How many of you have tried, at one time or another, to lose some weight? I’m sure you know what it’s like! You put yourself on a sensible eating regime, and you start to take some form of exercise. I’m lucky, because I have found a sport I love, and I’m motivated to go to the ice rink four or five times a week and take my exercise there. Others go the gym, or sign up for aerobics classes, or go swimming, or simply for a brisk walk every so often.
The trouble is, it’s dull. The sort of food you eat when you are trying to lose weight is often not quite as fulfilling as the sort that is better reserved for occasional treats – mmm, doughnuts! – and exercise can be very boring. You plodge on, feeling that you’re getting nowhere fast, and wondering why you bother. Then, suddenly one day, somebody says to you, “Are you losing weight?” or, better still, “You have lost weight!” and it all feels worth while.
Similarly, I know I love ice dancing, but you wouldn’t believe how bad I am at it! I practice and practice, day in, day out, but improve very slowly indeed. But just sometimes you remember to look back and discover that an exercise or dance you couldn’t begin to do last year is becoming easy! Or you meet someone you haven’t seen for a few months, and they’re like, “My goodness, you’ve improved!” All very cheering. Or when you start a new hobby, and find it really hard at first, and then gradually realise that you are improving.
But isn’t it the same with our Christian lives, too? We plod on, dutifully using what John Wesley called “The means of grace”, that is, the Sacrament, public worship, the Scriptures, prayer and so on, and yet nothing seems to happen. Sometimes it feels as though our relationship with God is all down to us, not to God, and doubts set in. But then, just sometimes, God breaks in and we get a glimpse of his glory. I know that has happened to me, and I hope it has happened to you.
In our readings today, various people get glimpses of God’s glory.
Firstly, Moses and the Israelites. Moses is spending time in the mountains with God. This passage is set shortly after that infamous episode with the golden calf, and I think the authors are trying to emphasize that it is God, Yahweh, who is in charge, not Moses, not a golden calf, nor anybody else. So Moses’ face shines when he has been in God’s presence, as he is speaking with God’s authority. The Israelites caught a glimpse of God’s glory. And we are told that Moses did, too; he was allowed to see just the tiniest shadow of the back of God – as though God had a human form, but then, he was told, he couldn’t see the face of God as he wouldn’t live through the experience. Nobody can, nobody except Jesus. We can only come to God through Jesus; more of that in a minute. The Israelites could only see God’s glory reflected in Moses’ face, and it scared them. Moses, who hadn’t at all realised anything was different, had to put a veil over his face while he was among them, so as not to scare them.
The New Testament reading set for today, which we didn’t read, points out that Moses was able to take the veil off, eventually, because the glory faded. Moses was back among the people, involved in the every-day tasks of running the Exodus, and gradually the glimpse of glory that he had had, and that he had passed on to the Israelites, faded.
Okay, fast-forward several hundred years to the time of Christ. This time, it is Jesus who is going up the mountain and he asks his friends James, Peter and John to go with him. I don't know whether Jesus knew what was going to happen, only that it was going to be something rather different and special, and he wanted some moral support! And so the four friends go up the mountain - and suddenly things get rather confused for a time, and when it stops being confused, there is Jesus in shining white robes talking to Moses and Elijah.
Peter, of course, babbles on about building shelters, but more to reassure himself that he exists, I think, than for any other reason. And then the voice from heaven saying "This is my Son, listen to Him". In other words, Jesus is more important than either Moses or Elijah, who were the two main people, apart from God, in the Jewish faith. To good Jews, as James, Peter and John were, this must have almost felt like blasphemy. No wonder Jesus told them to keep their big mouths shut until the time was right, or he'd have been stoned for a blasphemer forthwith.
Peter, for one, remembered this momentous day until the end of his life. Years and years later, he - or someone writing in his name - was to write: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, `This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain."
For Peter, James and John, it was to be proof that Jesus is the Messiah, and through all the turbulent times that followed they must have held on to the memory of that tremendous day, when they saw a glimpse of God’s glory in Jesus.
