Should we stay or should we go?
Readings: Genesis 12:1-4; Mark 9:2-9
This week, something truly momentous occurred. Last Monday evening, as the stars shone down on us and the moon beamed brightly, a crisp winter wind sung through the valley as if it knew something special was about to happen. It’s since become the talk of the town of course but in case you’ve been away or are a visitor, let me be the one to inform you that on the 5th February 2018, for the first time ever in history…I won the Hawthorn Inn pub quiz. I know, I know – another England win! Technically, there were a couple of others from Castle Square on my team but you need people to make up the numbers, don’t you?!
There were many hills I had to climb, challenges to overcome to reach such dizzying heights of course – which dessert means ‘pick me up’ (tiramisu)…which country is this (Denmark) – but the question that tipped the balance for me and my, for want of a better word, team, was name this band…any ideas?
Yes, it is indeed The Clash – the British rock band who formed in the later 70s and who you might know from hits such as ‘London Calling’ and ‘Rock the Casbah’. Well, I was still, obviously, bathing in the glory of Monday evening’s triumph when I read the Bible passages for today and the words of another famous Clash song came to me:
‘Darling you gotta let me know, should I stay or should I go…if I go there will be trouble, if I stay there will be double…so you gotta let me know, should I stay or should I go?’
These were the words that came to me for this question is central to Abraham and the very beginning of his journey with God as well as to Peter and his understanding of Christ.
Let’s look at their situations – Abraham, 75 years old, no children and already quite far from home, is suddenly told by God to pack everything up and begin another long journey to a land God’s yet to show him! It’s not exactly the best of offers from God now is it? And Abraham could have cited many obstacles in his way – his age, the absence of family who were normally needed to defend you from attack or help you through hardship when on the move, the reluctance to ask his wife to move on yet again, fear of the unknown, uncertainty about what God exactly was asking…it would have been far easier and perfectly understandable for Abraham to shake off the calling, put the encounter down to some dodgy figs, and get back to looking after his livestock.
The same was true, of course, for Peter, as he, James and John witnessed God’s glory in a weird and wonderful new way. Peter, fresh from naming Jesus ‘the Christ’ and shortly afterwards getting called Satan in return, is trying to make sense of all he has witnessed whilst travelling with Jesus and makes his way up the mountain with those quarrelsome sons of thunder when Jesus lights up, Moses and Elijah pop by, clouds descend and the voice of God is heard! No wonder he was terrified. And in his panic, he wants to grab hold of something solid, understandable, reassuring…he wants to build three dwellings – perhaps houses or tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, and there stay. ‘Should I stay or should I go?’…Peter might well have asked himself midst the holy hullaballoo…’well’, Peter stutters,’ I vote for stay!’
And who could blame him? Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay on the holy mountaintop rather than turn his face towards Jerusalem and all that awaited them there? Who would have blamed Abraham if he’d declined God’s outrageous offer? I think we’re tempted to say ‘no thanks, I think I’ll stay here’ to God all the time. No thanks God, I think I’ll stay with this bitterness, with this grudge I’m harbouring or guilt I’m holding on to rather than making that difficult journey to an unknown land of grace and forgiveness. No thanks God, I think I’ll stay with this worldview, I’ll stick with this way of doing things, I’ll ignore the chance for dialogue, and dismiss the stories of others I meet along the way. No thanks God, I’ll stay with my ideas of what a Christian life should look like, I’ll stick with my existing views of how we must do church, I won’t be open to different, less comfortable, more scary ways of how we can witness to God’s love today.
Well, I know that this morning there are a number of people in our church family who are about to begin a physical journey – perhaps to Canada, to Blackwood or Teesdale – but all of us are pilgrims on a journey with God. Like Abraham and Peter, we’ve already covered some distance, often travelling onward with other companions on the road and, like Abraham and Peter whose journey had paused for a moment, we have a decision to make. As we stand on the threshold of Lent, we might ask ourselves, should we stay or should we go?
Well, before we even think of packing up our things again or of choosing what to leave behind, we must pause to listen. When up on that mount of transfiguration, Peter was terrified and did not know what to say or do so he grabbed on to old habits – when something holy happens, try to catch it and keep it – build a tent or Temple, erect a chapel or church! Abraham did the same thing on his journey – erecting altars along the way – and even the great King David wanted to do the same with the Temple, so we might go easy on Peter for clasping at this straw. But just as he does, God says to him and the others who were watching in awe and wonder – “This is my Son, the Beloved – listen to him”. Listen to him. Listen to the One who came to tell sideways stories, ask searching questions, to invite all of us to join his way of life. Listen to him just as Abraham listened to my invitation to move on those many years ago when this whole story really got going.
Often, in our lives today, we are surrounded by so much noise! I’m not just talking about those overexcited Welsh rugby fans I caught the train back with last night or the infuriating people who play they music loud, without headphones, on public transport (!) but about the constant hum of emails, phone calls, posts, headlines and deadlines; the endless nagging of the to do list and the white noise of what we should do, what we must buy and become to be happy. Then there’s our natural monkey mind which jumps from one thing to another, ever distracted, ever looking for the next thing to overthink, worry about or try to control.
And in amongst all this…underneath the cacophony of voices around and within us, a gentle whisper can be heard – “This is my Son, the Beloved – listen to him”. Listen to his words of comfort and reassurance. Listen to his words of challenge and scandal. Listen to his words of grace, of peace, of love. Sometimes we can get so busy spinning the plates of our existence, that we forget to listen to the melody we dance to. Whether you’re about to begin a new adventure, find yourself caught at an impasse on your earthly pilgrimage or are keen to get stuck into the Lenten journey to the cross and empty tomb, now is the time for us to listen to Christ; to pay attention to the Spirit.
This Lent, then, I challenge each of us to intentionally put some time aside to listen. For some of us that will look like reading our Lent book on Abraham each week, taking time to think on the questions it raises, and also coming to hear the author share her thoughts with us on the Wednesday evening of holy week. For others of us it might mean committing to spend time with another book, or perhaps to read a chapter of one gospel each day. It might mean dedicating five minutes of our day – morning, evening, perhaps both – to pray with God; to put time aside to reflect on that decision we’ve been putting off or to have a few minutes of quiet when we can be open to that still, small voice of God. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture of study and fasting but simply the decision to at least try to be still and say ‘here I am, Lord, speak for your servant is listening’.
Of course, listening is for life, not just Christmas…or Lent or any other season! When Abraham and Peter continued on their journeys, they frequently lost their way. Peter denied knowing Jesus; Abraham lied about his wife Sarah, passing her off as his sister…and they both did these things on three separate occasions! Then there was Peter’s abandoning of Christ when he was most needed, Abraham’s abandoning of the land God promised him as soon as there was famine…neither of these men were the perfect explorers. They were in constant need of others helping them out; of strangers and friends reminding them of God’s call; of the challenge and the need to stop and listen to God. And when they did, in spite of their sometime lack of faith in God, God was forever faithful to them. God was always there, ready and waiting to forgive, to guide, to bless. Time and time again, Abraham and Peter were refreshed by God’s grace, reinvigorated by God’s strength and renewed by God’s love. One then journeyed on to be the founder of the Church, the other to be the means by which all people are blessed. Just imagine what wonders might come when we listen to God and step out in faith!
So this Lent, this lifetime, let’s put some time aside to pause and pray, to loiter and listen to the God who is still speaking; let’s give thanks for the places we have been and be excited about where God might take us next; and let’s praise the God who is with us every step of the way as we ask once again –
Should we stay or should we go? Amen.