Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 February 2019.
It is strange what perspective does for us. In the city, the buildings are all we really see, some of them dignified and giving a certain presence and dignity to the scene and others utilitarian and quite ugly.
Where we are determines what we see, but what we see is controlled by short and narrow perspectives. Not only that, but the city leads us into seeing only what mankind has achieved – and even that is liable to falling into disuse, or crumbling away or catching fire.
What seems to be so permanent and unchanging is itself an illusion which distorts our understanding.
When we go into the countryside then the landscape is opened up, the sense of vision and perspective then change and a new sense of reality asserts itself. And if we go to sea then the same thing happens only more so.
It is not surprising that both Moses and Jesus had to leave the city or the camp and go up the mountain in order to draw closer to God and to find a new kind of perspective.
For Moses the mission was to go up on behalf of his people, who were waiting for him in the camp at the foot of Mount Sinai. He was the one who had already met God as he journeyed in the wilderness and found Him in the burning bush.
Then, God had commissioned him with the release of the children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, and Moses had had to rely on his closeness to God in his daily confrontation with Pharaoh and his meetings with the leaders of Israel.
But as he put himself at the service of both God and the people so he also was being transformed. He was no longer his own man and he was learning to find himself as he served both God and his people.
Whatever Moses’ personal wishes and preferences, he was allowing them to be overruled in favour of that bigger picture and that greater commission.
Those 40 years in the wilderness when he had had to escape from Egypt were being put to a good use, as he exchanged the privileges of Pharaoh’s household for the privations of the desert, the simplicity of the camp and the needs of the sheep.
When we look at Jesus, the same picture is there but more so.
Jesus had already laid aside His place at the side of His Father in heaven, with all its majesty and glory.
For 30 years, life had consisted at being at the beck and call of parents, teachers, neighbours and as a carpenter, of local officials, customers and of course the needs of His family.
Even when it came to starting and developing His ministry it began with baptism by John followed by time in the wilderness contemplating how that ministry should develop.
And like Moses, Jesus was finding that personal preferences did not come into it. This time He was at the service of God His Father, as well as the people of Israel – and the rest of humanity.
And added to that, He was having to train up His disciples so that when His work was over, they would be able to continue in His steps.
So Jesus also, on the Mount of the Transfiguration was being given a new kind of perspective – but not one to confirm His personal preferences but rather, one which would lead Him to the cross.
In meeting Moses and Elijah, He was meeting the greatest of the law and the prophets, both of whom had been summoned from life by the imperative and the initiative of God.
One had laid his life down having seen the promised land but not being allowed to enter it while the other had been translated into heaven by the horses and the chariot of God.
And what Jesus had to do was to complete what their lives had never been able to fulfil.
For Jesus that mountain-top encounter was more than just a wonderful spiritual experience. It was also a strengthening of His resolve to take His Fathers’ will to another mountain – this time Mount Zion and there to lay His life down on a roadside gibbet.
Jesus’ mountain-top encounter was far more than a spiritual enlightenment, for He was again meeting and strengthening His mission to lay Himself down for the sins of the world.
He would only fulfil Himself by wholly denying Himself, and by walking with steely determination in the will of God.
For us also there will be times when personal preference and inclination will have to be set aside, no matter how worthy and dedicated those preferences may be.
What is good may have to be set aside for the better and what is beautiful may have to give way to what we may only later know to be glorious.
Our own learning may have to be renewed by the wisdom of God as we also come into that place of new freedom where we find that where the Spirit is there is freedom – but a freedom as we never knew it before or imagined how it could exist.