5 March 2023, Susan Adams Matthew 17: 1-9
Facing Change. A few weeks ago after the 27January storms, an opinion poll was taken. It was gathering data about public attitudes to climate change and adaptations that could be made in response to wind and rain. Contrary to the hypothesis of the pollsters at the outset, the results showed that while we accepted the reality of climate change we were less inclined to make adaptations that would affect us personally – such as how often we drove a car. It found less than half (48%) of Aucklanders wanted successive governments to take to take quicker and more drastic action to cut emissions. 21% wanted less action! (spin-off 14 February)
The journalist (Bernard Hickey) asked what it would take for us to really get behind effective mitigation and adaptation measures noting we are well intentioned and good at the talk, but reluctant to take action.
This little story about our national psyche came to mind when I read the readings set for today.
Most of us don’t like change very much. When we find a way that suits us, that we think is special and that we can manage, we don’t easily give it up. We might tinker a bit to make that way more secure, but we don’t often want to abandon it.
In a year such as this, having just gone through a local body election last year, and now winding up to a national election, we are faced with a lot competing voices calling for our attention and encouraging us to listen to them. We are having to listen carefully to what is being said , and to think carefully about what is important to us. Many of the voices promise this or that, and express a willingness to prioritise this or that – they are seemingly in competition with each other and appealing to our personal need for security and sense of control.
We can help our self discern from amongst all the different voices and opinions those that resonate with our personal vision for the future and approach to social relationships if we pause and review intentional what motivates us to think the way we do.
If we set the stories of the devastation in the Hawke’s Bay, with the dreadful experiences many of us have only heard about, alongside the stories of community support and kindness and self sacrifice that followed both the Auckland floods and cyclone Gabrielle, then we might get a fix on what is really important to us, what sort of community and social relationships really describe the nation we believe we are/want to be.
We might ask ourselves what it is we see, what it is that brings us to tears? Is it the devastation, is it the community and people who rally round and, as I heard one person say “do what Kiwis do and help each other out.”
When I was here last the readings were about Jesus’ baptism by John in the River . It was the beginning of Jesus’ public engagement, and Matthew told the story concluding with God’s voice saying “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.
Jesus, by asking John to baptise him, was making a commitment to “fulfilling all righteousness”: engaging in what was understood to be God’s work of righting the wrongs and lifting burdens from the oppressed and seeing justice done.
Today, on the mountain top God speaks again. This time it is as Jesus and his friends travel towards Jerusalem and the confrontation with the powers of temple and State in what would be the end. this time Mathew has God say “this is my son, my beloved! With him I am well pleased! Listen to him!”.
“Listen to him!” is the directive added to the story.
We shouldn’t get too hung up on the historicity of the story, or on the details. Like the baptism story it is symbolic in the writers schema. It is building the myth where Jesus is the one in whom heaven and earth meet: the divine and the human in one person. What better place for this to happen than on a high mountain?
Matthew, always concerned to link Jesus with the Jewish hero’s and ancestors in the faith, is echoing the story of Moses on mount Sinai, the place of revelation and of guidance as to how to live faithfully through the challenges that were to come. Moses face shone.
Matthew writes ‘He (Jesus) was transfigured, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white”. Matthew’s Jewish audience would get the symbolism immediately. Jesus also connects the past the present and the future.
(It’s interesting to note that in John’s gospel, 12:28, when there was a voice from heaven, Jesus said to the crowd “ this voice has come for your sake, not mine.” )
Is this another example of our human need for reassurance?
And so Jesus and his group of friends continue on toward Jerusalem, healing and giving instruction about ‘right-relationships’, economics, justice and righteous living . All the time knowing what was likely to confront them in Jerusalem, and also knowing it was unthinkable to stop healing those in need. They continued on teaching those who wanted transformation for themselves and their community, or reassuring those who were troubled, for fear of reprisals from the power-holders in either temple for palace. Self preservation was not on Jesus mind but it seems his commitment to the work of God made at his baptism was. So he journeys on.
The story tells us the mountain-top experience was momentous for Peter, James and John.
Amazing, great to be out of the crowd and the pressure and fear that was growing. So the “let’s stay here and build little houses.”
But that is a distraction it seems to me, another hook to keep the attention of the listeners who knew about the Festival of the Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles that both celebrates the in gathering of the harvest and commemorates the time spent in the wilderness.
It seems to me the heart of the story, the main purpose, is Matthews concern to reassure people that Jesus is a credible leader who should be listened to even if what he teaches and the vision he paints is scary and will require significant bravery and change.
We know there is much about our way of life and the structures that give us security will have to change. The planet has rebelled and we are being called to account. Many of us are fearful.
We don’t know what will happen, we don’t know how we personally along with our families will be affected. Sufficient to say by way of illustration fruit and vegetables from our national food-basket are in short supply following the disaster, fossil fuels are becoming scarcer, where we can build our homes is up for debate, how we move about our sprawling city has become challenging. So much change already for some of us and yet we know there is much more to come. The changes that face us will not always, or very likely, be under our personal control. Many of the changes will be uncomfortable and inconvenient. And we will not all agree on what they should be. Yet it is important that governments, local and national, get to grips with what needs to be done and get on with it if we to respond in ways that offer life and future hope to people – especially those people struggling from the recent climate devastation impact on families, homes, business. We need to take actions that will make us more resilient (adaptation) and reduce our destructive impact (mitigation)
But we are people of faith. “Listen to him” says the voice of God for our benefit! and Jesus says to his terrified disciples “do not be afraid.”
This is a good news story before we get to Jerusalem and the misuse of power and Jesus shameful death as a political agitator.
“Do not be afraid.” rings in our ears.
I believe our confidence can be found spending time rediscovering what we are prepared to stand up for,
what we value,
what we will work for.
What our vision of the future looks like
What relationships – other people and planet look like.
You’ve heard me say many times,
” What will you stand up for,
What do you see that you can say ‘yes to’?”
and I will continue to say it because being who we are with all our fears and frailties it is easy to want to build our booths on mountaintops and stay away from hard decisions, fear, and uncertainty.
We pray God’s ‘kingdom’ come, and talk of heaven here on earth, What will it look like?