Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 14 February 2020.
• First Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1-14 (The translation of Elijah, the place of Elisha)
• Psalm 30
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 (Unbelievers are blinded to the gospel; we preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord)
• Gospel: Mark 1: 40-45 (The Transfiguration of Jesus)
The games are magnificent and the ceremonies to open them, close them and reward the fastest and the most skilful are spectacular.
They take us away from the normal life of getting up and preparing breakfast, of washing the dishes and the clothes and putting out the rubbish.
Somehow there is no connection between the glorious wonders of the games and the pure ordinariness of the lives of the spectators. It is as if the glories of the sports field are for the specially endowed and prepared.
The reality of the sports field however is that for every successful national or international performer, there are hundreds who hoped but could not fulfil their ambitions. More than that, even for every hopeful competitor, there are dozens and scores more whose interest was not cultivated and who did not have access to the training facilities or the stamina for the training regime.
But then there is something else to look at and think about. We celebrate Moses and Elijah not only because they were chosen by God but also because they were willing to live under His provision and direction.
When the time came for them to complete their tasks in the world, God took them home. Moses died on the mountain top, and Elijah was taken bodily into heaven.
And yes, their lives’ works were complete but the overall vision of the rule and the salvation of God was had yet to be fulfilled.
In this sense they also saw a fulfilment of their lives as they met Jesus on the mountain top in Galilee, and St Luke tells us, spoke of His coming passion and death.
In this way also Jesus’ work was not yet complete and so they all had a sense of anticipation. And that included Peter, James and John whom Jesus had taken with Him.
They also were ordinary men who had been chosen by Jesus to be His disciples and then to witness this mountain-top vision. For them there would also be a lot more to come, more things to see, do and to say, more trials to endure, and more hopes to hold onto.
But Paul gives us a clue about what this is all leading into as he writes to the church in Corinth about his own mission.
For this is a mission to proclaim Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. It is all about Jesus – and never about Paul. It is a mission that demands that he lay aside any and all claims for himself and concentrate on the gospel message.
Should he project himself onto that message then it would be partial and tainted. He might draw on his experience and understanding and he might use personal experiences to illustrate it, but these are all means of communicating the essential gospel message. They are never part of it.
But Paul says something more. The gospel message is for all who can and will hear it. He lays down no preconditions for hearing the message. Nobody is too sinful, too poor, too disabled or too poorly educated to be allowed to hear it.
But then not all wish to hear it. For some it is a barrier of nonsense, clouded by mystery and shrouded in impossibility.
Not all are willing to allow their lifestyles to be challenged, or to allow their assumptions of life to be questioned.
For some, to live a good life as they see it is sufficient, and they need no mediator, or Saviour or advocate before the throne of God.
For some their own efforts are sufficient for all purposes and only the weak-willed and the weak-minded need such crutches.
For some, blinded by their own sorrows and life-experiences, they find that God cannot exist and so God does not exist.
For whatever reason, Paul refers to them as being so blinded that they cannot see the light of the gospel.
And all this brings the issue back to us as individuals who have known the mercy of God and meet Him in the person of Jesus, the words of the scriptures, and the outward forms and inner realities of the sacraments.
We also are the people living out our lives in the ordinariness of everyday realities. The bills to be paid, the meals to be prepared, the ordinary life of a household. And these days even this is hindered and complicated by the lockdowns of our time.
But these lives are the places where God has placed the realities of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the places where His passion and resurrection come into focus. It is here, as we seek to serve the Lord without imposing our own agendas onto His message, that He also seeks to let the world around us know of His mercy.
In this sense we are also part of the unfinished task of the Mount of the Transfiguration. We are part of the ongoing work, even in our own ordinary and uneventful lives.
The Passion of Jesus that Moses and Elijah were discussing with Him on the Mount was and is indeed for all peoples and places and times.
But the task of sharing them in our generation and community is with us, in the people we have become and the words and actions that we use as we go about our daily tasks – especially the boring and the tedious and the unrecognized.