February 26, 2017
When we did the bible study on the journeys of St. Peter, they showed us the area where it is thought the Transfiguration took place. It wasn't at all what I had in my mind. I pictured a grassy hillside where they had a nice easy walk to the spot Jesus stopped. Kind of a picnic area on a hill. In fact, it was a quite hostile environment; rocky, steep, cold, icy. As I considered today's gospel and the much more mountainous picture in my mind, I thought back to some of my mountain experiences.
Perhaps Jesus and the disciples had some similar weather during their mountain climbing that day. It was not a pleasant walk; it was hard work, tiring work. But as we read the history of the Jewish people in scriptures, finding that mountaintop experience is central to its birth and development.
Our Old Testament reading today, we read about Moses going up the mountain to receive the Law, 'The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.” We read about, but don't witness the glory of the Lord on that mountain.
We jump ahead to the mountain of Transfiguration, and again, its about glory being revealed, “And (Jesus) was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” The inner glory of Jesus was revealed on that mountain. We must remember, Jesus came to earth fully human. But we also know that Jesus was more than a mere mortal. This vision of which John writes shared a glimpse of the true glory of the Lord.
In our Wednesday afternoon bible studies, I like to make the point that the gospels are written by ordinary men who walked with Jesus and years later wrote down or had someone else write down what they remembered and what they considered important. This account of the Transfiguration is also recorded in the gospels of Luke and Mark. The apostle John doesn't include this in his gospel, but a non-gospel writer, Peter, included it in his remarks we heard in today's epistle reading...”but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” These writers felt it was an important event in the life of Jesus. And it seems one purpose is to convey the majesty and glory of Jesus, majesty and glory that wasn't evident in his day to day life.
We finished watching the video of the Gospel of John on Wednesday. It was a general consensus among the group that the actor portraying Jesus was not very appealing. He looked less attractive than how we are used to seeing Jesus portrayed; and his general attitude seemed to be anger or, better, irritation and frustration. It really seemed the only time that that Jesus was happy was when children were around. Any ways, my point is that in his life on earth, there wasn't anything about the appearance of the “day to day Jesus” that would show who he truly was. For all anyone could see, he was a man; plain and simple. Scriptures bear this out. In Isaiah's famous prophecy of the Messiah, he tells us that the Christ will not be anything special to attract people to him. From the Message, “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away.” (Isaiah 53: 2-3) So this transfiguration moment was designed to show the disciples the true nature of Jesus the Christ; they share it with us so we can understand a bit more about his divine nature in contrast to his incarnation body.
I'm finally getting to my point this morning. It is that the life and ministry of Jesus is filled with contrasts; and that means that our lives and work for Christ will liking be filled with contrasts as well. The first contrast is the contrast between the earthly body of Jesus and his glorified body revealed on the mountain. Elizabeth Palmer, film editor for the Christian Century, highlights this contrast as she wrote of a stained glass window in her college's chapel. She writes, “Jesus, clad in white and skin shining, stands astride a mountain...When the afternoon sun hits this window just right, Jesus glows radiantly. It's glorious. All of it except the feet. Jesus' feet in this window are decidedly not glorious. One might even describe them as ugly...God comes to earth, incarnate in a body...but not a perfect or even stunningly beautiful body. It's a human body with very real, very bony, probably very dusty and stinky feet. No transfiguration can change that fact.” The Son of God, the King of Kings in a less than glorious body. Quite a contrast. For us, when do we show our true nature? Is it in church on Sunday with heads bowed and hearts silenced? Or is it on the highway when we are cut off and make a not-too-friendly wave to the other driver? We have a heavenly nature and a too often ugly human nature. As we draw closer to Jesus, that contrast become less and less.
Speaking of contrasts, lets look back a bit in Matthew's gospel and we find that our gospel story begins 6 days after Jesus predicted his death, and Peter famously rebuked him and was told “Get behind me Satan.” A rather dim and pessimistic situation. Contrast that with the glory of the Lord demonstrated on this mountain top. The gospel story goes from the grim prospect of death to the glorious vision of the Son of God, God's beloved, within a couple of paragraphs. Scriptures tell us to think on heaven; we can offset the contrast between the trials of this world with the glory to be revealed to us.
