Reflection: "Shining Glory"
Have you ever seen a science fiction movie about extra-terrestrial beings and noticed that the aliens all have bright shining lights behind them and they seem to “glow”?
Does that remind you of the way that Moses and Jesus were described, after they’d been in the presence of God?
They had a radiance, or glow, about them.
In our reading from Exodus, Moses even had to cover his face when he returned from the mountain, as it seemed to be putting the people off when they looked at him.
In today’s Gospel reading Peter, John & James went up with Jesus onto another mountain, and they reported that his garments became dazzling white and that his face seemed to glow.
Peter, in particular, doesn't really know what to do - so he suggests building dwellings (to honour Moses and Elijah).
Was he reverting to the comfort of Jewish liturgy - from the Feast of the Tabernacles?
Was he trying to busy himself with mundane things, so that he didn't have to deal with the extraordinary things that were happening right in front of him?
Was he trying to contain the visions and put them in a box?
Maybe to protect them from the elements?
Or capture the moment in a medium that he could understand - symbolic bricks and mortar?
I wonder if some of us might also undertake similar sorts of avoidance techniques to escape some things - even wonderful things - that we’re having trouble understanding.
Then God's voice interrupts and completely overwhelms the 3 disciples, "This is my Son, my Chosen.”
And God follows it with an emphatic identification of Jesus as the Messiah saying, "Listen to him."
That imperative - "Listen, listen to him" extends all the way from that mountain top long ago, to all our present-day valleys, plains, cities, towns, neighbourhoods, and homes.
“Listen to him” proclaims and highlights the glory of Jesus.
The most sobering and agonising clue in this story, is the simple observation that we’re at a pivotal point in the gospel of Luke.
Prior to this, Jesus was in Galilee where he engaged in his ministry - teaching, preaching, healing.
Following this, Jesus makes his slow and inevitable way to Jerusalem, where he will encounter betrayal and death.
The Transfiguration gives us a sort of “helicopter” view.
On one side lies the Galilean ministry and on the other side lies Calvary.
This holy mountain is the pivot point.
In fact, just a few verses later, Jesus directly says: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands"
And a few verses after that, we’re told that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem."
The face that had shone with splendid brilliance in the Transfiguration conversation with Moses and Elijah, was soon to be set with purpose and determination towards God's plan of salvation.
The Transfiguration was the point in God’s plan for Jesus, where he had to move on.
Transfiguration glory shines on both sides of that point.
It shines on his ministry to the poor and powerless, and it shines on his death and resurrection.
Even more, Transfiguration points ahead to the time when the glory of Jesus will be fully revealed.
And isn't that how it so often is with mountaintop experiences?
The feeling is so grand, so ecstatic, that any attempt by us to control it - to put it in a box - is futile and we're compelled to yield to the power of the God force that fills the moment - a force so powerful that it can change our lives forever and even, as it did in the experience of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. – even change the whole of society.
He said "I’ve been to the mountaintop," and even the people who lived in low-lying towns knew what he meant.
The image of the mountaintop runs through the Scriptures as that place where the human experience touches the Divine, that symbolic place where God is present and mere mortals can catch a glimpse of ultimate truth.
Have you ever had such a mountaintop experience?
What insights did you gain and did that moment change your life?
With that image in mind, we may fondly recall those mountaintop experiences that have happened on a retreat, or at a church camp, or upon some extraordinary achievement, or in some exotic destination - where the cares of this world seem to recede and we’re better able to understand who we are and why we’re here.
Maybe, like me, you haven’t been so fortunate as to witness a transfiguration, or other miraculous event, when coming to a closer relationship with God.
I’ll give you an example.
Lynne & I are members of a Kairos prison ministry team and, during our time with the inmates, several members of the team will give a 10-minute talk, on a pre-determined subject, to those who attend the Program.
That talk might be about the kinds of “Choices” we make, or a reassurance that “You Are Not Alone”, or an explanation of “Who is the Church?”
