Transfiguration Sunday; Epiphany; Sanctification; Deut. 34:1-12; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; Luke 9:28-36
Living Between The Mountaintop Experiences
Transfiguration of our Lord-February 18, 2007
Vicar Brian Henderson
“This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.”
ILLUSTRATION: You may be familiar with Peter Jenkins, author of the best-seller "Walk Across America." He decided to walk across the U.S. to find out what life was all about. It is a powerful image - even the movie "Forrest Gump" did a parody of his epic quest.
Something great happened to him during his travels, something he never anticipated, he was given faith! While traveling through Alabama he came across a huge revival. He decided to attend, and at some point, God’s Word grabbed him. When the invitation was given to become a Christian, Jenkins walked down the aisle.
He heard a lot of people trying to explain to him what just happened. He heard words like: "Born again...," "Saved...," "The Lord led you here tonight...," "Praise the Lord...," "Ain't God good?"
Mary, the woman who first spoke to him, said "Peter, this great elation that you're feeling now - You are feeling great elation, aren't you?" "Yes," Peter replied. (Well), "at this moment it may seem like these great feelings are going to last forever, but they won't," she told him. "Being a Christian is not based on feelings. You're on a mountain top now, but someday, sooner or later, you'll be far away from these great feelings. You may even wonder if all this ever happened.
"Your Christian walk is based on faith, not feelings," Mary explained. Peter had never thought about that. As he put it, "I was so thrilled that there could be good feelings mixed in with faith that I really didn't care about her opinions."
More than twenty years have passed since that revival. "I was on a mountain top that night," Peter reflected. "The feelings lasted a long time, but that mountain top hasn't lasted all these years. Maybe I've been on more mountain tops than some, but I've also climbed, sometimes crawled, out of some awfully steep valleys, too."
INTRODUCTION: Most of us have had mountaintop experiences, perhaps not just like Peter Jenkins, but similar in that we were invigorated by an encounter with God’s Word. This morning, all of our scripture readings are centered upon wonderfully spiritual mountaintop experiences that were nothing short of miraculous.
In Deuteronomy, Moses was somehow allowed to see the “entire promise-land” of Canaan from the top of Mt. Pisgah; now that would be similar to looking down from Mt. Laguna and seeing not only the Imperial Valley, but all the way to the eastern state line of Texas and everything in between.
In our 2nd Corinthians reading St Paul relates to us a very real battle going on in the spiritual realm, the battle between “good and evil.” Paul later explains that to some this concept is foolishness because it can’t be perceived with the naked eye. He calls this thinking sinful because those who think like this have not had the veil of unbelief removed from their eyes; a veil which the devil or the “god of this world” has worked very hard to make sure stays in place. To Paul then, a denial of this spiritual battle is a sign of sinfulness or being under the control of the devil, because to any person of faith this battle is just as real as God’s love.
And finally, in our gospel reading, we meet up with six men on a mountaintop, two of them long since dead, one who is revealed to be the God-man and three others who are scared out of their wits!
I. BACKGROUND: Before Peter, John and James ascended to this mountaintop with Jesus, they heard some very alarming news from Him. He had just told them for the first time that in the not too distant future his fate included being rejected, beaten, and killed in the very city that they were slowly making their way towards, Jerusalem. Now this terrified and confused them. What kind of Messiah would be beaten and put to death by the very people He came to save? How can Jesus save us if He is dead? God knew the confusion and fear that was in their hearts, and as a loving Father He sought to give them peace and confidence in His Son, who was in fact their long awaited Savior. So Jesus led Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray and find clarity, peace and strength for what lay ahead of them. We might say that Jesus gave them “all that and then some”. There on that mountain, God allowed them to see two important figures of Biblical history meeting and talking with Jesus. Moses who represented God’s Holy Law, and Elijah, who represented all of the prophets that God had ever used to foretell the coming of the Messiah. Even though the apostles couldn’t hear what was being discussed, this meeting confirmed everything that Jesus had been telling them, mainly that He had come to fulfill the demands of the Law and bring the promise of God’s forgiveness, mercy and peace for the world. From all around them, God’s glory beamed, making the words of the discussion unimportant. Peter, James and John were allowed to see what no man had seen before, but what if this mountaintop experience was nothing more than a passing dream, a wisp of smoke that would soon vanish, as the emotion faded? Well God provided for that contingency as well, when He said, “This is my Son, my chosen one; listen to Him.” Here in these 10 words, we along with the apostles are ensured that Jesus ministry to seek and save the lost was not just the mission of a well-intentioned man, but the mission of the God-man, which was empowered by God’s Spirit, and finds its source from the very heart of God the Father.
Peter, James and John needed to hear these words, not only to confirm that what they had just experienced was true, but also so that they could by faith, trust in Jesus leadership and follow Him where ever He led them. They were amazed by what they had just experienced there on the mountaintop. Who of us would not be? It seemed as if heaven had enveloped them, and indeed it had. It was the ultimate mountaintop experience. Who would want that to end?! Peter didn’t! Always the fast talker, Peter blurted out, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah!” Peter was trying to delay the inevitable; he did not want the out of this world experience to end. We are not so different from him; we too love our “mountaintop experiences”. We love to live in the moment where it seems heaven and earth meets, but eventually we must leave because….
