Toorak Uniting Church

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"Higher presence"

Exodus 24: 12 – 18     Matthew 17: 1 – 9
Rev. Ian Brown
6 February 2005

I wonder how many of you have been on a holiday lately?
I have been too! It’s great to get away from the normal routines of life, wonderful to see some different sights, enjoy some of God’s wonderful creation and restore your perspective.
Isn’t it often the way that we often see the real and important issues of life more clearly at times like this?
Isn’t it often true that we have new insights and fresh ideas when we take the time and space to really "recreate"?
Now I’m not wanting to be a holiday salesman, and I know there are many rewards from hard work - in fact we might all go up the wall if we were on permanent holiday!
But,.. but I think there’s something important here. Something that relates to the story of Moses and going up Mount Sinai to receive the law. And to the story of Jesus going up the mountain and being transfigured, as we call it.

Last Sunday we were thinking about Jesus up on a mountain in the early stages of his teaching ministry. All of a sudden, well actually it’s because Easter is early this year, but we find ourselves up another mountain, half way through his ministry and with just a few of the inner circle of disciples. But on this trip it is not Jesus teaching that the disciples learn from, they have to see beyond words, beyond the strange sight of a glowing, glory reflecting Jesus, to the mysterious reality that bursts through the ordinary at this moment.
In the background of this event we know as Jesus Transfiguration is the story of Moses and the glory of God, seen on the mountain, so we begin there.

The story of Moses is a camping trip.
God invites Moses to come on up the mountain. Take some time to get away from the family – come nation that Israel was becoming and that Moses had responsibility for.
Take some time to Be with God – a retreat if you like.

This retreat of course has a purpose; God says that Moses will be given the tablets of the Law, God’s commandments for the people. But as the story is told, this is not a quick trip, not just a rendezvous to collect the delivery.

Can you imagine Moses as a leader of a nation these days?

"Oh, God, yes it’s good to hear from you! Can I make it away to collect some new documents from you? Yes, look I have a couple of hours free a week from next Tuesday!"

No, this story reminds us that it is an awesome God we are dealing with. God calls Moses up the mountain and he goes!! God says come and wait. Moses packs his two man tent, his flask and kit bag and up he goes and waits, - seven days and then he is up on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights.

He’s up there for ten chapters of Exodus!

The cloud covers Mount Sinai, the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain, we are told.

"a week from next Tuesday," I don’t think so!

Picture the scene in this story for a moment. A great leader and deliverer of his people ascends the mountain to meet with God. This is the God who has led them out of Egypt, who has chosen this small group of Abraham’s descendants and taken on the might of Pharaoh for them, the God who has fed them and given them water, led them through the wilderness.

Moses has been up on the mountain face to face with God and later when he comes down, something of God’s glory, the radiance of God’s glory is still reflecting from his face.

But radiant glory and mountain top exultation are - even for Jesus, just fleeting moments.

Christian life - even Jesus life is not full of blinding glory and tremendous experience. Jesus carefully keeps his disciples feet on the ground and it’s then down the mountain and back to the hard road to the cross. But this was an experience to act as a beacon, lighting the dark road ahead and to illuminate the way.

We mark this event each year, the Sunday before Lent to do the same thing, not to commemorate a moment of ecstatic glory, but to light the way to the hidden glory of the cross. The transfiguration is a light pointing the way to the real thing, the real nature of Jesus glory.

And the voice of God, from the cloud says "this is my beloved son, listen to him" and that’s why we are here, isn’t it? We come to hear about Jesus, to learn his ways, to listen to Jesus, the beloved son of God. We come to learn, not to seek glory, not to spend our time seeking the mountaintop experiences, but to learn a cross shaped discipleship for the real road of life.
In this story it’s clear that the light was not to stop believers in their tracks, but to illuminate the way ahead - to the cross and beyond, to light our way.

Well that’s the theory. And I know this is the reason these two mountain top stories appear in the lectionary on this Sunday before Lent. But it’s not that neat!
Revelation of God’s otherness is not something we humans cope with so well. Moses lets on nothing of his time on the mountain.
Peter makes a peculiar suggestion about tents.

And the gospel only tells us that after the voice of God is heard saying, "this is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased, listen to him" then Jesus just goes over to Peter, James and John, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."

It is not neat, there are not three points for the sermon. There is no conclusion drawn, just a warning not to tell about what happened til later.
For me this is a reminder that faith often has no neat edges, there is experience that is sometimes very hard to comprehend. Sometimes in good experiences and sometimes through bad ones.

For Moses and for the three disciples there is an experience of the mystery and wonder of God characterized by the dazzling light. Perhaps the best response is just one of worship!
But up on that "higher plain" there is opportunity presented to comprehend something of God that is beyond words, theology and good deeds. These stories are pictures that represent the inexplicable.
It’s a reminder that there is much more that we do not know, that we cannot find adequate words for.
And in both stories, the telling indication that for us to have a chance of encountering this "higher presence" we will have to put time aside, make plans and put them into practice. Not necessarily up a mountain but certainly by minimizing distraction.

So I wonder, where does God invite us to meet, to camp and bask in the glory of God or be confronted by Jesus radiant face and glowing presence?
The Magi followed the light of the star to find Christ, light of the world.
For Paul it was the blinding light on the road to Damascus.
I wonder how does God invite us today?
I wonder how we perceive Christ’s presence?

I wonder what reasons we have for spending time with God.
And I wonder how much we might reflect of God’s glory from doing that?
I wonder for Moses how hard it was to climb the mountain, what obstacles he faced and then I wonder what difficulties we face in accepting God’s invitation to spend time? Not looking for glorious experiences, but seeking God.

And the really frightening part of this is that God so often chooses ordinary humans like us to show these things. Moses took the time, he accepted the invitation, he climbed the mountain and then he could reflect something of God’s character so shiningly - without even knowing - after encountering God;

And what response should we make to a God like this?
One clue has to be about being prepared to take a risk and get involved, but another must be simply to worship this awesome God, God whose glory comes and overshadows us, God who invites us on a journey of discovery, A God who will meet us in the Christ, help, comfort and direct us, challenge and nourish us.
To bring illumination and light – to banish darkness and reveal the glory of God.

To God be the glory, here and everywhere, in you and me too.
Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005


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