Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Truth About God is Clearly Visible and Counter Cultural

Exodus 24.12-18
Exodus gives us the impression here that encountering God is no ordinary thing. It doesn't happen in the midst of everyday experiences and meetings. Instead, it's something special, a mountain-top thing, that comes to us only when we separate ourselves from what is ordinary and everyday. To reach the mountaintop takes dedication, extraordinary effort and courage. It calls for special reserves of faith and strength. Among the entire nation of Israel, only Moses and Joshua were capable of undertaking that journey. And, when they got there, still they did not encounter God. They had to camp on the mountaintop for six days, shrouded in cloud, waiting for God to call to them.

Exodus also evokes a sense of mystery about the encounter with God. Moses did get to meet God but not out in the open. They could only meet within the cloud and the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire so that their meeting was dangerously different from any other kind of encounter. Even Joshua could not share in that meeting, but had to remain behind.

2 Peter 1.16-21
The writer of 2 Peter takes up the images evoked by Moses' encounter with God and develops them in the light of Jesus' own mountaintop experience, which Peter himself had witnessed. The writer deliberately distances himself from the sense of mystery evoked by Exodus. At the time when Christianity was emerging there were a number of 'mystery religions' in which the adherents had to go through special spiritual experiences and rituals in order to discover hidden truths about God's nature. These ideas soon started to infect early Christian thinking, eventually developing into a rival religious faith called 'Gnosticism' in which Jesus is understood as the revealer of secret knowledge. But the writer of 2 Peter wants to make clear to his readers that true Christianity is not a mystery religion. The Gospel is not a series of cleverly devised myths, instead it's about the coming of Jesus - how he lived and died, and was raised from death. And unlike Joshua, Peter and his companions were not left behind when Jesus encountered God. God doesn't have to be encountered only by extraordinary people in extraordinary places or experiences, in the story of Jesus we find him revealed in ordinary events which ordinary people could share, though even the ordinary becomes extraordinary when we're in the presence of Jesus.

The writer is at pains to emphasise the transparency and availability of the truth which is revealed in Jesus. Far from being hidden, mysterious or secret, it is like a lamp shining in a dark place, like the coming of dawn, or like the bright morning star - clearly visible. God is still majestically glorious, as in the Exodus story about Moses' encounter with God, but in the Christian message that glory is not so much a devouring and dangerous fire as a bright and piercing light, illuminating all the shadows and dark places in our lives and our world.

Matthew 17.1-9
Matthew's description of Jesus' own mountaintop experiences has many common features with the account in 2 Peter. Again, the cloud which envelopes Jesus and his friends is not dark and mysterious or threatening. It is a bright cloud, shedding light on who Jesus is rather than obscuring his identity. And although - like Moses - they have to wait six days for the experience to unfold, they don't wait huddled at the base of dangerous storm clouds high on the mountain. Instead, they prepare for their visionary encounter by immersing themselves in everyday life and by meditating on Jesus' impending journey to the cross.

ALTERNATIVE READINGS
Micah 6.1-8
1 Corinthians 1.18-31
Matthew 5.1-12

The people of Israel are criticised by Micah because of their faithlessness despite God's repeated goodness to them. When Balak - king of Israel's enemy Moab - hired the Prophet Balaam to curse the new nation of Israel, he found that he could not do it. God wanted him to bless Israel instead. But Israel seems intent on bringing Balak's curse down upon the nation anyway by ignoring God's will. Similarly, if the nation only remembered their roots, in the easy conquest of the territory between Shittim and Gligal, they would be less inclined now to risk throwing away all that they have been given.

Micah here summarises what true faith in God is all about - doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. Nothing else matters. St Augustine summed up the Gospel even more succinctly when he said, 'Love - and do what you will.' And Jesus famously said something along the same lines: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled

Christians put their faith in the love of God revealed in Jesus' death on the cross. Being prepared to put our trust in someone who sacrificed his own life for the sake of others, who was shown to be weak and vulnerable and who was despised by his contemporaries as a criminal rabble rouser getting his just desserts, might seem like foolishness to most people but God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. That's why the poor in spirit and the meek are so blessed, for in Jesus God has become weak and vulnerable, just like them, in order to overcome those who think they are wise and strong. This means that the Gospel is 'revolutionary' in the true sense of that word. It turns the accepted wisdom, culture and ideas of our society upside down.

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