26 February 2017
10.30 Sung Eucharist
The Sunday next before Lent
Revd Jonathan Cain
Ex. 24:12-end; Mt. 17: 1-9
Two years ago this month, during my training for ordination on the Yorkshire Ministry Course, I travelled to the Mara region of Tanzania. The visit was undertaken as part of the link between our diocese here in Yorkshire and the three Anglican diocese in that part of Tanzania: Mara, Rorya, and Tarime. Before the trip I joined the Water for Life Committee, a group over here that raises funds for and advises on water projects in the Mara region. Water projects were one focus for my trip.
Here’s an extract from my journal …
Friday – I am particularly struck today by the fact that everyone in Tanzania is carrying water. The scale of the problem seems writ large as we travel to Iseresere (Ruth’s well). The journey to Iseresere is particularly arduous on roads that are impassable in the wet season. They are pretty tricky at the end of the dry season and I am very glad that Hesbon is driving us again.
Some of the village turn out to meet us at the well. The village elder with the key duly obliges by opening the padlock and the queue of people gradually fill their containers. There is some laughing and joking but it does feel a little awkward as I snap away with the camera and video. My shouts of Bwana Asifewe (praise the Lord) help a bit, but even this is a bit tricky in a mixed crowd of Christians and non-Christians. I felt confident that the well is being well used and had a short conversation via Max with a lady called Boke Wanyacha. She confirmed that the well had made a huge difference to the village, but said that one well is not enough. Ideally another two wells are needed to satisfy the demand.
We then moved over to the site of the proposed Church – marked by a tree at present – and the village elders told us of their dream to build a church there. I prayed with them that God’s will for Iseresere would be discerned and that their worship and their village would be blessed.
The trip to Tanzania, my first to sub-Saharan Africa, was a transformational experience. I had joined the Yorkshire-based Water for Life Committee with plenty of knowledge about water, about pumps, about geology, about public health and hygiene, but with absolutely no experience of development work in Africa. For the two weeks I stopped ‘doing’ and listened – I just ‘was’ – completely dependent on my hosts, translator and driver; humbled by the hospitality of strangers who were poor, and yet generous. And in my ‘being’ I began to understand the African ‘Ubuntu’ philosophy.
“I am because we are and because we are, you are.”
There is something of the importance of ‘being’ over ‘doing’ in the Gospel account of the Transfiguration that we heard this morning. Confronted with a vision of Jesus dazzling white, flanked on the mountain-top by Moses and Elijah, Peter’s first instinct is action … “I will make three dwellings for you …” I wonder what was going through Peter’s mind? He had been with Jesus from the beginning, and was surely getting used to the unexpected, but this was a strange happening even by Jesus standards. It was perhaps too much to take in, impossible to understand, and so Peter suggests activity in an attempt to normalise, or perhaps as a distraction.
A voice from the clouds interrupts … “this is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” This voice, the voice of God, has Peter and the other disciples cowering, overcome with fear. “Get up and do not be afraid,” Jesus comforts them, but the message is clear. There was no more room for doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who came to fulfil the Scriptures, the one who came to fulfil the law and the prophets.
The final instruction to Peter, James and John, “tell no one” is a clue that the Transfiguration was not just an important part of the preparation of Jesus for suffering and the cross; their witnessing the vision was an important part of the preparation for Jesus most trusted lieutenants. In the preceding chapters Jesus told the disciples what would happen to him, but they didn’t believe him, and who can blame them. The events of Jesus arrest, trial, and passion would yet test them beyond their strength. Jesus knows this. There will be plenty for Peter and the others to ‘do’. For now, they need to just ‘be’. To behold the vision. To be secure in the knowledge of who Jesus is.
“This is my Son, the Beloved … listen to him.” The voice from the clouds that spoke to the disciples is the same voice that beckons us into Lent, which begins on Wednesday. It is the same voice that calls us to rediscover our ‘being’ as Christian disciples; to learn to behold the mystery of faith afresh; to enter a quiet place of awe and listen with our whole selves; to remember who we are, God’s precious children, loved and forgiven – a status that we enjoy not because of what we ‘do’ but as a gift of pure grace. It is from that secure identity, our ‘being’, that we are transformed and sent to do God’s work in the world.