Heaven Shining Down on the Mountain
Transfiguration Sunday, 2019 / March 2 and 3
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 / Hebrews 3:1-6 / Luke 9:28-36
And as Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
Dear Christian Friends,
In the past 8 weeks of Epiphany, we have been doing some rejoicing, some exploring, and some reflecting. Rejoicing in the simple Good News that God has reached down from heaven to rescue in places like Bethlehem, the river Jordan, and Cana in Galilee in the Person of Jesus Christ. We’ve been exploring the obvious truth that mission and ministry happen in specific locations like Nazareth and Capernaum, places with significant history and particular opportunities. We’ve been reflecting on this epic battle between the Light of this world and forces of darkness on the Sea of Galilee and on the level plain near that sea where Jesus is preaching to the crowds. Last week, we learned one more time that the Church collectively is called to be on a rescue mission and because we are on a rescue mission, we will find it possible to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us.
Today we have this amazing glimpse of God’s glory on the Mountain of Transfiguration. We’re not sure if this Mt. Tabor, which is a small mountain rising up from the Jezreel value, some distance southwest of Lake Galilee. Or perhaps it was Mt. Hermon, which was some distance north of the Sea of Galilee up on the coastland near Caesarea Philippi. But what we do know is that Jesus had taken Peter, James and John up with him to pray. We know that as he was praying, Jesus face was changed, and his clothing became dazzling white. We know that Moses who represented the Law and Elijah who represented the prophets were talking with Jesus about his departure. The literal word was the exodus, and in this case referred to the death of Jesus which was flashing before their eyes.
Deader than a (doornail)
When I think of death flashing before my eyes, I think of a racoon I hit with my car several years ago on my way back from Waldorf in the darkness. I will not soon forget the look in that racoon’s eyes in the instant before he made his exodus from this life here and now. As soon as I could start breathing again, I thought to myself, he is deader than a doornail. (Story of researching the history of that phrase “being deader than a doorknob”, taking a survey around the office area and giving this phrase to complete – deader than a _______. Every person said “doornail” except for one young pastor who shall remain nameless. He said “deader than a sandwich”) Point of this story – to see life from the perspective of the racoon – death flashing before your very eyes.
On the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus had death flashing before his very eyes. As a way of preparing his disciples for what was to come, Jesus was giving his disciples a glimpse of his glory before they made the way down the mountain, into Jerusalem, where he would faithfully suffer under Pontius Pilate and be crucified until he was dead and buried.
(Story by Francis Chaan, whose family member had died and was cremated. He was sleeping in the room where those ashes in the urn was located. And he couldn’t stop thinking about that day when he would die and be reduced to dust and ashes. He couldn’t get out of his head questions like, “what has my life been about? Has my life been all about telling the world how amazing is our Savior?)
In our text for today, it seems as though Jesus Christ is trying to move his disciples from Point A to Point B. Two parts to our sermon today as we think about the need for God to keep on moving us from Point A to Point B, as we pray for the Holy Spirit to keep on working on our hearts, to keep on changing our attitudes, to keep on sanctifying and enlightening our spirits.
Sermon part #1 is that the transfigured Christ was trying to move his inner circle From sleepy and contented to (fear and trembling)
The older one gets, it seems as though the sleepier many of us get. A couple of years ago, I laid down with six year old Oliver to get him to take a nap. Some time later, Oli woke me up and told me that he couldn’t get to sleep because I was snoring!
In our text for today, Jesus as Jesus was praying, his face lit up like the sun itself, his clothing turned as white and dazzling as a bolt of lightning, Jesus (the very Son of God) and Moses (a representative of the Law) and Elijah (representative of the prophets) are standing there talking about the death of the Messiah Himself, the disciples – what are they doing? Sleeping, I wonder if they were snoring. We don’t know if they were sleeping because Jesus was praying long (like one of your pastors), or maybe they were sleeping out of nervousness or maybe the majesty of it all, but what we do know is that Peter lurched right into a spirit of contentment, Who can blame Peter for wanting to prolong this experience, “Master, how excellent it is for us to be here! And let us make three booths, three shelters, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.
It wouldn’t be the first time nor the last time that Peter spoke without thinking. Eventually we hear him reflecting on this mountain top experience with fear and trembling, which is where Christ would want him to be, “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[b] 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
The kingdom of God is like a group of farmers I knew in the first church I served near Lewiston, Minnesota. Every Sunday morning they would come into our warm and cozy wood frame church after 3-5 hours of feeding and milking dairy cows. Almost every Sunday morning they would get a little sleepy during the sermons, or maybe the prayers, but as often as they would stand for the reading of the Gospel, as often as they would sing a favorite hymn, as often as they would kneel for their Lord’s Supper, that often they would be fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things.
Sermon Part #2 is that the transfigured Christ was trying to move his inner circle of disciples From eyewitnesses of majesty to servants of (the cross). The order of God’s kingdom is always suffering before glory. While it is true that in today’s Gospel, a few select disciples get a glimpse of glory before they go down the mountain into months and years and even decades of trouble and trial and worse, it is a rule of thumb in the life of a Christian that suffering precedes glory. James wrote a verse that is at the same time one of my most and least favorite passages of the Bible,
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In the verses immediately preceding heaven shining down on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus declared to anyone caring to listen that if folks wanted to be following him, they would need every day to be denying their own desires and picking up their own crosses.
On the very next day after our Father in heaven boomed out of the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”, Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit and everybody was astonished at the majesty of God. Soon after that Jesus predicted he would soon be delivered into the hands of men, right after that an argument broke out among the disciples about who was the greatest. Can we agree what a bunch of knuckleheads disciples in every generation can be?
And yet Jesus and his Holy Spirit keep on moving us from sinful knuckleheadness to the forgiveness of sins, through preaching and teaching and life experience, Jesus and His Spirit keep on coaching, they keep on sending away our sins, they keep on being faithful, they keep on moving us towards servanthood. And hopefully servanthood with a smile!
The kingdom of God is like class of 20 confirmands I know that drifts in and out of attentiveness in a regular kind of a way. By nature, they don’t listen well, but as often as I draw near, look them in the eyes, and tell them a good story, they are all ears. By nature, they chat and they day dream and they forget, but as often as the Word of God is faithfully planted, as often as the Bible truths connect with their souls, as often as they are reminded that Jesus loves them so much, Jesus is with them, Jesus has a wonderful plan for their lives, Jesus is patient and Jesus is kind and Jesus doesn’t keep a record of their wrongs……….that often they have the potential to move from learning to serving, from receiving love to giving it away, from having their own faults and failures forgiven to forgiving other people’s faults and failures.
As quiet as (mice) When all the dust had settled, once the great voice from heaven had spoken, Luke records that Jesus was found alone, and they kept silent, they told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. Quiet as mice, they were, which Jesus had commanded. Matthew elaborates, that upon hearing the voice the disciples fell on their faces in great fear, that Jesus touched them, they arose and saw that the cloud was gone, Jesus was alone. Quiet as mice they were, even Peter was at a loss for words.
The kingdom of God is like a pastor who is telling his confirmation class one closing story. The story is of him standing at his mom’s left arm, his sister standing at her right. He holds her hand with a little oxygen detector on her finger, and as she breathes her last, the little oxygen register falls to zero. Death is flashing before their eyes. There are no words. They believe in the forgiveness of sins. Now begins the wait for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Quiet as mice is this confirmation class, even 7th and 8th graders are at a loss for words.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther