Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon for Palm Sunday

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’

This is where is all begins.

All the teaching and healings, all the interactions and questions about who Jesus is, what he will do, who it is all for have all lead to this moment.

The moment Jesus is atop the donkey is the moment of no turning back.
This is where it all begins.

At this moment Jesus mission enters its last phase, everything is set in motion here.
The first steps of the donkey are the first steps to the upper room,
the first steps to the cross,
and the first steps out of the tomb.

Jesus doesn’t make these first steps, it is the donkey,
somehow showing that it is not his doing.
He is showing that this is not his doing, that he is not in control of it all.
It is bigger than just him.

The donkey fulfils a prophecy from Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
   Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
   triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
   on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This fulfilling also shows the momentousness of what is happening.
Jesus is bringing all what has been, all the past with him.
What has been will be of no consequence anymore.

Jesus brings with him the past and places it firmly into the present on the back of the donkey.
The donkey carries all that has been and all that will be.
All that was is fulfilled,
all that will be is now entering Jerusalem.

We can see this by the turmoil that Jerusalem is in.

The Greek word used eseisthe is more than turmoil.
It is more like shaken.
This same word is used twice after: at Jesus death:
the earth shook and rocks were split.

And again when the two Mary’s go to visit the tomb:

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Huge moments where God’s work of redemption for humankind,
where the bounds of time are broken
and eternity bursts into the present.

This is the turmoil Jerusalem is in, it is shaken.
It is an intimation of what is coming.
The past is ending, and the future is becoming present.
The shaking of Jerusalem is a preview and a warning.

On Palm Sunday, we are with the crowd. We shout and wave  

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

We also ask “Who is this?”
Who is this on a donkey?
Who is this on the cross?
Who is this risen from the tomb?
We ask who is this who can change everything past and present?
Who is this who is the beginning and the end?
Who is this who is making my whole life shake?

In the shaking of the people of Jerusalem, we feel the shaking in ourselves.
Our lives are shaken with the journey of agony, death, and resurrection.

We enter into Holy Week, knowing there is no turning back.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

I am the resurrection and the life. 

If you think about all the encounters we have heard this Lent:
Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind,
all of them have been ways of showing Jesus for who he is, the Son of God.
There has been dialogue where Jesus has taken each person to a higher understanding of who he is.

But with Martha and Mary, we go to an even higher plain.

Martha and Mary are already believers.
They believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
He doesn’t need to convince them of that.
But it seems that something is missing.

The sisters send a message to Jesus:
‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 
Jesus response to this news is odd.
‘This illness does not lead to death;
rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’
He leaves it a few days. This is deliberate. He says to the disciples.
‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
So, off they all go. By the time they get to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days.

We now meet the two sisters, Martha and Mary.
A crowd has gathered around them, mourning with them, comforting them.

When they hear that Jesus is on his way, Martha goes out from the village to meet him.
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
You can hear her say this. How many times was this phrase said over the past few days.
When Lazarus first got ill: We’ll get Jesus to come and heal him.
As Lazarus began to die, this would have been said with more desperation.
Then, when Lazarus finally died: If only Jesus had been here.

If only Jesus had been here. How many times the sisters said this to each other.
This phrase would have just sat in the air over the village for the past four days.
"If only Jesus had been here...."

So much so, that it becomes a greeting when Jesus does finally appear.
Both of the sisters say this to Jesus when they meet him.
But Martha adds to it.
But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’
If you had been here, you could have stopped Lazarus from dying, but I still have hope that you can sort it out.

She doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything in particular, but hands it over to him.
God will do anything Jesus asks.
She leaves what to do up to Jesus.

What are the options?

Leave Lazarus where he is, or bring him back to life.
Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
Jesus gives his answer. He will raise him.
But Martha doesn’t quite get it.
‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 
This was the common belief in the Jewish faith, that there will be a general resurrection on the last day.

Martha may believe that God listens to Jesus, but she is still thinking in terms of the old way.
What he says of some comfort, but that is far off, it is distant.

Jesus grabs her and pulls her into the present:
 ‘I am the resurrection and the life. 
How can Jesus be a future event?
He might be it’s cause, but how can he actually be the resurrection?

Jesus is forcing language to say something that is inexpressible.

He explains it a bit more
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 
Believes in Jesus.
Lives in Jesus.

