Jesus in a new light
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Sermon given at the 10.30am service, Christ Church Downend, Sunday February 10th, 2013. The Bible reading is Luke 9: 28-36. More sermons and talks at http://www.social-statistics.org/?cat=22

Sermon given at the 10.30am service, Christ Church Downend, Sunday February 10th, 2013. The Bible reading is Luke 9: 28-36. More sermons and talks at http://www.social-statistics.org/?cat=22

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Jesus in a new light Document Transcript

  • 1. Jesus  in  a  new  light  (Sermon  given  at  the  10.30am  service,  Christ  Church  Downend,  Sunday  February  10th,  2013.  The  Bible  reading  is  Luke  9:  28-­‐36).    So  poor  old  Richard  III.  Found  buried  under  a  car  park  in  Leicester.  I  can  only  presume  he  had  paid  for  long  stay  parking.  Of  course,  some  may  argue  that  it  is  strangely  apt  for  someone  who  is  sometimes  described  as  Britain’s  most  reviled  monarch  and  alleged  to  have  murdered  his  two  young  nephews.  Then  again,  historians  have  reminded  us  that  the  ideas  we  have  of  King  Richard  are  largely  thanks  to  William  Shakespeare  and  to  sources  of  information  written  by  people  who  did  not  much  care  for  Richard  and  had  cause  to  portray  him  in  a  partisan  and  distorted  way.  Those  historians  have  challenged  us  to  see  Richard  in  a  new  light.      Now,  I  did  make  a  brief  effort  to  determine  the  origin  of  that  phrase  –  “to  see  in  a  new  light”.  To  be  honest,  I  didn’t  try  very  hard  and  I  did  not  get  very  far.  It  does,  however,  seem  to  have  religious  connotations,  deriving  perhaps  from  around  the  1600s.  I  wonder  if  at  least  part  of  its  meaning  derives  from  the  events  read  to  us  in  today’s  Gospel  reading,  the  account  of  Jesus’  transfiguration.  Imagine  the  scene.  You  are  one  of  Peter,  James  or  John,  and,  quite  frankly  you  are  exhausted.  Why  are  you  exhausted?  Perhaps  because  Jesus  has  recently  sent  you  out  to  travel  from  village  to  village  to  preach  the  kingdom  of  God  and  to  heal  the  sick,  and  he  did  so  telling  you  to  take  nothing  for  the  journey  –  no  staff,  no  bag,  no  bread,  no  money,  no  extra  tunic  (Luke  9).  Can  you  imagine  how  physically  and  emotionally  demanding  that  would  be?  
  • 2. Or  maybe  the  explanation  is  simpler.  You  have  climbed  a  mountain  to  pray.  Mountains  are  literally  a  part  of  the  religious  landscape  in  The  Bible.  Moses  climbed  to  the  top  of  Mount  Sinai  to  receive  the  tablets  containing  the  Ten  Commandments  from  God.  I  do  not  know  if  you  have  ever  climbed  a  mountain.  The  highest  I  can  claim  is  Mount  Snowdon  and  that’s  a  complete  tiddler  compared  to  the  ones  like  Mount  Kilimanjaro  that  I  know  at  least  one  of  the  more  youthful  members  of  the  congregation  has  ascended.  In  my,  admittedly  limited  experience,  few  people  bound  up  a  mountain  with  a  spring  in  their  step,  arriving  at  the  top  with  more  energy  than  when  they  started.  And  those  that  do  are,  quite  frankly,  freaky!  So,  here  again  is  the  simple  explanation:  you  –  that  is  to  say,  Peter,  James  or  John  –  are  tired  because  the  spiritual  pilgrimage  you  are  making  with  Jesus  is  demanding  and  can  be  tiring.    Now,  talking  of  tiring  experiences,  have  you  ever  had  the  one  where  a  phone  rings  in  the  middle  of  the  night,  or  a  child  calls,  or  perhaps  a  fire  alarm  starts  bleeping,  or  you  forgot  to  turn  off  your  mobile  phone  before  going  to  bed  and  so  it  rings  because  it  is  one  of  those  smart  phones  that  is  no  nearly  so  smart  enough  to  realise  that  you  don’t  actually  need  to  be  alerted  in  the  early  hours  of  the  morning  to  the  wine  fuelled  observations  on  life  from  a  friend  who  is  writing  on  Facebook.  