On Moriah and Tabor 2 Sunday in Lent 2018

Friends after the flood, God established a covenant with Noah, with all living beings on earth. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow. Noah had three sons who went out of the Ark: Sem, Ham and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. Scripture tells us that all the people on earth derive from these three sons. Of interest in this family history, may we observe something that Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President said in his speech visited and spoke at the recently when he visited the UN Security Council. He claimed that Palestinians are the descendants of the Canaanites. This would mean that they were in Jerusalem before the Jews. Canaan was the youngest of Noah's sons. He saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers. This happened when Noah was drunk after drinking a lot of wine that he himself brewed. For his action, Canaan was cursed by his father and made slave to his brothers. Curse is over the head of Canaan (Gen. 9: 20-28).

Abram is descended from Sem and his father was Tera and had two other brothers: Nachor and Haran. The Bible tells us that Haran was the father of Lot who died before his father. Tera, who lived in the Chaldean, migrated with Abram, Lot, and Sarah to Canaan, but stayed in Haran. Abram eventually migrated to Canaan (Shechem), a country in which at that time Canaanites lived (Genesis 12: 6). Abram received a promise from the Lord that he and his descendants would inherit the land. Famine in Canaan forced Abram to migrate to further to Egypt.

In the first reading, we hear about God putting Abraham to test (Genesis 22: 1). God calls Abraham and tells him to take his only son to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain. Some land with this name is not known but Moriah occurs in 2 Chronicles 3: 2 as the name of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Abraham obeyed God and became faithful. He waited 24 years before God's promise to give Sarah a son would be released. Abram was a stranger in a country that did not know the true God, in a land that was hostile to strangers. It seems easy but that was not the case. To leave all who he knew and migrate from Haran in Assyria to Canaan and try to make a living there was not easy. It was a very dangerous journey that resembles the dangerous travels that migrants make to come to Europe through the desert and oceans. Abram understood his journey as a mission that came from a vision, the call of God. Abram's trust in God gave him the strength and power to do what God requested from him. He was always willing to obey God's word.

Abram was urged to leave his country, his family, his father's house, to an unknown country that the Lord would show him. This means leaving all his security, power, money and people's praise for God's promise. It's not about being blessed, and his name being great. If your concern is only your own life, your job, your clothes, your children, good education, your marriage, then you are no different than those who do not know the Lord. We all need to celebrate our faith and thank God for each other's life. If we really listen to God's word and led by His Spirit, we will enter the Lord's peace.

We are taken to Mount Moriah and Mount Tabor in today's liturgical texts, first and gospel readings respectively. The mountain is always a place of prayer and sacrifice to God. Abram goes to Moriah while Jesus and the disciples go to Tabor. I have the favour to have physically visited the two mountains. Getting to the top of any mountain is not a task for the weak and those without courage. It is the work of grace. How do we respond when God demands that we sacrifice something special to him? Some Christians no longer recognize the cross in their faith. Many have forgotten that the way to glory always goes through the cross. Those who do not fight can never win the crown. We all have a lot to learn from Abraham who lived 4000 years ago, our father in faith. Through him came the true knowledge of the true God to us and through his heirs came our saviour. There are plans, desires, pleasures that God calls us to sacrifice for what lasts forever.

We can say that these four short verses from Paul's letter to the Romans are perhaps the most comforting and encouraging verses throughout Scripture (Romans 8: 31-34). Paul believes that Christians are free people living in hope. This is a hope that is founded in God's unconditional love. God wants everyone to come to heaven. That is why he has created us. At the same time, Paul lets everyone know that there are enemies who will try to prevent us from entering heaven. Paul states that no one can accuse God's chosen ones. The one whom God frees can no one judge- "If God is for us who can be against us?" The proof that God is for us is the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of God. St John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) offers a testimony of the victory of the believer over the powers of evil: “The Israelites witnessed marvels; you also will witness marvels, greater and more splendid than those which accompanied them on their departure from Egypt. You did not see Pharaoh drowned with his armies, but you have seen the devil with his weapons overcome by the waters of baptism. The Israelites passed through the sea; you have passed from death to life. They were delivered from the Egyptians; you have been delivered from the powers of darkness. The Israelites were freed from slavery to a pagan people; you have been freed from the much greater slavery to sin.” Much of what worries us on earth is nothing compared to what God has promised us in heaven. Often, it's not what we think we need to make us happy, which gives us joy. True joy, can only come to those who listen and do according to the will of God, who is the fountain of life.

The glory of God, which Apostles Peter, John and James, have a taste of Christ's transfiguration, is given only to those who walk the Lord's way (Mark 9: 2 - 10). While the Israelites could not look on the face of Moses in glory, these three saw the face of Christ in his glory. It is to this Apostle Paul points to when he cries out: “We see the glory of the Lord with face unveiled”. The solemnity of the transfiguration Christ takes place every year on August 6th. The event is told in Luke 9: 28-36, Mark 9: 1-8 and Matthew 17: 1-6. It is the text on transfiguration that we read in today's gospel. In the three stories, we hear the names of the three Apostles of Jesus who followed and were there as human witnesses to the event. There were also three heavenly witnesses, Moses, Elijah, and God's voice from heaven. The Old Testament requires three witnesses for validity of any event (Deuteronomy 19:15). This is fulfilled both on earth and in heaven. The transfiguration event can be described as a demonstration that Jesus is the one whom Peter, James and John acclaimed, King of Israel, Son of God, the Messiah of the Lord.

As Moses went up to the mountain to meet God (Exodus 19: 3), Jesus does the same. In Exodus 40:34, God speaks from the cloud. The glory of God is revealed on the mountain (Gen. 19:11). Here we see that Jesus is neither Moses nor Elijah. He is someone greater, he is the Messiah. In the transfiguration, we also learn that suffering and glory belong together. The glory of God is revealed on the mountain (Gen. 19:11). Sacrifice for God and fellow human beings happen on Mount Moriah and Tabor. Lenten season offers all Christians a golden opportunity to walk with Christ and to taste the glory of heaven like these three disciples who were on Mount Tabor with Jesus. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

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