Sermons That Work

This Sunday the Church Celebrates…, The Transfiguration – 1997

August 06, 1997

This Sunday the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration. The Gospel for today is the story of the Transfiguration according to Luke’s Gospel. In the text, Jesus takes his “inner circle” of disciples “Peter, James and John” up on a mountain top by themselves. The text says “the appearance of his face changed and his clothing became dazzling white.” Then all of a sudden, Elijah and Moses literally drop in and begin a conversation with Jesus.

Then Peter, being so impressed with all the going on, says “Master, it is so good for us to be here” and asks if he could construct three dwellings, one for you and one for Moses and Elijah.

Then a big cloud appears and a voice says “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him” then they all looked around and everyone but Jesus had disappeared. And then they went down the mountain, and told no one about what had taken place.

Now what in the world are we modern people supposed to make of all this? A trip to the mountains, dazzling attire, heavenly visitors, drowsy disciples, voices from the clouds and a proposed construction plan? It almost sounds like a scene from a Stephen Spielberg extravaganza.

Yet deep within these strange goings-on are deep spiritual truths that can speak to modern people in our modern world. First, we have the location, a mountain top, a place where ancient people traditionally gathered to pray. People used to gather on mountain tops because they felt the higher up they were from the ground, the closer they would be to God.

We do not have to pack our bags and move to the Rocky Mountains in order to pray, but what we can learn from the story is that we need to come to “higher ground” to pray, and for us, our weekly Sunday liturgy is our “higher ground.”

There are so many people in this world trying to reach up and find God. People devise all kinds of means to try and reach God. People go down to new age and spiritual supply stores to buy crystals to rub and powders to cast about, amulets to wear and tapes to put them into trances so that they can somehow contact the Divine.

Some people join strange cults like Heaven’s Gate, and others end up following bizarre leaders like Jim Jones, and David Korresh. We may be tempted to laugh at crystals and giggle at young people with shaved heads in orange robes selling flowers at airports, yet behind all these things is a genuine longing, a deep desire to reach out and touch God.

The only problem with all this is that God is beyond the human reach. People can do everything in the world to try to climb higher and higher, they can rub crystals, drink powders, chant and hum, do good works, eat special diets, climb mountains or scale the Sears Tower, but they won’t be able to reach up to God by doing these things. God is available to anyone and everyone, not because we can reach up to God, but because God in Jesus Christ reaches down to us.

Yes, people are looking for God, but Christian tradition proclaims that God cannot be found because God is not lost. We are the ones who are lost, and it is God who reaches down and finds those who are lost through Jesus Christ.

For those who have come to be in Christ Jesus, the mountain top is an important concept, not because it means we are literally up there on some mountain, but because knowing the God who came down to us in Jesus is a “mountain top experience.”

Saying that knowing God in Christ is a mountain top experience is not saying that Christianity is all about being high, it is not. The Christian mountain top experience is one side of the coin, the Christian experience of Golgotha is the other. Those who ascend the mountain, those who are in sync with God, know that the harsh realities of valley awaits them below.

In the story, Peter was so high on his mountain top experience that he wanted to build shrines and somehow preserve this experience for all time. Yet we all know that the experiences in life that are the most significant cannot be bottled up and preserved. Deep experiences cannot be preserved, they can only be cherished.

As people in Christ, we are people of the mountain top who are called to live and work in the valley below. The valley is the world, the place where there is evil, poverty, longing, hurt and need. The valley is where God wants us, it is here where we are to minister, but it is not because of the mountain top, it is because of our encounter with God in Christ that we have the strength and courage to work in the valley below.

The reason we come to liturgy is not to escape the world, sit on our mountain and polish our shrines built for God, the reason we come here it is to rejoice and regain our strength for the work we are called to in the valley, beyond the church doors.

Jesus descended from the mountain back into to his needed work in the world and so must we. But before we go, we must partake of God’s presence on this mountain top of word and sacrament. As Peter said, “it is good for us to be here.” We can echo the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, another mountain top traveler. As he said, “I have been to the mountain top, I just want to do God’s will. God has allowed me to go up to the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land, so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing anyone, for my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

God is present here among us, in his Word, in the sacramental bread of life and cup of salvation, and in us, God’s holy people. God is present with us as our courage, our source of power and our might and God will empower us to go out into the world and point others to God’s most brilliant light.

So, be on the mountain top.
Do God’s will.
Look over and see the land of promise.
Be happy today.
Don’t worry about anything.
Don’t fear anyone.
Let your eyes see the glory of the coming of the Lord.
In the name of the + Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema