Sermon - 19th February 2012
Scripture - Mark 9:2-9
Rev Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is also available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
There are many things going on in today’s service. We welcome Sandra and Cris’ family and friends to worship with us as we celebrate Aidan’s baptism, we meet the Lord in each other, in word and song, in bread and wine, and we heard the reading from St Mark’s gospel about Jesus’ transfiguration. Many, if not all, of these things going on are rather mysterious – all of them are about faithfulness – particularly God’s own faithfulness. Faithfulness is a good theme to reflect on as we prepare to start Lent and our journey with the Lord towards Easter.
The Transfiguration is mysterious and difficult for us to understand. It’s an event repeated in Matthew and Luke as well as in the account we heard today from St Mark. It’s the only miracle that happens to Jesus as opposed to miracles that Jesus performs. It’s full of symbolism so let’s unpack it for a moment.
Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Both are significant figures for the Jewish people. Through Moses the Law was given that separated the Jewish people from their surrounding nations and was the way in which they expressed their love, devotion and faithfulness to God. Elijah was, perhaps, the most important prophet in Israel’s history who constantly urged the people to turn back to God and to turn away from false religion. He was avowedly political and was hated by the King and Queen of his age – who constantly tried to have him killed.
Both figures had mythological significance for the Jews of Jesus’ time too. Both were expected to return before the End Times because Elijah had been taken up into heaven at the end of his life and Moses’ own grave was never found – the Book of Deuteronomy says that God’s own self buried Moses. So it was popularly thought that God would send these two characters back before the Messiah would come to set the people free.
Mark is concerned to show, in his Gospel, that God’s rule and reign is coming, so this episode of the representative of the Law and the Prophets speaking to Jesus is significant – as is the voice from Heaven urging the disciples to obey Jesus.
Peter’s response to build dwellings, or booths, is often interpreted as Peter not getting that this was a fleeting moment of glory. I’ve heard preachers say that Peter is trying to hold on to a passing moment of excitement on the mountain top instead of using it to strengthen his life back on the plain. There may be something in that but these preachers miss more of the Jewish context to this passage.
There was a widespread idea that God’s reign would start with the Jewish festival of Tabernacles – at this festival Jewish people did, and still do, celebrate by building a booth, or tabernacle, in their gardens and eat there for the days of the festival. Peter catches onto the significance of the presence of Moses and Elijah and wants to build booths in order to both celebrate the festival and show that he’s understood that God’s kingdom, God’s just and righteous rule when everything should be put right was upon them.
Peter was wrong about the timing, but not about the idea of God’s coming Kingdom. Peter forgot Jesus’ warning that before the Kingdom would come there would be suffering and death.
What’s To Come
As we start Lent this week we reflect on the long journey to Holy Week and Jesus’ suffering and death. Despite all his miracles, his teaching, his healing he was put to death – in fact maybe he was put to death because of those miracles, healings and teachings. He disturbed the powers of the land and had to be disposed of. Glory comes, but only through pain, betrayal, agony and death.
The glory that was the Transfiguration does indicate that God’s kingdom was coming, but that Kingdom is born not of glory but in pain and betrayal, the way to the Kingdom is the road to Calvary.
God is faithful throughout all that was to come for Jesus just as God has been faithful in Israel’s past. God continually offered the Law and the prophets to the people to guide them and to urge them to turn back to him. Even after the disaster of foreign invasion and exile, God remained faithful to the people and guided them back to him. God was with them as the nation was re-established.
In Jesus’ life God remained faithful throughout the suffering and the pain and Jesus remained faithful to God believing that the future would be better, just and glorious.
God’s Faithfulness and our Faithfulness
When we pray the Our Father together we too are reminding ourselves of God’s faithfulness to us and our own desire to remain faithful to him. We too long for the full coming of the Kingdom when justice will be real, when pain will be no more and when the hungry will be filled with good things. But we know that any move for justice and greater equality is always met by resistance from the powers that be. We also know that despite our best efforts, we are not always able to remain faithful to God. Other things get in the way, we don’t always treat each other like we should, we find that we’re tempted to be selfish and turn away from the cross and its demands.
When we were baptised we either made promises, or promises were made on our behalf. We renew those promises every year at Easter. We try to live our lives being faithful to God, working for justice and God’s rule and reign on earth, reminding ourselves to live by the values we profess as Christians. We know that we don’t always manage to keep the promises we make, we try but often we fail.
We choose to live our lives by being faithful to God but realise that sometimes we fail. God never fails. God is always faithful.
Promises will be made and kept today. Those of us who make promises pray that we will be given the grace to keep them but we also know, that as humans, we will, on occasion, fail. Yet we also know that God never fails, God is always faithful.
We today bring Aidan for baptism. We pray that, through his life, he will be faithful to God and God’s values of love and justice as he is guided by Cris, Sandra and his godparents, family, friends and church. We know that his life will, like all of our lives, have wonderful exciting happy and moving aspects, but we also know that his life will also, like our lives, have times which are more difficult. We pray that Aidan will remain faithful to God through both the good and the bad times just as God will always be faithful to him.
In the Transfiguration Jesus became the joining place between earth and heaven. The promise of the new world, the Kingdom, to come was made manifest through this experience where the mysterious figures from the Old Testament are revealed with Jesus. This promise of future glory was wonderful for the disciples to behold but they failed to realise that before glory comes the cross. The transfiguration speaks of God’s promises, as does Baptism where both we and God make promises. We promise to be faithful to God and God promises to love and guide us through life, making us His own. We know that despite our best efforts we will, from time to time, fail. We also know that God never fails and God always keeps his promises.