He says to Martha,
Do you believe this?
Do you believe this?’
She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’
She doesn’t answer the question.
She avoids it.
It must be too difficult for her to understand what Jesus actually meant.
Yet even there, she makes the highest statement of who Jesus is that we have heard so in John’s Gospel:
the Son of God.
She knows that Jesus is the messiah, but she can’t go further.
What Jesus has said is beyond her.

Then it is Mary’s turn.

She comes out to meet Jesus, with the same words:
‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 
Unlike Martha, she adds nothing. There is nothing more to say.

Where Jesus had expressed the highest aspects of divinity to Martha, Jesus now expresses his humanity.
He is moved with compassion and weeps.

And instead of explaining the resurrection, it actually happens.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Lazarus, come out.

Jesus shows Martha and Mary, indeed all those gathered what he means.
He raises Lazarus.
Lazarus is unbound from death and risen to new life.

We can all have this.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 

This is the greatest hope we have. The hope we have in Jesus is the hope of eternal life. It is a life lived in Christ forever.

I am the resurrection and the life.
Archbishop William Temple expressed this like this:

“Fellowship with Christ is participation in  the divine life, which finds itsfullest expression in triumph over death.”
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 

The story of the man born blind is one of the more complex healing stories in all the gospels.
It directly confronts us with the idea that sin is what causes sickness.
It challenges us with the idea that our sin may have been passed on to us by our ancestors.

The story also serves to show how legalistic thinking and a clinging to the past works against the kingdom of God.

The story challenges us with a black and white, dark and light image
of the works of God and the powers of darkness.

There is blindness and there is seeing.
There is denying and there is believing.

‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

This was a common idea.
That if there was something wrong with someone, it was because of their sin.
If you were sick, it was because you had sinned, and your illness was a direct result.

But what about someone born with an illness or a disability?
How could they have sinned while in their mother’s womb?
The solution was to think that sin was passed through birth lines. The parents must have done something, and this is the punishment. So the idea went.

There are of course many issues with this kind of thinking.
While it may have made sense in some way, we feel that there is something inherently wrong with it.

Jesus clarifies:
 ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’

On a first listen it sounds as if this man was born blind solely so Jesus could heal him, to glorify God.

That doesn’t quite seem right either.
Jesus takes the whole of idea to a deeper level, to teach the disciples something far more important.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

The point is that whether the man was born blind, became blind,
whether it was through his own sin or his parents sin is all immaterial.
No theorising or theologising or contemplating or navel gazing
can alter the fact that he is blind right now.

How he became blind, or the reasons for that are beside the point.
The fact is he is blind now. The past is of no concern.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day

Jesus of course heals the man, and sends him away. Jesus accepts the present and works with in it. It is the day.

The story then involves a series of interrogations.
The once blind man is interrogated by the people of his town
Then the  Pharisees interrogate him.
Then the Pharisees interrogate his parents.
Then they again interrogate the man.
He is then driven out of the temple, with the words:
‘You were born entirely in sins.’

For all their questioning of whether Jesus healed on the Sabbath, where he is from, whether he is a sinner, whether the man was born blind or not,
they finish at the place they are comfortable with.

The man was born entirely in sins.

As Jesus moved his disciples to be in the present moment,
the Pharisees dwell back in the past.
Where Jesus was concerned with the man’s affliction,
the Pharisees are concerned with what caused it.
Even with the healed man in front of them,
they are more concerned with what caused his now gone affliction.
It is madness.

They are uncomfortable with the work of God that is happening in front of them,
and would rather dwell on the wrongs of the past.

They are more worried about the person doing the work than the work itself.

They are deliberately derailing and shutting down the Kingdom of God
with their insistence of the way things have been done,
rather than see the light breaking into the darkness.

They believe they can see, that they have the truth.

It is quite a trap.
It is very easy to fall into.
It is easier to blame the problems of the past than face the present.

We are more comfortable with the issues of the past than the challenges that are right in front of us.
Because if we can blame what has happened,
we can ignore what is happening now.

If we refuse to let the past die, we refuse to let the present exist.

Healing and sight can only happen in the present.

To stay in the past is to be wilfully blind and to ignore the light of Christ that works among us.

Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

Surely, we can’t ignore what has happened.
Surely those things are part of our story.
They are what has made us like we are.

Those things take us away from the Gospel.
They make us blind to the light of Christ.

Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

If we say we see
while we continue to exist in a world that is dominated by what has been,
we are really denying our blindness.

