Our broadband was down the day I was preparing this, so I wasn't able to save a copy in the "as written" format; this is the formatting I use when I'm actually preaching, as it's easier to read ahead and not sound as if I'm reading it!
Old Testament: Exodus 34:29-35
Gospel: Luke 9:28-43
I wonder how many of you are going to be hooked on the Winter Olympics,
which started in Canada yesterday?
I know we’ll be watching a lot, especially the ice-skating,
and even more especially the ice dancing, which is our sport.
The athletes are going out for their moment of glory.
I know what it is like –
not the Olympics, of course, but lesser competitions.
You spend hours and hours choreographing your routine –
Robert and I have been doing that just this morning –
and practising it.
You focus on the tiniest of movements –
an arm here, a leg there –
to make it look exactly right.
On the day, you spend a long time getting dressed
and putting make-up on,
and everything to make sure that when you are out there on the ice you look fantastic
and you skate your best.
It is your moment of glory,
the reward of all the months of training,
day in, day out,
that you’ve put into it.
But while you are training,
there are great long periods of time when nothing much seems to happen,
when the routine feels as though it’s an end in itself rather than a means to an end.
There are long months when the competitions feel a long way away
and you are plodging on, seeming to make no progress whatsoever.
And then suddenly someone says how much you’ve improved,
or you suddenly realise how much more you can do than when you were preparing for this competition last year,
and it all feels worth while again.
But isn’t it the same with our Christian lives, too?
We plod on, dutifully using what John Wesley called “The means of grace”,
that is, the Sacrament,
prayer and so on,
and yet nothing seems to happen.
Sometimes it feels as though our relationship with God is all down to us, not to God,
and doubts set in.
But then, just sometimes, God breaks in and we get a glimpse of his glory.
I know that has happened to me, and I hope it has happened to you.
In our readings today, various people get glimpses of God’s glory.
Firstly, Moses and the Israelites.
Moses is spending time in the mountains with God.
This passage is set shortly after that infamous episode with the golden calf,
and I think the authors are trying to emphasize that it is God, Yahweh, who is in charge,
not Moses, not a golden calf, nor anybody else.
So Moses’ face shines when he has been in God’s presence, as he is speaking with God’s authority.
The Israelites caught a glimpse of God’s glory.
And we are told that Moses did, too;
he was allowed to see just the tiniest shadow of the back of God –
as though God had a human form, but then, he was told,
he couldn’t see the face of God as he wouldn’t live through the experience.
Nobody can, nobody except Jesus.
We can only come to God through Jesus;
more of that in a minute.
The Israelites could only see God’s glory reflected in Moses’ face, and it scared them.
Moses, who hadn’t at all realised anything was different,
had to put a veil over his face while he was among them, so as not to scare them.
The New Testament reading set for today, which we didn’t read,
points out that Moses was able to take the veil off, eventually, because the glory faded.
Moses was back among the people, involved in the every-day tasks of running the Exodus,
and gradually the glimpse of glory that he had had,
and that he had passed on to the Israelites,
Okay, fast-forward several hundred years to the time of Christ.
This time, it is Jesus who is going up the mountain and he asks his friends James, Peter and John to go with him.
I don't know whether Jesus knew what was going to happen,
only that it was going to be something rather different and special,
and he wanted some moral support!
And so the four friends go up the mountain -
and suddenly things get rather confused for a time,
and when it stops being confused,
there is Jesus in shining white robes talking to Moses and Elijah.
Peter, of course, babbles on about building shelters,
but more to reassure himself that he exists, I think, than for any other reason.
And then the voice from heaven saying "This is my Son, listen to Him".
In other words, Jesus is more important than either Moses or Elijah, who were the two main people, apart from God, in the Jewish faith.
To good Jews, as James, Peter and John were, this must have almost felt like blasphemy.
No wonder Jesus told them to keep their big mouths shut until the time was right,
or he'd have been stoned for a blasphemer forthwith.
Peter, for one, remembered this momentous day until the end of his life.
Years and years later, he -
or someone writing in his name -
was to write:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honour and glory from God the Father
when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, `This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven,
while we were with him on the holy mountain."