During their talk, the team member is asked to share something of their personal testimony with the inmates.
Some of these are very powerful witnesses for God’s love.
Somehow, I’ve always felt that the super-low valleys and super-high mountaintop experiences of other team members overshadowed mine and, because I had not really suffered as a child, or been afflicted in some other disastrous way and trudged through the valley, that my experiences would not have the same impact on the participants, as those of others in the team.
It took many years before I realised that it was just as important for those attending the Kairos programs to know that, sometimes, God also uses people who have lived relatively easy and straightforward lives.
So, whether you’ve experienced the transfigured Christ, or just come to love him in other ways, you, too, can spend your life in his service, spreading the message of love and grace that he offers.
My question is: are you ready to join the crusade, setting out on your own missionary journey, or will you just keep waiting for a personal mountain top experience to come and challenge you?
The choice we have is ultimately ours – we’re assured that God will back us up and give us all the resources we need.
I remember a wise friend of mine once saying:
“The boat won’t steer if it isn’t moving, no matter how hard you wiggle the rudder.”
By that, he meant that we need to be doing something - moving - before God can steer us in the right direction.
So, it’s up to us to decide what it is that God wants us to be doing for his Kingdom on earth, start working on it, and then God will steer us in the right directions to accomplish what he wants from us.
Many of us don’t think that we can do, or achieve, very much at all, but if we give God a chance to use us, we might be amazed at just where he will lead us.
I ask you to give that some serious consideration, as you go about your daily routine next week.
Try to determine where God is leading you and what he wants you to do with your life.
It doesn’t need to be a momentous change.
It might be that you just start with something small and let God build it up from there.
May the answers you find in your talks with God be rewarding, both to yourself and others.
And I pray that you’ll keep on shining God’s love on the world…………..Pastor Rick
Reflection: "God's Love Never Fails"
If I asked you to sing 2 octaves higher than your usual vocal range, do you think you’d be able to do it?
But be careful, your vocal chords might break and you’ll end up sounding like a scratchy record.
Obviously, most of us just can’t do it- we can’t sing, or shout, or make a noise, two octaves higher than our normal range.
So, let’s change the analogy. Mt Everest is 29,000 feet high and our own Mt Kosciusko is only some 7,310 feet.
Can you climb Mt Kosciusko from its base to its summit?
Probably 99% of us can’t.
Can you climb Mt Everest, that’s over three times as high as Mt Kosciusko?
I’ll bet that 99.99% of us can’t.
Likewise, we can’t climb the moral heights that Jesus lays out for us in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s too high for us.
Ok, you can break the analogy and say that there are sherpas and a few other super-fit people can climb Mt Everest.
But the point is, that nobody has ever climbed to the top of the Sermon on the Mount.
No human being can do that - the mountain top is above us to inspire us, to point up to, to motivate us, but none of us can actually climb this high moral mountain.
Even though none of us can sing 2 octaves above our vocal range, those high notes can be found on a piano or finely tuned violin.
The high notes on these musical instruments inspire us and point us up to God and his highest moral law that none of us can fully obey - the high notes may be outside the range of our voices, but not outside the voice of Jesus.
When you listen to the Sermon on the Mountain, or the Sermon on the Plain in either Matthew or Luke, I’m sure that you’ll have difficulty naming even one person who can actually live such a noble, inspiring life.
In today’s reading from Luke, we read things like:
Love your enemies.
Don’t resist evil people.
Be good to such people and pray for them.
If someone hits you on the cheek, offer them your other cheek.
If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well.
Give to those who beg.
Instead of hating your enemies, love them, pray for them, do good to them.
Be compassionate to your enemies even as your heavenly father is compassionate to you.
But what do these words actually mean: to love your enemies, to do good to those you hate you, not to resist evil, if somebody slaps you on one cheek, offer them the other as well?
I’m sure that we’ve all heard or seen stories, often horrific ones, where innocent people have been badly hurt by evil people.
