I am always impressed by people who come to Australia from another country and another culture, particularly if English is not the spoken language of the country. In our own congregation I think of our Thai brothers and sisters. Thai and English are very different; they don’t even use the same alphabet. I do admire those who make the effort to read, write and speak the language of the place where they are living.
Of course there are some migrants who do not learn English and only to speak their own language. They may want to learn, but they have no one to teach them, or they may stay at home all day and have no opportunity to learn English. These people find living in Australia hard and stressful. They cannot understand what is going on around them. They can’t read notices or instructions and they can’t talk to and understand most Australians. In other words they can’t find their place in our community and our society and they soon feel lonely, rejected and depressed. Worse still is the situation for those who have been persecuted in the land of their birth and who have come to Australia only to be locked in detention camps with no chance to find their place. It is no wonder that so many cases of mental illness and suicide are reported among the detainees.
The bible tells us that the children of Israel, wandering in the desert, having lost their homes in Egypt, were also angry, grumbling and depressed. Our reading from Exodus tells how Moses began to teach the Children of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the Law of God. Somehow they had to learn that they were not escaped slaves running from Pharaoh’s chariots, but they were God’s chosen people, with the Law of God to regulate their lives and the glorious hope of the Promised Land ahead of them.
Moses face shone with the glory of God so they were frightened; and he was giving them new and strange instructions – Laws they had never had before – it really was like learning a new language and a new way of thinking. It was hard work, and not all of them were able to change their lives. A depressed and desperate people had to learn to be strong in the strength of God No wonder so many of them perished in the desert and never made it to the Promised Land. St Paul says that their minds were hardened and it was as if they had a veil over their faces and couldn’t see.
But those who were able to live the Law of God, who kept God’s teachings and the Law that God gave them, these people survived the desert and the long years of history, and their descendants the Jews are among us still.
When we turn to the Gospel, we find that Peter and James and John come face to face with a similar revelation of the glory of God. This time, God is not revealed in the words of the Law carved on stone tablets or written on scrolls. This time God is revealed in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ in person. Moses and Elijah are there with Jesus, but they are the supporting figures only. Moses, representing the Law and Elijah representing the prophets, stand aside while God is revealed in Christ.
And Peter and James and John are excited and frightened. They want to build tents to keep the wonderful revelation of the Word made Flesh with them always, but when the cloud of the glory of God overshadowed them, they were terrified. They were so full of awe and amazement, wonder and terror, that even when the glory vanished they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Like travellers arriving in a strange land, they did not have the language or the skills to understand or explain this new place.
And now we find ourselves in the same situation as Moses and the children of Israel and Peter and James and John. We have come together, as followers of Christ who long to see and share his glory; we have come together to learn the language of God’s kingdom and to become permanent residents and citizens of that kingdom.
Here in this place we learn God’s language as we read the scriptures and teach ourselves to pray. We use the familiar words from our books to give shape to our thoughts of God, and as we receive in our hands the bread and the wine we receive that Word made Flesh whom Peter and James and John saw when Jesus was transfigured before them.
And by the words we read, sing and say, by the food we eat and drink we become more like Christ. It was St Augustine of Hippo who said, “We come to believe what we pray.” And it is well known that what we say and how we say it reveals who we are.
Today I am saying that we change and become like the people around us. If we speak Dutch and live long enough in the Netherlands, then we will become Dutch. If we live in Australia we will slowly but surely become Australians, thinking and talking and living like the people around us. And if we gather and read and pray and sing and eat and drink in honour of Jesus Christ, then we will eventually become Christians
Christians are people who gather together to learn how turn the words that we pray into the thoughts of our hearts and the thoughts of our hearts into the actions of our bodies. Our aim is to take the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ and make it ours so that the Living Word may live in us and bear much fruit to the glory of God.