Sermon by Clare Heard, Licensed Lay Minister, United Benefice of Holland Park, on Sunday 26 February 2017, Sunday before Lent

Sermon by Clare Heard, Licensed Lay Minister, United Benefice of Holland Park, on Sunday 26 February 2017, Sunday before Lent

Don’t just do something ….sit there!
I’ll say that again – don’t just do something….sit there.
It’s a little different from what we normally hear, isn’t it? Usually, we are commanded to DO something…to NOT just sit there. And for many of us, doing something is the natural reaction to fear, uncertainty or suffering. We want to be in control.
We see this in today’s gospel reading – Peter’s reaction to this amazing mountain top experience, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the glowing face of Jesus, (all of which was probably quite frightening), was to want to build shelters – to do something.
I do it myself – when there is something uncomfortable, I go into fix mode – what can we do to sort things out? – how can we regain control and comfort?
Even in the happy moments – we want to capture it – take a picture, share it on social media.
So in both good and tough times, our natural reaction can often be to do more – either to fix things, or to try and hold on to what we have. And so we are busy. The good old protestant work ethic kicking in – we fill our lives – we produce, achieve, remain active. And this all leads to the common complaint of congregations – we’re so tired….we’re too busy. I know this is true because I see it in myself. We fill our lives to the brim, we dash around the country and the world, we want to participate in all that is good, and help to fix all that isn’t.
So what’s the problem with this? Indeed, is there a problem with this? Surely the motivation to enjoy what is good and sort out what is not, is a noble one. Well, as always, it depends.
I think there are two potential problems with the current patterns of busy-ness and action in today’s world.
Firstly, it is a problem when our identities are bound up in our actions and achievements.
Rev Dr Timothy Smith, a Lutheran pastor, writes: “I stay busy often because I need to justify my life to God and to you and to myself. I want you to be impressed, to think, "I don't know how he does all that!"
But if our identity and value is based on our actions, our busy-ness, then what happens when we aren’t able to be active or do things anymore? Where do people who are less mobile, less able to contribute, find meaning and identity, when they can’t do so much?
Of course, Christ's call to discipleship will involve all sorts of doing, but this should be as our response, not condition for our identity as God's precious children. This identity comes only as gift, through grace, free and undeserved. And we receive this gift, by spending time with God, by being…
Yet many have all but forgotten, or maybe never even have known, simply how to "be." And I think this is partly why we always hear the story of the transfiguration the week before Lent – it brings this command to listen to Jesus – what better time to do that than during Lent, as we try to refocus, rebalance and make space for God. As we remember, learn afresh how to be, and find out identity grounded in the fact we are loved by God, rather than in the achievements or failures of our lives.
Secondly, we need to look at our motivations and priorities. If our busy-ness and doing is getting in the way of God’s voice, then it becomes a problem. If it is a result of listening to God and following his calling, then it’s not a problem. But for many, myself included, the former is more likely to apply.
We can get so action-oriented that we often fail, like Peter in today’s gospel, to be contemplative, spiritual, grounded and centered in the essential reality of God's presence in our lives, simply to stand before and in awe of the mystery of God so that our doing can be meaningful, purposeful, and sustainable.
We need to be first, to listen first, and to do second. And we need to learn when to "do" and when and how to just "be."
Be such that we let go of our need to control, Be so that we listen for the voice of God, so our actions aren't merely the proverbial running around like a headless chicken but, instead, are true acts of discipleship that flow from a being that is formed in the awe and wonder of God's gracious love for us.
And to grasp this, we need to create space so that we can learn to listen.
But what does this really mean?  We probably agree it’s a good idea to try and listen to God, but I’m not sure how many of us know where to start with it, and even if we do, it’s often the first thing to get dropped when we are busy.
But really the reverse should be true – Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer”. And on the rare occasion I manage to do this, I can confirm that he is right – not that I’ve ever managed 3 hours!
To be honest, I think the times I try hardest to listen to God is when I’m writing sermons, closely followed  by when I’m struggling with something very challenging at work or home and need guidance. It’s amazing how pressure can focus the mind and reset priorities!
So where do we start with listening to God? You may already have particular ways that work for you, but if you don’t or want some suggestions, here are three possibilities.
1.       God reveals himself in Scripture – this much the church agrees on. How this happens and whether all of Scripture carries the same weight is less agreed on. But obviously a good starting point is the gospels where we have records of what Jesus says to his disciples, and therefore, by association, to us. As we read scripture, we may hear God speaking to us, through the stories of God’s relationship with our world.

