Sermon preached on the Last Sunday before Lent (2 March 2014) by the Reverend Canon Philippa Boardman, Treasurer

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Sermon preached on the Last Sunday before Lent (2 March 2014) by the Reverend Canon Philippa Boardman, Treasurer

'Don't do something – just sit there'

I had never come across a joke about installing a computer programme till this one was sent to me this week.

It shows a computer screen with the words 'Installing British summer' Underneath is the typical long thin horizontal bar which gradually fills up as the programme is installed.

But this particular bar is stuck at 44% ready.

And underneath the bar is a triangle with an exclamation mark in the middle and the words Installation failed.

And underneath that.. Error 404 Summer not found.

Summer not available in your country

Please try Spain.

Well it may seem that the season of cloud and rains has been pretty unremitting in the UK, but we are fast approaching a seasonal change in the church. Today is the Sunday next before Lent, the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday – as with Jesus we turn our faces to Jerusalem and His suffering and death on the cross – and to the resurrection life begun there.

Jesus is on that journey south to Jerusalem when we meet him in today's Gospel reading.

For the disciples, six days have past since Peter has rightly recognised Jesus as the longed for Messiah, since being told that this Messiah must suffer and die, and after hearing the call to pick up their own crosses and follow him there.

Now Peter, James and John, find themselves trekking up a mountain alongside Jesus

Mountains are of no small significance to God's people.

Today we still talk of mountain top experiences.

The Old Testament is peppered with significant moments of encountering God on mountaintops and this would not have escaped the minds of these disciples:

There was Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah,

Moses and the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai

Elijah going several rounds with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.

Now, on top of this mountain, Peter, James and John get a golden glimpse into the glory that belongs to Jesus Christ.

Jesus is transfigured "before them”,

"His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white”.

Then, suddenly, Moses and Elijah are there talking with Jesus.

The Rabbis talk about Moses and Elijah as The Great Saviours of Israel.

Moses was the first saviour. He saved Israel from Pharaoh delivered the nation out of Egypt and brought the law.

And Elijah is supposed to be the last saviour — it is written that he will come at the end of time to save the people and put everything it it’s right order.

Something extraordinary is happening here.

Peter, rather unnerved by all this to say the least, does his characteristic Peter thing of leaping into action - let's prolong the moment and build some dwellings for the 3 of them!

The words are still on Peter’s lips when all of a sudden "a bright cloud overshadowed them.” .

A voice thunders from the cloud, putting a no uncertain stop to Peter's babbling

"This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased”.

The very words that were spoken at Jesus baptism.

But an extra phrase is added:

"Listen to him!”

At the utterance of these words from the cloud the disciples are so terrified that they fall to the ground on their faces. Matthew tells us that Jesus "came near and touched them.” The Greek word here translated as "touched” literally means "to fasten to; adhere to”.

The Beloved Son of God does not just lay his hand on the disciples.

No, he fastens himself to them.

He then says to them, "Get up and do not be afraid.”

And they Peter, James and John are not afraid. Not because they find some strength and bravery within themselves but because they receive a courage and peace from Jesus.

The Jesus who fastenshimself to them.

Then another intriguing thing happens.

The disciples look up and "they saw no one except Jesus himself alone”.

It's an amazing small sentence especially in the original text which really emphasizes that Jesus was the only one they saw - literally that "they saw nothing if not Jesus himself alone.” They saw nothing. Just Jesus. Himself. Alone. The 'Great Saviours' Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus the coming Saviour of the World remains.

The one on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and to die – and to be raised from death.

As we change seasons this week, as we begin the season of Lent on Wednesday, it seems to me that this passage has much to enrich us.

For as Peter, James and John ascended the mountain with Jesus, we have the opportunity to ascend the mountain of Lent – to have a change of pace and scenery in our lives as Christians.

But what will we do on this Lenten mountain?

There is a well-worn phrase in English – don't just sit there, DO something!

It could in fact be a mission statement for our modern lives where we are bombarded by stimulation, by invitations to DO things,

Don't miss out on this opportunity

Don't get left behind

Don't lose out on this chance.

That was something of Peter's mentality when he rushed to put up those tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. James and John don't just stand there with your mouths hanging open. Get busy! Get to work! Let's capture the moment, tweet that comment, upload that photo

Busy! Busy! Do this! Do that! Got to get to work! Produce! Achieve! It's built into the very fabric of our culture, even our religion--the Protestant work ethic.

But what does it really achieve?

For many people would say they are tired of the treadmill

their sense of self esteem crippled by the myth of identity being based on accomplishment, and that if we don't accomplish anything we don't know who we are.

In stark contrast comes the voice of God:

'This is my beloved Son.. LISTEN TO HIM'

Or to turn that English expression upside down:

Don't do something – just SIT THERE!

A few years ago, there was a fascinating television programme called 'The Big Silence' Five members of the general public, who had little or no church background were invited to take part in a 3 month experiment with the community of monks at Worth Abbey. Under the personal guidance of the Abbot the challenge before them was to learn the deeply counter-cultural practice of silence. None of them found it easy – but they were all moved and surprised by how the silence and space to listen to God, opened up possibilities of change in their lives.

The Abbot of Worth made this comment:

Silence is something that people today avoid or even fear … Our busy culture prevents us being still.

Daunting as it may be, we all need silence. When we enter regularly into silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. And especially, I come to know myself and I come in touch with that part of myself which is the deepest part: my soul.

Silence is the gateway to the soul and the soul is the gateway to God

"This is my son, the beloved...listen to him!"-- this same voice beckons to us as we stand on the verge of this journey into the season of Lent

Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, calls us to rediscover our spirituality,

to be,

to quit our frantic babbling,

to pay attention and listen,

to consider who we are:

that we are but dust

and that we are in baptism, God's precious children forgiven, loved, held, and only from that identity, are we called and sent to do God's work in the world.

Rooted and grounded in that love, we can then go out and serve God in the world, not motivated by fear or self justification or devoid of any joy.


If all your doing seems madness and pointless, learn again to behold the mystery,

to turn your mobile devices to silent

to enter a quiet place of awe.

To say simply, in the words of the boy Samuel in the Old Testament: 1 Sam 3:10

"Speak, for your servant is listening."

A desperate father and his suffering son waited at the foot of the mountain for Jesus. There are many many things waiting for our attention and energy in our own foothills of transfiguration, for living out our call to discipleship, for taking up the cross.

Girded by Jesus' words 'Get up and do not be afraid'.

But in order to be able to do that, at least for now,

don't DO something! Just sit there!