READINGS: Galatians 5:13-23; 1 Peter 4:7-11; Mark 10:35-45
SERMON 23 October 2016
I found this comment written about me by an ex-student when I was a school chaplain – it was posted 4 years ago this past Friday.
(student) to Robin E Palmer
21 October 2012 at 14:36 · Wellington ·
robin, aka mr palmer. i liked how you were REV at school when i was there. i liked how you you weren’t high strung like most of the teachers i had. whenever i used to see you in the corridor either going from class to class or to the staffroom no matter how busy you were you always took time to ask me how my day was or just used to smile and greet me wholeheartedly.
At our Jubilee service a year ago I spoke about what people remember about you. I put that sermon in the capsule this week. It’s entitled “Monuments or Footprints”. Here’s the quote about teachers (and adults generally):
“People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.”
I am sure that Jesus made people feel amazing – even though they themselves may have been pretty bad people.
My student remembered that I wasn’t highly-strung like some of my colleagues. That in itself is interesting. But listen again to the rest of his comment:
whenever i used to see you in the corridor either going from class to class or to the staffroom no matter how busy you were you always took time to ask me how my day was or just used to smile and greet me wholeheartedly.
It doesn’t cost much to be like that. And it wasn’t a strategy – like churches sometimes promote – like courses on “how to make friends and influence people.” If you have a heart for people, you take an interest in them. And you’re there for them. They know that if they’re in trouble they can call for help. You are there to serve them.
I love this story in Mark’s gospel about James and John, the sons of thunder.
Boys are very different from girls. I always watch to see which parents get uptight when boys charge around being boys. It’s almost always the ones who raised girls. They have no idea.
These two are always up to something. Poor Zebedee. Listen again:
Mar 10:35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Seriously?)
Mar 10:36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Patient again)
Mar 10:37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Jesus’s response is interesting: Mar 10:38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Mar 10:39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, Mar 10:40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
They get full marks for enthusiasm and passion. And being clueless – about status.
But before we get impatient with them, look at how the rest react:
Mar 10:41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. What were they thinking? Probably – what about us??
Teaching time. Jesus has to spell it out. Team talk. Huddle up boys.
Mar 10:42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mar 10:43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mar 10:44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Mar 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Serving others – being there for them – is clearly central in this Christian life.
The Galatians reading has this line: serve one another in love (5:13).
Peter puts it this way, after reminding his readers to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling:
1Pe 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…
The wonderful thing about the local church – when it is healthy – is that people don’t have to tell you what their status is. Their position – not their on-line status!
They simply share the gifts – the graces God gives – with others – in service.
The first 50 years of this congregation had a lot of hard working people who served here. We give thanks for them and remember them with thanksgiving. They weren’t perfect – like James and John. But they showed up and pitched in.
So the next 50 years are there – for us to be part of one way or the other. Remember what I said a couple of weeks ago about planning to leave a bequest to the work here so that the next generation will be blessed – just as we have been by the previous generations giving and sacrifice. That’s one aspect of this.
More importantly – how will we be remembered? As people? When someone opens the capsule in the future and sees your photo or name?
I am remembered at least by my old student as someone who was friendly and smiled – asked how he was. At least he knew he could contact a friendly person in a crisis.
How about you? Jesus, Paul, and Peter all speak about us serving others.
You can only really serve by being involved.
And many of you are – and I commend you for the way in which you do serve.
But it’s not just doing your turn on the tea duty roster. It’s about relationships – you have to really know each other to be there and make a difference!
I encourage those who are yet to get involved – to sign up somewhere.
You can’t serve one another from a distance. Often it’s easier just to go straight out the door here – and remain an observer. Or to serve in an advisory capacity – telling people when things aren’t to our liking.
There are things we can do:
- Join a home group – best place for really growing and making friends.
- Stay for tea and meet some new people. Invite them for coffee through the week.
- Pitch in to help – share the load. We need everyone rowing on this waka. Offer to help in practical ways. When you’re not on the roster.
- Equip yourself to be more effective in your Christian journey. Read. Learn. Ask questions.
- Take on something new which will stretch you. You don’t have to be as crazy as me – learning Mandarin. I really want to be able to greet my neighbours and be friendly in my street.
And when in the new year we have a weekend where we will learn new things about connecting with people out there – we agreed at our AGM to adopt our mission plan which included inviting Jim Wallace along to teach us – come along. Book the 11th of March in the meantime. It’s a Saturday through to after lunch. A time to upskill as Christians.
Jesus calls us to be like him.
- To serve one another in love.
- And to love others with that same love – so that they genuinely want to know why we are different. So engaging, positive, hopeful, and willing to serve. That’s Christian witness.
Then Peter’s recommendation applies again:
1Pe 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
1 Peter 4:11 If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8
There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.
In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.
What do we learn from this?
In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.
And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.
We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.
Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.
The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.
A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:
Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.
He goes on to say:
Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus. Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *
They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.
Here’s the key:
- Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
- Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
- Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.
In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.
Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.
- Then the voice.
- And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
- And then the command: listen to Him.
Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.
When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.
Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.
It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.
There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.
That one I think will come around again.
On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.
And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.
I suspect that the important ones include:
- Love one another as I have loved you.
- Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
- Go into all the world
- Make disciples of all nations
You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.
The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.
I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:
Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *
That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.
May we listen to Him.
* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.