Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Lent begins this week (Ash Wednesday, 17 February). Lent is a season in the church year when we stop and take stock. A penitential season in preparation for Holy Week. During Lent, through the renewal of the ‘Holy Habits’ or basic Christian disciplines of fasting, prayer, scriptural meditation and sacrificial giving, we make our return to Christ and the ‘first principles’ of the Christian life.
There is a sense in which (for me anyway) the past ‘Year of Pandemic’ has been something of a lenten year. A year in which, by God and by circumstance, I have been forced to stop and take a long hard look at myself. To make some life adjustments and to return to first principles.
One of things I have done over the few months is to seriously reduce the time I spend online and to curtail my social media activity. Which for me had become more anti-social than social, and more of a passive consumption of information and misinformation. I had allowed myself to become subject to a cacophony of competing and conflicting voices. So I stopped.
Right now I try to watch just one TV news show a day. I read a hard copy of a newspaper on the weekend. And I use facebook only for work purposes, having deleted all my other social media accounts. Its a lenten impulse. And I feel so much better for having done it.
For Peter, James and John, the Transfiguration was one such ‘returning to first principles’ episodes. I understand the Transfiguration as one of those ‘on earth as in heaven’ events, where the veil separating the heavenly from the temporal dimensions is so thin as to be almost non-existent. Jesus is revealed in his glorious heavenly form. Two of the greatest figures in the God Story make an appearance. Moses and Elijah, representing as they do the ‘voices’ of the Law and the Prophets.
Peter, James and John are terrified. They do not know what to do or what to say. Yet the most transformative moment came when the voice of God came from the overshadowing cloud saying, “This is my son, the one whom I love, listen to him!”
Listen to Him.
One the people who has most influenced my approach to Christian ministry is someone called Carl Medearis. You may not have heard of him. He’s not that well known in the UK. Over the last 20 years or so Carl Medearis has been one of the most influential figures in Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East.
I once heard Carl Medearis say that that there was a time, I think early on in his time in Beirut, where all his missionary training, strategic thinking and good ideas – none of it – was working that well. So what he did was go back to first principles. And for a season – I think it might have been as long as two years – all he read of the Bible was the Gospels. Matthew. Mark. Luke. John. Over and over again. Until he understood what it was that Jesus was really about. Not what he had been taught. Nor what he had assumed. What it was that Jesus actually said, and how He want us to implement it?
I have decided to to do the same. To zone out all the competing voices and to listen to Jesus. To get back to first principles.
May I invite you to join me in returning to first principles this lententide. You may like to read through the Gospels in turn or to focus on one particular Gospel more deeply. Listen to Jesus this Lent, because ultimately His voice is the One we need to listen to first. All the politicians (left, right, and centre), all the theologians (progressive, conservative and mainstream), all the world’s great thinkers and religious figures, all the lawmakers and all the prophets – all are subject to Him. For, in the words of St Paul:
God put [His] power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
We Will Be Like Him
In our readings this morning we are reminded of how we are called, as the children of God to become like Him.
A Golden Age
How often do you hear social commentators or journalists describe us as living in a golden age of one thing or another?