Monthly Archives: February 2020

What’s in it for You?

The Transfiguration.

Last Sunday of Epiphany  Prop  6 year A. 2020                  

Ex. 24.12-18; Ps. 99; 2 Pet. 1.16-2; Matt .17.1-9

Some years ago, one of Susan’s nephews in the UK called her to say that he and his fiancée Helen who had made arrangements to be married in the local church months before, had just received a call from the local vicar saying he would be away on that date and they would have to find someone else to marry them.

Could Trev do it?

I said I would.

I wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked for permission to do so. He forwarded my letter to the Bishop of Winchester who asked for my credentials and afterward made me a priest of the Church of England for the week of the wedding.

The original church in which the ceremony was to take place had been built by the Saxons in the ninth century, and the existing Norman church had been built in the 11th century.

Incidentally, the church owned a pub which was on the property.

I am sure you must have been in one of  those old stone churches such as you find in the UK and in Europe, knelt there to pray, and become very aware of the quiet and peace that is to be found there.

The walls are mostly  built of stone, two or three foot thick, and the  sounds from outside are reduced to a murmur.  Other visitors in the church move quietly, and talk in low tones.

There is a sense of  history, of eternity almost, in one of those buildings, built around the turn of the last millennium – you can almost hear the whisper of  countless prayers said, and sung over the centuries.  God’s presence seems to be echoed  in the very stones of that old  temple.   

You kneel there and are steeped in the moment. You pray quietly, as if God were standing right there next to you, then you rise and reluctantly head toward the great doors.

You open the door and are almost blinded by the sunlight, and deafened by the noise of traffic and commerce, the tumult of  a city full of people, and suddenly, rudely, you are  back in the present,  that priceless moment of transcendence,   lost.

It is that easy to lose sight of God  isn’t it?   

With work to do, places to be, one can easily be submerged in the tumult of our everyday world, and  slip into a routine that just doesn’t include God. 

It says something about Our Lord that he didn’t lose sight of God.  In fact, it  seems that in Matthew’s account, as he now turns his face toward Jerusalem and the cross, Jesus needs to be sure he is doing  what His Father wants.   He takes three disciples with him and climbs Mount Hermon to pray.

His Father’s will was first in Jesus’ mind.

I was reading a  book recently, and in it one of the characters mentioned the Latin inscription on his family crest.   My Latin is non-existent, so I will probably pronounce this badly, but here goes.

The inscription said, “ Quid lucrum istic mihi est?”

Translated,  it asks,  “What’s in it for me?”

The family crest!

And isn’t that just how it goes?  We don’t generally do something unless there is something in it for us.   The government had to introduce tax refunds on RRSP investments   or we wouldn’t put away money for our old age.

I was in one of the four churches in the Oakville area when we  ran some advertisements in the paper, that were designed to sell the benefits of church attendance. 

Because people want to know what’s in it for them.  

Among those of us who do attend, if you ask why we come, the answer would  probably be something like,  “ I come for the fellowship,” or, “ It is my time to find some peace and quiet,” or “ I feel better after I have been to worship.”  Or, “ I need my spiritual batteries charged.”

That sort of thing.    And all those reasons are fine. .

Frankly, I don’t care if  people come just for the free coffee. They might hear something, or meet someone, that will encourage them to follow Jesus.

But when Jesus prayed, he wanted to ensure that  what he was doing, was what the Father wanted, not what he wanted. 

I would bet that the most quoted phrase of John F. Kennedy’s is  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, what can you do for your country.”

That’s a noble thought isn’t it? 

I wonder how many people, how many business leaders, how many politicians, would subscribe to that sentiment today.

Companies move from country to country in search of the lowest taxes and rates of  pay;  politicians increasingly work for partisan interests; in this economic climate people don’t feel loyalty to their employer – they might be laid off tomorrow.

“Look out for yourself, because no-one else is going to do it,” is the cry.

But the call to Christians is –  paraphrasing Jack Kennedy –   “Ask not what God can do for you, but rather, what  can you do for God.”

That’s what Jesus is doing on Mount Hermon –  ensuring that what he does, is for God.

The disciples see him  in conversation with two men, Elijah the greatest prophet and Moses the greatest law-giver. These two men are the twin peaks of  Israel’s religious history. The two greatest figures in Israel’s history came to Jesus and witnessed to him that he should go on. 