We will miss the fact that it is day, and the day will become night.

And we will be too blind to notice.

We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

St Paul advises us:

Live as children of light—
for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 
but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.

Remember Nicodemus from last week.
A highly respected intelligent man, a Pharisee, a Jew.
He comes to see Jesus at night in the dark.

Today we have a woman by a well.
She is not respected at all, if anything she is ostracised by her own people.
She meets Jesus at noon, in the light.

John places these two dialogues next to each other to highlight and deepen Jesus’ teaching.  The central theme of Nicodemus was of being born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God.
The theme with the Samaritan woman is of living water will become in a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
Both speak of the new life in a follower of Jesus.
But John uses the differences between the two protagonists to highlight different ways of coming to faith.

One of the main differences between the woman and Nicodemus is that is she is Samaritan.

The Samaritans had a different history, one which led them to accept only the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, as sacred.
They did not have the psalms, writings or prophets.
Neither did they worship at the temple in Jerusalem. They had their own temple.

The Jewish religious leaders regarded the Samaritans, indeed all Samaria as a no go area.
They weren’t even supposed to walk through the land, rather take the long way around.

Yet Jesus does go through there. Not only that, he rests there, at the well.

Another significant difference with Nicodemus is that she is a woman.

A man should not be seen or speak to an unaccompanied woman,
and in this case, Jesus would be no different.
Furthermore, this woman is a Samaritan,
so he most certainly shouldn’t be speaking to her, something she herself understands:
‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’

And it is noon, so, unlike with Nicodemus, where it was night and no one could see them, here this is out in the open, in the full light of day.

The fact that this woman is at the well at noon also tells us much about her.
It was women who fetched the water, but usually early in the morning, or early evening, to escape the heat.
Yet, she is there at noon, when the sun would be at its most ferocious.

From what we hear about this woman later in this dialogue, when Jesus tells her she has had five husbands, that it is likely that she an outsider within her own community.
She goes to the well at noon so she can do so alone,
away from the judging and abuse of the other women.

But the time of day also speaks of light, the opposite of night which spoke of darkness.
And as the darkness of night represented the Nicodemus not believing,
so here the light of noon represents believing.

Yet this light is not easily found for the woman.

Jesus asks her for a drink.
‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’
Her reply speaks of division in terms of religion, culture, and gender.
At this point, Jesus is just a Jewish man.

 ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 

Jesus recognises her reacting out of her life experience, and brings up the idea of his identity, but not stating it.
He leaves it open, beckoning further enquiry. Further, he speaks of living water.

He is offering something better than what she can get from Jacob’s well.

‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 

She is exasperated. First of all, he can’t even get the water that is there,
he doesn’t have the tools.
Secondly, the arrogance.
Jacob was the great ancestor for the Samaritans.
This well was not only practical, it would also have had a quasi sacred status.
You think you are greater than him?

‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.
The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 

As he did with Nicodemus, Jesus raises the bar.
He isn’t speaking about water. He is speaking about something much greater.

A spring of water gushing up in comparison to a well that is still.
The water needs to pulled out by a bucket.
Living water is like fountain.

‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus has convinced her.
It may be that she thinks of this living water as a pure convenience.
It may be that she thinks this living water is something that can get her out of her lonely life.
It may be that she thinks this living water can change her.
She wants this water.

The water that Jesus gives is life giving.
The water from Jacobs well is water.

The water that Jesus that Jesus offers is new life, vibrant, forgiving.
Later we hear that the woman goes back to her people, they listen to her, and they decide to come to Jesus, as she did.

As the water is life giving, it needs to be shared.
It cant be stored up, it massed be passed on. That is how it is life giving.
But the water in the well is hidden. It needs to be pulled out from the ground. Each person has their own jug to collect the water, and each person takes their own water home with them.
And for this woman, the well is a source of separation from her community.
Yet the water Jesus offers joins her back to her community.
With the water Jesus gives, the outsider of the outsiders is accepted and respected.

Where the dialogue with Nicodemus ended with a commentary by John, explaining and theologizing about what Jesus had been saying, in this dialogue, the events that happen afterward explain it for us.

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.

She let the living water live, a spring of water gushing up. She shared the water.
By her new life she was able to show her people new life.
They would get to meet Jesus themselves. They would then say:
‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

‘How can these things be?’

We only hear about Nicodemus is John’s Gospel.

