Tag Archives: lent

Seeing in a new light.

Jesus’ Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-43) is a strange story, even when compared with the miracles and unexpected events of the gospel. What does it mean? What difference does it make?

It does highlight the need to read each part of the gospel in context. Not only does this come in the middle of the gospel, It is in a chapter full of change.

The 12 have been sent out 2 by 2 on mission. Coming back, the crowd interrupted their “time off” with Jesus, and he fed 5,000. Then Jesus asks about what people are saying about him, and Peter recognises the Messiah, the promised King sent by God – but immediately Jesus talks, not of majesty, but of suffering and death.

Then comes this mountaintop experience, perhaps throwing a new light on what is happening. Jesus shows the glory of heaven. Moses, representing the Old Testament leaders, and the Law, is present as a witness, and so is Elijah, not just representing the prophets of the Old Testament, but also the forerunner promised in Malachi 4:5-6. They talk of Jesus “departure” – the Greek word is “Exodus” – which he will “bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem”.

Perhaps you see what is happening. Jesus is taking his mission in an unexpected direction. He will deliberately avoid a revolution to try and make him King, and instead offer himself as a sacrifice. Will the disciples understand? – Will we?

Peter is still thrilled by the experience, and he wants to stay. The heavenly voice has a different priority – “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

The journey of faith will test their loyalty. Jesus will go in directions they did not expect – and did not want. But they continued to learn to listen, trust, and follow.

That’s all very well in the first century. We might think we know better, and set off into Lent with the same routines – choosing something to “give up”. But what we need to do, especially at a time of change, is to consider the cost of Jesus’ rescue, and to “spring clean” our spiritual habits to make sure they fit the needs of faith now.

Yes, society is changing, the Church is changing; perhaps it is a time of uncertainty or transition for you, too. So we all need a new vision of Jesus, which give us confidence and the motivation.

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  – because that is specially important when things are developing rapidly, and may not be as they seem.

At the bottom of the hill, they have to face a failure to heal. The disciples need of Jesus is again clear. They are learning to reflect God’s glory, to work with the Holy Spirit and follow God’s chosen way. But they have not finished learning, and neither have we. So keep close to the Saviour, and keep listening!

Faith – in a different light.

Some of the stories in the New Testament are important as they explain a sequence of events, others have a particular point to make.  And then there are some which are clearly important, but mainly because they make us see things in a new way.  You might say the impact is emotional rather than logical – as long as that is a way of explaining their impact, not diminishing their importance.

This week’s gospel, preparing for Lent, is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9).  Three disciples see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.  Jesus dazzles them, and then a heavenly voice emphasises his importance.

We can imagine the importance of this in increasing their motivation as disciples.  It may even have helped them as Jesus took the unexpected path of voluntary suffering – victory through (not avoiding) the Cross.   It may not have told them anything they had not been told, or heard, before.  But it sorted out their resolution, their emotional attachment to this way and this teaching.

This may be what we need.  Peter’s confusion, wanting to prolong an experience rather than move on taking it to illuminate the next challenge, is what so many of us do.  We would like God to give us great experiences, but are less enthusiastic about experiences which prepare us for service.  That is surely why we read this just before Lent.  Lent is not about giving up sugar in hot drinks, or other negatives, so much as thinking again of the cost and importance of discipleship.  What is it that gets in the way of our being more Christian, more full of joy and love, more ready to serve?  Probably a whole confusion of things which need clearing.  It may even be wanting a certain sort of religious experience.

Three disciples saw Jesus in a new light, literally.  We imagine it helped them resolve more firmly, even more effectively, to listen, follow, and do what they were told.  If our worship this Sunday helps us see Jesus, and be re-motivated, it will have succeeded.

Judas – Entrepreneur’s disease? (Lent 5c)

As Lent moves to think of Jesus’ death, we read John 12:1-8.  Jesus is having dinner with friends, and Mary anoints his feet in an expensive gesture.  Judas complains about the cost and “waste” of valuable perfume, though we are warned that as treasurer for the disciples, he was inclined to help himself, and his motives may be mixed.

I think I might have found Mary’s actions difficult, too.  It is a bit “over the top”, too much, too personal, embarrassing.  Of course, we can take the anointing as symbolic and prophetic of the cross to come.  Then Mary anticipates laying out the body with respect and love.  That is probably why we read this passage on Passion Sunday, looking at the Passion to come.  But that isn’t the point.  Mary is expressing love, thanks, – something perhaps too deep for words, and certainly beyond the evaluation of the group accountant.  For Mary, Jesus has done something deeply significant, of lasting importance.  She is different, she has found something beyond price, and she must express something of that.