Anyone  has  this  kind  of  experience  or  is  it  just  me?  Well,  if  you  have,  you  will  know  that  it  can  be  very  confusing,  especially  if  it  pulls  you  abruptly  from  a  vivid  dream  where,  say,  you  are  driving  at  speed  along  the  country  roads  of  Gloucestershire  in  your  brand  new  racing  green  Aston  Martin,  masterfully  balancing  the  twin  demands  of  controlling  the  vehicle  whilst  playing  
  • 3. air  guitar  to  the  well  amplified  sounds  of  American  rock  legends,  KISS.  Ok,  I  am  guessing  from  your  faces  that  that  one  really  is  just  me!  Peter,  John  and  James,  it  seems,  were  also  somewhat  bleary  eyed  and  confused.  And  who  can  blame  them?  There  was  Jesus,  the  appearance  of  his  face  changed,  and  his  clothes  as  bright  as  a  flash  of  lighting.  And  with  him  were  Moses  and  Elijah,  on-­‐going  heroes  of  the  Jewish  religion  but  long  since  departed  from  this  mortal  coil.  Perhaps  Peter  saw  the  cloud.  Perhaps  he  could  sense  a  storm  gathering.  Perhaps  that  is  why  he  offered  to  put  up  shelters  so  Jesus,  Moses  and  Elijah  would  not  be  exposed  to  the  elements.  It  was  a  rather  thoughtful  thing  to  do,  don’t  you  think?  However,  he  has  misunderstood.  It  is  not  an  ordinary  cloud.  It  a  cloud  that  has  lead  the  people  out  of  Egypt  and  towards  the  Promised  Land.  It  is  a  cloud  that  signals  the  presence  of  God,  Yahweh,  Jehovah.  And  from  it  a  voice  speaks:  “This  is  my  Son,  whom  I  have  chosen;  listen  to  him.”    “This  is  my  Son,  whom  I  have  chosen;  listen  to  him.”  To  whom  was  the  voice  speaking?  I  suppose  it  was  to  Peter,  John  and  James.  But  why?  If  you  happen  to  have  your  Bible  open  rollback  to  the  proceeding  passage  (Luke  9:  18-­‐27)  and  there  you  will  find  Jesus  asking  the  disciples  a  question,  “Who  do  the  crowds  say  I  am?”  They  replied,  “Some  say  John  the  Baptist;  others  say  Elijah;  and  still  others  that  one  of  the  prophets  from  long  ago  has  come  back  to  life.”  
  • 4. “But  what  about  you?”  he  asked.  “Who  do  you  say  I  am?”  Peter  answered,  “The  Christ  –  The  Messiah  –  of  God.”  Peter  was  right,  wasn’t  he?  Jesus  was  not  Elijah.  He  was  not  Moses,  the  most  important  prophet  in  Judaism.  He  could  not  be  because  there  was  Elijah,  and  Moses  too,  with  Jesus  on  the  mountaintop  But  Peter  was  only  part  right  or  rather  his  language  did  not  quite  capture  who  exactly  was  standing  before  him.  Peter  said  to  Jesus,  “you  are  the  Christ.”  God  said  to  Jesus,  “you  are  my  son.”    Put  yourself  in  Peter’s  shoes  for  a  minute.  Not  only  is  he  seeing  Jesus  is  a  new  light,  he  is  being  taken  on  a  journey  that  is  leading  him  to  see  Jesus  in  an  ever  changing  and  profoundly  challenging  light.  Consider  this.  Peter  answers  Jesus’  question  with  these  words:  “you  are  The  Christ  of  God.”  What  happens  next?  Is  he  told  well  done,  you  are  right?  No,  he  is  told  that,  “The  Son  of  Man  must  suffer  many  things  and  be  rejected  by  the  elders,  chief  priests  and  teachers  of  the  law.  He  must  be  killed  and  on  the  third  day  be  raised  to  life.”  What  on  earth  was  Jesus  talking  about?  I  doubt  very  much  this  is  what  Peter  had  in  mind  for  the  Christ  of  God.  Yet  the  gradual  tick-­‐tock  towards  death  and  humiliation  sandwiches  the  transfiguration  scene.  Jesus  talks  of  his  death  before  the  transfiguration,  and  he  talks  of  his  betrayal  afterwards  as  well.  
