Readings: Exodus 3:1-15; Mark 8:27 – 9:8
What does it take for God to get your attention?
How are you with hearing voices?
We had this interesting conversation in home group this week as we looked at the boy Samuel in the temple hearing a voice but not knowing who it was calling him. You remember the story in 1 Sam 3? Three times he goes to the priest Eli thinking that he was the one calling.
- Do we need a quiet time to hear God?
- A retreat?
- Do you need to be in a temple or church like Samuel?
- Or at a conference (like yesterday’s?)
- A mountain top experience?
In both readings today the voice of God is heard when they are up on a mountain.
- In Moses’ case he hears a voice from a bush that appears to be on fire but doesn’t burn up. (Here in this church the congregation looks at a picture of that burning bush every week when they look at the person reading and speaking from here. It’s the visual motto or logo of the Presbyterian Church – here on this lectern.)
- For Peter, James and John, the mountain top experience is pretty unique. They see dead guys talking to Jesus and he looks like he’s been plugged into a power source. Whiter than white he is.
The old KJV in Mark 9:3 has this fascinating language:
- And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. The fuller there of course is a launderer.
- The ESV has: and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. This is the “whiter than white” washing powder advert kind of thinking.
- The NIV has: His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
It’s not surprising they were terrified.
Seeing dead people does that anyway. I’ve only had that happen once – and it was prescription medication that caused the hallucination. I wasn’t fun.
- The voice on Mount Horeb to Moses becomes a conversation as he is commissioned to liberate his people from slavery.
- The voice on the mountain of transfiguration – is a one liner that should have helped assure the three key disciples.
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
It must have been quite amazing. A real high. But they came down to earth pretty quickly.
YOU CAN’T LIVE ON A HIGH
Life is full of contrasts.
- You can have a brilliant day and it can end badly.
- Terrible circumstances can still have good outcomes.
If you follow the characters we have been looking at so far – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons, Joseph, Moses and today Peter, James and John – you get enormous contrasts – great successes and serious failures.
One would hope that when certainty is reached in the way that we would sometimes like it – a voice from heaven telling us what’s going on (e.g. Peter) or a voice telling us what to do (e.g. Moses) – that things would be steady and stable.
But no – there’s always a shaking. Something that brings you down to earth.
Take the various scenarios where there are voices from heaven in the Bible:
- At Jesus baptism where he is anointed by the spirit and his ministry is launched – where a voice from heaven affirms him. In the next verse he is propelled into the desert to be tested by the devil. (from baptism to battle ground)
- Moses – From the encounter with God in the burning bush to the conflict with a stubborn hard hearted king. (from bush to battle ground)
- Peter – Confession that he is Messiah (revelation) to rebuke of his devil like behaviour – it’s like going from saint to Satanist. (from revelation to rebuke)
- Peter James and John – Mountain top camping to a real life-threatening road to the cross (glory to gory if you like.)
The danger of wanting to stay on a high – spiritually emotionally or “conferencially” – is that it can be disappointing. And while you are on the mountain top is not always easy to think straight anyway.
Peter may well have been so overwhelmed to make sense of the vision of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus that he wanted them to camp out there – what else could he have thought of?
Most of us would have probably wanted to capture the moment. Stay with that buzz of affirmation. (Think of your childhood holidays, when you had to leave a regular holiday destination to go back home – and you may get a glimpse of the feeling.)
But as a good colleague and friend pointed out in our discussion on Friday – self-gratification – our sinful nature – sometimes leads to sensual selfish spiritual experiences – wanting a high all the time. We are at risk of depending on those highs – it can become all about me – about us. Like those who at the end of a conference say “when’s the next one?” Feelings can drive our train, rather than facts and faith. We need another spiritual fix!
It’s no coincidence that Transfiguration is followed by Lent in the Church Calendar – a sobering 40 days.
And when Peter is less than thrilled by the idea of Jesus being killed, it’s not really surprising that he would try to stop it.
- This is Jesus the Messiah who has been revealed. There was an expectation of success from messianic figures – they are supposed to win the battle and overthrow the bad guys!
- Jesus lights up whiter than white on the mountain. Moses and Elijah are seen – the representatives of the key sections of the Hebrew Scriptures, the law and the prophets.
- And then this: Mar 9:9 As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from death.”
I am sure they felt – death should not be on this list. Imagine a presidential candidate or political leader saying to his or her followers – vote for me. I’ll be killed and you’ll all run away. It was less than thrilling.
During Lent there is time for us to reflect on the challenges. Jesus calls people to a cross.
Great expectations – followed by this amazing declaration: the voice of clarity: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
And this gloomy prediction: Mar 9:30 Jesus and his disciples left that place and went on through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where he was, Mar 9:31 because he was teaching his disciples: “The Son of Man will be handed over to those who will kill him. Three days later, however, he will rise to life.” Mar 9:32 But they did not understand what this teaching meant, and they were afraid to ask him.
How do you stay in the centre? I don’t mean like the grand old Duke of York and his 10 000 men where the song goes “and when they were only half way up they were neither up or down.”
I mean not like an emotional yo-yo. Crazy highs and lows.
Mind you. it’s not that easy if you get flicked from one thing to another like a ball in a pin ball machine. We will have highs and lows.