But they, too, had to come down from the mountainside and carry on, and immediately they are confronted with a crisis: a child who has been brought to the disciples for healing, but nothing has happened. In this version of the story, Jesus sounds almost cross – well, you can’t blame him, can you? He was probably tired after being on the mountain, and rather wanting a quiet supper and his bed, and now the disciples were all talking at once, explaining how they’d tried to cast out this demon, and the boy’s father is adding to the confusion, and yadda, yadda, yadda….. Basically, back to normal! We know from other accounts of this story that afterwards Jesus tells the disciples that they can only cast out that sort of demon with prayer and possibly fasting.
So it seems that glimpses of God’s glory are very rare, and the normal gritty, hum-drum, everyday life is the norm. And that’s as it should be. You can’t live on a mountain-top all the time, you’d get altitude sickness! If you were on holiday all the time, you wouldn’t appreciate the rest and relaxation that being on holiday brings. I’m between jobs at the moment and, believe me, it’s not much fun waking up and knowing you have no work to go to and, when you get up, the big excitement of the day will be deciding what to have for supper! We are never quite sure where God is in all of this.
But God is there. Those very special glimpses of his glory, such as Moses saw, such as Peter, James and John saw, are just that: special. They happen maybe once or twice in a lifetime, if that. But God is there, acting, working in our lives, even if we don’t always recognise Him.
Like the man lost in the desert, who fell on his knees and cried out to God to help him. “And so God helped you?” asked someone, listening to his tale. “Oh no,” said the traveller. “You see, before God could intervene, a caravan appeared on the horizon and they rescued me.” Yes, well, duh!
When we pray for someone to be healed, quite often we want to see God intervening spectacularly, like the disciples expected to see with the boy with a demon from today’s reading. But most often what happens is that the person gets well slowly, with or without medical intervention. After all, if you think of it, there’s a limit to what medicine can do. My father has just had his hip replaced, and I was amazed to learn that, when he came home from hospital a week later, he no longer needed a dressing on the wound. It had healed up really fast. “Aren’t surgeons amazing!” he said, and, indeed, they are. But all they could do, no matter how experienced, was sew up the wound, and encourage it to heal – they can’t actually make the flesh grow back together again. That has to be left to natural processes – or is it God?
I burnt my arm rather badly at the beginning of December, and although the nurses at the hospital were very good about putting dressings on, and giving me good advice, they couldn’t make it mend, especially as they decided it just didn’t need a skin-graft. The skin had to grow back all by itself, nothing the nurses could do, nor me, to make it happen. Yes, healing is mainly a natural function, thank goodness – but I also believe it is from God, who is still intimately involved in his creation.
I, as I said, am between jobs just now, and am very much hoping and praying that I will get one this week – there’s something a bit promising on the horizon. But whether I get it or whether I don’t, one thing is for sure: a job isn’t just going to fall into my lap. It is my responsibility to look for the job vacancies every day, and apply for those jobs that look as though I would enjoy and be good at. When I get an interview – and so far I’ve only had one actual job interview, and another on Tuesday, but plenty with agencies, I always pray that if the job isn’t right for me, I either won’t be offered it, or else will have the grace and courage to turn it down. I believe God is very involved in my job-search, although it doesn’t always feel like it. But I have to do my part, too.
As I said, I believe God is involved in healing, whether it is by direct, supernatural intervention, or through the normal processes of one’s immune system, aided by medical or surgical intervention when necessary. But those glimpses of glory that I started with – the times when you’ve been trying to lose weight and someone tells you you’ve succeeded, or when you realise that you are making progress in your chosen sport or hobby – I believe those times, too, are from God.
I think, then, that what I want to leave with you today is this: as we go into Lent, which is a time when we are apt to think about God, and our relationship with Him, perhaps a little more deeply than at other times of the year, let’s be on the lookout for touches of God in our everyday lives. They don’t have to be spectacular, they probably won’t be. But each of them is a little glimpse of glory. Amen.