Does this mean we shouldn’t resist people who are evil? Is that what Jesus means for us to do?”
In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Mohandas Gandhi developed a whole philosophy of non-violence. He is also known as Mahatma, meaning “great soul” – what we would probably call a saint. This young man from India, bright, articulate, and educated as a lawyer, was trained to be an English gentleman and to dress and act like one. But in a night of dramatic conversion, he saw what he felt was a greater truth. He renounced his wealth and chose a life of radical simplicity, giving away all his wealth to the poor. He then began to practice non-violence and passive resistance to all evil he encountered in the discrimination against fellow Indians in South Africa. In the 1930s, during a riot at the salt mines in South Africa, thousands of Indians were beaten, arrested and killed, but no one, under the leadership of Gandhi, fought back. Gandhi became a symbol of the power of non-violence. When he was killed by a violent assassin’s bullet, he became an even stronger symbol of non-violent resistance. Gandhi is still a powerful symbol of non-violence today. … Is that what we think Jesus was on about when he preached the Sermon on the Mount?
In the first century, Jesus practiced non-violence and passive resistance - are Christians called to do the same today?
This passage in the Sermon on the Mount is crucial for us to understand.
But it’s also crucial for us to understand that there is more Aramaic hyperbole, or slang, here, than in any other part of the Bible.
You’re not supposed to take these moral sayings as literal, instead you must think like a Hebrew; a first century Jewish person. In other words, you have to understand their slang.
Like when I say, in Australian slang, “go jump in the lake,” that doesn’t mean for you to actually go and jump into lake water.
If I say to you, “go fly a kite,” that doesn’t mean for you to go and actually fly a kite in heavy winds.
If I say to you, “get lost,” that doesn’t mean you should go out into the forest and actually become lost.
These words are Australian slang and you need to understand that point to know what I’m trying to say.
When Jesus spoke in this passage, there’s a lot of Jewish, or Aramaic, slang, none of which is to be taken literally.
You have to understand this slang in order to understand what was being said.
The key verse is this: “Be merciful, just as your (heavenly) Father is merciful.”
Meaning, be compassionate to evil and sinful people, just as your heavenly father is compassionate to you.
Jesus teaches us to think of God as the most loving, compassionate, intimate father that’s possible.
Then Jesus gives us several examples from every day Jewish life of what it means to be compassionate.
If somebody strikes you on the cheek, offer that person the other cheek as well.
Again, this is Jewish slang.
It’s not to be taken literally.
You need to understand the meaning behind the phrase.
“Slapping you on the right cheek” was Hebrew slang for exchanging insults, then you’d hear “If somebody insults you, don’t insult them back. Don’t exchange insults.”
Be compassionate - that’s what this phrase really means.
A second example is:
If somebody sues you for your shirt, give them your outer coat as well.
Jewish people had many shirts, but usually only one coat or heavy garment.
These words are not to be taken literally.
Rather, when someone is taking advantage of you financially, don’t steal from them – that will only escalate the issue.
Deal compassionately with that person in a spirit of love.
Do something good for them. T
hese words are Aramaic slang for daily financial transactions and bartering, that were a normal part of Jewish life.
A third example from everyday Jewish life involves begging.
There were all kinds of beggars who were part of everyday Jewish life.
Jesus said to give something to everyone who begs from you. If someone borrows from you and doesn’t return it, treat them with compassion.
Be compassionate and generous to the beggars you see in everyday life.
Be compassionate and generous to the people who borrow and don’t pay back.
So, we’ve seen examples of being encouraged to be compassionate to people who would take advantage of us.
We have these examples of Jewish hyperbole that need to be interpreted and not taken literally, just as we know that we are not to take Australian slang literally.
Jesus is inviting his disciples to be generously compassionate and forgiving - just as his heavenly father is generously compassionate and forgiving. In these examples, Christians were told not to retaliate, but instead, do something good for their attacker.
