What it takes

Genesis 15:1-12. 17-18, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4.1, Luke 928-36

Stories of transformation. Stories of gritting your teeth and getting stuck in and being encouraged from those around you and those who have gone before you. Realising that you’re not the only one who’s gone through or is going through a tough patch. Abraham quite clearly aches for an heir, one of his own. Paul speaks of the Philippians holding fast to what they have learned. Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus to encourage him for what lies ahead.

Earlier this week I spoke about the ‘dark night of the soul.’ A time in one’s spiritual journey where it seems as though God is so very distant. That he doesn’t answer, and you begin to wonder whether there is actually a God. Gone are the times when you intentionally sat somewhere waiting, listening, obedient because you knew he would show up and you could enjoy his creation, his laughter in your life, his being with you. You knew you were a child of God because with him your life was changed. 

Our Gospel passage is of the transfiguration. The point in life where Jesus was affirmed as God’s son and his appearance changed and his clothes become dazzling white. I wonder how many of you have seen someone’s face shine and pondered about why or how? I wonder how many people have experienced a transfiguration in an instant. And I wonder how many people experience a transfiguration or transformation (change) over many months or even years.

St John of the Cross speaks of this dark night of the soul, a time when God appears withdrawn from your presence. Note that this is not when we’ve withdrawn from God’s presence because we do this all of the time. We make ourselves too busy to pray or even acknowledge God. Yet, we complain when God seems distant from us. When he doesn’t appear to be at our beck and call.

The dark night of the soul can go on for months or even years. Thomas Merton suggests that to keep going to church, and to keep saying your prayers, as if nothing has changed within you, will help your journey through this dark night. Keeping your friends around you and being encouraged by their stories helps keep your faith alive.

At some point, when God feels the time is right, he may make an entrance in your life again. But it won’t be with a fanfare, a ta-dah moment. That’s human. That’s a ‘look-at-me’ moment, ‘I’m back!’ No. God’s way will be through the small, the insignificant moments, the blink-and-miss-it moments. 

Your journey through this dark night, through the sheer anguish of wanting something so much, might result in a realisation that your love for God is no longer dependent on what you experienced in the early years of walking with Him, but it is now much more of a long-term relationship. One where you realise that your love of and for God goes beyond those expectations you had for him.

In the verse directly preceding our Epistle reading, Paul talks about holding fast to what has been attained. He then goes on to ask the Philippians to imitate him. Why would he do that if he thought they all loved Christ? Perhaps this is about lifestyle choices that allow oneself to keep a hold of the love of Christ through the really tough and gritty and dark times? 

The enemies Paul speaks of here may well have been real people, but I put to you that the enemies of the cross of Christ could also be trust in human power and wisdom rather than in God’s redemptive nature. We too need to hold fast to what we have attained in Christ. If we feel God is distant, perhaps we too need to imitate Christ, even if we feel like a fraudin doing so.

These enemies of the cross of Christ that Pauls writes of don’t just exist after the Cross. They existed back in Abraham’s time too. Even though Abraham had the grisly job of cutting up several animals and laying them out and trusting that God would show up. He still ended up investing in his own means in order that he might have an heir and tried to short-cut what God had already promised him. In the Epistle, we have Paul encouraging the Philippians to focus on Christ and not those that would set their minds on earthly things. Paul like in many of his letters chooses to play on the words that have obviously been supplied to Paul in a letter from the Philippians, back in a form that they find encouraging. The enemies of the Cross are seeking power for themselves, those who are accumulating earthly wealth and who might be focussed on their bodies in some way. Paul writes of the transformation of the body of humiliation to a body of Christ’s Glory, through a power that only Christ has.

In the Gospel reading, we have this mountain top experience, a thin place where Jesus meets with those who have gone before, while being there in the present with some of his disciples and being encouraged for what lies ahead. 

Who, in the grit and determination of pushing through what seems like an incessantly dark place, doesn’t appreciate encouragement for the journey ahead? Perhaps our response to this is to do with our own transformations? Our job is not to build a shelter for Jesus, like Peter wanted to do on that mountain. Our job is not to ask God to covenant with us. Our job is not to run ourselves ragged, running around after everyone else with all their expectations and needs and wants.” 

Our job is simply to do what God asks of us, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

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