family, your neighbours, hundreds of people on the bus or on the tube who are just good people, trying to live good lives as well as they can.  People who try to help others, people who try to be kind, who day by day do lots of little good things and whose stories are never told.  People who volunteer, or who call in to see a neigbour, or who help a friend, or who raise money for a charity -  look at them and see how good most human beings – ordinary human beings  – are all around you.  See the glory.

So there we are : Transfiguration.   It’s an odd story in the bible, and many people have doubted it, but it’s such a good one.   Peter, James and John are  weighed down with all these things and Jesus cheers them up by helping them look at things in a different way – he gives them a glimpse of goodness, a glimpse of life, a glimpse of glory.

And life for Peter and James and John was not so much different as it is for us.  They also had to make ends meet.  They had families to care for and neighbours to contend with.  They had duties and obligations and work.  And the world they lived in was not the make believe Sunday School world of beautiful people sitting on green mountain-sides listening to wonderful sermons as they shared their sandwiches.  The world they lived in was a lawless world, a battleground – more like modern day Iraq than modern day Islington. They saw people beaten up by soldiers and bandits, – and they could do nothing about it -   they also knew of people who had been mugged on the streets or attacked or just gone missing – they knew everything that we know.  They were weighed down –  just as much as we are, if not more,    and yet ….. and yet Jesus took them up a mountain to wake them up – to show them a bit of glory –  something they had forgotten.

So as we come to church this morning – like the disciples going up the mountain with Jesus – let’s sing our hymns, let’s read our scriptures, let’s say our prayers and share Holy Communion.  And let’s spend a few moments to thank God for this beautiful and wonderful world – for the vast majority of people whose goodness fills this world and whose stories never get in the news.  Thank God for your own families who are good people, doing good things and helping people and making the world a better place.  Thank God for your neighbours and your friends who are there for one another when they are needed.  Thank God for the person on the tube or on the bus who is doing what they can to love God – by whatever name they call God – and in whatever way they worship God – and who are doing their best to love their neighbour. Like aunty Kath, let’s try to see the very best in people, and to see small pieces of God in action in our lives -  Good news.   Glory.  Transfiguration.

The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington