Facing Challenges 

Sermon 220320 on Mt 17:1-9 (2Peter 1:16-e)

Clouds don’t normally have a good name do they?
When clouds appear (as they have a tendency of doing at the moment) we get concerned that poor weather is on its way: rain, storms, snow even or maybe simply a lack of sunshine.
We use clouds as a metaphor for sadness or a senses of foreboding – we might say someone is walking under a cloud as a means of saying they are depressed or going through hard times.
But clouds can also be part of & representative of a positive experience too – I remember the 1st time I went on a plane journey. It was a school trip & we set off from M/C airport in cloudy conditions but when the plane stretched above the clouds it was just such an amazing view: all this lovely white blanket, sparkling in the sun & every now & then would be a gap in the clouds below & you could see the sun shining on little houses & patches of countryside. It certainly didn’t feel like the sun was shining when we took off but you could see the sun was very definitely shining when we rose above the clouds & was a beautiful sight.
Clouds were also a positive experience for the people of Israel representing the presence of God:
God guided the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud (pillar of fire by night & a cloud by day)  
God came to Moses on Mt Sinai in a cloud & gave him the 10 commandments
God’s presence covered the Tent of Meeting for the Israelites in the form of a cloud symbolizing he was with themAnd here in our gospel reading today we have God speaking from a cloud & it is a very +ve experience.
We have a description of a very powerful symbol of God’s presence & some significant words of affirmation for Jesus which were important for Jesus to hear & for those with him. And these words are very important for us to hear as disciples of Jesus today.
Why were they so important?
Let’s think about the context of these words…
Today’s reading marks a turning point in Jesus ministry. His earthly ministry was coming to an end. The 1st 16 chapters of Matthew’s gospel describe Jesus birth & his ministry of bringing in the kingdom of God – God’s rule: his teaching & his healing ministry. Now Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem for the final & crucial acts of his earthly mission – his death & resurrection.
Just a few verses before our reading today in Mt 16:21 Jesus says to his disciples, ‘I must go to Jerusalem & suffer much from the elders, the chief priests & the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but 3 days later I will be raised to life.’
Imagine what that must have felt like to HEAR…
Your closest friend, the One you have left everything to follow, the One who has brought so much joy to so many people through his radical teaching about freedom & justice, through his amazing healings, the One who is the Messiah, the chosen One of God…
he is travelling to Jerusalem to DIE… to be KILLED
to SUFFER much at the hands of the religious leaders?...No, that can’t be true, there must be some be mistake!
Imagine what that must have felt like for Jesus to SAY…
Jesus was God but he was also human – he had feelings too…
How can I go through with this? These people need me here – should I stay? What will it be like to die, to go through such separation?
The immediate responses are very telling…
Peter takes Jesus aside & rebukes Jesus saying ‘God forbid it Lord; that must never happen to you!’
Jesus then rebukes Peter saying ‘Get away from me Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God but from man.’
Jesus then explains to his disciples that his journey to Jerusalem will also be mirrored in their discipleship journeys too: ‘if anyone want to come with me, he must forget self, carry his cross & follow me.’
Jesus is facing the BIGGEST CHALLENGE of his life: his death & resurrection in Jerusalem. Yes this would be the BIGGEST turning point in human history bringing forgiveness for people, fresh start for people, fresh power for people, fresh community for people, but at what cost!
As Jesus faces this challenge he takes time to prepare his disciples, to explain things for them.
The disciples listen & are CONFUSED, very CONFUSED… WHY is this happening?
It is into this context; the confusion of the disciples, the challenge that Jesus is facing, that we have our gospel reading today, that we have these significant words of affirmation for Jesus from God, out of a cloud symbolising his presence with them.
The voice from the cloud says, ‘This is my own dear Son with whom I am well pleased – listen to him!’
At the outset of his journey to Jerusalem to suffering death & resurrection we have these words of confirmation for Jesus. Suffering & death were always going to be part of this journey; this was prophesied hundreds of years before through Isaiah & spoken of when Jesus was presented as a child at the Temple. As Jesus sets out on this last stage of his earthly ministry, God repeats the words said to Jesus at his baptism as an adult, at the beginning of his ministry: ‘This is my Son whom I love with him I am well pleased...’