But then we immediately see another contrast. When Jesus and the disciples come down off the mountain, basking I'm sure in the wonder of this revelation, they are confronted by the needs of a man heartbroken by the fact that his son is suffering from continued seizures which even the disciples of Jesus couldn't cure. Glory on the mountain, misery in the valley. A contrast we often live within our own lives. How often does it happen, we celebrate a wondrous occasion, we experience a special blessing and we feel so close to God and so blessed. Then we leave that mountaintop only to be confronted with a coworker who makes our work time miserable. Or we receive a diagnosis that fills our hearts with fear. We enter the valley of doubt or fear. The thing with mountaintop experiences is, we can't stay on that mountain. Like Jesus and the disciples, we enter back into the flatlands and face the challenges of life, disease, disappointment, doubt. Like the man and his son with the seizures, Jesus can be found in the valleys as well as the high places. We could say Jesus is both up there and down here. It is so much easier to recognize the Son of God in glorious vision glowing in light; but know that Jesus is also down here with the victims of abuse, the cancer patient, the brokenhearted and the downtrodden. With and in those who know the Savior.
Perhaps the most famous mountain climber in history was Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, was the first to reach the summit of the world's highest mountain, Mt. Everest. I've read some books on climbing that mountain; Julie and I watched a video about a disastrous attempt to climb it. It is a nearly impossible feat, even today with modern aids and support. The final ascent is so dangerous from ice and lack of oxygen and winds and sudden weather changes that you take your life in your hands if you attempt the feat. There is a certain aspect of mountaintop experience when you reach the top by all accounts, but the physical suffering is such that the joy is tempered greatly.
After Sir Edmund Hillary conquered that peak, after his mountaintop experience at the top of the world, he came back to the valley and served, much as Jesus did. Sir Edmund worked with the Nepalese people, building schools and hospitals. If you say he had a transforming experience on his mountaintop, you could say he transformed the lives of others when he came down and saw the need.
When Jesus came down from the mountaintop, he served. Perhaps he was encouraged by the announcement that God was pleased. Perhaps the words of the prophets encouraged him. But he left that mountaintop and returned to his life of service. Guard against assuming that Jesus is only with us on the mountaintop, only in the blessings. Jesus walks with everyone who will call on his name. And since we are only empowered to call on his name by the grace of God, we trust that Jesus is with everyone.
So how does the fact that Jesus is with you change your life? I titled my sermon “Our Transfigured Lives”. Is the fact that Jesus is with you changing you? If someone saw you before you recognized the call of Jesus in your life and saw you now, would they see a transfigured you today? The love of Jesus shining brightly in your life? The glow of joy showing through in your words and actions? The joy of mountaintop visitations overflowing into your life here in the valley? A life lived out in service to our neighbors?
As we are transformed by the grace of God in Jesus, we are to see the need around us and serve. Serve as Jesus did, as Sir Edmund Hillary did, as all who know the love of Jesus are called to do. It can be a daunting task, and even the disciples after their mountaintop experience failed to follow Jesus to the end. But as our banner says, in Christ, we are a new creation. As a new creation, as a transformed person, we have the power of Jesus to love and to serve. To minister to others in Jesus name. The church often fails in our attempts to serve, we can become about the organization and events and busy-ness and not enough about Jesus. For that we must repent.
As a church and as individuals we should be more aware of opportunities to serve, be on the lookout for needs, recognize the valleys that people are suffering through and be the light of Jesus for them. It doesn't have to be building schools and hospitals. It doesn't have to be curing the sick. It does mean that we love those nearest to us, treat them with respect and honor. That we practice the “Golden Rule”. That is how we live out our transfigured lives.
So on this day where we read three accounts of mountaintop experiences in our scriptures, let your heart and mind be filled with the presence of the glorified Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Great I Am. Then return to the valley and serve the Lord Jesus by serving one another. Amen.
Hymn: We Will Glorify 154 W & P