The challenge is that it’s not always obvious what God is saying. Interpretation of scripture is an area of much debate. I was listening to a podcast this week about how we should read the Bible and it was generally acknowledged that there are a myriad of different ways to approach it – we can study it, we can meditate on it, we can place ourselves within the story and we can relate it to our lives today. There is no single right approach. Dr Jane Williams pointed out that the more recent Western approach to try and discern a single meaning for each passage, and focus on literal translations is having the effect of containing and restricting God, rather than allowing the Spirit to work and God to speak through the passages to different people in different ways. We need to open scripture up, not close it down. And so we shouldn’t be worried about not understanding it, or getting the wrong interpretation.

We are called to worship God with our minds and therefore the reading and study of scripture, listening to God’s word, is a great way for us to begin and perhaps catch a glimpse of what God might be wanting to say to us.

2.       God speaks through people and our world – I think one of the most common ways God reaches us is through others – through the actions and words of people we encounter, through the things we see and hear – scenery, music, art, the news…….both good and bad.

We need to keep our eyes and hearts open as we go out into the world, as we engage with our communities. We need to put on God centred lenses – and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, look at the world through God’s eyes.

3.       God speaks to us as we meditate and prayer – you’ve heard it said before, but it’s always worth repeating – creating space in our lives for prayer and meditation creates space for us to catch glimpses of God. That might be in church on a Sunday, or it might not. Solitude, silence, wherever we can find them, give God the chance to draw near, to speak and guide.
The problem with all of this is that we may not want to hear God. Rev Dr Timothy Smith again writes:
“I stay busy because if I ever let up, if I ever get quiet and contemplate where God is moving in my life and what God might be calling me to do, then I might have to deal with that, and it might not be exactly what I want, what I have planned. It just might be something calling me outside of my comfort zone. I stay busy to fill the time and space, not just to serve God, but sometimes to block God's will and my discerning of it. I'm not afraid in the stillness that God won't speak to me. Oh no, I'm afraid that God will.”
Are we brave enough to spend time in silence, to create space and to listen?
Because if we listen, change will inevitably follow. And here we return to the gospel passage, because if there is one clear theme in the transfiguration, it is that of change. We can’t glimpse the glory of God, we can’t hear his word, without it changing us. And change is not comfortable – most of us don’t like it much, but as Daniel Paul II, a student pastor, writes:
“Unwillingness to change stands in direct contradiction to the very nature of the universe of which we are a part, and of which God is at the center. And it contradicts who and what we hope to become as followers of Christ.
Unwillingness to change stands in direct contradiction to the Great Commission, to go and “make disciples of all nations.”
In our gospel reading today, Jesus calls us to transgress our comfort zones and to change, as we grow in the likeness of God, into the people he created us to be.
No-one really likes this. Peter on the mountain wants to get busy with his own agenda because he doesn't like the agenda Jesus has just introduced with the whole "take up your cross" thing. But the voice from heaven persists: "This is my son, the beloved...listen to him!"-- the same voice that beckons to us as we stand on the verge of this journey into the season of Lent, into suffering, to the cross, for which this transfiguration is intended to prepare Jesus, the disciples, and us.”
 “Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, calls us to rediscover our spirituality, to be, to quit our frantic babbling, and to pay attention, to consider who we are as God's precious children, forgiven, loved, held, and only from that identity, gifted and called and sent to do God's work in the world.
If we don't get the "being" part, then the doing will only be chaotic, frustrated attempts at self-justification or else grounded in fear and devoid of any joy. If all your doing seems madness and pointless, learn again to behold the mystery, to enter a quiet place of awe. There will be more than ample opportunity and compulsion for living out our call to discipleship, to taking up the cross. But in order to be able to do that, at least for now, don't just do something! Sit there!”   Amen.
Rev Dr Timothy Smith is senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA
Paul Daniels II is a Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) volunteer serving as the Student and Young Adult Minister at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George in Grahamstown, South Africa. He is from the Diocese of North Carolina

Holland Park Benefice