Saturday, 9 February 2013

From glory to glory

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 

Luke 9: 28-36 The Transfiguration
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to prayAnd while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 

What are the main ingredients of being Church?
What is the main driving force, the point of it all?
If we were to ask this question of each other, we might get many different answers.
The Westminster Catechism puts it like this:
Question: ‘What is the chief end of man?’
Answer: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’
That’s an even broader question than ‘what is the point of the church?’
The question in the Catechism applies to all people: what is the point of man?
And this is still a question being debated by non religious people, as well as religious, you might be pleased to know.
A recent debate at Cambridge University Union had Richard Dawkins and others on both sides of the belief divide discussing: ‘Does religion still have a place in 21st Century Britain?’
Despite the much touted 'new atheism', and Dawkins having not a good word to say for any religions at all, the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

If you had to answer the question ‘what is the point of the church?’ from today’s readings I wonder what you’d say…
It’s Transfiguration Sunday, a Sunday about GLORY.
That’s why we began with the Catechism: The chief end of man, it says, is to glorify God…
So our question today is how do we glorify God?
And can we even look upon that glory ourselves? Isn't it just too bright for normal human sight?
Because we can be sure that if we do come up against the glory of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, we will not remain unchanged.
That is why if we met a church goer who had remained unchanged over years and years of being in church, who had not grown closer to God or learned more about him or herself in the process, we might wonder if they really had beheld the glory of God…
Can you only glorify God when you are in church, saying prayers and singing hymns, or can your whole life bring glory to Him?

The word ‘glory’ in Greek is doxa, from where we get our word ‘doxology’, the ‘Glory to the Father’ refrain said after psalms are chanted or sung.
‘Glory’ in the OT was a big concept and the rabbis coined a special word to describe it: Shekinah.
The Shekinah of God was His holy presence in a residing located place.
When God dwelt amongst his people for a protracted period of time, it was said that his glory, his Shekinah, dwelt amongst his people.
His Shekinah inhabited the Temple; crucially when His presence left the Temple this coincided with Israel’s apostasy and their Exile.
It was said that when Moses came the Mountain after receiving the 10 commandments from God, his face shone with glory, the glory of having been in the presence of  a holy God.
The glory shining in his face was so bright he had to put a veil over his face when he talked with the people; otherwise they could not bear to look at him.
Paul, in our first reading, uses this idea of the veil as a metaphor for his contemporary Israelites not understanding that the Jesus of the New Covenant was indeed their awaited Messiah.
Paul claims that whenever they read their Law, and fail to see the Messiah, Jesus, the veil is still over their faces.
In contrast, we who have the Spirit of God have unveiled faces because we have beheld Jesus the Saviour.
Paul even claims we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (verse 18).

We have a high calling to live up to then: are we reflecting God’s glory with unveiled faces?
Is it our chief end to glorify God?
How are our lives, our priorities, set up to bring glory to God?
What things could we be putting in the way, things that act effectively like veils today?
Busy-ness, apathy, material comfort, distance from God, pride: perhaps all these and more can act like veils today.
Lent is a good time to consider what is veiling our walk with God.
We have a chance to focus on what we do as church in our Lent Course ‘Lost for Words’, starting on 20th Feb.
Do come along.
It’s sometimes said of those who walk very closely with Christ that you can see something of God in their faces…
I wonder if you can think of anyone…
It’ll be someone who has walked daily with God; someone whose expression is peaceful but perhaps who’s suffered and come through; someone whose obedience and joy have been so much a part of their lives that their very face reflects God’s glory.

Our gospel reading is about Christ revealed in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
He has taken his closest three friends along, and it says he took them up the mountain to pray.
Can you imagine going up a mountain to be present whilst Jesus prayed?
While he was praying the appearance of his face changed and suddenly his clothes became dazzling white.
Now strange things can happen on the top of a mountain.
There are clouds swirling around up there; the weather might be more violent; the atmosphere might be a bit rarefied; you might be worn out from the climb…
The mountain top is also a metaphor for a spiritual experience.
We say ‘I had a mountain top experience.’
We are usually elated during a mountain top experience; everything seems real and exhilarating.
At the top of the Mount of Transfiguration It was as if Jesus was revealed for a few moments in all his divinity.
Yes, he was still the man they knew and talked with but now they saw ‘beyond the veil’ as it were…
There’s a scene from the Harry Potter movies where Harry sees his godfather die in a battle against the force of evil.
In the film the sequence is slowed; in slow motion you see a killing curse fall on Harry's godfather, Sirius; you see him fall forward and a curtain appears; he appears to fall through it and onto the other side, wherever that is...
Jesus is suddenly seen as if he has gone beyond the veil and is in another dimension...
On one side of him stands Moses, law giver: on the other Elijah, representing all the prophets.
The Law and the Prophets…
What are they doing there with Jesus?
They’re speaking of his departure – his death, which, the text says ‘He was about to accomplish…’
Jesus had been speaking about his death and resurrection just before the account in Luke begins: he’s trying to get through to his disciples, but, understandably they are not able yet to equate his coming death with salvation glory.
It’s as though the glory they see before them on the mountain top is too much for Peter, James and John: they feel immensely sleepy; but manage just about to keep awake....thankfully: otherwise we wouldn't know about this episode at all!
So here’s Jesus in all his glory…and the disciples are bamboozled by it…
Peter gabbles some nonsense about putting up shelters.
But you cannot box this experience in the hope of loving off it for ever.

What is the point of the church?
To glorify God…
To do that we need to be exposed to Jesus too, on a daily basis.
Lent offers us a time to reflect on our lives and our spiritual well.
Has it run dry? Does it need stirring up?
What daily disciplines of prayer and bible reading do you have in place?
Are you able regularly to share your thoughts on Christian growth with others in the church?
Sharing is a Christian discipline too: ‘confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, that you may be healed.’
As approach Lent and think about Jesus' Transfiguration today, we pray that our faces may be unveiled to behold his glory, and that we may reflect this glory to the world in which we live and the community we serve.

1 comment:

  1. Can't you post these before Sunday?? Reading this ahead of trying to pull off all age worship based on this lectionary would have been rather more helpful than reading it afterwards!