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Sunday message 7 February 2016 – Transfiguration Sunday

READINGS: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36

SERMON

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:

  1. Exodus

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.

  1. “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.

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 15 February 2015 – Mountains and voices

Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8

MESSAGE

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.

APPLICATION

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.

Amen.

 

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Sunday Sermon 10 February @ 9.00am – Listen to Him

MESSAGE (Sunday 1)                    Reading: Luke 9:28-36

It’s a great passage – I love it.

  • It reminds us that the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah) are fulfilled in Jesus.
  • That Jesus is greater than the prophets (or a prophet) and the greater teacher (than Moses)
  • It’s a foretaste of heaven, and heaven and earth meet here on this mountain
  • It’s a powerful description of the transformation of the face of Jesus – and the brightness of his appearance
  • It reminds us that we have mountain top experiences – and that like Peter we want to stay up there on the mountain with those wonderful experiences! Of course we don’t stay on the mountain tops!
  • And that it was in prayer that Jesus was transfigured (verse 29) – reminding us that we too are transformed in prayer! (Only Luke mentions that this was in the context of prayer. Yay for three gospels!)

But here’s the thing. There’s one of those voice from heaven passages – and it’s a great reminder that God speaks!

That this is all about God revealed to us!

The cloud (verse 34) is about the presence of God! That’s what we need and that’s actually the privilege of access we have (access in Ephesians is referred to in chapter 2, verses 7-8 –  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. And in Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We have a new place of grace to stand before God! By grace!

And the voice! This is so important! Listen to verse 35 again:

35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Are you listening to Him?

That’s the key to all of this really.

I remember being taught – if you haven’t a clue where you are in life and what God’s will is for your next step – go back to the last thing He told you to do! And do it! Listen!

I was reading one of George Whitfield’s sermons on this passage! I love it! This short interesting Anglican of the 18th century who preached to tens of thousands at once in England and America!

I want you to listen to what he said to his hearers:

I can now only mention one thing more, and that is, Did the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, hear him?” then let every one of our hearts echo to this testimony give of Christ, “This is my beloved Saviour.” Did God so love the world, as to send his only begotten Son, his well beloved Son to preach to us?

Then, my dear friends, hear Him.

What God said seventeen hundred years ago, immediately by a voice from heaven, concerning his Son upon the mount, that same thing God says to you immediately by his word, “Hear him.” If ye never heard him before, hear him now. Hear him so as to take him to be your prophet, priest, and your king; hear him, so as to take him to be your God and your all. Hear him today, ye youth, while it is called today; hear him now, lest God should cut you off before you have another invitation to hear him; hear him while he cries, “Come unto me;” hear him while he opens his hand and his heart; hear him while he knocks at the door of your souls, lest you should hear him saying, “Depart, depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hear him, ye old and gray-headed, hear him, ye that have one foot in the grave; hear him, I say; and if ye are dull of hearing, beg of God to open the ears of your hearts, and your blind eyes; beg of God that you may have an enlarged and a believing heart, and that ye may know what the Lord God saith concerning you.

Must have been great preaching in those revival days. In England and America.

They didn’t listen politely and go off to tea. They fell to their knees and wept in repentance.

Now I know that Presbyterians are not given to too much emotion!

But this preacher didn’t mince his words!

This is good stuff: “If you’ve got one foot in the grave – hear him! If you are dull of hearing – beg of God to open the eyes of your hearts!” Whitfield is preaching scripture here! Where is it from? Ephesians again! He’s preaching these truths: Ephesians 1:18-19  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, Eph 1:19  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

And of course he wants his hearers to have enlarged and believing hearts! Again Whitfield is preaching from scripture – as Psalm 119:32 says this: (MKJV)  I will run the way of Your Commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart.

And of course he wants them to know what the Lord was saying concerning them!

We’ve watched a video about the response of some Lutherans in America on this passage – have a look at this:

VIDEO: Bible story jam video Luke 9:28-36    http://vimeo.com/58940441

Interesting how different people read and responded to this text.

I liked the last man’s comment about “this I can do” – listening to his voice. I can do this – if I work on it!

And also my thought was – listening to what he has to say to us and about us.

If the Father says to the Son: “my son whom I have chosen” in Luke’s record. In Matthew the writer says: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). And then Mark puts it this way: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7)

We get three versions – and of course it’s not surprizing as Matthew Mark and Luke were not up there – only Peter James and John.  The passage ends with these words:  “The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.”

I don’t know about you, but they’re all rather encouraging are they not? Chosen, Loved, well pleased. While they are directed at the disciples (‘This is my son’, not ‘you are my son’) the Father still encourages the Son in this amazing time of prayer! Apart from the reminded of the voice there is the unique  nature of the transfiguration itself. I’m not going to try and figure that out today.

I’m really keen that we listen to the Son!

As an aside – I suspect that the Father also wants to tell us as children (the younger brothers and sisters of this elder brother Jesus) how much he values us too! That’s a different issue of an affirmation of his love for us – especially where we face challenging times.

But here it’s about listening to Jesus – and that’s a life changing habit we need to work on in our prayers.

The conversation about this passage can continue.

  • The Son still speaks!  Please listen to Him!
  • We must not ignore Him!
  • We need to open His book (the Bible) and give Him time so we too can encounter him and He can speak to us!

Let this conversation continue as we reflect on it. Over tea, or better on our knees!

Amen!