  • 5. “Listen  carefully  to  what  I  am  about  to  tell  you,”  Jesus  tells  his  disciples,  “The  Son  of  Man  is  going  to  be  betrayed  into  the  hands  of  men.”  Perhaps  this  was  what  Jesus  was  discussing  with  Moses  and  Elijah:  exodus;  isolation;  loneliness.  This  was  something  the  three  of  them  could  share,  that  the  life  of  the  prophet  was  rarely  easy.  Jesus’  other  words  don’t  offer  much  comfort  to  the  disciples  either.  He  says,  “If  anyone  would  come  after  me,  they  must  deny  themselves  and  take  up  their  cross  daily  and  follow  me.  For  whoever  wants  to  save  their  life  will  lose  it,  but  whoever  loses  his  life  for  me  will  save  it.”  Let’s  not  pussy  foot  around  here.  Jesus  gives  a  clear  instruction  to  his  disciples.  To  follow  him,  they  must  deny  themselves  and  give  everything  to  him.  Yet  the  disciples  do  not  understand.  Perhaps  they  choose  not  to.  We  know  they  don’t  get  it  because  only  two  sections  down  from  the  transfiguration  (in  Luke  9:  46-­‐50)  we  find  them  arguing  about  which  of  them  will  be  greatest.  And  so  Jesus  finds  a  child  and  tells  them  “don’t  you  ever  be  so  lofty  or  arrogant  or  so  full  of  yourself  that  you  would  not  welcome  as  someone  as  simple  and  as  powerless  as  this  child.”  Actually,  Jesus  puts  it  like  this,  “the  person  who  is  least  among  you  all  –  they  are  the  greatest.”    “This  is  my  Son,  whom  I  have  chosen;  listen  to  him.”  Perhaps  the  words  are  intended  for  us  to.  Words  of  challenge  but  also  of  encouragement.  
  • 6. Perhaps  the  instruction  to  give  everything  –  yes,  everything  –  to  Jesus  is  intended  for  us  too.  He  deserves  it.  He  may  even  demand  it.  The  words  of  the  great  hymn  ‘When  I  survey  the  wondrous  cross’  are  so  beautiful,  so  eloquent  yet  so  challenging:  Were  the  whole  realm  of  nature  mine,  That  were  an  offering  far  too  small;  Love  so  amazing,  so  divine,  Demands  my  soul,  my  life,  my  all.  Let’s  not  pretend  this  is  easy.  Let’s  not  pretend  that  we  don’t  live  in  a  world  that  values  status  and  power  and  wealth.  Let’s  not  pretend  that  we  don’t  get  sucked  into  that  world  and,  worse,  help  promote  it  and  perpetuate  it.  My  formal  title  is  Dr.  Richard  Harris,  Reader  in  Quantitative  Geography  –  which,  in  case  you  are  wondering,  is  the  position  below  Professor  –  at  an  institution  that  describes  itself  as,  “one  of  the  worlds  premier  6*  geography  schools.”  Six  star  is  the  highest.  Even  the  church  gives  me  a  title:  it  is  Licensed  Lay  Minister  or,  more  simply,  Reader,  which  means  I  am  a  Reader  twice  over,  if  only  I  had  time  to  read!  Of  course,  there  is  nothing  innately  wrong  in  these  titles  but  still  they  flatter  and  seduce.  They  are  a  temptation  to  value  status.  They  desire  to  set  apart.  And  yes,  I  would  quite  like  to  have  the  title  Prof  written  on  my  platinum  cash-­‐back  credit  card  one  day.    But  let’s  not  be  too  chastised  or  downhearted  either.  We  need,  by  God’s  gracious  instruction,  and  by  the  guidance  of  the  Holy  Spirit  to  get  the  balance  right.  To  rejoice  that  we  are  being  refined  (Isaiah  48:10-­‐11),  changed,  but  to  also  not  be  