Judas either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to.  He is a disciple, has had time to watch and hear Jesus, as well as talk to him in private and in small groups.  But somehow, his loyalty is limited to – to what?  To what he can understand, or perhaps even to what he can control?  His attachment to Jesus is conditional, and the conditions are about to fail as Jesus takes his own way to save the world.  I have some sympathy for Judas; I think I have often believed with an unstated condition, “I’ll follow, if . . “.  I wonder if the culture of our time, pricing everything, and always looking for “efficiency savings”, brings the same dangers Judas faced.  Would we now see him as an entrepreneur who withdrew his investment as he lost confidence in the management? – because that would not only be a mistake, but question the “business model”.  The problem is Judas relationship to Jesus.  It just isn’t up to Mary’s standard.

Passiontide, Jesus’ passion: they take us beyond calculation, beyond strategy and financial analysis.  If we are going to follow Jesus, a lifeplan will not be enough for long.  We have to share his concerns, his motivation, his love.

I’m afraid I would have found Mary a difficult person to get on with.  I am more “moderate”, planned, – in other words, calculating.  But there is a side of me which can get emotionally involved, and I must remember the importance of involving that with my faith.

Mothering Sunday – a Christian festival?

I have a mixed relationship with “Mothering Sunday”. Yes, celebrating mothering, or perhaps positive parenting and families, is good; the encouragement to affirm and say thank you is helpful. So what’s wrong? The danger of ignoring those for whom families have not worked, and indeed caused pain or damage: the broken and divided families, memories of control, abuse, violence, argument; those who longed to be parents, but could not, or whose experience of parenthood was hard.

So let’s have some reality. Yes, for most of us families have been good, not always giving us what we thought we wanted, but often providing what we needed. I think Jesus would recognise that. He had two good parents in Mary and Joseph, and we read (Mark 6:3) of four brothers and more than one sister. As the eldest (Mary’s “firstborn” Luke 2:7) we guess that he stayed at home long enough to leave Mary with his brothers running the business to support them all (Joseph does not appear again after the incidents of Luke 2:42-52 when Jesus was about 12). But during his ministry, Jesus breaks free from family control (Mark 3:32-34, as Lk 8:20ff and Mt 12:46ff) – and there are words which must have been hard for Mary! Later she is cared for at the cross (John 19:26-7), and becomes part of the early Christian community (Acts 1:14).
There is a choice of gospel readings today. We can take Jesus’ words from the cross, instructing John to care for Mary (John 19:26-7), or Simeon’s words to Mary and Joseph when they brought the baby Jesus to the Temple – words that amazed them, and left Mary with much to think about (Luke 2:33-35).

Perhaps my favourite, though, would be the parable of the Prodigal Son – or should we call it the Loving Father (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story in three acts. First the younger son takes his money (no doubt causing much pain) and goes. Not a great deal is made of his route to the decision to return – no doubt there are many factors – but he makes the decision and the journey we might call repentance.

The second act belongs to the Father. Love is on the lookout, and offers not only a warm welcome, but also a shield through the village from hostile comment and action. As a picture of a generous God, it can be a little difficult to hold in focus. (Can God really be like that? Even if Jesus says so?)

The third act is more familiar. The resentment and self-righteousness of the elder brother sounds familiar. He is ready to think the worst, and offers no forgiveness – a challenge, not only to the proud of Jesus’ day, but to all of us. If we have avoided scandalous wrongdoing, and offered a measure of service, isn’t there strong temptation to want to claim our reward, and to denounce the cheats who enjoy the Father’s love? The question we don’t want asked is, “Who is cheating the gospel?”

Suffering and Repentance (Lent 3c)

Is it reassuring or sad to know that Jesus was asked about disasters and human suffering? This week’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9, and for once I could not get to Bible Study and have to think for myself) begins with a denial that the people who suffer deserve it.

It is strange how often people having a bad time ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” – and Christians can answer “It may be nothing you have done, just the fact that we live in a damaged world”. And even for those who are responsible, there is hope in repentance.

Repentance is an often misunderstood “religious” word. It is not about producing a big enough feeling of sorrow or remorse. And it is certainly not about adding to our feelings of guilt. Isaiah 55 (the Old Testament reading) tells us of a generous God, who welcomes and provides for less-than-perfect people. We are invited to enjoy God’s goodness and love – and repentance is a response to that.

As we find out what God is like, and what it is like to be forgiven and sorted out, we “turn away from” what is evil – and the “turning away” is repentance. It is not just “attitude” or “opinion”, but behaviour, priorities and motivation.

In verse 5, Jesus is not threatening, but rather giving a warning of danger. (Those living in Jerusalem would suffer terribly in the siege and destruction of 70 AD – the Christians remembered Jesus words, and escaped in time). It still applies. Repentance is part of Christianity, both when we first come to faith, and as we go on learning more of God. Like fruit trees, Christians are expected to produce fruit, reflecting God’s generosity and care. If instead they live selfish and unproductive lives, we wonder if they have recognised the source of their life, the soil and water that make life possible. If not, the risks are great, and repentance more urgent.