We are, as you all know, in an Olympic year, and some of us might be moderately, maybe very excited at the prospect of of this global spectacular being on our doorstep for the first time in probably another century.
Back in 1992, the Olympics were in Barcelona. The athletes had put their lives on hold to train to compete, as this year, over that two week or so period. The training takes months and months and demands much of the athletes.
This was the case for Derek Redmond, then one of our top 400 meter runners. In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 metres from the finish, his hamstring snapped. He hobbled to a halt, and then fell to the ground in pain. He said later, that he thought for a moment that he’d been shot.
Stretcher bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race. He’d given up so much and trained so hard. He began to hobble along the track - his faced creased with determination and agony. Then, from somewhere behind him, a comotion. Someone was fighting their way past the security guards to get on to the track. Derek tried to push the person away as they put their arm around him and bore his weight. The person spoke - you don’t have to finish this. Yes I do replied the belegered athlete. Let’s do it together said the person now taking his son’s weight - it was his father, Jim. Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, with Derek leaning on his father's shoulder for support. As they crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 spectators rose to give Derek a standing ovation.
Jesus does not prepare for His public ministry through the right diet and hours in the gym or on the track, but we do hear this morning of his preparation for the race that lay before Him in His journey through life to the cross.
The first part of Jesus’ preparation was His Baptism. Jesus leaves Gallillee and heads to the Jordan to be baptised by John. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptised, but by doing so, He identifies Himself with John, with John’s call to live lives aligned to God’s way, but also with those who have been affected by his ministry. Jesus is simply drawing alongside people in their need, along side people like us - he needs no repentance or forgiveness - he comes into our world as it is, ready to accept the affects of our sin and self-destruction. As Jesus comes up out of the water, heaven is torn apart and God affirms Jesus as His Son, His beloved. Just as wherever we are we take those whom we love with us in our hearts and minds and lives - there is nowhere that Jesus is, that God will not be also. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove and confirms the power of God at work in Him. God cannot draw alongside Jesus any closer than this - God commits to running the way ahead together with His Son.
The second part of Jesus’ preparation is scant in Mark’s account. The Spirit literally throws Jesus out into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. The Spirit of God does not spare Jesus the difficulty of everyday human existence and experience. For Jesus to speak, teach, minister and act in the world as it is - shot through with evil and temptations - He needs to be prepared to face head on the lust for power and control, the insatiable desire to have what we want and have it now, and the very selfish belief that our lives can be run best focussing away from the One who created them that we all still wrestle with deep down. Yet in the midst of those wilderness experiences, Jesus finds comfort and support from the heavens in the presence of angels, but also support from the earth in the very particular presence of the wild beasts. His will be a ministry that is not so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use but will take seriously our longing for heaven but well aware of our place within the whole created order.
The wilderness is not the desert. It is an arid, dusty, broken place but there is some life. The stoniness of the ground will make walking and sleeping challenging for Jesus over these 40 days - even with the companionship that he has. Yet from the dusty road of wilderness temptations arises shouts of praise that the Kingdom of God has come near.
The bad news that our struggles with doubt, fear, vying for control, selfishness and greed will continue to be sometimes a daily reality for us. The persistent good news though is that God has not abandoned the world to it’s own devices - the Kingdom of God is amongst us and His kingdom is in our midst and this Jesus - He gets what it is to wrestle, really wrestle with the reality of the challenge that is many of our lives.
As we make our way through Lent, we remember the journey that each of make through life - for some of us sometimes it is shot through with affirmations of the presence and power of God, for others in it we see glimpses and the living hope of the all transforming presence of God’s coming Kingdom. For all of us it can be a hard, stony, dusty broken road which is arduous to walk, fraught with temptations and testing, with no direction and little hope.
In those times we have a God in Jesus who affirms us as beloved by Him, who walks with us so close alongside us taking our weight, and who who found Himself crucified by the same daily struggles. And yet out of the brokenness of the wilderness road to Golgotha, arises shouts of Resurrection praise that the Kingdom of God comes near.
As you came into church this morning you were given a stone. A stone that is like the ones that we use to build our lives with making houses and shops and schools and roads. This stone is also like the ones under our feet especially in the wilderness’ of life. Hold the stone and think about the things that you struggle with every day and remember that those same struggles ultimately crucified Him, yet the deepest darkness of of those times was ultimately transformed into resurrection light and glory. When you are ready, come and place your stone on the Way to the Cross and long for Christ’s transforming Resurrection and the coming Kingdom of God.
Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness, and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Do you remember those magic eye posters that were popular for a millisecond a few years ago? At first glance they were a mass of swirling colours and patterns that seemed to show nothing in particular. Rumour has it that if you looked at them in a certain way, with you eyes half closed, standing on your head, four miles away you could see a 3D elephant - or what ever the picture was supposed to be.
What did you actually see? What were you supposed to see? Was there some epiphany moment when you did see? Did you see and then not see again?
Have you ever visited the Whispering gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral. High above the floor of the church, have you stained to hear the voice of your friend as they utter words amid the hubbub that only you can hear if you listen attentively in that audibly awesome place.
As you listen, did you clearly hear their voice? Did you struggle to make out what they were saying? Was there an epiphany moment when you ear was attuned amidst the other noise? Do you find their voice fading in and out?
These questions, in a way describe the nature of the relationship that people have had with God over the centuries. People sometimes saw and heard what they were supposed to see, others - only what they wanted. Even when the picture was brought into sharper focus by the coming of God’s Son and as a result people heard Him speak with a new clarity, people still failed to really see the picture that God was presenting the world or hear of the relationship He was calling them into.
This morning we hear Jesus take Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. When Jesus does this elsewhere in the Gospels this is usually a time to recharge his spiritual batteries, to be apart with God and to pray. Even the Son of God roots all that he does in prayer and worship - reminding us of their vitality and necessity.
As they are on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before the gathered friends. This is Jesus, their friend, Lord and teacher and yet He is transformed physically so that they get a glimpse of the glory of God. They get to see clearly, in sharp focus, the picture that God is revealing in and through Him.
If that weren’t enough the friends then overhear Jesus speaking with 2 figures that they know deep in their souls to be Moses (symbolizing the Old Testament Law of God) and Elijah (symbolizing the prophets of old.) To cap it all, a cloud descends confirming the presence of God Himself who then speaks clearly, as at His baptism, of Jesus’ Sonship.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a high point in the accounts of the life of Jesus and for us too, as in and through it we are are reminded of Jesus’ true identity, and also ours; of the promise of Resurrection as we turn our faces toward His Passion; of the nature of God’s deep love for Him as His Son, and of us as His sons and daughters by faith.
Whilst this event is special in the life of Christ, it is by no means unique, for time and time again something of Jesus’ true identity is revealed as He heals; something of the promise of resurrection is offered as He raises people from death; something of the nature of God’s deep love for us is opened up as He redefines and renews what it means to know God, as He teaches.
Whilst the Transfiguration looks like a pulling back of the curtain to reveal something hidden before about Jesus, as we read the Gospels we see clearly Jesus’ true nature, not hidden but exposed again and again clearly in his daily life.
Where are our eyes drawn into sharp focus on the presence of God? On the mountaintop as we gather for worship or the daily reading of the scriptures? Or in the everyday business of our daily lives as we eat, sleep, work, rest, or spend time with others? Do we only hear God speak to us only as the scriptures are read and taught or as we gather in prayer? Or do we hear Him also in and through the lips and lives of others?
As Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop, Peter unsure of what to say, offers to build some dwellings there, to hold onto, to contain the experience there in that place. How often to do we do the same and confine seeing and hearing God in Jesus Christ to this place and to this time?
The word Transfiguration is not used anywhere else in the Bible and comes from the Latin - trans meaning across and figura meaning figure. It refers to the substanstantive transformation of the whole person, complete change in every capacity, in our whole lives. It echoes the teaching of St Athansius - God became man so that man can become God, but not just in the mountaintop experiences but in the ordinariness of everyday life.
As we remember Jesus Transfigured this day, we remember that that experience was not for His benefit but ours, for through it, God’s glory was clearly glimpsed. That same glory was revealed clearly throughout His daily life and ministry, and through it, the lives of countless people were transformed by the glory of God.
This week, with talk of the retreat of Christian faith from public life and the creeping in of aggressive secularism, with families and communities in places like Thornbury and Homs or Damascus in Syria struggling to make sense of life in the face of death and tragedy, with families and individuals struggling to find meaningful work & thus also income, food, self confidence and hope within our own parish, with the plight of millions crying for food or justice in Zimbabwe or The Horn of Africa now largely forgotten because the media circus has moved on - we deny Jesus’ Transfiguration and what it means for us every time we fail to pray for them, every time we fail to act, every time we fail to give some of our time or money, every time we fail to buy fairtrade produce, every time we see these people and issues as someone else’s problem...
As we stand on the cusp of Lent, let us also pray for Transfiguration of our lives, but not for our benefit, but for those whom we encounter in our daily lives. That through God at work in us, our eyes may be drawn into sharp focus onto Him and that our ears would be clearly attuned to hear His voice calling us all into deep relationships of love with Him. Amen.
