Br Nicholas preached at Evensong at St Mary’s Priory this evening
Biblical texts are Sirach 48:1-10 / Psalm 84 / Matthew 17:9-23
He asked :
How often do we set up aside time in our life in order to pray, to abide in God’s presence? This is a question I have been struggling with for years now. When we gather here as a community to pray, or when we go out into the world to do outreach work, are we always aware or conscious?
We heard that the disciples picked up by Jesus to go with him on the mountain were astounded by his transfiguration. Then, he told them not to say a word to anyone, “The Son of Man must suffer and be handed over the authorities and dies” first.
There is doubt, confusion, perplexity towards what happened, how Jesus chose to reveal himself. This is pretty much what many people of faith experience daily, doubt and confusion.
“Was my prayer answered?” is often the question we wonder. How was it answered, how will I know that it has been answered?
The words of Jesus aren’t new. He came to proclaim afresh what was told to Moses centuries ago, then to the prophets until the days when John the Baptist called the people to repentance. Jesus, transfigured on the mountain, shows us the continuity of the promises of God, throughout all ages, from the law given on Mount Sinai to the appearing of Elijah in the person of John the Baptist.
Shortly after the disciples came down from the top of the mountain, their faith has been tested. A man, having a possessed child, came to them, begging for healing. Unfortunately, as we heard in the Gospel, the apostles were not able to cure him. Jesus reproached them their lack of faith, their unbelief about what they witnessed, about his own identity as Messiah and Son of God.
What about us? Where are we in this narrative? Do we stand with the apostles when they doubt about Jesus? Are we like this man, begging Jesus for healing in our lives? If so, how do we know that Jesus touched us and healed us?
As messy and disordered our lives can be, God can and will act through them. Our Lord doesn’t need to wait for our lives to be well, prosper and splendid to act. Rather, God shows himself in the midst of darkness, doubt, conflict, when reconciliation, healing and love are necessary.
As we journeyed through the message of the Epiphany, where the Gentiles encountered Jesus as the promised child announced by the prophecies, we now enter into the time of conversion. A time when God calls we back to himself.
“Conversion” is a huge and meaningful word, which has been used in many unfortunate circumstances. People have tried to force their beliefs on other people, reducing the Christian faith to a set of formal ideas to adopt in order to be saved.
However, this is not how conversion works.
Martin Luther talked about the “daily conversion of the heart”, how to die our own self to be clothed by Jesus’ righteousness and justice. To convert means to literally turn our hearts BACK to God, to let God transform ourselves into the likes and image of his own heart. As Lent approaches, we are called to return to God in all our doings and thoughts. To let go sin and take up our cross. To have confidence into God’s words, as we know them to be the truth.
Faithfulness is not to be seen primarily into actions but in our deep committed relationship to God. Our actions must be directed by this grace we received, to let it shape our lives and give confidence to God in return.
Lent is the time of commitment, when we journey with Jesus to the Calvary, when we dare to trust his words and to see them fulfilled on the third day at the resurrection. The question the apostles asked to Jesus could be the same for us today: “Why can’t I perform this miracle, why can’t I produce the sign people needs to see?”
Well, I am not telling you that you will perform incredible signs, or healing people from serious diseases at every moment. However, the faith to which we are drawn to is about trust and love. As far as perplexed we can be, the call to repentance, to turn back to God in our daily lives is a constant gift and duty we all need to achieve. There is an individual responsibility towards God, though we are not alone to carry on this duty. St Paul says that if we bear one another’s burdens, we are fulfilling the law of Christ.
When I was younger in my faith, I used to think that God could stop to love me if I sin too much, or if I sin continuously for the reason. As soon as I got on my knees to pray, I was a bit terrified, I mortified myself, and I thought it could be something good to do in order to please him. Do you want to know the results of this attitude? NOTHING.
Shame isn’t something coming from God, for it is not helpful to turn back to him. Shame is a process by which we think that we need to do something to clean ourselves from our sins, shame makes us thinking that we can actually DO something by our own efforts, in order to be saved. To be forgiven. This is entirely wrong.
The grace of God is free, it is pure gift given to us, such as our baptism. Of course, I am not saying that we can’t do anything in order to please God when we have sinned and we turn back to him.
The psalm 51 says that contrite heart and a humble spirit is our lawful sacrifice, what is truly pleasing God. Our Lord doesn’t take pleasure, satisfaction in our sufferings, in our physical or spiritual mortifications. The danger to think like this is to turn the gratuity of God’s grace and salvation into something we can own by our own efforts and our will. This is wrong.
Neither is true that shame, self-hatred are the path to repentance. Again, as I was younger in my faith, I thought that saying to myself “I am disgusting, I am terrible, I deserve hatred, to be rejected, I desire death, I feel so sad and dirty, God, leave me into my pit. This is my place; where I belong to”.
Again, this is not what Jesus tells us today in his Gospel. He asks us to trust him, to bring him our failures, our hearts, our thoughts and minds. In doing so, we let God be God into our lives, cleansing our souls from all iniquities and transgressions.
God doesn’t measure our sins, he doesn’t make a list of all the wrong doings we have done throughout our life. He is not us. However, when our hearts are contrite, when we know our transgressions and we don’t try to diminish it, when we are honest before God in bringing what it wrong, then salvation happens.
Then, we experience what Jesus promised to the disciples on the third day. Redemption. Forgiveness. New life. Unconditional love.
We cannot measure love in numbers of gits we can receive from our loved ones. We can measure it only in terms of intensity, how deeply and sincerely we believe that God loves us and redeemed us through the cross of Jesus.
We are sinners. We need to hear again the call from God to repent. To turn back to him. To bring our needs and failures at the foot of his cross and begging for pardon. Let’s have time of prayer throughout this Lenten season, let’s receive the sacrament of reconciliation, let’s share the goodness that God bestowed upon our lives.
Our Lord is more preoccupied about what is in our hearts than the new outfits we bought, the new car we drive, the numbers of “good words” we can say. God wants to reign into our hearts.
Let us make our homes ready to welcome him.