“It is good for us to be here”

A Sermon by The Rev’d Wendy MorecroftEvensong Sunday 4 August 2019

Daniel 7:9-10; 13-14 & Mark 9:2-10

Just a couple of weeks ago my husband Andrew and I were standing in the expansive basement halls of the retirement palace of Emperor Diocletian in Split on the coast of mainland Croatia.

These halls were heavily promoted as being where the dragons had been kept in the TV series Game of Thrones which I refuse to watch. One synopsis of the series describes it as being about “Nine noble families [who] fight for control over the mythical lands of Westeros, while an ancient enemy returns after being dormant for thousands of years.”

Given tonight’s reading from the Book of Daniel, it probably isn’t surprising that I have found myself wondering whether the author of Game of Thrones took much of his inspiration from Daniel’s vision in tonight’s reading.

Tonight’s reading began at verse 9 but the chapter begins with Daniel’s incredible vision. Four different beasts (representing four earthly kingdoms), are activated by the wind and rise up from the sea.

The first beast is a lion with eagle’s wings, next is a bear, chewing on three ribs, third is a leopard with four wings and four heads.

The fourth is different and much worse – its teeth are made of iron, it has ten horns, and then a little horn pops up and knocks out three of the other horns.

The little horn has human eyes and speaks arrogantly from its mouth. Then our reading begins when “The Ancient of Days”, being God, interrupts the little horn and appears on a throne.

God is wearing snow-white clothing indicating righteousness. He has woolly white hair showing wisdom.

The fiery flames of his throne, its wheels of burning fire and the stream of fire issued and flowing out from his presence reveal his power and judgement.

Ten thousand times ten thousand angels attend him.

In the missing verses, the beast with the horns is put to death and the other beasts lose their dominions.

Then in verse 13 in our reading “one like a human being comes with the clouds of heaven” to the feet of The Ancient of Days.

God gives the one like a human being, all the dominions of the four beasts and he will reign forever.

Dean Frank recently preached about the Bible as a book of wrestlings. We may well wrestle with what this all means.

However, there is one clear reason for celebration:

God is in control.

God “will defeat the seemingly unconquerable powers that oppress [God’s] people.”

The vision brings comfort for the faithful.

Evil may have the “upper hand, but that is a temporary deception. Better to stay faithful and suffer, than to fall in with evil and experience God’s ultimate judgment.”[1]

Daniel’s vision reminds us of our continuity with the fears and struggles of his generation.

Think of Hiroshima which happened on this day in 1945.

Wars and world tensions dominate our news.

We too find ourselves in a struggle that threatens to overwhelm us.

Daniel 7 gives us a picture of hope with the one like a human being coming on a cloud, rescuing us from the beastly kingdoms.

In our Gospel reading we heard how Jesus took Peter James and John up a mountain and was transfigured before them.

They saw Elijah and Moses appear. Peter got so excited he said “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.”

He wanted to make three dwellings for them so that they could stay forever.

A cloud overshadowed them, and they heard God’s voice say “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Daniel’s vision helps our understanding of the transfiguration.

The one like a human riding a cloud has taken God’s prerogative.Think of the cloud of presence in the Book of Exodus.

In Psalm 68:4 we “extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the Lord”.

In Psalm 104:3-4 “He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.”

In Isaiah 19:1 “the Lord rides on a swift cloud.”

The one riding the cloud is Jesus.

A cloud appears again at the transfiguration.

We see the connection between God’s “white as snow” clothes, to Jesus’ clothes becoming “dazzling white”.

Other Old Testament echoes are the mountain setting which is reminiscent of Moses on Mt Sinai.

Moses and Elijah represent the first and the last prophets, both of whom rose up for Israel out of the tribe of Levi, both of whom were commissioned to redeem Israel.

They serve as “points of reference in the great liberation of God’s people from their enslavement to sin.”

They point to Jesus as their successor.

Peter James and John must listen to him, now.

The voice from heaven which Peter James and John also hear recalls the same words uttered at the time of Jesus’ baptism (1:10-11) and “serves as a second divine endorsement.”[2]

God strengthens and gives courage to Jesus and his disciples.

When Jesus emerges from the cloud, “the law and the prophets are gathered up and fulfilled in what he is about to do.”

It was this identity of Jesus as the saving one, riding on the cloud, that was being revealed to Peter James and John in the transfiguration. The great reversal is that God won victory over Satan by sacrificing Godself in Jesus on the cross.

We have the great advantage of hindsight but for Peter, James and John this must have been a perplexing time. How could the death of their friend Jesus, possibly be a victory?

Each of tonight’s readings are readings of great hope.

God’s beauty is beyond our imagining.

God’s power is beyond our comprehension.

Let’s pray that we understand something of God’s glory.

It is a glory in which we find our true identity.

Let’s also pray that some of God’s glory is evident in the way we live our lives.

Many of us have had mountain top experiences when the ground is holy and like Peter, we want to stay there forever. Like Peter James and John, we may hear God’s voice, inviting us to listen to Jesus.

It is good to rest a while in the memory of such moments, to be like Peter and say, “It is good for us to be here”.

The memory of such moments serves to sustain us in our times of trial. As we enter the holy ground of our beautiful Cathedral, may we always be listening for God’s voice and may we remember that “It is good for us to be here.”

[1] The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel, 177

[2] Craig A. Evans, The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels pg 242