These are the high moral standards that Jesus presented to his disciples.
To be honest, these standards are so high, that I have trouble singing them; they’re outside of my range.
These ethical standards are like a high moral mountain that’s far too high for us to climb.
Even so, the words of Jesus live on, inspiring us, motivating us, lifting us up to be much more compassionate to those who hurt us, just as God is compassionate to people like us.
To those people who do us harm, we return an act of kindness rather than an act of revenge.
God has love – not only for us, but for all of humanity.
His love is so vast that it never runs out and we can always rely on its abundance.
It never fails us.
So, when you’re feeling frustration with another person, for whatever reason, stop and think about how much God loves you, loves me, loves us all – and then pass on some of the love you’ve received, to your neighbours.
Reflection: "Blessed to be a Blessing"
The translation of the Greek word for “Blessed” is “happy”, “fortunate”, or maybe “lifted up”.
eg. the poor shouldn’t look down-trodden, but lift up their heads
It’s often been said that we in Australia are indeed “the lucky mob, in the lucky country.”
According to Credit Suisse's 2021 wealth report, Australia ranks as second on the scale of biggest gain in wealth over the past year and that puts most of us in the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people.
How, then, should we react when we listen to the blessings expressed in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel?
I mean, on one hand, we have the advertisers, who try to deceive us into thinking that we still need more than we already have, but on the other hand, we know that whatever we have, has been freely provided by the God who loves us, as a gift of grace – a blessing.
The words we read in Luke 6 are often called the Beatitudes.
We also find them as written in Matthew's Gospel, in an expanded form.
They’re the introduction to what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.
Earlier in chapter 6, Luke tells us that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray; as a matter of fact, he spent the whole night in prayer.
Then he called his disciples to come with him, and they came to a level place, where a great crowd had gathered to hear his words, be healed of their diseases and have unclean spirits cast out.
Jesus looked at the multitude of the people who had come from far and near, took pity on them and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
The poor, the hungry, and those who mourn are mentioned with special rewards.
Do you think that we fit into any of these categories?
Matthew says that the poor are the "poor in spirit."
I guess that any economically poor people in our society, could also be low in spirits, but most of us aren’t exactly hungry for food these days – it’s our souls that need nourishment.
And do we weep? Maybe we weep for others, but what about for ourselves?
So, anybody can be poor in spirit, humble, and retiring.
Anybody can mourn for the neglect of the Lord's way of life or can be meek or merciful or pure in heart.
Anybody can thirst for God's will to be done or can strive to reconcile quarrels.
But the question remains – what’s asked of us in each of the beatitudes or blessings?
Isn’t it to know who we are?
If we’re poor - poor in spirit - we know that we can do nothing on our own.
If we’re hungry, or soul-hungering, we can begin the search through the dry periods of our life for the beauty of holiness to fill us and renew us in our lives in Christ.
If we weep or mourn, we often find ourselves powerless to remedy the conditions of death, violence and injustice, until we look into the mind of Christ and pray, "What would you have me do now, Lord?"
The key to looking at the beatitudes is obedience - obedience through faith.
For in each of the beatitudes, that observation is there.
The blessedness about which Jesus is speaking is further explained, when he says something that, at first, sounds peculiar: "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you because of your love for the Lord. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven."
The prophet Jeremiah, who lived thousands of years before Jesus, summed it up when he wrote in Ch 17, v 10:
“I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruits of their doings.”
Bishop Richard Chartres, who was recently the Anglican Bishop of London, wrote: "When we examine Jesus' own teaching method, we see how often he was focussed on opening up the imagination of his hearers to fresh possibilities. In doing so, he sought to disorient them, in order to open the door to re-orienting them."
So, we should remember the beatitudes, those lovely, blessing-full, sayings of Jesus.
But his teaching doesn't just end there.
He follows it with what we can call “the woes” and we need to consider these, too.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
In later verses, he berates them to: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you."
