Sermon - 6th March 2011
Exodus 24:12-18 & St Matthew 17:1-9
There’s a notion that God is up there, somewhere in the sky, instead of everywhere around us. Today’s readings seem to enforce that idea that God is found in high up places.
Fancy climbing up a mountain – here we have not one but two journeys up a mountain, both where the climbers have an intimate experience with God
For Moses, the Old Testament writer describes how God would give him the law, inscribed onto stone tablets. Moses had been spoken to directly by God before, he knew the truth of his existence, so when God told him to get to the top of the mountain, he wasn’t exactly cold-calling.
Our gospel reading however shows people in a very different place; people we can relate to; people we can understand.
Peter, James and John were the only ones with Jesus. Their friend had already told them he was going to die, but clearly from the disciple’s reaction at the time, they couldn’t take it in. Only with hindsight and faith can we look back and know that they should have understood and accepted events; to have lived through it however must have been very different.
They would have constantly been juggling their hopes for the future, with doubt about being wrong and being let down. They could see what Jesus was achieving, see what miracles he performed in their presence, see how lives changed when he encountered the lost.
But alongside every deed, must have been a worry, a worry that maybe it wasn’t really God’s work, a worry that though it was obviously something very special, perhaps it wasn’t the one true God working through Jesus .
So today’s reading is very special, for it marks an encounter with God with people who worried they weren’t good enough, people who we may think, should have known better; but all the same people who needed to have certain things spelled out to them.
It may sound like I’m being dismissive of these men, but I’m not; it doesn’t matter how bright you are, how astute and aware you are – you can still do daft things. The best of us make silly mistakes, we sometimes go right off the rails, and sometimes we find we are our own worst enemies.
These are the people that Jesus called friends. No doubt he could see their failures and weaknesses, but that didn’t matter to him, he still called them to be his followers.
Perhaps they had no inkling of where they were going, no idea of what they would experience when they reached the heights, but suddenly there Jesus was as they had never seen him. His clothes suddenly whiter and his face shone like the sun, he was transfigured into another aspect. They knew he was divine
Suddenly he had two famous companions with him, Moses and Elijah, symbolically they are often taken to represent both the law and the prophets, defining that Jesus life and ministry was a part of God’s plan that had been laid out before through them.
His famous companions, who they would have considered long since gone, were suddenly here with them, granting insight into their life after death. Moses had died in the desert and Elijah had been taken up into heaven, and yet here they were together with their master.
And how must it have felt for them, in the absolute presence of the divine?
I think most of them would have suddenly become acutely aware of their own failings, their own sin. We all fall short of what God expects of us, some of us seem to fall further than others, but this moment must have made them feel very unworthy to be there.
The voice of God booms out, and they are petrified, grovelling at the floor, under the circumstances, I think most of us would be joining them. But here Jesus, stripped away of earthly appearance is reaching out to them. He tells them not to be afraid.
For the disciples suddenly there is no doubt, this is the voice of God and all that Jesus has told them is true. At the point that they are most aware of their failings and their sins, Jesus is reaching out to them.
This isn’t an encounter intended to scare us into believing in God, it’s a incident that reminds us of God’s unconditional love. Jesus revealed his glory to show his disciples that his words are true, and that sinners don't need to fear God's punishment anymore.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is a high point in his story; the disciples would follow him from this moment of divine awareness through the coming times through to the foot of his cross. Even then they would doubt him and run away.
Even when we acknowledge the existence of God in our lives, we can end up being guilty of talking about God and talking to Him, and not always making time to listen – in our reading they hear the voice of God booming out and it says “Listen to him”
However far we feel we have fallen short, he is there for us, when we are falling on the ground aware of our failings, when we seem to be our own worst enemies; He is there waiting for us, completely divine, completely understanding and ready to help us to our feet. Amen