Sunday Before lent 2023
This coming week the Church once again begins its observance of Lent, and for many Lent can seem like a period of trial. In the wilderness Jesus found as well that silence can bring darker thoughts too, He experienced temptations to vanity, the lust for power, dominion, and much more. However, in that silence he also heard the voice of God, and emerged convinced of the path He had to follow. We can see this as a time of challenge, that annual moment of giving up things we determine have taken too great a place in our lives, away goes the sherry and the chocolates, resolutions are made to pray more often, read scripture more often, to seek a closer walk with God. I think though for many it seems like a time to get through, a trial and challenge, where we often find we don’t have the stamina to live up to our good intentions. I want to suggest it is better viewed as a gift, an opportunity, a 40 day journey where in truth the main job is to be alert to God, try to speak to and listen to god more often, and be open to acting on what we hear.
In Exodus Moses has a job on his hands. The chosen people are on their 40 year journey to the promised land and there is dissention over his leadership. Moses like Jesus chooses to go up a mountain, to seek privacy, silence and to be in every way closer to God. That longing for God’s voice often drives people to seek solace in quietude, and the majesty of mountains, which more than most things put us and our worries into perspective. Here Moses receives from God a clear answer to his prayer, the commandments, that summary of the very basic rules for living a life in the spirit of God. They are not all ‘do nots’, they also call for us to love God with all that we have, to honour our loved ones, and to preference those who have the least. But indeed they do set boundaries on our behaviour, every one of which puts the value of others equal to our own in God’s sight, and therefore marks over which we may not step. Upon these basic rules the patriarchs and prophets prayed and developed into a more rounded set of guidance as to how to live a holy life. Jesus would further elaborate them in the Sermon on the Mount, and the saints and teachers of the church have in every generation added more thought and wisdom to how we should live that Godly life.
Peter in our epistle refers to the transfiguration of Jesus, where God reveals Him to be his Son, giving him both the authority for His work and the authenticity that many in the early church were anxious about. Just as Moses and the prophets took their authority from the revelation to Moses, so by the time of Jesus the first apostles and eye witnesses to the life of Jesus took their own among other things from the claiming by God of His Son before witnesses.
And our Gospel is the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus alone save for His closest followers on the mountain top is claimed and authenticated by God as His Son, just as at His baptism. They who journeyed with him through His ministry, and were witness to His works of healing and power, and were present at His passion and His Resurrection have authenticity and authority because they have waited on God, and heard His voice.
We too both seek, and argue over the authenticity of claims to know the will and purposes of God, and that is in many ways inevitable, as we are guided by received tradition, the scriptures and our own trust or faith in God. All of these are complex and whereas human nature would love there to be a decisive rule book, a ‘users guide’ to living the holy life, in truth we are called to follow, to trust, and to use our experience and what wisdom God grants to discern for ourselves an authentic life. As we both live in the present world – which in a global church can of course mean starting from a great variety of cultural, personal and practical places, and are called upon to take that journey of trying to seek God’s will in our own times. As you don’t need me to tell you it can cause division every bit as much as it did for Moses, the prophets and the apostles. And yet there are no simple answers, only a desire to seek the holy life which authentically represents what we believe God is saying to us.
So for these next 40 days I would urge us all to see this time as an opportunity, and to reflect on God’s voice in the context of the time He has decided we will live through. Ash Wednesday sets the real context for lent, for we are mortal, this gift of human life has its limit, and so how do we best use it?
I think we can agree that life has a tendency to distract us from our relationship with God, we know how easy it is to waste our time on matters and things that in the end do not build us up. We can’t buy our way to a Holy life, we can’t work hard to obtain one either, nor can we so discipline ourselves and order ourselves that we end up closed to taking a chance, for the familiar and accepted isn’t always the path to holiness either.
This Lent so much of the world, as in many times past, is living through dreadful times. The wars, the natural disasters, and the grinding poverty and need so many live with daily should remind us that if we truly believe all are made in God’s image and loved equally, then there is dire need for that love to be made manifest through those of us whose lives are less burdened, who have the ability to offer compassion, aid and relief, and to work for peace and justice. Jesus reported in His teaching that to everyone’s surprise God wanted us to find the holy life through other people, through their needs, through their sorrows and challenges. And I suspect this Lent if we consider not what God is trying to say simply to us as individuals, but what He is trying to say to the whole world, then we might find it easier to imagine how we can conform our own lives so that it is in fact truth spoken to us too.
Lent is not a one-off, so we don’t have to get everything sorted this year, it is one of the many times we get the opportunity to travel with God in a more conscious way, and so I wish you all a holy Lent this year.