Didn't anyone tell Jesus that, in this day and age, these things are not politically correct?
What should we do with our enemies, other than win a victory over them?
Why should I do good to that person who has hatred in their heart for me?
Should I bless the man who just cursed me?
Why, I can do better than that, I can curse him back.
Take more abuse? Absolutely not! I won't pray for that person.
These sound like the normal, human, ways to react, but they’re not the ways of Christ, are they?
Jesus asked them to reverse their way of thinking and let their minds and hearts be ruled by actions such as blessing, loving and forgiving those people who do these things to you.
Recently I read a sermon by the Rev. Paul Petersen, a Presbyterian minister, who preached on the beatitudes by asking the following questions:
· Are the beatitudes your attitudes?
· Do you live the simple, basic life of the poor – keeping apart from the materialistic consumerism that rules our society?
· Do you mourn over the loss of God as the recognized guide for our society? Not the intellectual mourning that judges and condemns society, but the heartfelt grieving of an empty spot in our life?
· Are you guided by clear vision of God's desire for you?
· Are you persecuted for righteousness sake?
· Do your life attitudes stand in such contra-distinction from society's attitudes that you are considered strange?
And he concludes, "If not, why not?"
The beatitudes call us to look at our lives and accept the blessings God gives us as signs of God's faithfulness to us and in return to live in such a way that we show by word and example our faithfulness and commitment to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ to others.
Just showing forth such blessings in our lives will make us a blessing for others.
“O God, you've made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son. Look with compassion on the whole human family. Take away the arrogance and hatred which infects our hearts. Break down the walls that separate us. Unite us in bonds of love, and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth, that in your good time all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Reflection: "Catching People"
In our Gospel reading for this week, we see that Jesus and Luke are both intentionally turning a miracle catch of fish into a parable about catching people for the kingdom.
In other words, Jesus was not merely teaching the word of God as he sat in the boat, but he was showing something, by his actions and words, about how he means for his followers to win people to faith.
Here’s the point that I think Jesus and Luke are making in this whole story.
Multitudes of people will be caught and receive eternal kingdom blessings, by followers of Jesus who teach the word of God, obey the commands of Jesus, humble themselves, and treasure Christ above all.
First of all, Jesus is saying that great multitudes of people are going to be won by his power and authority.
Jesus chose to teach from a fishing boat, so the boat is transformed into an instrument of evangelism.
The boat is a place where the word of God is proclaimed to the crowds and where fish are caught.
Then Jesus tells Simon, whom he’s just met, to push this gospel-bearing boat into the deep water for a catch.
Simon answers ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I’ll do as You say and let down the nets.’"
This interchange between Jesus and Simon emphasizes the power and authority of Jesus that’s about to be shown.
What’s the use, Simon thinks, we know all about fishing – and you’re just a carpenter. But we’ll do as you say.
In v.6: Luke tells us that they had let their nets down and caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break; so they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.
They came and filled both of the boats so full of fish, that they were about to sink."
In other words, this is an utterly unprecedented catch of fish in a location that seemed hopelessly unproductive just a few hours before, and it happened because of the powerful and authoritative word of Jesus.
The interesting concept about catching is, of course, that it’s not done to kill and eat, but to save and feed.
The comparison isn’t between what happens to fish and what happens to people, but between trusting Christ to help you gather fish and trusting Christ to help you gather people - for rest and joy and eternal life.
People come to the Kingdom through the work of man, but only by utilising the power and authority of Jesus.
What does this parable tell us about the kind of people who go people-fishing and win others to Christ?
I think we need to know, so that we can pray and strive to be that kind of people.
I see four things in the text to answer that question: "By Jesus’ power and authority multitudes of people will be caught for eternal kingdom blessings by the followers of Jesus, who . . . teach the word of God."
Luke makes explicitly clear what Jesus had brought to this moment for people-fishing - he’d brought the word of God and if we dare risk the analogy: this was his bait for people-fishing.
