A sermon preached by Revd Maggie Hindley on Sunday 14th February 2016:
Where have you experienced the glory of God this week?
I know, because you have told me about it, that some of you have at times had experiences like that of Moses or like that of Peter, James and John, of being in the direct presence of the living God. I know that we all have known moments of God drawing close to us. We all know the sort of moments of transfiguration that today’s bible narratives tell us about; whether suddenly or gently and almost imperceptibly, God has entered all our lives. Hallelujah! Praise God for that.
We need to cherish the memory of our God-moments. Cherish them not because they make us better than other people, but because they give us a tiny window on life in eternity.
What does happen in today’s stories? Moses comes down the mountain with the tablets of the Law in his hands. He doesn’t know that his face is shining! How’s that? He has been concentrating so hard on God and what God is saying to him that he has no self-consciousness. Others , however, can see that he is changed, and are frightened, so he has to make things easier for them by covering his face.
Luke wants us to connect Jesus with Moses, the great liberator of the people in times past, and so as well as recording that Moses and Elijah (who was due to return just before the Messiah came) were present, he draw parallels with the story from Exodus – Jesus is on a mountain, his face shines, a commandment (‘listen to him’) comes from heaven. And, like the Israelites in Exodus, the disciples have only limited understanding and are bewildered. Peter is quite comical with his offer of building three sukkhas, or little tents.
Paul tells us that the overwhelming privilege of seeing God face to face is for everyone who loves Jesus. We are not to be afraid because we are free – Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And then that wonderful sentence we read together – We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory. If we gaze on God, we become like God. What a thought! What a truth!
How do we claim that truth for ourselves? How do we work it out in our own lives?
Sometimes God breaks into our lives unexpectedly and unasked for. We can’t anticipate that or plan for it. But we can say thank you and treasure it and rebuild our lives around it – and we can say to God Do it again! Like a child asking to be lifted up or spun around by a playful adult.
What we can do is pay attention to God. I think I’ve said this before! But it matters more than anything else, so I’ll say it again.
We can pay attention to God in prayer and bible study, in worshipping together like we are doing right now. Our lives should never get too busy; we should never allow ourselves to get too tired, to remember his glory and to praise him for it. We should open our bibles regularly, expecting to hear a message from God. We should examine our lives day by day and ask God to show us what he wants us to change. In quiet humble attention to the Word and the Spirit God’s glory will seep into our lives.
We can pay attention to God in the difficulties of our lives, always asking ourselves where the kindness of God is in this experience; what God is teaching us, what good thing God is bringing out of it. We should pay attention to God in the disappointments. We should pay attention to God in the difficult relationships.
We should pay attention to God in the world around us, expecting to hear a prophetic word from others, recognising the wisdom we need when it’s brought to us by another. We should pay attention to God in the faces and speech and actions of our friends; and in the faces and words and deeds off strangers. We need prayer to help us do this.
When God comes to us, it can be frightening. Frightening because in the face of his glory our imperfections accuse us. Frightening because it transforms us. Frightening because God is so different from our shallow, everyday selves.
In God’s presence, however, we come to understand that all is just as it should be; that we are all one; that there is no real separation between me and you; that life is not just beautiful, but radiant and full of peace.
The change that God brings about in us, whether bit by bit or dramatically, is that our lives no longer point to ourselves – me, me, me! – but to God. I think I said this last week. It’s still true!
We need to remember this over and over again because, although, as Paul says, we are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, that no way exempts us from suffering and sin. Moses suffered for and with the people; Jesus is criticised and undermined and destroyed; so are Peter and James and John, eventually. Moses is an imperfect leader and the disciples are going, before the end of the story, to deny Jesus and to run away. And the moment we start admiring the ever increasing glory in our lives we take our eyes off Jesus and let pride and self sufficiency take over.
We have seven weeks between now and Easter. Can we use them to make more room for the glory of God in our lives? More time to sit with God, give thanks, open our lives up to him? More effort to change a habit or a relationship that is undermining us? A fresh attempt to open up to the new thing God is doing in our world? Can we experience Lent as an invitation rather than a nag?
Take the glory that is presented to us in today’s scriptures. And let it work its way into your life, your way of thinking, your habits and relationships. Let your face shine with it – and keep pointing always and only to God, the source of all glory.