We meet him here, in which is the first real dialogue in John.
We meet him again in chapter 7, when he defends Jesus to his Pharisee brothers when they are discussing how to arrest Jesus, saying:
‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’
And we meet him a third time, after Jesus’ death.
Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

This coming by night must be significant, for John mentions this fact twice.

Many ideas have been bought forth as to why Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.
The first and most obvious one is that as he was a Pharisee,
Nicodemus did not want to be seen talking to this dangerous man.

But John uses ideas of dark and light throughout his Gospel.
Jesus will say in chapter 8:
‘I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Nicodemus come to Jesus in the night, the dark.
He is coming from the dark, to the light.
He is not in the light as he is not a follower of Jesus.

‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God;
for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 

Nicodemus recognises Jesus works are from God.
But he doesn’t recognise him as the Son of God, but rather
a teacher who has come from God

Jesus answer is not a thankyou.
Nicodemus starts with pleasantries. Jesus replies with a challenge.

‘Very truly, I tell you,
no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 
Poor Nicodemus.
He making his first tentative steps toward the light, and it seems he gets rebuffed.

Jesus’ first answer to Nicodemus is telling him he will remain in the dark unless he is born from above, or again.
This is the idea of regeneration.
Being born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus fumbles.
This is unlike anything he has ever heard. Jesus is speaking the impossible.

Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?
Nicodemus knows this cannot be what Jesus means.
Jesus does not really answer, yet goes even deeper.

no one can enter the kingdom of God
without being born of water and Spirit. 

Jesus first says
no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.

Now he says
no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, seeing is equated with believing, remember ‘Come and see’.

Now Jesus has changed it to enter.

Nicodemus may now be able to see the Kingdom, indeed it is right in front of him. From the darkness, into the light.

But he can’t enter into this way of being because he is not born of water and spirit.

What is born of the flesh is flesh,
and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 

Flesh is the weakness and mortality of man.
Spirit is the principle of divine power and life operating among and within us.

This contrast between flesh and spirit is that of normal child, and a child of God. It is man as he is  and man as Jesus can make him by giving him the Spirit.

Natural life is because God gave his spirit to men.
Eternal life begins when God gives his Holy Spirit to men.

To God giving his Holy Spirit to us,
there must be an acceptance in faith and a new way of life on our behalf.
The gift of the Spirit is primary,
for it is the Spirit of truth that enables us to know and believe in Jesus revelation.

To enter the Kingdom of God, to have eternal life,
one must be born of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus said to him,
‘How can these things be?’

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, not only that, he is a leader.
He knows his Scriptures.
His whole life has been about learning the scriptures, the law, the prophets,
reading deeply, praying on their meaning.
He believes that they are the word of God.
He recognises that Jesus
a teacher who has come from God;
for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God

Yet, in all his knowledge and experience, he cannot work out what Jesus is saying. None of this makes any sense.
There is nothing in whole entire knowledge of the scriptures that this relates to.
There is nothing in his normal existence that this relates to.

From the darkness, he cannot see.
From the darkness, he cannot enter.

Jesus recognises Nicodemus’ struggle.

‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

He cannot understand these things because he has no reference at all for them to fit into.

He can’t understand because he remains in the darkness, not yet able to see that Jesus is the Son of God. He is unable to enter because he is not born of the Spirit.

A step from darkness to light is not an easy thing.
It requires a realisation that all that has come before doesn’t matter.
It requires all that we think we have been and done doesn’t matter.
Being born from above, or again

In Nicodemus’ case, all his learning and status count for nothing.
If anything, they hinder him in being able to see Jesus for who he is.

Again, it all comes down to identity.
If we hold onto old ideas of who we are, or who we were,
we are unable to see who Jesus really is,
and more importantly, what he requires of us.

All of us are here because we have been born from above.
We are here because we have been born of water and the Holy Spirit.
We are in the light.

It is to those who are in the dark that all our focus needs to be with.
It is to those who cannot see the Kingdom that we need to be like Christ.
It is to those who feel they cannot enter the Kingdom that we need to walk alongside.
They will need to believe our earthly things before they can believe our heavenly things.
If we get stuck on earthly things, we will have missed the point.

We will meet many Nicodemus, those who think they know everything, and that what we proclaim makes no sense at all.

They will say to us, ‘How can these things be?’

And like John tells us this morning, we can tell them:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

If you are the Son of Man.

