Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
|Text: Matthew 17:5
While Jesus was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!”
Listen to him!
Every now and then TV programs seek an answer to the question, “Is there life out there in space?”
Back in 2000 in a program called Universe it was stated that with the knowledge that scientists had available they hoped to be able to prove beyond any doubt by 2010 that there is life in space. Well, 2010 has come and gone and I don’t think we are much wiser about extra-terrestrial life.
But suppose for a minute that scientists did find that there is life out there in the universe.
How will that change our understanding of God as the creator of all things?
How will that change our view of God’s relationship with this world and us his special and unique people?
The first thing to note is that even though we continue to learn and discover new things about our world and the universe, none of this changes what we already know and believe about our unchangeable God and his love for you and me.
In fact, the more that we learn the more we realise we are only infants who have almost learned to crawl when it comes to understanding our world and the universe. The more that is discovered, the more questions are opened up and the more we realise that our universe is something that completely blows our mind.
The second thing that becomes clear is that you can’t find God looking through a microscope or a telescope. Neither can we find God on the golf course and in the most magnificent place on this earth – a place with a gentle waterfall, mossy banks, over-arching ferns and trees and the sound of the birds in the distance. It might be a place oozing with coolness, peace and serenity – a sharp contrast to traffic snarls, bickering children, blaring TV and our crazy pace of life. As godlike or as heavenly as we might think this place is, we can’t find God in the beauty of nature or the amazing discoveries of science.
The truth is this – unless we know God as he is revealed in the Bible, unless we know of his wonderful love and his creative power, and his determination to save all that is beautiful and wonderful in this world through the Word, we will not realise that there is an all-powerful, ever-loving, always-present, always-embracing creating and saving God behind all that is beautiful in this world. More than that, that he is even there in all that is ugly and horrible in our world. It is only when know God from the pages of the Bible that we can give him praise in all circumstances.
The third thing we realise is that we can scour the universe, have great knowledge and understanding, and still not know God. There is a lot more to our world and universe that what we can see, smell, hear and touch. In the end we have to admit that knowledge can take us so far until we come up against something so big we cannot fathom. It’s the point where reasoning stops, we say “wow” and faith takes over. We know from the Bible this “big thing” is God – the powerful, timeless, creative, intelligent, so big that nothing can contain him, and yet, so caring, personal, compassionate, and never-ending loving God.
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. What has all this got to do with Jesus’ transfiguration? We are told how Jesus’ appearance changed and his clothes became dazzling white and how he chatted with Moses and Elijah. Then there was the voice that spoke from a cloud, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!”
Let’s look at it this way. We all need oxygen. With every breath of air, we take in the oxygen that our bodies need. Oxygen is also present in water, but we can’t use the oxygen in the water. It’s not available to us.
Like the oxygen in the water, God is there in nature, in science, but he’s not available to us there. If you want to know God don’t stare at a waterfall or a tree or a sunset. If you want to know God don’t look in amazement at a newborn baby, or look through a microscope or gaze into space through a telescope. As you look at all that is beautiful in our world, I can point you to just as much that is cruel, ugly, distorted and dangerous that will make you question whether there is a God.
If you want to really know God, gaze at the Word made flesh. God has made himself known to us in his Son. It is through his Son that God shows himself to us. In this man, Jesus, is the God of the universe, whom science cannot find but who is present here on earth as a human being and suffered everything we humans suffer. It is through God’s Son that we see what God is really like. We see the heart of God – his love, his compassion, his grace and forgiveness.
We hear the voice of God the Father coming from a cloud. The voice says, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!” Jesus is God’s own Son. He is more than a man; he is God himself. He is “The Beloved”, a messianic title; he is the one who has been longed for over many centuries and whom Moses and Elijah had just honoured. This is the Messiah. He is God here on this earth. This is as close as anyone can get to God in a physical sense. This is the divine standing right in front of the disciples and the voice from heaven commands, “Listen to him”.
It’s no wonder the disciples were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. They were so unholy; he was so holy.
We aren’t in the fortunate position of the disciples on the mount of transfiguration, where we can see the holiness of Jesus face to face in real life, but we can listen to him. During these past weeks we have come face to face with the divine as we have listened to Jesus speak to us through his the Sermon on the Mount. Right near the beginning, he says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” and then proceeds to explain how this works in the everyday life of a follower of Christ.
Whether it’s seeking reconciliation instead of revenge,
loving your enemies,
praying for those who hate you,
giving to the needy without expecting a reward,
avoiding judging others,
making friends with those you don’t like,
he makes it quite plain that the values and principles of a Christian are very different to those of the rest of the world.
As followers of Christ we stand out and make a difference in our families or the community in which we live and to the world around us. It’s not a matter of going along with flow but it means letting the light of Christ shine through us and letting his love and mercy and peace rule the day.
It means holding back on the harsh words and letting love rule.
It means not getting back but seeking reconciliation.
It means praying for those who are giving you a hard time and avoiding bad mouthing those you don’t agree with;
forgiving those who hurt you;
and loving those who hate you.
“Listen to him”, the voice of the Father said from the cloud. This is God revealing his will for us. This is God speaking to us and showing us how to live the way he created us to be before sin messed things up. This is the way he recreated us to be when he called us into his family. Jesus said, “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” or as another version puts it “Live out your God–created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (The Message) (Matt 5:48).
“But I can’t do this!” you might object. “I try but I mess things up all the time. I want to love those who don’t like me, but it’s so hard”.
“Listen to him”, the voice of the Father said from the cloud. Jesus is about to walk the road to Jerusalem for the last time. This is the road of suffering and death; the road of sin and shame; the road of tears and cries of grief and pain. The one who is called “The Beloved” is God who came to bring forgiveness to us
for our failure to live the new life;
for our failure to let the light of Christ shine through us;
for those moments when we aren’t any different to the world and our need for revenge, and pride, and speaking unkindly get the better of us.
“Listen to him” when he says,
“Your sins are forgiven”;
“you are my child, I will never give up on you”;
“when you are in the deepest despair, I am right there beside you”;
“when you think no-one else cares for you, you are my precious child”;
“when you are afraid and need to walk down dark paths, I will walk with you”.
“Listen to him”, the voice says. Listen to his words that he speaks to you directly and personally through the pages of the scriptures and through mouths of others.
We live in a marvellous world and an amazing universe but even greater than all the mysteries and wonders of creation is the one who made it all. God is all powerful and far beyond anything we can imagine in all our wildest dreams and yet he is a God who has come amongst us and has spoken to us. He has revealed himself to us through his beloved Son and shown to us how we can be his beloved children shining in our world.
After the voice had spoken the disciples looked around and saw no one except Jesus. When we listen to him we too will see no one but Jesus.
We will see his hand at work in creation.
We will see his hands with nails driven through them for us;
we will see hands raised in blessing over us;
we will see him in the joys and tears of life,
in fact, we will see him everywhere, for he fills the entire universe.
It is then that we will see him in the microscope and telescope, in the beauty of a flower and in an amazing sunset.
Pastor Vince Gerhardy