Sunday next before Lent, 2 March 2014, St John the Divine, morning

Readings Exodus 24: 12-end; 2 Peter 1: 16-end; and Matthew 17: 1-9

Preacher  Ruth Martin

How can we change to become more Christ like in our lives?

Deep within us I believe is the desire for us to be the best we can be, for God’s sake. Whether we have immersed ourselves in Christian ministry and living most of our lives, or we are just dipping in the edge of the pool of faith, or we find ourselves being tossed by the waves of doubt, we all desire and probably strive to seek goodness.

Our scriptures today point to an important difference between the peoples of Israel and the opportunities we have today to live out God’s purposes.

First the peoples of Israel who wandered for forty years in the desert, led by Moses, were able to see that God communicated with Moses. Startling things happened in that place and in those times which might defy logic or sense, but were understood by those with faith in those times. Burning bushes, snakes becoming staff, and today God talking with Moses on a mountain top.  Moses communes with God behind a veil of cloud, then placing a veil upon himself when he came down form the mountain and spoke with the people. Something amazing had happened.  Moses had an exclusive arrangement with God, as His prophet.

Move forward to Jesus. Jesus does not go alone up the mountain; he takes with him his closest disciples. They too get to see and to hear, to listen and to watch.  Jesus’ appearance changes, as Moses did, communion with God makes Him appear translucent, shining. The crucial difference between the two stories is that the disciples are there too. They may not understand, but they are also in God’s presence and can see for themselves that Jesus is the Christ. God does not hide Him from them, Jesus does not hide from them the consequences of His communion with God, and He changes.

And now it is surely our turn. In our times and in our places what does it mean as we approach the season of Lent when we reflect on what we might have done less well, express true penitence for it, and seek to learn more in order to do better. Sometimes as with Peter rather desperately trying to build a tabernacle for Jesus, we know something amazing is there, but we do not understand it. As with Peter, it might take longer for some of us to process it all.

This week as the super power Russia lines up along the borders of Ukraine some of its military mass, we could be tempted to recall that once again the power of the state to control, direct and destroy lives is depressingly on show. On the other hand we could recall that last weekend as compromise was sought, a brave young man from within the crowds of Kiev stood up and spoke for those who had been crushed to death not many hours before, and his courage humbled the politicians and paved the way for  a change of regime. From Ukraine to Chile, Argentina to Tiananmen Square from time to time individuals stand up to be counted and the world shifts a little towards meeting the desire of God that every human being counts and is Loved by God.  Whether those individuals acknowledge the presence of God in their lives or not, we see the courage of selfless action, the drive to do what is right.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Anglican Communion is the respect for the rhythms, seasons, of our world, the season of Lent which we mark the outset of  by pancakes, then by our sorrow of Ash Wednesday. Here in the Western hemisphere Lent is set for us, wonderfully, also at the outset of spring. Gradually winter sheds its grip.

We need now to use our forty days to consider what we might do to show the light of Christ in our own lives, in the small detail perhaps known only to God and veiled from others, and in our more open lives lived with our families, at work, in our interests and voluntary work. Do we shine with the light of Christ in our faces when we walk the talk of our own lives?

In order to try and do so, we can spend some time, as the disciples did on the mountain top, trying to understand. They were trying to place the extraordinary moments of their lives in the context of their history, their tradition, their faith in God. They struggled to grasp the meaning of God revealed to them in Jesus, concerned about covering up the Holy, rather than allowing the Holy to be revealed. We have our chance to show Holiness too.

The next forty days, from Ash Wednesday we can spend some time reflecting on our journeys, we might have had 40 years of wandering in a desert of faith and doubt. As we move towards Lent we might do some reading, some more structured praying, a quiet day or retreat; drawing back in order to spring forward with freshness after Lent.

I am often asked because I live such a busy life how I hold it all together and I like to say, and it is generally true, that I am resourced by prayer; however I also know that in times of stress, particularly perhaps at work, it is then that we place barriers between us and God; God seems veiled because we are too busy or overstretched to seek, to be open to God, to allow God to penetrate the mists and our own clouds. The story of the Transfiguration shows that God is accessible to the Disciples as much as to the fathers of our faith such as Moses; Jesus’ generous enabling of his disciples to share the extraordinary presence of God during His ministry on earth is now available to us in our times, for our ministry as members of the body of Christ today, and so we are called to be Holy.

Last week the Church marked a celebration of George Herbert, whose remarkable poetry inspires centuries after his death and who was a priest for only a few years.

‘It’s true we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day

Yet to go part of that religious way

Is better than to rest

We cannot reach our saviours puritie

Yet we are bid ‘be Holy’ even as He’

In both let’s do our best.

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