Lent is upon us.
Tradition has this reading as for the first Sunday of Lent.
It deals with temptation.
But on a more significant scale, it deals with identity and choice.
The two are intimately linked.

The event we hear about takes place directly after Jesus’ baptism, where
a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
 Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

What is the reasoning for this?

We can understand the idea of a need to go and pray, to spend some time in silence.
Moses too went into the wilderness for 40 days to pray and work out what he was going to do.
In Jesus’ case, God the Father has just told him now is the time.
All he needs now is to work out how to do it.

Enter the devil. Note how Matthew first calls him ‘the tempter.’
Listen to his words: “If you are the Son of Man.”

Jesus has had confirmation of who is he from God the Father.
He has now spent a long time in prayer and fasting.


The first thing the devil does is try to undermine Jesus’ identity.
He is trying to put the tiniest slither of doubt into his mind.
He is trying to make him feel a lack of something.
By doing so, he is trying to get Jesus to prove himself out of this feeling of doubt.
‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 
 Now, Jesus has been on his own in the wilderness for quite some time.
He has had no food, so he is quite rightly famished.
What is wrong with wanting to feed himself?
We know he is capable of doing such a thing, think of the feeding of the 5000 for example.
But he answered,
‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
Notice how Jesus doesn’t enter it to the conversation.
No argument, no quibbling, no explanation.
He quotes from scripture, from the book of Deuteronomy 8.

The passage Jesus is quoting deals with Israel’s wandering in the desert.
It explains that this was in order to humble them, to test them to know what was in their heart.
It explains that God let them hunger, feed them with manna:
in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:1-3) 
So Jesus’ reply is not some quick quip, it goes right into the heart of God’s dealings with his people, and God the Father’s dealing with him, the Son.

Jesus reply shows he gets his sense of being the Son from his obedience to the Father.
He will live by what the Father says, those words that were spoken at his baptism:
‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
But, nothing exposes us to temptation more dangerously than a successful rebuff of temptation.
The devil seizes upon Jesus’ words.

He takes Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple the centre of all religious life, the centre of the world for the Jewish people. It all happens there.

So, you say you will live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Well, listen to these words of God. As Jesus used scripture, so too does the devil.
He quotes from Psalm 91.
‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down;
for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
   and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus refuses. He answers with scripture, again from Deuteronomy.
‘Again it is written,
“Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
The passage Jesus quotes in full is
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
The events at Massah to which this refers to are found in Exodus 17. This is where the people are arguing and in need of water. They question Moses’ decision to take them into the desert, Moses asks God, and God provides.

So Jesus answer speaks of a time when God was tested, and he did indeed answer.
But the commandment that came after is that no one is to do this again.
Jesus knows he would be fine if he did indeed throw himself from the temple, but again he is showing his obedience to the Father.

The last temptation is the most insidious, and reveals what the devil is really trying to do.

He takes Jesus up to a high mountain, and show him all the kingdoms of the world.
He has given up on scripture by this point.
Now he goes straight to the ego.
 ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 
This reveals the reason for all the temptations.
They have all been about attempting Jesus to go off from the path he is on.
They are all about how he  might achieve his mission easier, by miracles, flashy events, and in this case changing allegiance.

Jesus said to him,
‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’ 
Jesus quotes again from Deuteronomy.

So what is the devil really up to? What is the point for Jesus to go through these?

He presents Jesus with a series of options, all of which are reasonable, or would help Jesus on his mission.
But all of them are not right.
All of them seek to take Jesus away from purity in obedience to his Father,
to a mixed mess of alliegences.

We can think that when Jesus went into the desert, he knew what his mission would be, but probably did not know how he would achieve it.
By the temptations, Jesus now knows how he will not achieve it.

This seems to be the role of the devil. Choices.

He present us with options, usually none that bad. They are normally just lesser.
They are ones that take us off our path. Most significantly though, they are ones which ask us to be less than ourselves. They ask us to be someone we are not. A lesser version of ourselves.

This is how temptation works.
We are tempted to become lesser versions of ourselves.
We are tempted into not being our true selves.

And this is where the devil is at his finest. He doesn’t need to do that much, he just needs to let us think that our true self is not what we are, or our true self is not what God really wants of us.

In Jesus’ case, the devil offers things that would stop Jesus from being who he really needed to be, and yet these same options provide Jesus with what he will be, without succumbing to them the way the devil suggests.

