Sermon Epiphany 8 February 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18 Psalm 2 2 Peter 1:16-2 Matthew 17:1-9
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Oh, there is a really important lesson to be learnt from the Gospel today. Granted something really big was taking place – Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop along with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus was shining bright with the Glory of God. Most of us perhaps would have been dumbfounded but Peter, irrepressible Peter, spoke in excitement but even as he was speaking the voice of God was heard to say “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him !” The disciples were stunned. Indeed Jesus asked them to keep quiet about it until He has been raised from the dead. Peter I am pretty sure preached about it a lot after the Resurrection and he certainly recorded it in his second letter as we heard today. But what was the important lesson I alluded to ? Simply put, when something great is happening ‘be quiet’ ! Would you have liked to have been in Peter’s shoes and talking when God interrupted ! I expect not. But we do tend to act on the spur of the moment sometimes, and speak when we shouldn’t. We need to measure our responses and wait a little bit to see what God has in mind. A little quiet contemplation isn’t out of the way on momentous occasions. It’s a wonder Peter didn’t say “I was talking, please don’t interrupt, I’m trying to help Jesus !”. Do we do that from time to time, ‘you betcha !’ We believe we know what is best, we don’t need advice, we don’t need to listen even to God !
The Church has been renowned for speaking out of turn, and unfortunately for not speaking up when it should. It has colluded with evil regimes and even with benign ones with wrong-minded policies (Residential Schools and the Sixties Scoop are examples of the latter). The Church spoke when it should not have when it proclaimed the Doctrine of Discovery. That doctrine declared that indigenous peoples were savages, that their land belongs to no one and could be claimed by any white ‘discoverer’, and that they could be treated as less than equal. That of course led to subjugation and slavery, and is largely responsible for the problems today between western society and the indigenous peoples of North America, and probably on every other continent. The Church spoke when it should not have when it condemned Galileo and his ground-breaking discovery of the telescope and the fact that Earth, our island home, is not the centre of the Universe as was thought. Earth is in fact a very small speck in the outer reaches of a relatively insignificant galaxy, if galaxies can be described as insignificant, let’s say then that we are in a minor galaxy amongst billions of others, and are hardly the centre of the universe and hardly unique as the Church claimed.
The Church doesn’t say loudly enough that it is the only way to Salvation that we have here on Earth and it is too prone to give credulity to other religions that have salvation in mind for their adherents. It’s good to get along with other people on all matters, including religion, but the Church should not compromise on its beliefs or adopt those of others. Should we loan our sacred spaces to others so they can practice their ceremonies ? Helping the needy to find shelter in a church is surely good and what we are called to do, but it is sacred space and should not be confused as being a place for other gods to be worshipped.
The lesson we can learn is in God’s words “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him !” Listen ! You can’t listen properly when you are talking but we are called to listen. Again ‘be quiet !’ A couple of weeks ago I was critical of the hermits who went off into the desert to contemplate, they had the right idea but they went too far, to an extreme that took them away from life. Do we do the opposite and let life take us away from contemplation. I think ‘yes, many times’.
So how to contemplate ? First arrive at a frank assessment of the subject at hand, who is involved ? What are the issues ? How did we get to this stage ? What harm has been done or benefit gained ? What are the various prospective outcomes ? What would be the best outcome from following Jesus’ teaching ? Who can help to bring it about ? How to make it happen ? None of those is a five minute exercise but a deeply considered study instead. The tricky bit is the ‘what would Jesus do’. It requires perhaps even a Bible study, so you need to know your Bible. But if you apply the two greatest commandments, “love God and love your neighbour” you will be well on the way. Now this is the heart of the matter. How in your decisions can you actually love God ? By following His commandments, by affording Him the reverence and respect He is due, by believing that God has the power to do everything and anything. How can you love your neighbour ? Very simply by doing for him or her what you would want them to do for you if you were in their position. That is both very simple and very difficult and requires some heavy lifting by you as you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. All of that contemplation should be done in prayer and should take place before any action.
You know the saying “Be still, and know that I am God !” (Psalm 46:10) well do so. It’s surprising how much God can do if we just stand back and let God be God. If God had wanted some shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah He would have provided them. We have an injunction to listen. The other big command is God’s word’s to Moses “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there”. ‘Wait’. Not everything has to be done lickety split. Wait, be patient. Many people give-up their faith because God is not quick enough for them. We all know prayers should be answered right away ! But that is not the way of life, nor is it the way God chooses to be known, it’s not ‘thirty minutes or it’s free’ with Him. Even stuff ordered on Amazon and e-Bay takes a few days to get here. So listen, be patient, you have been heard. Those are probably the hardest things to do at times but you can find patience in prayer, if you listen. Amen.