You are my child, I love you
I am well pleased with youImagine what that must have felt like to HEAR…
For Jesus to HEAR his Father say: I love you, you’re my child, I’m proud of you, well pleased with you… it would have meant everything… it would have confirmed that the resurrection & resulting life for all, would make the challenge of enduring suffering & death worthwhile.
For the disciples to HEAR these words of God to Jesus… in their confusion… it gave them confidence to trust in Jesus in taking his road of suffering; it gave them confidence in taking this road of suffering themselves because the road of suffering that Jesus took did indeed lead to resurrection & the road of suffering they would take would also lead to resurrection & eternal life (our reading from 2Peter 1 speaks of such confidence).
And it’s important that we hear these words for ourselves in our discipleship journeys today.
Where do we need to hear these words of affirmation in our discipleship journey?
Maybe we feel like we’re under a cloud in a –ve sense at the moment, when we don’t understand what God is doing – are confused?
Maybe we are facing a challenging time ahead, when things are going badly wrong & we face an uncertain future?
We lived for a no. of yrs in Chester & I kept a booklet from that period – a kind of church magazine which had a really helpful article about suffering. The author detailed lessons they had learnt as a family through some really challenging times. Lesson No. 12 said, ‘Hold on to God’s promises despite the circumstances, despite what seem to be the “facts” (a good rule is never doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light!)’ rpt.
Remember your baptismal calling as Jesus was reminded of his:
God said about Jesus – ‘This is my SON’
God says about us – we are His CHILDREN (Jn gospel begins ‘some however did receive him & believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s CHILDREN’)
Our baptism service (1/3) says’ We welcome you into the fellowship of faith, we are CHILDREN of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you’
Our confirmation service last year (Emily/Flo/Pat/Lorraine) says ‘… God has called you by name & made you HIS OWN’
Remember you are a child of God
Remember that you are a BELOVED child of God as Jesus was reminded:
God said about Jesus – ‘this is Son whom I LOVE’
God says about us – we are BELOVED children of God (1Jn says, ‘see how much the Father has LOVED us! His LOVE is so great that we are called God’s children and so in fact we are!’)
When Jesus prayed for all believers he prayed that the world would know that God LOVES us as He LOVES Jesus’
Remember that you are BELOVED children of God
Remember to keep your eyes, your heart fixed on Jesus, the One with whom God is well pleased.
Remember to keep your ears, your heart open to Jesus’ voice – God said, ‘Listen to him!’
Remember that God has a good plan for each one & loves each one of us & as a church. And when those plans don’t turn our just as we expected, don’t assume they’ve turned out wrong.
Let’s remember that our journey of discipleship is like Jesus’ journey – a call to the road marked with suffering as it says in 1Peter 4:13 and in that song we often sing, ‘Blessed be your name in the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering blessed be your name.’
When we’ve felt God guide us in a certain way & then things turn out differently & we are tempted to doubt & think that it’s all a load of rubbish, keep holding on, keep praying, keep asking for guidance – ask others to pray with you.
On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday we begin the church season of Lent when we are encouraged to walk with Jesus particularly remembering his journey to Jerusalem, his journey to the cross.
As we do that can I encourage you to remember those affirming words of God from the cloud to a challenged Jesus & a confused set of disciples?
This is my Son… whom I love… with whom I am well pleased… listen to him…
And know that
You are also His children, whom he also loves
And know that we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus the One with whom God is well pleased & that our ears are to be attentive to Him as He leads us on.
There are Lent booklets in the foyer & details in the notice sheet for ways to be attentive to His voice. Maybe consider being baptised or confirmed if you haven’t already?
Whatever you do, be affirmed in your faith journey, and may God give you confidence to keep going in faith.
Prayer: Lord, keep our eyes fixed on you & our ears attentive to your voice. Amen.