Sunday before Lent - Talking to God face-to-face

A sermon preached at St George's Campden Hill by the Revd Ivo Morshead, 10 February 2013

Exodus 34.29-end, 2 Cor 3.12-4.2, Luke 9.28-36

Words from the OT lesson; The skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God
And from the Gospel;  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed.

We have in our kitchen an old television set. Last week was nearly the end of the time for buying Seville oranges for marmalade and while we were labouring away at the tedious task of  cutting, squeezing, slicing and gutting out the pith there happened to be a documentary about famous Hollywood American heartthrobs. Laugh or scorn, there was no question about the transformation in the faces of the adoring young women who clamoured to get near the celebrities  and doted on every word. When they were close to their hero their faces  were ecstatic. The same can be said for Moses talking with God and for Jesus while he prayed.

This change and ecstasy in Moses is described in the first lesson from Exodus (34 v 29);  The skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Likewise in the Gospel , Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, says much the same about the face of Jesus; And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed. On this last Sunday before Lent we might take the opportunity to consider different ways of drawing near to God. One way is talking with God, another way to describe this is prayer.

We pray of course every time we come to church. The classic formula as we learned at catechism is ACTS. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Just consider for a moment how the service this morning follows exactly this formula. We have the A adoration in the Gloria and in the hymns as we have already sung Christ whose glory fills the skies. The C Confession comes right at the beginning when we said together Almighty God , our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you  in thought and word and deed and in what we have left undone. The T Thanksgiving part appears all through in hymns and in particular in the Eucharistic Prayer. Listen today as the priest says Let us give thanks.. to which we shall respond It is right to give thanks and praise. such thanks expressed immediately too at the start of the consecrating prayer. The S Supplication, follows the creed as we are led in  the intercessions for the world as it is today and the need for love and peace and healing and compassion and hope. The whole service ends with the bidding Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. as we are sent out to a new beginning, spiritually refreshed, cleansed and hopefully instructed by sermon and scripture.

The scripture today in the  Gospel today is from Luke. The  opening words of this Gospel  are Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter, James and John and went up on the mountain to pray. These sayings or teaching for Luke preceding the account of the transfiguration are given by Jesus to the 12 apostles. First Jesus gave the twelve Power and authority  over all demons and to cure disease and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God (v1). Jesus  instructs them to go from house to house, Take nothing for your journey, no staff, no bag, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.. Jesus warned his disciples  of what it would mean to those who were willing to follow him. Peter recognised Jesus as the Messiah, and all twelve were told of what awaited the Messiah in the shape of great suffering, rejection, death but on the third day to be raised up. Jesus taught, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. These are some of the sayings in the 8 days preceding the going up the mountain to pray when the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.

The appearance of our faces betray our feelings. I have been to two funerals in the past ten days. I was very struck by the effect on so many of the young people at the time of committal and the words earth to earth , ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The final earthly departure of one loved all ones life is very hard indeed and the sorrow expressed in tears is natural and expected. Even the words that follow in the service in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ who shall change our earthly body of our low estate that it might be like unto his glorious body cannot soften the grief  at the time. On this coming Wednesday we have the opportunity to be marked by the ashes from the burning last years palm crosses on our foreheads to remind us throughout the day of our need for God and of God’s call to us. Many who are ashed in this way retain the mark on their forehead by way of witness to their commitment to Christ and to show that Lent has begun. Ash Wednesday too is when we burn any palm crosses that we have kept from last year’s Palm Sunday.
This Sunday is the Last before Lent. Many of us have already bought the Lent Book to read during Lent. As well as that we all have the opportunity to come to the well publicised and promising programme of visiting speakers on Tuesday Evenings. I hope too that we all have a copy of the little booklet entitled YES and that we will take them home with us. These twenty pages are aimed to be a very simple lead into thinking and praying. Although the pages follow a linking sequence, each page can be taken on its own just to contemplate and lead to coming closer to God. When I was,  like last week’s preacher, a curate at Saint Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, all four curates and the vicar met every week day in the lady chapel at 7 AM for 30 minutes silent prayer and meditation followed by 30 minutes matins followed by Holy Communion. I did that for the five years I was in Bristol having already had two years before following the same pattern at theological college. I am grateful for that discipline and the help it  has been to focus entirely on what one should aim to become, yet remain so every far from achieving, namely able to look into the mirror and see reflected some one better than oneself. As Paul wrote in the epistle today and all of us with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image............for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Paul tells the church in Corinth that the believers image unveiled in the mirror becomes that of Christ,  salvation involves increasing conformity to him so that the lives of the Church would reflect the life of Jesus.

So many faces we see in the street hurrying by are worn by stress and worry. Thank God that many too, are well and contented.  Their faces may not tell the whole story, the screaming ecstasy of the teenage fan at the sight  a film or pop star does not mean that they have any idea of what sort of person either party really is. To know that, conversation is needed. To know what a person is  we need to talk to them. How can we know God if we do not talk to him?  Moses knew this and when he did his face shone because he had been talking with God. Jesus when he prayed to the Father, the appearance of his face changed. For Paul it was essential that the church in Corinth would see the face of Jesus in their mirror reflecting in their faces the likeness of Christ through their proximity to Him.

May we in this coming Lenten season nurture our growth towards our likeness to Christ in our lives and remove any veil that may be hiding our true selves from the world.
Holland Park Benefice