Instead of changing stones into bread, Jesus becomes the bread by which men can live, because it is the same as the word which comes out of God’s mouth.

Instead of throwing himself off the temple, he becomes the temple, a temple which refuses to be cast down in the resurrection.

And in his death on the cross, he becomes the king of all the kingdoms of the world.

In these events, Jesus showed himself to be the Son of God, in humility and exaltation.
He will achieve his mission through his obedience to God’s will.
That is his true self.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sermon for The Transfiguration

Cornelius Monsma

he was transfigured before them, 
and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

It is rather difficult to know where to begin with the Transfiguration of Jesus.
It is such an odd event.
It doesn’t seem to have any reason or meaning.

And unlike the past few weeks where we have heard Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law, the Transfiguration doesn’t really give us any advice on how we are to be.

It is with other incidences in the Old and New Testament that we can understand why the Transfiguration is an important event in the life of Jesus, and ours as his followers.

The first connection is with Moses at Mt Sinai.

The six days reference also connects the Transfiguration with Moses at Mt Sinai:

The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud

On the seventh day Jesus, like Moses, ascends the mountain and enters the awesome presence of God.

In this way, the Transfiguration can be seen as a parallel to that of Moses on Mt Sinai and the giving of the Law.

Matthew states that Jesus’ clothes became “white as light”.

Matthew understands light as a symbol of God’s presence,
He describes the cloud that will descend soon after as “bright.”
He is making clear the connection between the radiance of Jesus and the divine.
The luminosity of Jesus and the cloud both come from the same divine sphere.

Matthew states that  Jesus’ face “shone like the sun.”
It is also a reference to Moses at Mt Sinai:

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.  

In many ways, this can be seen as an archetype of the Transfiguration.

There are however, significant differences.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus is momentarily revealed with more than an earthly brightness.
It is He that shines, the dazzling light emanates from Him.

The shining of Moses’ face is a “borrowed glory.”
His face shines because he has been talking with God, it is reflected on to him.

The light that was reflected on to Moses,
is the same light that emanates from Jesus, the Son of God.

By emphasising that the light was emanating from Jesus, and comparing  Moses’ shine being caused by a reflection from God shows that Jesus is not just “one of the prophets” but is more.

Another place of comparison is with Jesus’ baptism.

‘This is my Son, the Beloved;
with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 

This is the same voice as at Jesus Baptism. It is the voice of God the Father. But there is a difference. ‘Listen to him.’

At His Baptism, Jesus accepted the Father’s commission to be the Messiah, and the voice there had come to Him to confirm the course he had chosen.

The voice at the Transfiguration is speaking to the disciples to confirm what Jesus has said.

But what are they to listen to?

We need to go back, 6 days before.

Jesus has asked the disciples who the people in general say that he is.
Apparently the people think he is John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah.

Jesus then puts the question directly to the disciples,
to which Peter answers
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. 

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples, for the first time, what the he must endure:

“great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” 

The voice of God the Father at the Transfiguration says: they are to hear this and understand that this is the will of God the Father.

They are also to listen to what Jesus says about being one of His followers:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 

If the Baptism was where Jesus was confirmed in the course he had taken,
the Transfiguration functions in a similar way for the disciples.

Jesus is confirmed to them as the Messiah, the Son of God,
and as Jesus was to listen to the Father, they are to listen to Jesus.

Because if we look where the Transfiguration occurs within gospels, it acts as a centre piece.
From this point onwards, Jesus face is fixed toward Jerusalem.
It all leads to the cross now.

This is a last moment of glory before the events of what we call Holy Week, and it has a special resonance with one event in particular, the Agony at Gethsemane.

In both events, we hear that Jesus took three of his disciples, his inner circle, Peter, James and John.

The Transfiguration is the mirror opposite to the agony in Gethsemane.
One is a place of suffering and struggle, the other glory and light.
One is characterised by darkness and violence, the other full radiance and calm.
One is the lowest point of the Gospel narratives, the other, the highest.

In the Transfiguration, Jesus will be revealed to be fully divine;
in Gethsemane, He reveals his full humanity.

Both show Jesus’ identity as the Son of God
“in his radiance and obedience, his exaltation and humiliation, his glory and suffering.”

So, as we head into Lent, as we begin our journey to Holy Week, let us bask in the uncreated light of the transfigured Jesus. Let us heed the call of God the Father: Listen to him.

May we deny ourselves and take up our own crosses and follow him.