Faith United Methodist Church
March 2, 2014
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood
Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9
Prayer of Illumination:
Light of light, True God of true God, as you spoke from the pillar of cloud to Moses and the people, so you spoke from the bright cloud to Jesus and his disciples. May your word live through us today, that our world of sorrow may be transfigured into joy. Amen.
Sermon: Blinded by the Glory
Any mountain climbers in our congregation this morning? I’ve climbed a few mountains in Maine and a couple small mountains in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Over the past few years Gary and I have even made our way up a couple of Vermont mountains. Does Mt. Philo count?
When I was growing up my parents took me on vacation each year to the wilderness of Maine ~ Baxter State Park ~ where we would go hiking, backpacking, canoeing, and mountain climbing. One year we got part way up Mt. Katahdin (to Chimney Pond) when the weather turned on us ~ the fog rolled in and it began to pour down wet, cold rain. When we got back to camp we were freezing and totally soaked and it was too wet to even make a campfire. That wasn’t by best hiking experience!
But this morning, in our Scripture, Jesus, along with Peter, James and John, are off on a mountain climbing expedition. Now, we might wonder what mountain climbing had to do with the mission and ministry of Jesus, but if we think about it for a minute we can recall that mountains were often places where people encountered the presence of God. We remember Moses going up Mt. Sinai and returning to the people with his face all aglow. Jesus’ longest sermon in the Bible is the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, many spiritual traditions portray mountaintops as points of divine / human contact. So we may not be too far off base to suspect that something special is going to happen in this passage.
And happen it does, right? This is a major ‘special effects’ moment in Jesus’ life. Jesus was enveloped in a shining light. His face glowed like the sun. (Reminiscent of Moses.) His clothes were made whiter than any bleaching. And then two of the giants of the faith appeared with him. Moses and Elijah stood beside Jesus as a radiant cloud enveloped them and the voice of God declared, “This is my Son. Listen to him.”
And while all this was going on, what did the disciples do? They reacted in two ways. First they suggested making this mountain top miracle a permanent situation. They wanted to move in, make booths and capture the glory forever. Then they got scared and fell on their faces, blinking and shielding their eyes from the glare of God’s glory. Blinded by the Light. Overwhelmed by the glory of God. Artists throughout the ages have tried to capture it. Here is one example. This simple hike turned into something quite spectacular.
And it’s clear that this experience had quite a profound effect on Peter, James and John. The story of what we now call the “Transfiguration of Jesus” is included in three out of the four gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke each record this event. And it is also mentioned in a fourth place in the New Testament. In Peter’s second letter he alluded to it writing, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This wasn’t something Peter easily forgot.
But we know that. Because our own experiences of God’s glory are not easily forgotten either. Our experiences may not be as dramatic as the disciples’, but they can be just as powerful. You know what I’m talking about, right? It may have been in the birth of a baby or an incredible experience of nature or an amazing sports play or another indescribable event. Frederick Buechner described those transfiguring moments as, “…fleeting instants when a human face is transformed by understanding or beauty or joy.” This conversation makes me think of the Celtic idea of thin places. Thin places where the divine breaks through and dances with humanity.
And it’s important to be reminded of these glory moments as we get ready to embark on our Lenten Journey. It’s important, it seems to me, because these glory moments give us strength to get through the more difficult times. As one preacher explained it, “The mountain top’s holy light was meant not to dazzle or overwhelm, but to empower and set free.” I imagine that Peter, James and John drew strength from their mountain top moment as, later, they witnessed the events surrounding Jesus’ death and, even later, as they worked tirelessly to build the church and spread the Good News.
As much as they wanted to, the disciples didn’t stay up on that mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, did they? No. What did they do? Having been comforted and reassured by Jesus, they followed him down the mountain. They went into the valley to do ministry and mission in Jesus’ name. This is the same Jesus who leads us on and out into love and service today.
I heard a story that I would like to share with you as we close. I think it relates, so here goes. Some students asked their teacher, “Does your God work miracles?” The teacher replied, “Well, it all depends on what you mean by miracle. Some people say it’s a miracle when God does the will of the people. We say it’s a miracle when people do the will of God.” Amen? Amen.