Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sermon preached at a service of Baptism within Morning Prayer at the Church of St Gregory the Great, Rendlesham

Luke 9.28-36

Let’s begin with the date: 14th February - St Valentine’s Day.

All over the country today are people opening cards of varying degrees of tackiness…

“Roses are red, violets are blue;
the cabbage is green, and so are you - !”

Yes, it’s another consumerfest, but with its beginnings in something holy, like so many other festivals that have been corrupted.

Depending on which sources you read, there were two or three saints called Valentine, and they all died for love, but it wasn’t romantic love they died for, but love of Jesus Christ. Sainthood is usually hard-won, and Valentine, whichever Valentine, was no exception.

This is not the kind of result of living in faith any of us hope to have to suffer, and it certainly isn’t part of our hopes and prayers for our new young Christian, George.

But it is right to think about what difference living by faith makes in our lives.

Because living by faith in Jesus, as his disciples, SHOULD make a difference. If it doesn’t make a difference, and if it doesn’t pinch sometimes, then we have to ask if we’re doing it right.

Let’s think about this reading: this episode on the mountain when Peter, James and John were blessed by seeing Jesus in his glory, and Moses and Elijah with him.

We understand Moses to represent the Law, the Commandments brought down from that other mountain to the Children of Israel; and Elijah representing the prophets, who speak for God, and told of the coming Messiah, the Saviour.

We’re told the disciples were weighed down with sleep, but they stayed awake anyway, and were rewarded with this extraordinary sight, when Jesus’ appearance changed so dramatically, and the two giants of the Hebrew faith appeared.

In the OT reading for today (on the pew sheet) there is the telling of the time Moses came down from Mount Sinai, and because he had been talking with God, his face shone, and he had to wear a veil because the others couldn’t look at him, his face was shining so brightly. From that time, Moses had to cover his face in front of his own people, and only be uncovered before God.

He was, in some way, separated from the rest of the people.

We might think that doesn’t apply to us - people don’t have such a glow about them nowadays that they have to veil their faces, but that is a cause for concern.

Many of us might, without knowing it, be putting on a veil ourselves, to avoid coming into contact with the glory of God, because before him who can stand?

How many of us can honestly say we have moved from "glory to glory" over this past year? (I’m not sure I can.)

On Wednesday we move into the season of Lent. This Lenten season is an opportunity to "turn to the Lord" and practice spiritual disciplines that will "renew our minds" so that we can come to Easter with veils removed and renewed hope ahead.

Let’s notice how this vision came to the disciples: they weren’t being busy and scurrying around building the kingdom, they were just out with their friend Jesus, up the mountain, and not doing anything much. They were watching Jesus pray - just accompanying him in his meeting with God.

Just as with someone we love, words aren’t always necessary, our relationship with God grows in the space we make for him. Peter, John and James just waited for Jesus, and what a revelation of God they had in that slack moment. It gives a whole new meaning to the thought that where two or three are gathered, there is the Lord with us.

This thought can be translated into the life of the church: how might our churches be different if we learnt to accept the reality of God’s presence with us, as much at a rural church service, with a handful of a congregation, as at a service with many dozens or hundreds present?

We don’t have to fill Lent, or our lives, with hype, or forced emotion or activity. All we need to do is to give God and each other space.

We don't so much build the kingdom of God: we are the kingdom of God. Just as WE ARE the church. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Is that a tall order? Yes! It takes working at.

Let’s remember: nothing changed for Jesus in that mountaintop experience; the disciples just saw him for who he was for the first time. And to start with, it just changed what they thought he could and should do. They wanted him to act like they wanted the long-awaited Messiah to act, confront the Romans and the religious leaders and establish the reign of God.

As things turned out, Jesus simply lived the reality of God's kingdom. He didn't try to make anything happen or force or manipulate this outcome or that outcome. He simply was honestly and unashamedly himself, the obedient Son of the Father.

This is why we bring our children to be baptised in his name.

This is a happy day for George and his family. If we’re fortunate, God sends a lot of happy days into our life. The day that we meet Jesus is the happiest day of our life, - for George we pray that he will grow into a living faith of his own, and that will be his happiest day - but it isn't a stopping place -- it is a starting point for a journey that leads to eternal life in heaven with Him.

This is why, if anybody here is not already baptised or confirmed, it is something you might give serious thought to.

St Valentine died for love of Jesus, but then, Jesus died for love of you and me. Nobody loves us more than Jesus, and that is why saints like Valentine died for him, and why people like us aspire to live for him.

And God is there for us to lay our burdens before him, and our difficulties.

Thanks be to God.

Thanks to Textweek, and to comments from the Facebook group The Text This Week - thank you all.

ps. I invited everyone to write on a heart-shaped post-it the name of a person or an issue they find difficult to love, as Jesus teaches we should love our enemies, and if we take our discipleship seriously, then we need to work at loving our enemies. Then we gathered the paper hearts and stuck them on to a very large heart and laid it at the altar, asking God to help us love our enemies. Afterwards, removing the post-its, I noticed someone had written ‘The French’. For the minister to be doubled up laughing in front of the altar is probably a breach of church etiquette…

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