Preached by Lesley McCormack on All Souls Day
“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”
Lamentations 3:17-26, 31-33
Rawand Aziz and Saman Sharif are Iraqi Kurds, who fled persecution and oppression – both were granted asylum and later British citizenship. But they are living in a tent in the cold and the mud in the Grande-Synthe camp near Dunkirk so that they can care for and support their wives and children in whatever way that they can – for their families have been denied British passports.
Every 90 seconds last year, a person or family in rented accommodation faced legal proceedings and 99,000 people ended up evicted, mainly due to rising rents and housing benefit cuts and Peterborough is among the worst in the country.
But…“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”
Shortly before he died, Rohith Vemula wrote in his suicide note: “Never was a man treated as a mind, a glorious thing made up of stardust,” Rohith had been a PhD student, at Hyderabad University, but he was also a Dalit, or untouchable. He, with four other ‘Dalit’ students, had been suspended from classes for three months, expelled from their university residence and told they were not allowed to enter any campus buildings, eat at the mess or vote in student elections.
But ……….“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”
The World Health organisation has declared a global emergency as doctors and scientists endeavour to understand the relationship between the Zika virus and the thousands of babies born with brain damage in Brazil while on Tuesday the Israeli military demolished 23 houses in two impoverished West Bank villages, including structures that were home to more than 100 people
But…..“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”
And we do not lose heart because God in Christ shines in our world as a beacon of light and hope, holding before us always the possibility of transformation. And that is precisely what our readings this morning point us towards.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John to the mountain top and there they experience an extraordinary moment, something almost otherworldly. You might say that the story is in all four gospels, although John does not tell it in the same way as Matthew, Mark and Luke. For John, as the theologian John Pridmore points out, ‘The whole story of Jesus is one of humanity transfigured, of incarnate light. “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth”’
According to Luke, while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white! We are also reminded just how tired Peter, James and John were after their hike up to the mountain top and one can almost imagine them, heavy with sleep, rubbing their eyes in the face of what they are witnessing!
Clearly Peter, James and John do not grasp the full implication of what they are seeing and hearing. But I find myself wondering whether I or indeed any one of us here this morning would have done any better are comprehending what was going on had it been us on the mountain top with Jesus. I suspect that I would have been with Peter as he suggests building shelters, perhaps so they could stay on the mountain top, safe from possible harm – for themselves and their beloved friend and teacher. He has missed the point entirely.
Notice, though that Luke slips in six words that we need to hear and to remember:
But since they had stayed awake……
But since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory………
We may struggle to understand and make sense of all that is happening in our world; we may even at times long to hide and protect our eyes from the pain and suffering of others; but this story reminds us of the need to stay awake, ready to see those fleeting moments of God’s glory; not moments to be held on to and bottled but moments that fill us with joy and hope; moments that remind us …..
“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart”.
Such moments serve to strengthen and encourage us in the work we are called to do.
Michael Ramsey, reflecting on the Transfiguration, said ‘Here the Lord, as Son of Man, gives the measure of the capacity of humanity, and shows that to which he leads those who are united with him’ (The Glory of the Transfiguration of Christ). In the transfigured Christ, we see the full glorious potential of humanity.
Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth is, in some ways, an anguished letter reflecting pain and deep sorrow.
The events precipitating this second letter to the Corinthians is the subject of great debate among scholars. There is, however, a suggestion that between the time of his first letter to them (when he endeavoured to address problems involving community division and behaviour), and the second, Paul made an ‘emergency’ and sorrowful visit to Corinth, possibly the second occasion on which he visited them. This visit did not go well and it would appear from implications in 2 Corinthians that he followed it up with another letter, a letter probably now lost, which seems only to have made the situation worse. There is hurt, anger and pain all around as the young Corinthian church community continues to struggle with the tension between the values and power of God’s kingdom and the transient power of what their culture can give them!
‘Remember’, Paul says to his struggling community:
All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit Therefore, Since it is by God’s mercy
that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Even when we think things can’t get any worse, we do not lose heart!
Christ calls us all, by virtue of our baptism, to be stewards of creation, to serve others, especially the poor, the marginalised, the outcast; we are called to seek right relationships with God and with each other; to be agents of God’s transfiguring, transforming love in the mess and the dirt of our wonderful yet broken world. We only have to look at the experience of Jesus, to listen to the anguish of Paul to know that this work is not necessarily easy or pain free. With Lent beginning on Wednesday, we are challenged afresh to reflect on how we live out God’s costly call to each one of us to be agents of His transforming Love.
BUT since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart – for if we look, we may glimpse God’s glory in the faith communities, individuals and organisations, teachers and healthcare workers going to places like Grand-Synthe, offering their time and their skills to do what they can, supporting practically and emotionally, enabling people to know they are not forgotten; and to speak of the injustice and lack of humanity to the wider world.
We do not lose heart – for we look and glimpse God’s glory in voices of scholars and students worldwide who challenge the injustice and discrimination that drove a brilliant young man to take his life.
We do not lose heart – for we look and glimpse God’s glory in a theatre company performing Hamlet outdoors in freezing temperatures amidst the mud and squalor of the Jungle – an act of loving solidarity that lends dignity, strength and hope to people driven from their homelands.
We do not lose heart – for we glimpse God’s glory in our worship and in the many acts of kindness shown and expressed among us here in this place; among our neighbours and the wider community; so often quietly, unseen and unsung; we glimpse God’s glory through the continuing work of our soup kitchen.
We do not lose heart even though the path ahead seems messy, tangled and unclear
We do not lose heart because in the cross we have seen that the glory of God cannot be extinguished by indifference and fear, injustice or cruelty and so are confident that Christ in whom we glimpse the fullness of glory, will strengthen and encourage each one of us in our continuing efforts – however great or small – to be agents of transformation who shine with the light of Christ.