Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
There's so much surrounding the story of the Transfiguration, it is hard to know where to start. It is a curious story. Jesus leads the three core disciples of Luke's Gospel, Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. We don't why they went up there. Luke doesn't say if the disciples had any clue. Were they like the bear that went over the mountain in that children's song just "to see what they could see"? Luke doesn't explain.
But it can easily be said that what the disciples saw once they got up there was like nothing they could have ever dreamed of. Once there, they saw Jesus turn a dazzling white, a brightness like that of the son. Then they saw Moses and Elijah, two of the most important figures in the history of God's people. You have to wonder what was going on in the minds of the disciples. As the story went in the Jewish tradition, when Elijah made an appearance on earth, that meant that the Messiah was supposed to be pretty close behind. Luke tells us that six days earlier Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Here, if Peter needed proof, was proof positive. Jesus was joined in the company of Moses, the one who passed on the law from God to the people, and Elijah, the forerunner of the Christ. Wow!
And how does Peter express amazement? "Lord," he says to Jesus. "It is good for us to be here. Let's make it last a while. Why don't I set up a booth for each of you?"
The text says he goes on speaking but is interrupted by another voice, which completely overshadows him. It is God's voice.
Have you ever done this or been around somebody who gets so excited and nervous that you talk on and on about nothing? Poor Peter, we trust, was so excited about this whole situation that he didn't know what to do.
Then the voice of God came out proclaiming what Peter had suspected those six days prior: "This is my Son," the voice boomed, "the Beloved, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." Luke doesn't tell us that the voice boomed, but at the end of the proclamation, Peter and his two friends were face down in the dirt and shaking out of great fear. Jesus comes to them, touches them, and assures them that they have nothing to fear. And as they descend from the mountain, Jesus orders them to say nothing about what they have witnessed.
As I said, it is a curious story. Could it have happened? Could these ancient men-Moses and Elijah-have appeared thousands of years after they walked the earth and have disappeared as quickly as they came? How do you explain the brightness of Jesus? And what of that voice from the clouds? Or is this just a story that Luke told to make the point to his followers that Jesus was the Son of God?
These are questions left to the mystery of how God interacts with humanity. The way that we "see" this event is not through our eyes but rather it is by our faith. To paraphrase our reformed ancestor, John Calvin:
It is by faith alone that we penetrate to the light inaccessible in which God dwells, not by our eyesight.
The questions with which we have to wrestle have to do with how we interpret this story in light of our own stories of faith.
We are presented this story at the beginning of Lent. Lent is the time when the church calendar gives us the opportunity to prepare for the events surrounding Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. In fact, this story foreshadows Jesus' resurrection. The placement with him with Elijah and Moses, the radiance in which he shines, all point to the glory of his defeat over death into the light of resurrection life. His resurrection, overcoming of death on our behalf, is a lot for us to even try to understand. We need the forty days of Lent to prepare us for the emotions attached to those miraculous events. From the vantage point of the mountaintop Transfiguration, we can get a glimpse of the power of Easter.
Just like the disciples, although we get a glimpse of the future, we have to address the present. Despite our unwillingness, we have to go down off the mountain and deal with our present lives. Although we lose sight of Easter, our faith tells us it is still there.
We enter into Lent knowing that Easter is on the other end. We also begin the journey knowing that it is a time for self-examination, it is a time to meditate on what led up to Good Friday in Jesus' time and what remains in our time which still makes Good Friday a necessity. We have to come down from that high point into the depth of our souls.
This is where the title of this sermon, "Listening Openly, Visiting Earnestly," fits in. We are called to continue Christ's ministry of love and compassion. Look at what happens immediately after the story. The disciples come down and are met with the need to heal a young boy stricken with paralysis. In spite of what the disciples witnessed on the mountain, they apparently don't have the faith to help the young boy. We must have the faith that while Jesus calls us to brighter things our compassion for our neighbors must continue. We must Listen Openly to the needs around us and continue to visit the Needy in all Earnest. Yes, Jesus calls us to LOVE God first and then our neighbors as we LOVE ourselves. As we wait for the glory of Easter, we must strive to love as Jesus did.
In your situation, are there neighbors around you who need to be listened to? Are there friends you know who need to be visited? Perhaps you yourself feel isolated like the young boy who needs healing. You could use the compassionate, healing touch of Jesus. And while we know his love, he's not physically present in our lives. It takes the faith and action of his disciples, of us, to reach out and touch the needs of one another. We must seek out those who can provide that loving care and remind them that Jesus calls all Christians to love one another as he so loves us.
How do you handle coming down off the mountains? Although I would guess that most of us do not hear the voice of God coming down from the sky, there are moments in our lives, like that of the three disciples in this story, when we feel especially close to God. How do we hold onto those and carry them into the other less spiritually aware moments of our lives?
Look at Peter. Man, he wanted to stay up there from then on. He wanted to build some booths where he could bask in the bright light of the history of the greatest people in the history of the Jews. Forget about what is going on at the foot of this hill, Peter thinks. Let's set up camp and stay awhile. What Peter doesn't realize is that the booth that is being built is not a building but a person. The dwelling place he seeks is there before him, touching him, telling him he need not be afraid, the very one to whom he proclaimed, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." The booth into which we are drawn is the body of Christ. In him is where we find the reality of God's presence dwelling within us.
What the Transfiguration was all about was making a transition. It was a time for Jesus to show the disciples that he meant business and what his business was all about. He also had to show them who had the authority. God is in control. There'll be no pulling Jesus aside as Peter had done just six days before and telling Jesus how to go about his business.
The transition was about the disciples seeing themselves in the company of the one who would bring them eternal life. It was about seeing that if they truly listened to his call-followed him, went about the business he called them to do, they too would end up in the same glory that they witnessed upon that mountain.
You see, my friends, the ultimate promise is that the metamorphosis that happened to Jesus from human to God on that mountain-and the transition that happened to him from Good Friday to Easter, from death to life--becomes a corporate event. The change that Jesus made, therefore, "includes the disciples, indeed all those who are drawn into the Kingdom of God and who, therefore, participate in its destiny." Isn't that the new creation that Jesus promises? If we claim to be followers of Christ, then that is the destiny to which we are drawn.
Remember, though, before Jesus reached the glory of the empty tomb, he had to walk this earth. Before we can reach that promised place, our work is here also-to Listen Openly and Visit Earnestly. We are called to LOVE one another as God, through our Savior Jesus Christ, loves us. As we enter the season of Lent, may it prepare us for the glory of Christ. Amen.
Let us pray. Creator God, you have called us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. That path leads us up to high mountain top experiences. We feel closer to you than ever before. As we long to dwell in those mountain top places, those places where we bathe in your radiance, remind us that we can't stay there forever. You also called us to walk on the earth in the midst of those in need, in the midst of those who ask us to be present in their lives. Remind us as we walk on this earth and serve one another, we look forward to the glory of being in your heavenly realm, the place of eternal life. In the name of the One whom we followed there, we pray. Amen.