This is what was drawing the crowd - they were swarming to hear the word of God.
The word of God is the greatest word there is - not some little jingle to manipulate customers to buy your product.
The word of God is truth that aims to claim a person’s rational mind and win a person’s authentic affections.
We don’t need to be ashamed when we people-fish using the word of God, because it’s truth, not a technique.
Jesus prepares for the parable by deciding to teach the word of God from a fishing boat.
Just as Jesus is gathering a people with the word of God from a fishing boat, so Peter and the followers of Jesus will gather people, like the fishers of men that they are - with the word of God.
I think it’s significant to see that he "taught" the people, because sometimes Jesus proclaims, sometimes he teaches.
Both are important in the life of the church today.
But I want to suggest that in our evangelism – our people-fishing, using the bait of the word of God, should involve a lot of teaching, a lot of explaining.
We live in a society that largely doesn’t know the true nature of God and the gospel.
They don’t know the God-centred nature of what sin is, and what God’s glory and law are.
Who Christ is, what happened on the cross, what faith is, what love is, and what heaven and hell are.
Therefore, to win these people, we need to teach in ways that they can easily understand.
Let’s dream and plan and be aggressive in our love for lost people, by coming up with ways that we can keep telling them and showing them more and more truth.
In Acts 19, Luke tells us that Paul "reasoned daily in the hall of Tyrannus (that is, he taught them for 2 years).
What a great church planting strategy: teach unbelievers daily in a public hall about the Christian worldview.
That’s the first mark of the disciples who do people-fishing……they teach the word of God.
The second is…….. they obey the commands of Jesus.
When Jesus told Simon to push out into the deep, Simon was sceptical.
Think about it: If Simon hadn’t obeyed, there would have been no catch.
I’m sure that Jesus could make the fish jump into the boat if he really wanted to, but he didn’t usually act that way. Yes, he has the power, but he calls us to be his instruments and he gave Peter as an example of how to go about it.
Peter is not exactly brimming with faith, in fact he has lots of excuses we can also use them to avoid people-fishing.
Isn’t it encouraging that the Lord doesn’t pitch Peter overboard, but rather accepts his half-hearted obedience and goes ahead and does the miracle anyway.
I’ve heard dozens of testimonies to this effect, where people say: “I was too tired, it didn’t seem like a very good time to speak of Christ . . . but I did it anyway, and the great, never-weary Christ acted.”
That’s the second mark of people-fishers……. they obey Jesus.
Here’s the third: Those who go people-fishing . . . humble themselves.
When Peter and the others saw the blessing Jesus had given them – the way he had used them to gather the fish - in spite of their half-hearted obedience – Simon Peter fell down saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man!’
Oh, how much we need to see this and also experience it.
It’s the opposite of saying: "Wow, look at the way we get blessed when we follow Jesus!
Biggest catch of fish we’ve ever had, so let’s get a movement going and call it, ‘Trust Jesus, get fish!’
No, Peter looked at grace – pure grace – and felt utterly unworthy and he said so.
That’s a good place to start in evangelism - cocky witnesses only contradict the message of grace.
Let’s wake up to the fact that what is moving here is a band of half-hearted, imperfectly obedient, justified sinners, who feel utterly unworthy of every blessing we have, especially salvation - only then will we be ready to fish.
And now, finally, our fruitful people-fishers . . . treasure Christ above all.
Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’
Because he knows that he will one day die for Peter’s sin, Jesus takes the paralysing fear out of his humility and leaves in its place a lionhearted meekness and bold brokenness.
Peter and James and John respond with hearts overflowing with the value of knowing Jesus: "When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him."
This is what it means to follow Jesus: he is more valuable to us than everything.
This is our prayer:
May the power and authority of Jesus Christ move multitudes of people into eternal kingdom blessings by means of his disciples who teach the word of God, obey the commands of Jesus, humble ourselves, and treasure Christ above all. And may we be obedient and do likewise. Amen