Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Not knowing what to say

When I was growing up we used to move pieces of furniture around in the lounge room and using pillows and blankets we would make a fort or a cubby or a tent. I wonder how many of you did the same thing! Some of you may even still do it!

All you need is a piece of material and a couple of chairs and you can change a lounge room into a place of adventure and experience.  We could hide from our enemies? We could camp in the wilderness? We could tell stories and our imaginations turned us into heroes and villains?

These moments of imagination and excitement found in the joys of childhood are in their own ways divine moments when we live naively and exuberantly.  It struck me as I considered what to say about the reading this morning that at some level this naïve exuberance is what affected Peter, James and John.  There they were, up on that mountain with Jesus, and Jesus appearance changed and the prophet Elijah and Moses appeared before them and their whole world was changing.

When Peter offers to make tents he is not thinking of a child playing in a lounge room but of an ancient custom of building tents at the feast of tabernacles.  It was a way the people remembered that once upon a time in an ancient past they had been exiles and pilgrims.

The men and the boys would pitch their tents, of to be more accurate their tabernacles, and ground themselves sin the story of a God who had walked alongside their people from those ancient times right up until the time in which they lived.

Building the tents pricked their imaginations to a history they had never known personally and took them on a journey of rediscovering that God had been with them through it all.

Of course, we are told that Peter said this because he did not know what else to say and I think the reality is that when we truly encounter the divine presence, when God shows up, often we are left dumbfounded.  The distance between God’s life and our lives seems vast.

Yet Peter’s response, as uncomprehending as it is, appeals to the habitats of faith that grounded him in God’s presence in the life and history of his people.  God had been with the people then and by offering to make the tents on that mountain maybe Peter was expressing an insight, however awkwardly, that his mind was struggling to grasp – God was with them in that very moment.

The gospel writer Luke seems to be having a little bit of a dig at Peter but it is a dig that we should see in the context of the fact that in this amazing moment amidst the confusion and terror the voice of God comes as encouragement and affirmation.  God says, “This is my Son, the beloved! Listen to Him!”  Peter’s now knowing what to say and his terror before God are not to be seen as something to be ridiculed but as a response of faith.

From the outset of today’s service I have invited you to think about why people come to church and even why you are personally here today.  For me, one of the answers lies in Peter’s response of wanting to build the tents.  It is here we learn the habits of our faith: how to pray; how to speak about God; how to listen to the scriptures; how to eat the bread and drink the wine; and so on. We learn the habits of our faith and we do so hoping that when the moments of revelation come we can respond.  When God shows up we like Peter will have something to say.

But more than that we come in faith that when we gather those moments of divine revelation can visit us as well.  Gathered here we are on the mountaintop and God is present.  Or like Moses, we are beside the burning bush.  I say this because I have a fundamental belief that when two or three gather in Christ’s name he is present through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We come and we share each week in pitching the tents.  Remembering God and we remember too that it is not just us that pitches tents.  At the beginning of one of the other gospels the one written by God we are told that in Jesus God pitched his tent among us. 

In Jesus, God lived and died and rose again in order that we might know God and God’s love and forgiveness more closely.

None of us responds perfectly to God or to the revelations that we might experience in our lives.  None of us comprehends God accurately.  As a congregation we probably have more questions than answers but we come here each week and we reminded that even Jesus closest followers struggled to know what to say when God was right there in front of them. So, it is OK for us to come and to listen and to respond as best we can as we offer to erect the tents of our faith as we imagine the possibilities of God revealed to those who have gone before us and those who are yet to come.

Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”

It is good to be here and let us pray that we might encounter that terrifying and reassuring presence of God in this moment.  

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