Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Transfiguration


May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

When I was in the army, one of the big mantras was: train as you will fight. What that meant was that when you went out on a training exercise, you had to take it very seriously, for the purpose of ingraining the skills that you would need in combat.

Our battalion Sgt Mgr took this doctrine very seriously indeed. I remember one field exercise, when we were out on the drop zones in Ft Bragg in the summer. It was over100 degrees, 100 percent humidity, and the helicopters that were part of our battalion kept throwing up dust and sand in the air so that we were always covered in it … we were hot, sticky, & sweaty … I was part of a 3/5 platoon, in charge of ammunition & fuel, so we were working hard all the time, shifting heavy boxes of ammo and rockets … we were hot & sweaty & sticky & working hard! … and strapped to our sides was a heavy gas mask that we weren't supposed to take off …
train as you will fight … in combat, you could face a chemical attack at any time … having your mask on you could be a matter of life and death … but we were hot, the masks were heavy and awkward & getting in the way as we tried to get our work done … our platoon was well away from everyone else … well, it is a good idea to keep things that explode away from others just in case there's an accident! … so we took the masks off … and of course the Sgt Mgr came sneaking up and caught us! And was he cross! As you can well imagine, some severe punishment details followed!

But not for the sake of getting off on being in charge … the Sgt Mgr had seen combat … he understood first-hand the importance of training hard in peace time so that if & when you were in real danger & perhaps panicking, that you would have the skills that could save your life all but hard-wired into you, so that you could do the things that would save your life by instinct … in this case, the instinct to never move without your mask strapped on tight!

today is the Sunday before Lent, & also the Sunday we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord … both remind us the Lenten journey that we are about to undertake … the first because it directly reminds us that the count-down to Lent that we have had over the last few Sundays is all but over … and Lent itself begins on Wednesday …
and the second because the Transfiguration - Christ's self-revelation to his disciples of his glory - is intimately connected with Lent, marking as it does in the Gospels the turning point in Our Lord's time on earth … the between the time when he was focused on preaching and teaching … and the time when he began his journey to Jerusalem … his journey to the place where he would suffer and die … a journey we are invited to make alongside him as we make our own journeys through the season of Lent …

and the reason why I think of my old army mantra today is because Lent is, for all Christians, a time of extra special training … a time when we are called to engage in extra spiritual disciplines – traditionally prayer, fasting, and alms-giving … these disciplines serve several purposes: first they give glory to God, as they make visible to the world the commitment that Christians have to their faith; they also strengthen the Church, both in the way the privations we voluntarily take on in Lent help foster a sense of corporate identity, but also serve to strengthen and encourage others among us who might fall prey to the temptation to neglect the disciplines we are called to; and finally, they serve to strengthen the individual Christian …
St Paul compares the Christian journey to a race … and just as an athlete will go through periods of greater and lesser intensity of training in order to prepare him or herself to compete in the race that must be run, so too we have seasons of greater and lesser intensity in our training to run the Christian race … and Lent is a time when our training must be particularly intense … why? Because it is the periods of intense training that allow us to 'coast' along at ordinary times … and it is the periods of intense training that give us the skills that we can fall back on at times of emergency …

to give but one, obvious example, if we do not train ourselves to resist temptation by denying ourselves permitted things for short periods times, how can we expect, when faced with the temptation to indulge in that which we know is not permitted – suddenly and unexpectedly – that we will have the strength, the courage, and the will to resist?

My old Sgt Mgr insisted that his soldiers trained realistically in times of peace in order that their lives would be safe in time of war … during this time of Lent we too must train realistically in order that when faced with the very real spiritual dangers we will face in this world, our souls will be safe unto eternal life … and so as we begin our Lenten journey, travelling shoulder to shoulder on the way to Jerusalem with the Christ who revealed himself to his discipleship on the mountain that day – I pray that will have the strength and courage to train realistically this Lent: in the name of the Father, & the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen

Sermon notes: 19 February 2012 (Sunday before Lent)





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