History came to life, and pointed Jesus on his way.

Then a bright cloud envelopes them, and the voice of God is heard, “This is my Son the Beloved;  with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

All the gospel writers write about the luminous cloud which overshadowed them.  That cloud was part of Israel’s history. It stood for the shekinah, which was nothing less than the glory of God.

When the tabernacle was finally completed, in the wilderness,  according to the pattern given to Moses by God, this cloud filled the tent.

This was the cloud which led Israel through the desert, by day. 

This cloud is associated with the Exodus – the departure of Israel from Egypt, when a nation entrusted God to lead them into and through the wilderness.

That same  shekinah,  the glory of God, descended on  Jesus there on  Mount Hermon, as his own exodus lay before him. It was this experience which arguably enabled Jesus, to resolutely walk the way of the cross.

Peter –  action man  –  wanted to build three shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. But also, unusual for him, he wanted to remain on the mountain.

He wanted to prolong the moment. 

He was reluctant to return to the world below.

He wanted to hold onto the transcendence. 

Those precious moments when we  sense God’s presence, often, but not always in church, are always more enjoyable than doing actual ministry aren’t they?  

Much preferable to the way of the cross.

It is always encouraging, I think, when people linger here after church,  talking to each other, relishing the moment.  But I wonder what would happen if  people  were so excited at what they had just heard, or experienced, that they rushed out to tell a friend or neighbour about it.  

Or just had to hurry home to put into practice what God has laid on their heart to do. 

But however we react, what is important is to realise that when we leave we should be taking the presence of God  with us.

That’s one of the challenges for today’s Christian. To take, seek, find, Christ in everything we do.

But it’s not always a comfortable thing to do. It’s easier to leave Him in church isn’t it?

It’s in our human nature to want things to be as comfortable as possible, and sometimes, in the process of  working toward that, God slips out of the equation.

We can  become complacent.

We can  lament  the way things are in the world,  the plight of  homeless people;  the victims of war, or natural disaster, then just go on living our lives the same way. 

Not doing anything about it. 

Not seeing the challenge. 

Comfortable in the way we are, and missing  what is really  important. 

There is a story about a clergyman who on entering the bedroom was surprised to see his wife putting a shoebox under the bed. She explained shyly, “This is the only secret I have ever had from you. Please don’t ask me to explain.”

Well, as you might imagine, he  couldn’t control his curiosity, so later, while his wife was out he went into the bedroom and  looked into the box. In it was a wad of money totaling about $800, and three eggs.

He later admitted to his wife that he had peeked into the box, and he asked her what it all meant.  She didn’t want to say, but after a bit of persuading, she explained, hesitantly, “You see, every time you preached a boring sermon I would put an egg into the box.”

“Well,” he started to say, “ In eight years, three eggs isn’t that bad…………”

“Then” his wife said, “ And when I had a dozen I would sell them.”

Maybe this guy had become a bit complacent – had gotten into an easy groove.  And he didn’t want to change.

It  was working for him  –  if not for God.

You know, I  think that in our prayers it’s about time we started asking  God,  “ In this life I  lead –  in the way I conduct myself –  in the way I approach challenges –  in the way I use the skills you have given me,  Lord,   what’s in it for you?”

What’s in it for you?

Jesus was always praying. wasn’t he? 

What could he be doing all that time, in prayer?

You can only say the Our Father so many times.

I think he was checking in.  Checking his life. The way it was headed, the things he was doing, the direction he was taking, the journey he was on, to see if everything  was in line with what his Father wanted for him.

He wanted to make sure there was something in it for God.

How would you know otherwise? Without praying?  Without asking?

Without offering?

Are you doing what your God wants you to do?   Are you taking your problems and decisions to Him? 

Is the question in your heart ,“ What’s in it for me?” or “ Lord, what is there in my life for you?” 

There is an old hymn that says it well.

Thy way not mine O Lord,                

  However dark it may be!

Lead me by thine own hand;

Choose out the path for me.

I dare not choose my lot,

I would not if I might;

Choose thou for me  my God

So shall I walk aright.

Not mine, not mine the choice

In things great or small;

Be thou my Guide, my Strength,

My Wisdom, and my All.