On the eve of day of his assassination Martin Luther King gave his last speech. It was filmed and watching it all these years on, it has lost none of its power.
As he draws to his conclusion, he talks of scripture. “I have been to the mountain top” he says, he has “seen the promised land”. He encourages his listeners no doubt wearied by the struggle for equality “we will get to the promised land” he tells them for “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
King was a man who had spent time with God. He had glimpsed more and he knew that he couldn’t let the injustice of segregation and inequality go unchallenged. Being with God had changed him.
Moses had, as we heard in our Old Testament reading been with God too, on Mount Sinai. This mountain top experience had changed him too, so that ‘the skin of his face shone because he had been with God.’
This morning we heard of how Jesus, together with some of his friends also went up the mountain to pray when ‘the appearance of his face changed’.
We’re not up a mountain, though St Mary’s in some ways does stand on top of a holy hill, a Landmark for miles around. Yet we are here to meet God and when we meet God, things do change.
That change isn’t so much about instant transformation, though of course it can be, but about a lifetimes work. When by God’s grace and through faith as the hymn we shall sing at the end reminds us, we are ‘changed from glory to glory’.
This being changed finds echoes in that second reading from St Paul. He writes that we as followers of Christ ‘being transformed.’ The trouble is we don’t really like change that much.
Perhaps inevitably we make the life of faith something we can control and order, something that is made in our own image. So our words might be “I don’t want to be changed thank you very much, I am quite content as I am.”
Well maybe, except once we’ve been caught up in an encounter with the living God we cannot help ourselves, we have in some way “seen the promised land” glimpsed what might be, rather than what so often is.
The Bible is filled with stories of those who when they spend time with God in one way or another are changed. Life is turned upside down for them; from Moses to a young teenage girl called Mary, from Saul who became Paul to fishermen who meet an intriguing man named Jesus whilst they tend their nets.
These stories of change aren’t just limited to the Bible though. Think of Martin Luther King or Samuel Wilberforce or even you and me, gathered here for worship. We too have been changed through faith and as we look to the future, the more time we spend with God, the more we shall be, bit by bit, day by day, changed from glory into glory.
But back to Moses, on the mountain, he was an intermediary between God and his people. Fast forward to Paul. He writes of how that mediator is now Christ so that the need for tablets etched with commandments is gone. Instead he says God writes ‘on tablets of human hearts.’
Paul is saying something new. He is writing of a God who isn’t distant or dwelling in clouds or on tablets of stone but rather is closer to us than we know. The God of whom he writes and we know is mystically present in the depths of our hearts. This new thing of which he wrote was supported by experience, it was something he knew deep down.
The same is true of us because if we do make time to be with God then we will know, as we think of our story that God has indeed over the years been with us. Silently and lovingly writing on the tablets of our hearts. Shaping and reshaping us for his glory time and again so that we might become to use another lovely phrase of Paul’s ‘a letter of Christ.’
Paul communicated with his letters, they told the story of his encounter with the living God. The letters of our lives do the same. This morning I spoke of Bill, who taught me something about the transfiguration but over the years I’ve been thankful for many others, who have in some way been ‘a letter of Christ’ for me.
Thinking of them, as I did writing this they were it seemed to me all people who had in one way or another spent time with God. They were and are the most deeply attractive of people. Warm, open hearted, loving and generous, traits that I hope define my life too.
Tonight we are making time to be with God, to be open to his life transforming love, to be changed. It’s risky but as John Henry Newman once wrote ‘to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’
So may we, when come to worship, as we live our lives live with expectation and hope because being with God means being ‘changed from glory into glory.’ Amen.