... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 7 Year A
Message August 31, 2014

Divine Providence: Transformed Life

Text: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6,23-26,45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

In our Epistle reading last week Paul urged his audience to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice – which is your spiritual worship.” This sacrifice is to be seen as the right response to the realization of God’s presence. However, from the point of realization to the act of sacrifice is a process, and Paul was well aware that this process had to be fully appreciated and understood if his audience were to truly and fully become Church. He also knew that of our own will we could never accomplish this change. The change had to be initiated and moved along by God. The result of this divine action would be an ideal community living a counter-life with God and an alternative to the world concept of conformity by force. This ideal while a beautiful vision must have a concrete set of guidelines and today’s lesson sets out no less than twenty-three of them. However, it is the process of change – the process of transformation – which will determine the outcome.

Some of the most well-beloved stories, be they children’s fables or short stories or classical novels; involve life altering transformations: The Prince and the Pauper, Aesop’s Wind and the Sun; Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice or perhaps the well-known Christmas story – Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. In this latter novel Scrooge the main character is a man of the world with a mindset governed by a fear of poverty, and so his entire life is focused on the acquisition of wealth. Anything which doesn’t contribute to this gain is considered useless if not worthless. Unfortunately most of us have a mindset based on a fear of something – poverty, imprisonment, loss of love, loss of honour and so on, rather than the positive side as relationship with the divine, love of others. Hence our suspicions and superstitions in life. But I digress. Scrooge’s life is governed by his fear of poverty and yet he lives in the most austere of conditions afraid to spend even on himself. But a transformation is about to occur. He is visited by three spirits in turn – Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come. The first two open his mind to the reality of his life and the consequences of his actions. The third spirit leaves him with a choice. He has been brought to the brink and must decide. The next morning – Christmas morning Scrooge awakes a new man – concerned for his employee, Bob Cratchet, the welfare of orphans and the companionship of his relatives. He is no longer driven by fear but rather a genuine appreciation of others. He becomes generous, other-centered and community orientated.

Today’s readings are all about changing or changed mindset, and at the centre of all of them is the hand of God acting in human history. Last week we were presented with both God’s sense of humour and providence in the introduction of Moses as the agent of Israel’s salvation out of Egyptian bondage. We now see Moses grown up exiled from Egypt having killed an Egyptian guard and fleeing in fear. He is now married to a Midianite and working as a shepherd looking after his father-in-laws flock. His mindset was for himself his own wife child and the present. Yet all is about to change as he spots the burning bush. The encounter leaves him with a mindset now focused on God’s work. Yet the transformation was not quite short and sweet. Moses in fact tried much logic to counter God’s changing ways. After all Moses had been living out of a fear of his Egyptian days and now God is asking him to return. Yet in the end God overcomes all of Moses’ “but’s” and Moses is transformed.

The psalmist leaves no doubt that all the changes in the life of Israel have been God’s directing the affairs, moving the collective mindset of the nation and moulding a faith community. The process has been is and will be harsh at times but God will always send agents to help and so set apart a community devoted to God’s will.

The Gospel story of Peter’s denial should really be read in continuity with last week’s story of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah. Separated, the two stories become just that: two stories without any apparent link. Yet the link is the important lesson we need to realize. Transformation is a process. Yes there might be a defining moment, one particular incident to which we attribute the change, but none-the-less what leads up to that particular moment and what follows is all part and parcel of the transformation. Peter in his confession of Jesus as Messiah is told that that confession would be the rock on which the church would be built. However within moments of this confession when Jesus tells the disciples that the Messiah must be crucified Peter is the first to oppose the mission. In fact Peter the rock of foundation is now become the rock for stumbling and Jesus tells him as much. The ‘ah-ha’ moment of realization has been blurred by the previous mindset which said the Messiah would be a conquering saviour who would arise to be a new King David. This mindset envisioned a worldly nation reminiscent of a former Jewish time and unable to see beyond the present.

Following the rebuke Jesus lays out what discipleship will require. The new mindset will demand total denial of self and complete devotion to Jesus and Jesus’ mission. The result will be a new life, a new vision, a new reality.

Paul’s letter to the Romans lays out what this new reality will require in concrete practical and ethical terms. In many ways Paul gives us a Rue of Life for living in a God focused community. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “Rule of Life”, it is a form of contract – individual contract often expressed as such in religious orders such as monasteries and convents. It is also used by many confirmation classes as candidates for Confirmation express what their spiritual life and journey will involve. It is basically a set of guidelines such as daily Bible reading or weekly worship attendance and so on. And so Paul lays out a series of guideline to define and govern what the new faith community ought to look like and how they should act. Most of these are not new or innovative. Indeed many of them are simply a re-statement of what can be found in the Old Testament books of Moses. Yet as a transformed community of faith Paul urges his audience to reaffirm anew all that God has desired and as what was taught by Jesus: love one another, display mutual affection, compete in who best exemplifies honour, zeal, spirituality and service, and so on. The guidelines cover all walks of one’s life – relationships, thoughts, actions, dealings with the outside world ; and the only way such broad behaviours and seemingly unrelated injunctions can be tied together is through a mindset that states we are one in relationship to God through Christ, one in service and one in God’s call to be stewards of Creation.

The bottom line of all this is that we not only have to have a mindset that governs each of us; we need to have a corporate mindset that governs us as community and both these mindsets have to be in sync. Not an easy task, especially when you consider we are human and have difficulties seeing beyond self, even at the best of times. But there is hope; there have been beacons of light, examples to govern us, and life testimonies that point out that the possibilities can be achieved. A case in point comes to mind of a spiritual community where one of the sisters was most officious, pointing out the foibles and mistakes of others, directing how and what each should be doing. Needless to say and conflict quickly ensued. Fortunately the Mother Superior was able to intervene, remind all of the need for humility, openness, relationships and duties each owed to the other. The officious sister apologized and asked that her sisters would point out whenever she slipped back into her old ways, and in turn she would act accordingly. In turn the other sisters would not be argumentative or retaliatory in their admonitions. Slowly transformation brought them close together. The result was a loving community, more efficient in their living and productive in their work.

We must all take these lessons to heart, be transformed, learn to see ourselves as others see us, change so as to live in true harmony , to become one in community, one in love, one in Christ and one in God. What might be if we were to be transformed in the image of Christ might yet give us pause!