GSC – 17th March 2019
Stag nights, hen nights and baby showers have become a big industry and much more evident a part of life. They’ve even become international, with many flights out of Britain to Spanish islands or Baltic capitals having a gaggle of men in superhero outfits or women in bridesmaids attire, all of whom looking oiled by a little or more alcohol. My own stag do, it may surprise you to hear, was a little more sedate an affair with some friends round at the Vicarage for a BBQ and none of us dressed up as anything at all!
In our Sunday sermon series we’re looking at how Jesus is with different sets of people. Last week we looked at Jesus alone and now we look at Jesus with just three disciples, with a small group, such as we have in our Gospel today, the Transfiguration, where His appearance changes to be like brilliant light. Jesus, of course, calls twelve disciples, known also as apostles, but within them these three form an “inner cabinet,” if you like: Peter, James and John. But interestingly also in this moment when the Father’s glory, which always belongs to Jesus, is seen outwardly to be His, Christ appears with two others, Moses and Elijah, also in a small fellowship. So what is it about meeting in these threes or fours that is so important?
Perhaps in part it is a place of sharing, of intimacy, where fellowship can be known. Elsewhere, Jesus reveals Himself to be resurrected to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) in the context of a meal, the breaking of bread. In our Gospel this evening, Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, those which led the people of God of old to knowing God whom we see perfectly in Jesus. Peter, James and John are the ones chosen witnesses to this revelation of who Jesus is. But they also are permitted to see Jesus raise the daughter of Jairus from the dead and to see our Lord in Gethsemane where He is agitated and troubled by His impending death (Mark 14:32-34).
I suspect that we do most of our sharing and opening up in the presence of only one or two others, in a small group. It feels safe to do so. On a negative level, that’s why cliques are so effective, because they’re easier to define and protect. But Jesus is not forming a clique, these three disciples, these two figures of the Old Testament are not inward-looking, critical of everyone outside the group, concerned only with the welfare of themselves. The gift of what they do - the conversations, the revelations - are gifts to be shared. Peter, James ad John were initially silent about the Transfiguration, we were told in this evening’s Gospel, but that was not to last for eventually they would need to share it with people like St Luke so he could include it in his Gospel.
In smaller groups, we are formed. It is similar to families which is the context where so often people will be at their most open, about three or four people. This is where love can be expressed. I hope there are people you can share the faith with at a deeper level. Obviously this will be with your priest but it will also be with particular individuals or within a friendship group. Our faith, and how we’ve seen God at work in our life is something that it is good to be able to share with others. Telling these stories means it is to repeat them and so as draw others to the Lord. It’s a large part of why churches run social occasions, so that we can get to know each other. It’s why there’s no such thing as a silly question, because it’s good for us to inquire and journey together into a closer relationship with others.
Getting to know others in an intimate and trusting situation can be difficult. People can let us down. In our first reading we see Abram, before his name has been changed to Abraham, and God making a pact, attempting to show how they can trust each other. Abram wants to know He can trust God because faith is relatively new to him, hence he asks, “How am I to know that I shall inherit [the land of the Chaldaeans]?” The odd collection of animals described in our first reading - a heifer (which is a type of cow), a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon - these were all cut in half and then both sides of the pact held them together as a sign of the agreement. Elsewhere, in the prophecy of Jeremiah this is even used as an image of divine threat, where God threatens: “Those who transgressed my covenant, I will make like the calf when they cut it in two and passed between its parts” (34:18). Not a pretty image!
It’s good for us to be trustworthy people, not engaging in gossip, knowing when things we’re told in secret are to be kept in secret. We are not meant to be secretive, though, for there are times when we need to tell a particular person something which might be sensitive, knowing that person can be trusted and won’t repeat it. Being secretive and private can sometimes lead to us cutting ourselves off from society and failing to trust others, which we as human beings are meant to do. Who trusts you? Are you trustworthy or do you break confidences? Do you know when it is appropriate to raise a concern about someone and not hide behind secrecy?
The three Jesus chose, Peter, James and John, became significant members of the early church. There was clearly a sense in which they were deemed trustworthy so as to be chosen to act as witnesses. Our Lord refers to the role witnesses can play in the life of the Church in Matthew 18, when he is talking about trying to alter the lives of those whose sin affects the community. First, he says, go and have it out with them directly, when you are alone. Next, “if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by evidence of two or three witnesses.” We also find this wisdom in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15).
There is clearly some sense in which Jesus chooses people to make known His wonders so that they can share it with others. My friends, we have such a privilege this evening. Here at Mass the Lord makes known the wonders of His glory and this empowers us, feeds us, inspires us to get out and serve others. St Paul, in writing to the Philippians, had such a relationship with the people there. Philippi is in Greece and it was the first place in Europe that Paul founded a Church. Acts 16 tells us how Paul and Silas were imprisoned there and how they were freed by an earthquake shaking the prison cell. The Philippians loved Paul a lot, funding his missionary work on several occasions (Philippians 4:16) and by keeping the church going in his absence. And so it is that we heard him this evening referring to them as his “dear friends,” His “joy and crown.” It is absolutely right that a bishop would take such joy in his people. For what it is worth, it is the same joy and crowning that I feel for you, my friends.
The bonds of love between Paul and the Philippians is grounded as we read further in the letter with particular people whom he has nourished in the faith. But despite this, there are those whom Paul speaks of as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” people who have let the side down. While sadly people do do this, God never lets us down. Paul has to remind St Timothy of this in one of his letters to him: “if we are faithless, He remains faithful” (II Timothy 2:13). But, my friends, let us not put God to the test and let Him down.
So, we see Jesus forming an intimate bond with Peter, James and John in the presence of another bond shared with Moses and Elijah. May be found worthy of such close relationships with others, seeing them as opportunities to find our voice and to proclaim the Good News, to be trustworthy with all that people entrust to us, and to learn to open ourselves up to others that we may know the sacrificial love of Christ. Amen.