Transfiguration: 5 August, 2018
Fr Davide Peake
Assistant Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill
IIn 2004 myself and a young woman Nicole Endacott were invited to travel to the UK to attended the Columba 1400 programs conducted on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The invitation was offered by the founder, Rev Norman Drummond, who we met at a meeting at the BSL.
The leadership program we witnessed was the brainchild of Norman who was a former Minister from the gangland areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh; a former Headmaster of Loretto and BBC National Governor. He is a Chaplain to Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and now a Visiting Professor of Leadership in Education at the University of Edinburgh.
It was a Leadership development program which assisted young people to discover their leadership ability, to provide them with skills to develop that leadership capability and assist them to find ways to express their newly discovered leadership skills through community service projects in their local areas.
Nicole and I developed an Australian version upon our return from the UK.
We had a vision for the disadvantaged communities we worked in. Our goal was to assist our young people to find renewal from within. Our focus was on people from "tough realities", such as long term unemployed, poverty, homelessness and substance abuse. Activate Australia was born.
Our first program was run with students from schools in West Heidelberg. This community was listed as the third most disadvantaged community in Victoria.
We received funding to take these young students to Pinnacle Valley — a facility near Mt Buller. The program was built around 6 core values: awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance, and service.
The program began with a walk together up Mt Stirling — it was a day long experience in an environment never encountered before by these young people. Most had never seen a mountain — or large trees — many had not travelled out of the confines of the city of Melbourne. Physically it was a challenge — emotionally it was draining — they were encouraged to support each other — be aware of their environment — take leadership initiatives — and take in the geographical landscape, a landscape that was a very real challenge [physically and mentally].
When we finally reached the summit one young student called his fellow travelers together and announced with great vigour and enthusiasm — 'hey guys if we can do this we can do anything'. What a moment — cheers abounded and echoed across the valleys below. There was a real sense that their lives had just begun. We came down the mountain — it was a place that we could not remain — rather it needed to become the place that we always referred to.
In today's Gospel reading while Jesus takes his disciples with him up the mountain, after the period of revelation, transformation, and transfiguration, they too come back down again. Think of it: Jesus could have stayed there.
Down. Down into the mundane nature of everyday life. Down into the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Down into the religious and political quarrels of the day. Down into the jealousies and rivals, both petty and gigantic, that color our relationships. Down into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of our life in this world. Down. Jesus came down.
Similar to the story about our young people's experience, Jesus' story isn't about the going up, it's a story about Jesus coming down, all the way down into our brokenness, fear, disappointment, and loss. And, of course, it only gets more so, as the cross beckons, there embracing all that is hard, difficult, and even despicable in life in order to wrest victory from death itself that we might live in hope knowing that wherever we may go, Christ has already been and that where Christ is now we will one day be.
For the young people of West Heidelberg, and later Broadmeadows, the response to their leadership challenge was to develop community service projects that would make a difference to their communities. To take the mountain top experience of jubilation and hopefulness and impact the lives of others. They were encouraged to engage with their community in ways that mattered. Over 200 young people ventured up that mountain and down again from disadvantaged communities across Melbourne for the next 8 years. Some travelled even further to Kununnurra — to work on a plantation farm — and develop 'unimagined' skills.
You and I are reminded today that we do not dwell alone in the dark places of our lives — Jesus is already there. That Jesus is not afraid of what is difficult in our lives. That Jesus will not reject us on account of our failings. Jesus' descent back down the mountain reminds us that we don't have to hide the hard parts of our lives from the God we know in Jesus. For God the Father came to us in and through the Incarnate Son precisely to be with us and for us through thick and thin and through life and death — indeed, God came in Jesus to be with us through death into new life.
So, trusting the mercy of the One who came down the mountain — the One who entered the dark places of the world and still seeks out the dark places of our lives — trusting this One, perhaps we will be honest enough to name what is broken and hurting in our lives and world and thereby fear it a little less. For no other reason was Jesus born, lived, died and was raised again, except that we might know that God is unrelentingly and indefatigably for us!
Every Sunday we go up the mountain. We go up to the place where the land meets the sky where the earth touches the heavens, to the place of meeting and wondrous encounter; to the place of mists, to the place of voices and conversations, to the place of listening.
And we come down -empowered and encouraged. Transformed to be of service to each other and to the strangers we meet on the journey.
Theologian William Henry Drummond wrote:
God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops. It is not God's desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. We don't live there. We don't tarry there. The streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to gladden the valleys below. What God has done through Jesus is amazing but now we go into the world to be the streams that will bring life to those around us.
We open our eyes and we see Jesus, the months of ministry transfigured to a beam of light, the light of the world, your light. May your light shine upon us.
We open our eyes and we see Moses and Elijah, your word restoring us, showing us the way, telling a story, your story, his story, our story. May your word speak to us.
We open our eyes and we see mist, the cloud of your presence which assures us of all we do not know and that we do not need to fear that. Teach us to trust.
We open our eyes and we see Peter's constructions, his best plans, our best plans, our missing the point, our missing the way. Forgive our foolishness and sin.
We open our eyes and we see Jesus, not casting us off, but leading us down, leading us out - to ministry, to communities, to people. Your love endures forever.
We open our ears and we hear your voice, 'This is my beloved Son, listen to him!' And we give you thanks. Amen
Views is a
St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.