For Peter, James and John, it was to be proof that Jesus is the Messiah, and through all the turbulent times that followed they must have held on to the memory of that tremendous day, when they saw a glimpse of God’s glory in Jesus.
But they, too, had to come down from the mountainside and carry on,
and immediately they are confronted with a crisis:
a child who has been brought to the disciples for healing, but nothing has happened.
In this version of the story, Jesus sounds almost cross –
well, you can’t blame him, can you?
He was probably tired after being on the mountain,
and rather wanting a quiet supper and his bed,
and now the disciples were all talking at once, explaining how they’d tried to cast out this demon,
and the boy’s father is adding to the confusion, and yadda, yadda, yadda…..
Basically, back to normal!
We know from other accounts of this story that afterwards Jesus tells the disciples that they can only cast out that sort of demon with prayer and possibly fasting.
So it seems that glimpses of God’s glory are very rare, and the normal gritty, hum-drum, everyday life is the norm.
And that’s as it should be.
You can’t live on a mountain-top all the time, you’d get altitude sickness!
If you were on holiday all the time, you wouldn’t appreciate the rest and relaxation that being on holiday brings.
It’s not much fun waking up and knowing you have no work to go to and, when you get up, the big excitement of the day will be deciding what to have for supper!
We are never quite sure where God is in all of this.
But God is there.
Those very special glimpses of his glory, such as Moses saw,
such as Peter, James and John saw, are just that:
special. They happen maybe once or twice in a lifetime, if that.
But God is there, acting, working in our lives, even if we don’t always recognise Him.
Like the story my father tells of the time there was a big flood, and people had to climb up on to the roofs of their houses to escape.
One guy thought this was a remarkable opportunity to demonstrate, so he thought, God’s power, so he prayed “Dear Lord, please come and save me.”
Just then, someone came past in a rowing-boat and said “Climb in, we’ll take you to safety!”
“Oh, no thank you,” said our friend, “I’ve prayed for God to save me, so I’ll just wait for Him to do so.”
And he carried on praying, “Dear Lord, please save me!”
Then along came the police in a motor-launch, and called for him to jump in, but he sent them away, too, and continued to pray “Dear Lord, please save me!”
Finally, a Coastguard helicopter came and sent down someone on a rope to him, but he
claiming that he was relying on God to save him.
And half an hour later, he was swept away and drowned.
So, because he was a Christian, as you can imagine, he ended up in Heaven,
and the first thing he did when he got there
was go to to the Throne of Grace, and say to God,
“What do you mean by letting me down like this?
I prayed and prayed for you to rescue me, and you didn’t!”
“My dear child,” said God, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter –
what more did you want?”
When we pray for someone to be healed, quite often we want to see God intervening spectacularly, like the disciples expected to see with the boy with a demon from today’s reading.
But most often what happens is that the person gets well slowly, with or without medical intervention.
After all, if you think of it, there’s a limit to what medicine can do.
My father had his hip replaced a few years ago, and I was amazed to learn that, when he came home from hospital a week later, he no longer needed a dressing on the wound.
It had healed up really fast.
“Aren’t surgeons amazing!” he said, and, indeed, they are.
But all they could do, no matter how experienced, was sew up the wound, and encourage it to heal –
they can’t actually make the flesh grow back together again.
That has to be left to natural processes –
or is it God?
I believe God is involved in healing, whether it is by direct, supernatural intervention,
or, more usually, through the normal processes of one’s immune system,
aided by medical or surgical intervention when necessary.
But those glimpses of glory that I started with –
when you realise that you are making progress in your chosen sport or hobby, or when you are out there competing –
I believe those times, too, are from God.
I think, then, that what I want to leave with you today is this:
as we go into Lent,
which is a time when we are apt to think about God, and our relationship with Him,
perhaps a little more deeply than at other times of the year,
let’s be on the lookout for touches of God in our everyday lives.
They don’t have to be spectacular, they probably won’t be.
But each of them is a little glimpse of glory. Amen.
Oberstdorf as Austria, 22 May
2 hours ago