Exodus 19

God said: ‘I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.’ - Exodus 19:4

Friends, we all have that one teacher—or maybe even more—we remember from school. The teacher who made the lessons interesting. The teacher who gave you the extra help you required. The teacher who gave you the talking to that you needed. All of us, I guess, will remember one teacher who made a difference. I remember Mr Chesworth my biology teacher in Yr 8. I hated biology, I found it boring and haven’t thought about biology much since Secondary School, except for that year, the year I had Mr Chesworth. He loved biology and taught it in an interesting and engaging way. I remember Mr Cree my history teacher in Yr 11 who had us standing on chairs and wearing silly hats so we’d understand the feudal system. I remember Mr Lavatey our PE teacher who took us out in the snow to play rugby, but somehow made it fun! A good teacher can make all the difference. They say a good teacher can make the difference of two grades; a student on track for a D getting a B, a pupil on track for a C getting an A. However, it is more than just grades, it’s also the passion for the subject, the inspiration they provide, which lasts the rest of our lives.

We’re back in the book of Exodus which we began last year and we’ve been learning the lessons which God has been teaching His people. With the Israelites we’ve been challenged to trust that God will provide what we need each day and to remember that prayer wins battles. today, we’re going to be reminded of the importance of not getting too familiar, not forgetting who is talking, and to remember when it comes to God, that we need to listen to Him. As we arrive in Chapter 19, God’s people arrive at the Holy Mountain. The mountain where Moses met with God in the burning bush is the mountain God promised the people would worship on all the way back in Exodus chapter 3. God said, ‘I will be with you [Moses, and] when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’ At the time Moses could scarcely believe it. He was a poor shepherd, and God was sending him into the world’s superpower with a message to let their slaves go. But now Moses’ faith is being rewarded as God’s promise is being kept. God’s people have arrived at God’s mountain.

You know at St Michael’s—the Secondary School I went to—when you reach Yr 10 your uniform changes from maroon to black. As Yr 10, and a member of Upper School, you take on new responsibilities, eat in a different refectory, and are treated with a certain amount of respect by those still wearing maroon. However, there is a danger, a danger that this new status goes to your head and your attitude starts to change, especially towards those teachers who have guided you through and you forget the respect you showed them when you were in Yr7 and instead start treating them as your equals. You’ve made it to Upper School by listening to your teachers and if you’re to continue to make a success of your education then you must keep respecting, must keep listening, to your teachers. Sometimes, no doubt, it is necessary, vital even, for a friendly teacher to remind their students of the right order of things. For the teacher to say: ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?’ The Hebrews have made it this far, they’ve made it to the mountain and perhaps now they’re safe, perhaps now there is a danger of them forgetting who it is they’re talking to. A gentle reminder may be in order. Who is it that they’ve come here to worship? God tells Moses:

‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.’

‘Who do they think they’re talking to?’ The God who sent Moses to rescue them. The God who fought the Egyptians and forced them to let His people go. The God who brought them out of Egypt. The God who brought them to Himself at the mountain, who provided them with food and water, and would continue to provide for them until they made it to the Promised Land. ‘Who do they think they’re talking to?’ Their Lord and Saviour. Now that they’ve made it to safety, now that they’ve made it to God’s mountain, they are not to forget who it is who saved them, nor the respect and loyalty which God is owed. What does that respect look like? At school was wearing your uniform smartly, it was speaking with respect and listening when a teacher spoke to you. What does respect look like for the Hebrews? Back in Exodus 3 Moses was told to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Similar restrictions are in place now. There wasn’t room in today’s reading but if you go and read Exodus 19 for yourself we see what it looks like. The people are told to wash their clothes before they come to worship. They are not to step on the mountain because it is holy ground. And God will show His presence through sending a storm on to the top of the mountain. All of these are reminders of who it is they are speaking to, who it is they are worshipping. and like our Yr 10 students arriving in Upper School if they maintain their respect, if they keep listening to the Lord, then He will ensure they have a bright future:

‘[God says:] Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”’ 

God’s people are to remember who they’re talking to, treat God with respect in how they approach Him, and always, always, remember to listen to Him. And if they do God will see them through to the Promised Land where they will be His special people. Back at St Michael’s if it was the teachers’ job to inspire but also to maintain respect, there was one person who you  didn’t mess with at all: the Headteacher. When he came into a room everyone stood up, everyone went quiet. The first time I went into school after becoming the Vicar of St George’s I was in the corridor when the bell went and pupils streamed out of the classrooms. Of course they were chatting and laughing, that was until the Headteacher stepped into the corridor and quickly the kids quietened down, and walked sensibly. I even found myself standing a little taller, being a little smarter. Because of Jesus as Christians we no longer have to go to Mount Sinai, we no longer have to worship on the Holy Mountain. However, when it comes to Jesus some behave as if He is just one of the other pupils. One they can listen to as they like, talk to as they like, and ignore when they like. However, Jesus isn’t just another pupil. Jesus isn’t just another teacher even, no, Jesus is God Himself, and we are to respect Him, worship Him, and crucially listen to Him, as the Jews were to listen to God in Exodus 19. Come now to our Gospel reading: 

‘After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’.

We get here something of Exodus 19, something of God’s people seeing God at the top of the mountain. This is not God the Father, but God the Son, however, He is to be treated in exactly the same way for He is God Himself. When the disciples get a little chatty, when they perhaps are not paying enough attention we’re told what: 'a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’’ The same applies to God’s people after Jesus as applied to God’s people before Jesus as they gathered at the Holy Mountain. We are to remember who it is we’re speaking to; we are to remember who it is we’re worshipping; and we are to remember to do what? To listen to Him. How often, if we pray at all at home, do we mumble our way through the prayers, forgetting to leave space for silence, to leave space to listen for God’s voice. How often, if we read the bible at all, do we pause in reading and ask ‘What is God saying to me from this passage. How might I listen and act better?’ How often, when we come to church even, do we dash in at the last minute, check our phone when it beeps in our pocket, tune out during the sermon, and chat to our neighbours during Communion, forgetting who it is we’re here to worship, who it is who is present in the Sacrament, who it is we are to listen to as the Scriptures are read. ‘Who do we think we’re talking to?’ God is as present here today as He was on that day in the Gospels, as He was that day in Exodus 19. He calls on us to worship Him as the One who overcomes our enemies provides for our needs, and cares about our future! As we close let's think how we can show our gratitude and respect for the One who owes us nothing but has given us everything. Let’s reflect on how we can ensure we listen to Jesus, not just now, not just here, but all the time, and whenever He is speaking. Amen (from Fr Mike).