- We need the highs, like the conference we went on yesterday. They embolden us for the lows and the long slow obedience of level ground.
- We need the lows – the challenges – because they strengthen us in a different way. Building resilience and character and faith. Resistance is required to build core strength (just look in on a Gym).
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – we need the relationship – all of these people sought God’s direction or adopted it in the context of a daily relationship of some sort with God.
- We also need the sense of calling and purpose. Without that we will not really want to get out of bed in the morning.
- And like them we need to be seekers. Again and again in the bible is the ones who diligently and seriously seek God that are rewarded. (See Deut 4:29; 1 Chron 16:10-11; 2 Chron 7:14; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 105:4; Prov 8:17; Isaiah 55:6; Jeremiah 29:13. Hebrews 11:6;)
When Jesus rebukes Peter he lays it out clearly to the crowds. this was for all who were listening too, not just his close disciples:
Mar 8:34 – 38. Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
It is a call to risk and faith after all.
- And at the end, Jesus would have remembered those affirming voices at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration – when hanging in agony on the cross.
- Peter would have remembered his great confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi when he hung upside down on his cross. That confession made at a place named after a Roman Emperor – he confessed his faith in the Christ – for whom he would die too. Peter didn’t falter then.
- God willing, on our deathbeds I pray that his words of affirmation to us will be in our minds and on our lips. After all we are brother and sisters of Christ our elder brother the beloved. We too are dearly loved children of God (See John 1:12; 2 Cor 5:17; Romans 8:16: John 3:16).
Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;
I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?
Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.
Lent ends at the cross.
Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.
Advent ends at a crib.
This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!
We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.
On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.
And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.
Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.
People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.
The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.
My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.
The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.
The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.
So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –
- as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
- and the certainty of his second coming, (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
- – what is really important?
For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.
Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.
A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:
- Who He is.
- His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
- His coming in Christ.
- His work in us.
THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR
There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And then this one from Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.
A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –
“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”
This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.
God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?
- Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
- Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
- This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.
Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).
The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanity. We see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.
The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.
Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31 “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.
My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.
Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.
We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.
While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.
There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.
When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.
And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:
Rom 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope” – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.
For today: receive His peace.
Readings: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-21
The beginning of Lent – is often seen as gloomy time of repentance. The focus on human sin and frailty. Traditional Ash Wednesday liturgies focus on the brevity of life and remind worshipers that they came from dust and will soon enough return back to the earth, dust once more. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each person and speaks theses words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
I’m not sure that we need that reminder – most of us are quite familiar with our frailty and have experienced death in our family and friends circle. (I saw a sign in shop yesterday reminds us – Don’t take life too seriously – nobody gets out of here alive!)
The Gospel reading for tomorrow reminds us of some important things in our Christian disciplines however. There is a focus on the positive.
Mat 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Mat 6:2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
Mat 6:4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Mat 6:16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Mat 6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
Mat 6:18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
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.
Note the assumptions – when you give (v2), when you pray (v5) and when you fast (v17). These are a normal expectation for Christians and an ordinary part of the Christian life.
The text is set out as a serious of contrasts – not dos and don’ts, but don’ts and dos. In fact there is a lovely poetic rhythm to the whole passage.
If we have anything to repent of it’s the fact that we are not good at these things – not all of them at any rate. Giving, praying and fasting.
Our hearts are trapped in other worries. They consume our energy and time.
So after this reminder of the routine spiritual disciplines and how we should do them mainly in the secret place before God, Jesus gets to the heart of things – literally.
He talks about treasure. The things we cherish and value – which are vulnerable to moths, rust and theft. Either way they perish or land up in someone else’s house – only to perish there. They can only go to the op shop a couple of times really.
Investing time in giving, praying and fasting, is investing in heaven – in God’s economy. And he ends with this: Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In one of the hymns we will sing today there is the line – take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I behold. The writer of the hymn revisited that verse prayerfully and gave all her jewelry (except for one brooch) to the Church Mission Society of the day. She knew about treasures in heaven.
So where will your heart be over these next 46 days until Easter? (The 40 days excludes the 6 resurrection day Sundays which are not fast days historically).
I’m not even sure that we have to give up things. I think that misses the point as our whole life is meant to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12).
Maybe we can engage life more worshipfully – be more thankful – invest in some things that need attention – like appreciating the beauty around us, being thankful for the good people do even if we get irritated by their bad points. So we can give up grumbling, but not just for 40 days!
Maybe we should die to self more and take more risks – caring for those who are not easy to care for – reconnecting with people we have neglected (pick up the phone) – stopping to notice the good things that we take for granted. Praying more – criticising less. So we can give up criticising – but not just for 40 days!
Make your own list of 40 things – and you may find it’s not all dust and ashes. It’s a remarkable world – and it didn’t happen by chance. The people in your life are not an accident or there by chance either. God has put them there to teach you things! 🙂
There are too many wonderful things to celebrate – we should be much nicer to be with most of the time – with a revived attitude of gratitude.
Treasure the things that are treasure.
Make it a great 40 days – and it won’t matter that you and I will be dust one day. There is too much to be thankful for now and too much to look forward to when we die. Easter has settled that!