GOD TRANSFORMING OUR LIVES
Sermon delivered at the service of the Holy Eucharist on Quinquagesima Sunday the 26th February 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at St. Alban's Church of England, 461 Shedden Road, George Town.
Scriptures: Exodus 24: 12-18 2 Peter 1: 16-21 S. Matthew 17: 1-9
2 Peter 1: 19 "You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts."
Last week it was our duty and our blessing to bring a child to Holy Baptism. The Lord signified that He was adopting the child for His own. In the words of our Prayer Book Catechism, Evangeline Grace was made a member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. These are great privileges, and they are privileges that none of us deserves, privileges that all of us are unworthy of. God's grace and love acting upon us come before any commitment or response we make to Him, and that is true whether a person is baptised as an adult or as a child.
REVELATION ON THE MOUNTAIN
The Scriptures set out for today put us in mind of the awesome privileges of this covenant of grace, the covenant relationship that God extends to His erring and frail people. Today the Old and the New Testament scriptures both show the power and greatness of God being revealed on a mountain. In the Old Testament, Moses enters the holy cloud of God's presence on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights in order to receive God's law. The New Testament Lesson recalls Peter, James and John being with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. "We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, [and] we were eyewitnesses of His majesty," declares the 2nd Letter of St. Peter. Even a mountain of itself can put us in mind of the majesty of God, the Creator of all things. Like other great phenomena of nature, it can remind us to ask of God, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" A mountain can remind us of our smallness before the awesome and holy God; after all, we are small compared with this huge natural mass that fills our view. And perhaps for all their many blessings, in this the Cayman Islands are truly unfortunate, that we were not blessed with mountains. There is not this particular reminder, though of course there may be others, of the greatness of God, or that there are things that are too great and too marvellous for us to consider that we can control.
Still, the Biblical accounts of Moses on Mount Sinai and the apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration go far beyond the majesty of nature. We read that on the Old Testament mountain, "the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain." He would not have gone there, and he would have had no right whatever to go there, had not the Lord Himself called him there. No more do we have the right to call ourselves children of God, if God, who is of a greater order of Majesty than the natural, does not first call us to Himself.
THE PRIVILEGE OF GOD'S CALL
Neither was it any light matter for the three leading apostles to be with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, when He took them apart from the others and led them up and was transfigured before them. 2nd Peter describes His Transfiguration as "receiving honour and glory from God the Father". As Man, even the Son of God "receives", as if He has no intrinsic right to it, glory from the Father. But I think that phrase "received honour and glory from God the Father", while it describes the Transfiguration, also puts us in mind of the Baptism of Jesus, when He was given a profound heavenly revelation. At His Baptism the Gospels tell us that He heard the voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased", and all the accounts of the Transfiguration tell us that a similar revelation, directed this time to the apostles, recurred then. The effect of all this on the three apostles was not fully evident until later, although until then it will have helped them to keep faithful to Jesus when being His disciples began to test them sorely. The disciples had to pay attention strongly to this. They had to pay attention to it, in the words of 2nd Peter, "as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawned and the morning star rose in their hearts." They were called to pay attention to it, though often they did not do so very well, until Jesus rose from the dead. Now the apostolic word to the Church is that we too must pay attention to such words, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Baptised children as they get older also are called to pay attention to the great privilege of their having been adopted by God as His children, even if many things about the faith may still be unclear to them. The parents and the godparents should put them in mind often of their having been baptised, and of the faith to which this calls them. Until the crisis was upon them, the disciples themselves did not understand the heart of Jesus' own teaching, and the necessity to our redemption of the Cross and the Resurrection. A baptised child may be in a rather similar position. Yet God so loves him that he is already baptised into these realities, just as Jesus called His disciples to a way of life they had no idea about at first.
SUNDAY OF THE LOVE OF GOD
The great privilege of our having been adopted by God, and made an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven as a member of Christ, should fill us with wonder, and at the same time it declares to us the Father's love for us. The Prayer Book Collect on this Sunday, the 1st before Lent or Quinquagesima Sunday, caused this Sunday sometimes to be called "Love Sunday", because we pray that God may send us the Holy Ghost and pour into our hearts the most excellent gift of charity, which is "caritas" or supernatural love. For our church, this Sunday is still the Sunday of the love of God, and often, it seems, manifested for children. One year on Quinquagesima Sunday there was the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, following which the physician declared the little boy concerned to be free of the condition he had. Another year on Quinquagesima a little boy was baptised, and this year one week ago likewise a baby girl, by means of which too we declare the child to be born again into a state of freedom from the chains of our fallen condition. So let us be reminded that by the love of God we are all so set free. Let us indeed pay attention to this, as to a lamp shining in a dark place. These are the signs that the day has begun to dawn.
MADE CHILDREN OF GOD
It is significant and should be carefully noted that apparently as soon as Jesus was baptised, the opposing force that is called Satan is recorded as trying to sow doubts in Jesus' mind that He was God's Son as had been declared to Him. Satan's battle was lost then, and that battle will always be lost when we stand on the prophetic word made more sure by the transformation that faith effects within us, that in the light and warmth of His awesome grace and love, we are and are becoming the children of God.
1. Does a child have a "right" to be baptised? Discuss.
2. How might a person's Baptism help him through a time of doubt?
3. How does the Fatherhood of God affect us?