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This Week's Sermon !

February 26, 2017, -

Exodus 24: 12-18
Psalm 99
Matthew 17: 1-9

“I Can See Clearly Now”

“I Can See Clearly Now,” written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, is a song which equates clear vision with a change in fortunes -for the good- using the images of going from rain to sun. The version I know best was sung by Holly Cole and was on a compilation CD which was sold in support of breast cancer research. It’s a perfect song for that kind of hope.

The most commonly used metaphors all see sunshine as “good” and clouds and rain as “not good.” That works - unless you are in the middle of a drought, in which case the opposite is true!

In the case of today’s passages the presence of mist and cloud is “part of the package” of an encounter with the holy. One of the assumptions made by ancient peoples is that human beings could not survive an encounter with the holy God without being shrouded or shielded by cloud or some kind of veil.

I guess it’s a bit like looking at a solar eclipse. When I was about 7 or 8 there was a total solar eclipse and I remember all the warnings, “DON’T look directly at the sun in full eclipse for more than a few seconds at a time or you will be blinded”. At the recommendation of the instructions in the newspaper my mom cut a hole in a piece of paper and put it in the window and we watched the shadow the sun made on the floor while sitting with our backs to the window.

In a similar fashion encounters with God were seen to be dangerous for normal human beings. Stories indicate the measures that were taken to protect even the prophets from God’s intense glory. The fullness of the divine presence was not something to be taken lightly. Only the select few were given the opportunity to be in God’s presence and it was often in the wilderness or on high mountains. Mountains were, literally, thought to be closer to God because, after all, God LIVED “up there”. Our spiritual awareness has changed considerably since that time but we can still find great truths in the images contained in these stories.

There is something to be said for the value of retreating from day to day life in order to encounter God. It is a time honoured, and still common, spiritual practice. I can easily find opportunities for an “organized” or “intentional” retreat for Lent, for example. I don’t know any, though, that promise smoke and fire or that require me to climb a mountain.

Years ago a group of church folks climbed “West River Mountain” which was directly behind West River United Church. Even though it is only 131m above sea level, it was quite a slog because of the thick vegetation and fallen trees. When we got to the top there was a good view but I would say the look-off at Blomidon is more majestic and, better yet, you can drive to it.

Assuming the biblical mountain called Sinai is the same as the one we call know by the same name, it is by contrast over 2,000m above sea level. That would take considerably more effort to climb, but perhaps there would be fewer trees in the way!

Today’s Gospel passage tells of an encounter on an unnamed mountain where Jesus and three disciples went to “get away”. Unlike the Exodus story, in this one, there is no report “from below” of clouds or fire but for the disciples there was still a lot of mystery. And there were special guests! We are told that the disciples saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah and they heard God’s voice affirming Jesus’ identity.

I’m not sure how they knew who these guests were or what they were going to use to construct the dwellings but I guess those are things we must take at ‘face value’.

Perhaps they wanted to stay there, to revel in the moment and to rest in the certainty of their faith. They soon realized that they could not do so!

The people who organized the lectionary, which is the guideline for Sunday readings, have book-ended the season of Epiphany with the baptism of Jesus on the front end and the transfiguration on the other. In each of the readings Jesus is affirmed as God’s beloved and worth listening to. As we go into the lenten season we do so knowing who Jesus is and that we are called to LISTEN TO HIM.

Yet, they cannot stay and we cannot stay in our moments of clarity and certainty. We have to come down from the mountain and we have to go through the dangers of the lenten journey.

The call in Lent is to accept the challenges of wrestling with our faith and God’s call to faithfulness in the midst of our every day life. It is a time to reflect on the cost of discipleship and decide if that will keep us from faithfulness.

So let us, like the disciples go from here, knowing only that we do not journey alone.


1995- 2017 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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