  • 7. complacent.  We  are  called  to  actively  pursue  all  that  is  good  and  holy  in  our  lives,  and  to  set  aside  that  which  we  know  not  to  be.    There  is  a  wonderful  promise  that  comes  immediately  before  the  transfiguration.  Jesus  says,  “I  tell  you  the  truth,  some  who  are  standing  here  will  not  taste  death  before  they  see  the  kingdom  of  God.”  The  phrase  confused  the  early  church.  They  took  it  to  mean  that  Jesus  would  soon  return,  before  many  of  them  had  died.  He  didn’t.  Well,  not  in  the  sense  they  imagined  it.  Their  misunderstanding  was  to  believe  that  the  kingdom  of  God  is  something  outside  of  the  Earth  that  has  yet  to  be  revealed  in  it.  But  Jesus  says  in  Mark,  Chapter  1,  verse  15,  “The  time  has  come.  The  kingdom  of  God  is  near.  Repent  and  believe  the  good  news.”  Have  you  seen  the  Kingdom  of  God?  I  think  I  have.  I  think  you  have  too.  Isn’t  it  revealed  when  we  show  friendship  to  the  stranger?  Love  to  the  unloved.  Mercy  to  the  tormentor.  When  we  feed  or  clothe  the  homeless,  when  we  befriend  the  needy,  listen  to  the  lonely.  When  we  share  our  time.  When  we  share  our  possessions.  When  we  will  not  tolerate  injustice.  When  we  aspire  to  serve.  Wash  each  other’s  feet.  To  give  as  to  receive.  When  we  gather  in  worship.  When  we  gather  in  communion.  When  we  gather  as  friends,  as  brothers  and  sisters,  regardless  of  race,  gender,  past  history  or  any  other  form  of  social  categorisation  that  tempts  to  divide  us  from  the  unity  that  should  come  in  Christ  Jesus.  Those,  I  suggest,  are  the  signs  of  God’s  kingdom.    
  • 8. On  Wednesday  Lent  begins,  bringing  the  obvious  benefit  of  pancakes  on  the  proceeding  Tuesday.  That  day  is  also  the  anniversary  of  Lincoln’s  birthday,  who  said,  amongst  other  things,  “It  is  fit  and  becoming  in  all  people,  at  all  times,  to  acknowledge  and  revere  the  Supreme  Government  of  God;  to  bow  in  humble  submission  to  His  chastisement;  to  confess  and  deplore  their  sins  and  transgressions  in  the  full  conviction  that  the  fear  of  the  Lord  is  the  beginning  of  wisdom;  and  to  pray,  with  all  fervency  and  contrition,  for  the  pardon  of  their  past  offenses,  and  for  a  blessing  upon  their  present  and  prospective  action.”  However,  I  am  no  Daniel  Day-­‐Lewis,  and  a  sermon  –  or,  rather  its  listener  -­‐  can  only  tolerate  so  many  tangents  so  I  will  return  to  the  point.  For  Lent  many  of  you  will  consider  giving  up  chocolate  or  crisps  or  beer  or  takeaways  or  television  or  something  that  is  appropriate  and  relevant  to  you.  And  I  dare  say  that  it  is  a  good  thing  to  do.  However,  the  true  purpose  of  Lent  is  to  take  us  on  a  spiritual  pilgrimage  to  Easter  when  we  remember  the  one  who  gave  up  everything  –  everything!  –  for  us,  and  calls  us  to  follow  that  example.    Peter  said,  “you  are  the  Christ  of  God.”  The  voice  from  the  cloud  said,  “This  is  my  Son,  whom  I  have  chosen;  listen  to  him.”  The  question  we  might  like  to  ask  ourselves  is:  “is  it  time  to  see  Jesus  in  a  new  light?”  Amen.  
  • 9.      ©  Richard  Harris,  Feb  9,  2013  This  work  is  licensed  under  a  Creative  Commons  Attribution-­‐NonCommercial-­‐ShareAlike  3.0  Unported  License.  See:  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-­‐nc-­‐sa/3.0/deed.en_US