6th Feb, 2005

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Sunday next Before Lent- Theological Education Sunday
8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass
Sermon preached by the Rector, Fr Ian Elliott Davies

Lections:
Exodus 24:12-18 Moses on Mount Sinai
II Peter 1:16-21 St Peter’s account of the Transfiguration
St Matthew 17:1-9 The Transfiguration

Thirty-seven days ago we began the New Year of 2005, five years into the new millennium.
I remember as I was growing, up one of my father’s favourite responses to me when I wanted to do things that he wasn’t terribly keen on me doing was “yes Ian, I’ll let you do that in the next millennium” it’s the sort of response that carries with it the same force as “yes, of course you can do that, when a certain place freezes over.” In those days, when I was a child, it felt as if the new millennium was so far off it would never get here. I used to muse that I would be 36 years of age in the year 2000 which felt very old then but I realize is actually rather young now, and then when I was ordained in 1988 I used to muse that I will be able to retire from active ministry at the age of 63 on March 5th 2027! That’ll frighten the Vestry- you’ve got me for quite some years to come! Now there’s forward planning for you. Anyway, back to the New Year, I wonder how many of you remember the resolutions you might have made on January 1st this year? A little less Haagen Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s each week perhaps?, no chocolate on weekdays maybe? Or, that exercise bike in the bedroom that was meant to help shed a pound or fifteen back in January actually now looks much better as a clothes hanger, I mean, you know, your shirts or blouses look so much nicer hanging on it that they do in the cupboard…. At least it looks used if it’s got clothes hanging on it.
But for those of you, who like me, need a second chance with resolutions, we are just about to start Lent, rather conveniently on Ash Wednesday. Fasting and self-denial are two traditional aspects of what we might envisage in this Lenten Season. But can I say, I’ve always thought that “taking on something extra” is also a good idea and can help those of us who tend to give up too easily when confronted by that scrumptious Haagen Dazs shop in the Farmers’ Market-it’s always bally well there- it’s always open, just when you come out of the Grove cinema and feel in need of something long and cool to soothe that sore throat after some tedious film.
So, taking on something extra, and no, I don’t mean taking an extra scoop of choco-choco-chip, I mean taking on something extra like reading a Psalm before you go to sleep at night or making that ‘phone call to your old College friend that you haven’t seen in years, or making sure you get up half an hour earlier on your day off. I think it takes more effort, is a more positive attitude and shows greater commitment to say to yourself you’re going to do an extra thing rather than cut something out. For some of you that might mean making the commitment to come to a weekday Mass in Lent or even to pluck up the courage to make those first tentative steps towards the Confessional Box or go to the Parish Office and purchase a copy of Sister Chittister’s commentary on the Rule of S Benedict and join in the study of the Rule with the online group at the Parish’s website.

Really, the root to what I’m trying to get at this morning by saying that Lent should be a time of growth and commitment rather than negatives, or a whole set of no’s and don’ts / what I’m saying is that Christian faith and practice in the Anglo-Catholic tradition is more than a special or leisure interest area in life, a separate experience or set of activities for which only some people have a taste and others not. God, and our worship of him in our way of living is the deepest of all dimensions in all areas of human life, and thus all that we are, all that we do, all that we say, all that we have are open to God and require honest and sincere examination in the light of God’s grace. I don’t know, you may have a million and one questions about the Christian faith, or, what does it mean to worship in a Christian Community like St Thomas the Apostle, or you may want to ask, am I really ready to make a step in the direction of God, or, can I really hold to all those complicated things that Christians profess? Or you may want to know about the direction of your life, where is God in all this? Where in your life do you encounter God most powerfully? What do you think God is moving you or calling you to? How would he want you to grow through the routine of your work, the conflicts and joys of your living situation, the important relationships of your life, your temptations, your feelings about yourself? How might faith, hope and love pervade your ordinary perceptions and choices more completely? The concern of Christian faith in the Anglo-Catholic tradition is not a separate realm, but the deepest dimension of every realm.
Well, you may remember that last Sunday morning I talked about Christ at his Presentation in the Temple being the revelation of the very glory of God.
Now he has become a grown man and we are given a glimpse of that glory yet again in the Transfiguration along with the disciples-
and before long we will again hear how Christ, right at the beginning of his ministry at the beginning of his Lenten preparation goes into the desert place and faces up to the questioning of the Adversary, the doubting of the devil.
Now in the temptations Satan is very crafty in all that he says to Our Blessed Lord in the wilderness: there are all these hugely impressive and spectacular scenes, the pinnacle of the Jerusalem Temple, all the mighty kingdoms of the world and their worldly glory all in a moment of time- but what the Evil One is really trying to do is to get Christ to indulge in self-pity or self-doubt. You see Satan questions who he is, Jesus’ very nature as a human being, his very self as God’s own Son. All the questions are framed with sentences like “if you are the Son of God”- “if it’s true you can rely on God to help why don’t you just do this one simple thing”- or “for a real human being it would be so easy simply to bow down and worship me.” That kind of temptation is far more insidious, destructive and damaging than we might imagine. Questioning your relationships or questioning your own self and worth as a human being, your basic humanity is extremely destructive and that most fertile ground for abuse and manipulation.
In our own time those temptations, those insidious questions are more cunningly disguised- which labels do you want to put on people? do you want to label them as things or commodities? all these are attempts to lessen and demote other people, but ultimately those labels will demote and rob you from your true value and worth- I heard a General describe his military enemies this last week as deserving of brutality and that it was ‘fun’ to kill them and shoot them. The General then had the audacity to say he thought what he did was in the tradition of chivalry.
The first casualty in that kind of conversation is human worth- first you say ‘towel head’ or any one of a myriad epithets of abuse: then you can easily justify killing.
But the true value and worth is that you are men and women and children made in God’s own image. Part of the responsibility to be partakers of that divine image, to be among the People of God that Christ the New Exodus wins is, ironically, freedom.
So when you ask God, “God, what do you want me to do?” and he says, “Freedom is my gift to you, and judgement. You know that I want life for you. Be all you can be. Do all you can do. I have given you my Son as your model, and I have given you our Spirit to guide you” there will be no pre-ordained blue-print that tells you which t’s to cross and I’s to dot, you will, with God’s grace have to work out some of those answers yourself.

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