Monthly Archives: February 2016
READINGS: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21
It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s a day of cleansing. the last day before the fast of Lent when people used up the ingredients they had that would go off over the next 40 days if left unused. Hence the pancakes! Words related to this are “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras. And he word “carnival” from the Latin carnem levare, meaning “to take away the flesh” – and was also associated with Shrove Tuesday.Traditionally viewed as a day of repentance, Shrove Tuesday has become the last day for celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent.
Ashes on the forehead remind us of our mortality. We are made from dust, hence “dust to dust, and ashes to ashes” which we hear at funerals. Many people take Lent and fasting or going without something for these days (excluding Sundays) until Easter Saturday.
Jesus didn’t seem to focus on special days.
He simply says
- When you give to the needy
- When you pray
- When you fast
Why all this secrecy? Praying behind closed doors and giving so that no one know you’ve given?
- It’s really about the people of Jesus’ day who did things for the wrong reasons.
- Showing off before others.
- Trying to impress.
Of course people will find out you’re doing good. After all Jesus also says;
Mat 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Mat 5:15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Mat 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
People made their religion into the legalistic doing of things and wanted others to see them do it.
Jesus says – when you do these things – let them be a spiritual discipline that is in the background – quietly connecting you with God, with the really important things (fasting teaches you that – it keeps you aware of what really matters – and it’s not food or satisfying yourself).
All these things are normal. And he continues with these words:
Mat 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Mat 6:20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Lent is a time of reorientation of our lives.
And underlying these disciplines is the truth that none of it earns us points really.
John Newton knew that – he was the most wretched of sinners.
That’s why Amazing Grace is such a powerful song. Not because it’s played so often on the bagpipes. John Newton was English anyway – not Scottish. It’s powerful because it reminds us that we are undeserving sinners.
That’s why Grace is amazing. We didn’t find ourselves.
- I once was lost, but now I’m found – by God.
- Was blind but now I see – through God opening my eyes.
It’s actually in a more modern version of “Amazing Grace” that one of the original verses turn up that are not in the traditional version most people sing:
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below, Will be forever mine.
Whatever happens – the whole world can end – but our relationship with God is steady. Nothing can separate us from His love in Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
It’s the chorus that we love in that version:
My chains are gone I’ve been set free
My God my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love amazing grace
We fast, we pray, we give in response to the amazing grace and mercy of God.
Not to earn it.
During Lent we remind ourselves of what Jesus went through to achieve our salvation.
The 40 days lead us to the cross – where he suffers for us and pays the ransom price to buy us back for God.
In the last hymn we sing today by John Newton he writes about our faith as an experience of Zion – the city of God’s dwelling place. Zion was always about God’s presence with them,
And he writes about grace again in these words:
See, the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply your sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove;
Who can faint, while such a river
Flows to heart and mind engage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the giver,
Never fails from age to age.
And then in the last verse – reminding us of where our treasure is:
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know
May you have that certainty of his grace in your lives.
READINGS: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
There are some songs that seem to have travelled around the world quite easily, even if no one knows why they every came to be.
For example, this one:
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, (when she comes).
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, (when she comes).
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain, she’ll be coming ’round the mountain,
She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes, “toot toot.
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes, etc.
She’ll be wearing red pyjamas when she comes, etc.
Oh we’ll all come out to meet her when she comes, etc.
She’ll be carrying three white puppies when she comes etc.
We will kill the old red rooster when she comes, etc.
We will all have chicken and dumplings when she comes, etc.
We’ll all be shouting’ “Hallelujah” when she comes, etc.
Bizarre really. There’s a worse version that goes like this:
Oh ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus
No ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus
No ye cannae shove yer granny, ’cause she’s yer mammy’s mammy,
Ye cannae shove yer granny off a bus!
And then the second verse:
Ye can shove yer other granny off a bus
Oh ye can shove yer other granny off a bus
Oh ye can shove yer other granny, ’cause she’s yer daddy’s mammy,
Ye can shove yer other granny off a bus!
Thanks to the Scots we have these great songs for children. The grand old Duke of York is also known for going up and down – in his case a hill with 10 000 men. (We don’t know which Duke of York this refers to but quite a few of them had some bad military campaigns!)
This business of mountains – going up, down or around, is a good picture.
We talk of mountain top experiences.
Clearly this was one for Jesus.
But it is plumb in between two important events:
Eight days before there was Peter’s confession of Christ – his mountain top experience – after which Jesus tells them that he will die. Peter opposes him and get called “Satan”. He comes down with a bump.
And when they come down the mountain, there is this pitiful scene of a man’s only child convulsing as an evil spirit seizes him. The disciples had a go and couldn’t cast the thing out.
And Jesus tells them all:
8:41 ‘You faithless and depraved generation!’ said Jesus in reply. ‘How long shall I be with you and have to put up with you? Bring your son here.’
