Some years ago when I was preaching at a Lenten Series supper and Evensong at Saint Andrew’s, Tioga, I preached a sermon about moral and ethical theology. After the service, the late George Williams came up to me and said these words: “I almost understood what you said. I almost was able to follow it.”
In honor of George, I offer this reflection:
Law and order! That’s what we need! More of it! What’s wrong with this world is that they don’t teach the ten commandments any longer! They don’t teach them in schools, as if they ever did, and as if it were the schools’ responsibility to teach them. Well, parents don’t teach them, as if they ever did, because isn’t it the school’s responsibility after all? Passing the buck as to whose is the onus for moral development and formation has certainly contributed to the muddled moralscape in which we live.
So, culturally, we tell ourselves, “maybe these values are supposed to be learned by osmosis.” Somewhere along the line, a child is supposed to learn something about right and wrong, good and evil, the difference between telling a lie and telling the truth, Right? And there’s where the argument for synteresis breaks down. Synteresis is what moral and ethical theologians call the innate sense that is to be found in all human beings that is the tutor as to what is right or wrong, just or unjust, what is the seeking after the Common Good, or what is to the detriment of the Common Good.
But synteresis appears to be a thing that is articulated, given voice by enculturation. It may be inherently a part being human, at least in most of us, to seek The Good, but what we understand as The Good is shaped not only by synteresis, but by the culture in which we live. Of course there are certain psychopathic and sociopathic personalities in whom the function of conscience is absent. But, for the most of us the function of conscience serves as a warning when we have transgressed. In the Disney movie, Pinocchio, conscience was personified as Jiminy Cricket, an apt personification as anyone knows who has been kept awake with a cricket’s chirping after midnight. But in terms of moral theology the conscience is more often appreciated as the still, small voice of God to the soul.
The allegation made by Karl Marx was that religion was the opiate of the people. And, I suppose if the point of religion and having faith were merely crowd control, we would have to agree with his analysis.
But the point of Christian Faith is not crowd control. The point of Christian Faith is held up for us in a snapshot in this morning’s Gospel. The point of our practice of faith is transfiguration. The ethics of Jesus are on a higher, more complex plane that do’s and don’ts and crowd control. The ethics of Jesus are about how we learn to put the dynamic of love—his love—into our daily lives and into practice in the world in which we live.
We are called to proclaim Christ as the one who transforms, and more than transforms, but transfigures culture.
We celebrate what it is to:
To be made into the likeness of Christ, to radiate his love, his presence, his grace in the world in which we live. As we prayed in the Collect this morning: that we may be changed into his likeness from glory to glory. It is not enough for Peter and Andrew, James and John to be passive participants. Their lives were forever also transfigured on the mountain. There’s a saying sometimes applied to items on Facebook: having seen a thing, you cannot unsee it.
Peter, Andrew, James and John cannot unsee the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. And as we come to the vision glorious week by week, we cannot unsee it either. We should be profoundly affected by what we have come here to behold. Having witnessed His transfiguration, let us become challenged the signs of his transfiguring love in the world.