St Francis, Terriers - Sunday next before Lent (07.02.2016)

Tony Dickinson

Who likes going to the dentist?

Is your dentist a fun person?

Sometimes they can be. Many years ago, when I was a curate in Watford, my teeth were looked after by a wild Irishman. He used to enjoy asking me difficult questions about God when I had my mouth full of his drill or bits of filling, or both.

Once he asked me if I believed that hell exists. “We-e-ell”, I said (a bit warily, because he was still holding his drill a few inches from my face), “I’m not sure, but I think there might be a special place for dentists…”

He laughed. And then he said something I’ve never forgotten. “I can’t believe in hell, myself. I can’t believe that God would refuse to let anyone see his smile.”

Now, today’s readings are both, in a way, about God letting people see his smile.

What happens when somebody smiles at us? What do we usually do?

We smile back. We reflect the look they have given us back to them. And sometimes if it’s a nice smile, or if it’s a smile from someone who is important to us, we carry on smiling. We share that smile with other people. Sometimes people tell us that we are glowing.

So, in our first reading, when Moses comes down the mountain after talking to God, he is glowing. Quite literally, according to the reading we’ve just heard. “The skin of his face shone because he had been talking to God.” He is sharing with the Israelites the look that God has shared with him, a reflection not of human happiness, but of God’s glory. If we go back to the slide that went with our first reading, we can see Marc Chagall’s painting of Moses receiving the Law from the hands of God. Those four lines coming out of the top of Moses’ head represent the rays of that reflected glory.

There’s glory in our Gospel reading, too, the glory that shines so brightly out of Jesus as he prays on the mountain. “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Jesus was having a one-to-one with his Father and reflecting the Father’s love that shone on him.

That glory shining through Jesus takes in Moses and Elijah, too. It lights them up as they talk together about what will happen to Jesus at the end of his journey to Jerusalem. It keeps the disciples from falling asleep. It gives Peter ideas about somehow trapping it in a building. “Let us make three dwellings,” he says, “one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

But God’s glory can’t be trapped in a building. On earth God’s glory is a human being, fully alive. God’s glory is the people who have seen his smile and smiled back, and share that smile with others.

On Wednesday Lent begins. For most of us that means giving up something we enjoy for the next six weeks. This year, for a change, why not give up the things that stop us from seeing God’s smile, and spend the time and the energy we’ve saved in doing things that help us to see God’s smile more clearly?

I mean things like taking time to read the Bible, slowly and carefully, letting it speak to us; or making time for prayer (and remembering that prayer is at least as much about listening to God as it is about asking him); or sharing more fully in the life of the church community: or helping other people, seeing God’s image in them. You can do that in many ways, by being a good neighbour, by supporting the Lent project – or by getting directly involved in the work of the Hospice.

Over the next couple of days think how you might make time and space to look for the glory of God’s smile. To him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…