We don’t stay on mountain tops. They are meant to be times where we are strengthened in order to go back down the hill into the mess of things.
Yes we can have memories.
Peter wants to capture the moment building shelters (like the fest of Tabernacles or Booths). But even the feasts were temporary things.
These days Peter would have taken a selfie with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. 🙂
Tom Wright says this: All the gospel-writers follow the story of the transfiguration with the story of a boy who is desperately ill, so sick that the disciples hadn’t been able to cure him. They seem to be telling us that the two go together: the mountain-top experience and the shrieking, stubborn demon.
Many people prefer to live their lives without either, to be people of the plateau, undramatic and unexciting. God seems to call some to that kind of life. But, for many, dramatic visions and spiritual experiences are balanced by huge demands. The more open we are to God, and to the different dimensions of God’s glory, the more we seem to be open to the pain of the world. We are right to be wary when we return from some great worship service, when we rise from a time of prayer in which God has seemed close and his love real and powerful. These things are never given for their own sake, but so that, as we are equipped by them, God can use us within his needy world.
(N. T. Wright (2004-01-01). Luke for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 114). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
A COUPLE OF THOUGHTS THEN
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. There are those who use this text to talk about the possibility of different ways of dying (seeing that Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind).
I don’t think that’s the real concern or point of this.
Jesus fulfils the roll of both – the lawgiver and the prophet. Of course Moses is also really a prophet.
The keys to unlock this are these two verses:
Luk 9:30 Two men, Moses and Elijah,
Luk 9:31 appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.
His “departure” is at one level simply his death. We sometimes say to our children, “when I am no longer here” meaning when I am dead. And elsewhere we see Jesus using similar language:
Joh 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Joh 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
It sounds like a journey here too, but it is about his death.
At a more profound level the word used in the NT is ἔξοδος – exodus.
It’s Moses language isn’t it – the exodus from Egypt, the rescue from slavery and sin – is all about what Jesus is going to do.
It makes the discussion on the mountain top between the three of them a kind of team talk pending a major victory.
Like a cricket team gathering together to strategize. Or the senior management getting together to go over the plans for a takeover.
Jesus is the new Moses. He gives a new teaching too, and a lot of it in that period before his death, his departure.
- “This is my Son”. Listen to Him
Luk 9:35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
This is the prophet. And more – he is the Son. There is this combination of the OT verses that speak of Him.
Firstly the Messianic Psalm 2. Psa 2:7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.
Secondly, the chosen servant who will suffer and who will save us all: Isa 42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
Thirdly, as an example, the reference to Moses here: Deu 18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.
There is a reminder of the voice of affirmation at Jesus’ baptism too.
WHAT TO DO
At the end of it all, whether up the mountain or in the cut and thrust of life, with shrieking demons and the unbelief of the generations ours is no better than the one Jesus had a go at), there are the three words that settle everything.
Listen to Him.
When you’re living with the most appalling and consistent pain imaginable. Listen to Him.
When you have no idea what God is doing because everything you hoped for seems to have turned to custard. Listen to Him.
In times of greatest joy when a selfie is appropriate, and times of great sadness when you would rather not remember even what you look like. Listen to Him.
When you are facing the real prospect of disability or even death (and don’t we all face death considering the reality that life is a terminal condition). Listen to Him.
You can add on your issues, pains, failed hopes and unfulfilled dreams. But if you do, Listen to Him.
And if you have any issues with anyone – family, friends, church, neighbours, or me.
Make sure that you Listen to Him.
They did go up to the mountain to pray either way.
And church people always say “I’ll pray about it” but actually it’s often a ruse they use when they have made up their minds to be angry or unforgiving.
William Brosend tells this story to illustrate our hypocrisy and especially our prayerlessness; Many years ago a pastor attempted to form a prayer group in the congregation, and a parishioner responded that she agreed with Jesus that she should go into her closet and pray privately before the Lord. The pastor asked how often she did so. She responded, “That is not the point! The point is that if I did pray, I should do it all by myself.”
(Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-10-28). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 1 (Kindle Locations 3963-3965). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
I encourage you to take up the challenge of prayer and bible reading this Lent – and beyond.
- We don’t want to live in the valleys, or get stuck in the generation of the faithless.
- We don’t want to be overwhelmed by the shrieking demons.
- We don’t want to just survive either – lurching from one mountain top experience to another.
We need to find the balance – like Jesus – so that we can withdraw regularly – hear God’s affirming voice to us – and then come down or around the mountain and be useful people of God ushering in His Kingdom through our witness and example – so people will see Jesus in us. Every day.
We don’t have to go up that other grubby little hill called Golgotha. He has done that for us.
We do have to pay the price of the cost of discipleship. Following Him means the risks for us are great too. People tried to throw Jesus off a cliff after his first sermon.
No one ever said it would be easy.