28 February 2021

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

Lent 2

(Transfiguration according to Mark)

“The Voice of God”

Sunday 28th February 2021 

9.30 am

On our televisions in recent years there has been a show simply called “The Voice”. I haven’t seen much of it but I gather that the first time a contestant auditions or performs, the four judges have their backs turned away from the singer.

If a judge likes what he or she hears – they hit a button and turn their iconic swivel chair around. I think that judge has then the responsibility to help that performer through to the finals and eventually to become “The Voice”.

Today’s Bible readings focus on “The Voice” – of God, ‘this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him’.  From Mark and in our first reading the somewhat amusing exchange between God and Abraham.

In the Gospels God’s voice is heard at Jesus’ baptism – very similar words to those we have just heard at the Transfiguration. At the time, Jesus enters Jerusalem (in John’s Gospel) the crowd hear a voice and Jesus explains that it is neither thunder or an angel but the voice of God (on that occasion helping to make preparations for his last earthly days).

There are many other references to the Voice of God in the Bible – the Psalms especially Psalm 29.  

The voice of the Lord is over the waters…..

The voice of the Lord is powerful

The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

There are pages of references in the Concordance.

So, as we reflect on this today we might ask how do we know when, or even if, God is speaking to us – as individuals or as a group. How should we react to such a voice or message?  What measures do we put in place?

Martin Luther back in the 16th Century weighed up many factors about where the Church was going in his time – he prayed, he read the scriptures, he took counsel among wise colleagues – but in the end felt moved to challenge the direction of Rome. For him (remembering he was a monk) this was God speaking. His famous words came out of his dilemma …

 “here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

In the Anglican Church, we have been guided in this way and built a foundation on what some have called a three-legged stool – the solid little job used in days gone by for milking a cow. The legs being scripture, tradition and reason.

By holding these together our great assemblies or Synods have in the main been able to listen and hear the voice of God and each other.

The General Synod of the Australian Anglican Church in 2021 faces a massive dilemma – that some believe may fracture our Church.  The issue is over the Blessing of same sex unions or marriages. We know that the Federal Parliament changed the Marriage Act (in 2019) to allow for same sex couples to be married. 

Since then two Dioceses, my old Diocese of Wangaratta & the Dio. of Newcastle, have moved to allow such couples to have their marriage blessed. This has been challenged in the Church courts (the Appellate Tribunals) and the challenge was lost. Now there are people, and I believe Dioceses, who want all this overturned and more so that same sex couples can’t receive a blessing in Church.

Here is a very contemporary example of a dilemma that has a lot of passion on both sides. It raises the question – how do we hear the voice of God today?  An appeal to scripture, tradition and reason will inevitably have the scholars lined up at microphones – willing to give us, from their point of view, what they believe God is saying to the Church.

When I hear a preacher, particularly the tele-evangelists telling me what God is saying my hackles go up. We are on thin ice as any of us presume to know or reproduce the Voice of God.  Presumption especially when we claim to “know”, the mind of God.

So, two things that I perceive in the great event of Jesus’ transfiguration help me:

  1. This Voice is accompanied by a radiant light – the Jews called it “Shekinah” – the glory of the Lord. It was this light or glory that marked the lives of both Moses and Elijah.

Perhaps no coincidence that they appear momentarily with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James and John bathed in this light and it filled them – so that not only was Jesus aglow – so were they – their discipleship would never be the same again. They wanted the moment to last forever. This sentiment is captured beautifully in the Hymn “‘Tis good Lord to be here” or ‘how good Lord to be here’.

  1. Which brings me to the other aspect of this important event in Jesus’ life.  

Jesus had to encourage disciples back to the base of the mountain where they had work to do!  (Perhaps ministry among the poor, forgotten, those on the fringe or the so-called ‘unclean’.)

Such work will not, in all likelihood, resolve this current dilemma in our Church. But I can’t help feeling that impatience on any side will ever be helpful. On the contrary – to hear the Voice of God we need a mountain-top experience, and with it, a shekinah – a strong mix of scripture, Holy Spirit and wise counsel that makes sense. Only then can we spin that chair around and move on. Most of all, as the last verse of Hymn 234 has it, on the mountain we may not remain but since you bid us leave the Mount come with us to the plain. 

In the comfort of that image, surely, we can work through any obstacle as we have done down through 2,000 years. And if, as with Martin Luther – division was inevitable – so be it – for much good can and will come from that also.

Furthermore, who knows, perhaps an Abraham of Martin Luther might emerge and wisely lead us. Or perhaps we might prayerfully hear God speak to us & come to that point of resolution within & know quietly how God would have us think and act in 2021.

Archdeacon Ray McInnes