I am preparing this is pain. None of us like it. All of us want to avoid it. None of us like being ill but illness is very much part of the human story. Some illness is pretty trivial - yes sorry chaps, man flu is pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things. Other illnesses are significant on a global scale - I heard on the radio yesterday that scientists think they have underestimated the number of deaths from Malaria by at least half. In other words, we now think that some 1.24 million people die from it each year. Us Brits spent around £2 billion on over the counter medicines back in 2001. Painkillers alone cost the NHS £442 million a year. We don’t like illness. We don’t like pain. We want rid of it.
Jesus leaves the synagogue, where he has been to worship and to teach. As he leaves, he is told about Simon Peter’s mother in law who lies ill with a fever in the house next door. He is told about her, he sees her need and heals her. She gets up and begins to serve them.
Simon Peter's house where the miracle took place
Friends we meet the same Jesus in worship today. Like then, he longs to meet us in our very real need, like in times of illness. Yet all too often, as Christians we take the gift of healing from the hands of our Lord and place it exclusively in the hands of the medics. We pray for the sick, as will do in a little while in our worship, but do we really believe that Jesus will meet them in their need as He met the needs of Simon Peter’s mother in Law and countless others that day? We all too often pray for strength for people who are sick to cope with their afflictions. Did Jesus? No, through Him, people were healed.
The healing ministry of the church is a long an ancient one; one that follows our Lord’s command to His disciples to live and act like Him. But if we really believe prayers for healing don’t really work, then to whom are we praying? Jesus caused great controversy in the synagogue and at the house that day by healing. Acting as if He were filled to overflowing with the life and power of the Creator God. Denying Christ’s ability to heal then, and to heal now, denies His place as Lord in our life, or worship and our Church.
Before Jesus ministered He spent time with His father. In this section of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been to the synagogue to teach, but probably also to worship. At the end of the day, having cured many he must have been physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. So in the morning He goes out to a deserted place to pray. When Jesus acts, He does so rooted in the love and power of His Father, a relationship resourced through prayer and worship.
We worship God because it’s our natural response to who He is. Like Jesus Himself, our worship should resource and renew us in our relationship with God. Through it, we root ourselves in the power and love of the creator.
After an encounter with Jesus, Simon Peter’s mother in law’s life was transformed - she began to serve them. The word for serve is diakonei from which we get the word deacon - who who assists in worship and who brings the love of Christ to the community in very practical ways. We should come to our worship of God expecting the same sort of transformation - encountering Christ in our worship should lead us to to be diakonei - people who seek to serve Him and others in very practical and loving ways.
Christ transformed the world physically, emotionally and spiritually of many on that day in Capernaum. But Jesus Christ is not just the name of a character on the page of history - he is the same Jesus Christ present with us today as we worship, present amongst us veiled in bread and wine and reigning from the altar of our hearts. He sees the need in us and in our community still and wants to act.
As Jesus spent time alone in prayer, renewing and resourcing Himself, His disciples searched for Him, the hunted for Him. I wonder, do many in our community hunt for Jesus because of what they see Him doing in and through our lives? Do people see the life of Jesus Christ in us, our lives being transformed by Him after encountering Him in worship? Is our natural response having fed on Christ in the Eucharist and having our souls renewed, to go and make a tangible difference for the Kingdom of God amongst those whom we live or work.
Friends, the Jesus who healed at Capernaum, in whom people saw the life of God the Creator, and who longed for more, is here. He longs to see you freed from illness or suffering or to transform whatever is holding you back to living a life of loving and serving him. He longs for you to know Him in new ways that so transform your inner world that you can’t help but live out His love in simple acts of loving service. His desire is for our lives to be such that people hunt Him out, through us, so that we can be the ones through whom the love, life and power of the Creator God is shared.
Let us pray:
draw us deeper into your love;
Jesus our Lord,
send us to care and serve;
make us heralds of good news.
Stir us, strengthen us,
teach and inspire us
to live your love
with generosity and joy,
imagination and courage;
for the sake of your world
and in the name of Jesus. Amen.
I am trying something different this week in my prepararations for preaching on Sunday from Mark 1:29-39, which says,
'...As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
And the whole city was gathered around the door.
And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many
demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
And Simon and his companions hunted for him.
When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may
proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’
And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons...'
Initially I am struck by the following:
1. The exhausting, full-on nature of Jesus' ministry. There is no let up.
2. In this passage it is clear that Jesus has a practise of rooting everything he does in prayer and worship
3. The healing Jesus offers is real and life transforming
But what do youthink? Post any comments or reflections below.