ILLUSTRATION: There is little growth up on the mountaintop. The air gets thinner there and the plants get scarcer, the higher one climbs up the mountain. On the top of the mountain itself, you find mostly rock and dirt. For growth, we have to come down the mountain and go into the valleys, where there is an abundance of water, which produces lush greenery and rich colors. But to do this we like Peter, James, and John must by faith respond to the command of God which orders us to trust, listen and follow Jesus. We must follow Him where ever He leads us, even if we know where He leads will be painful and difficult. Friends, the greatest growth in the apostle’s lives did not take place on the mountaintop, but instead it took place on the way to a garden and a rocky hill. The vision of Moses and Elijah is not what shaped the three, but instead it was the three years they spent with Jesus, which eventually led them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and then to the cross where their Savior was crucified. It was not Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration that impacted them eternally but instead, it was His resurrection and ascension into heaven, which confirmed that “truly He was the Son of God” for them and for the world. The day Jesus was crucified, that hill became the highest mountain in the world, because it reached heaven for us. Jesus did not go up that hill to pray, but he did pray for you: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” You see friends, the experience at the Mt. of Transfiguration is inferior to the experience at Calvary’s holy hill, because it is only a Calvary where you receive forgiveness of sins.
Some of us have had a mountaintop experience or two. Perhaps it was at a church retreat, a Billy Graham Crusade, or perhaps a certain sermon, moved you to go deeper in your faith. While these experiences can be powerful they also are always short lived, but our human nature fights to make them last. We want to stay right there in that moment, because in that moment it seemed as if heaven and earth are joined. We don’t want to leave that moment of clarity and venture out into the real world where there awaits worry, fear, suffering, pain and disappointment, but Christ taps us on the shoulder as St. Matthew describes in His account of the Transfiguration and says, . "Get up." "Don't be afraid." When we hear God call us in this way, we must be confident that when we look up, we will see no one except Jesus leading us down off of the mountain. (Mat. 17:7-8) Like the apostles, we too must leave that place of wonder and follow Jesus. But for what purpose? Well to walk with Him and to learn from Him! In the days of Jesus ministry, God walked the earth in human flesh and blood with His Apostles, and in our time, Jesus walks and ministers on earth through His means of grace and through our service to our neighbor. We must leave the mountaintop because Jesus must leave it.
II. But where are we to go? Well, where did Jesus go? He went out to the people where ever they were and ministered to them. Jesus wants to do the same thing through you. Peter would later explain the result of His walk with Jesus in these words, “As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5-6) And St. Paul described the Christian life like this, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” ( 1 Cor. 6:14). Friends, what these two inspired Saints are saying is that when we follow Jesus by faith, we become part of Christ Himself. With God’s Spirit within you, Jesus is saying, ‘Friend, take me to your home and allow me to love your family through your sacrificial kindness and love. Take me to your neighborhood, and allow me to love your neighbor through you, just as I have loved you. Take me to your school and place of work, and allow me to shine through you so that they too can experience my care and concern through you.’
Jesus made sure that Peter, James and John left the mountain and returned to the valley. They were afraid of what was ahead of them, but Jesus was with them to teach them how to live for others and finally how to die. He did this so that they could live; He did this by living to die Himself. Now He asks us to take the same path, a path where there will certainly be sacrifice, but there will also be joy as we follow Him.
III. The is a time coming when we will live eternally within the “mountaintop” experience, but that time is not now. For now we must go down into the valley with Jesus, but even there He ministers to us through His means of grace. Jesus is with us in His Word, which promises that because Jesus died for our sins, God is for us and not against us. He is with us in our remembering of Holy Baptism, the day claimed us as His own; He is with us in His Holy Supper where He nourishes us with His own body and blood, promising nothing less than the completed forgiveness of sins. At his table, we see the very veil separating heaven and earth part as we feast with all the company of heaven, eternally praising God and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbath rest; heaven and earth are full of your glory!” And finally he is here with us through His Holy Spirit who continually carries our prayers, even the ones that we can’t seem to find words for, and when those prayers reaches the thrown of Heaven, God hears the voice of one who is perfectly pleasing to Him; one whom He has loved with an eternal and everlasting love; He hears you!
CONCLUSION: As we begin our Lenten walk this Ash Wednesday may we remember that we can’t stay on the mountaintop; even though we felt God’s presence so strongly and clear there once. We can’t stay because Jesus calls us out into our families, neighborhoods and where ever else He leads. We don’t like going there, because of the veil of evil that wants to blind us of God’s grace, mercy and peace, but still we follow, because that is where Jesus desires to be and where He will be with us! “Lo, I am with you always, even until the end.” Let us pray…Waken us afresh O God, to goodness, to the reality of evil, the pain of suffering and the beauty of your creation. Then may we serve you with urgency, knowing full well the necessity of your saving love working through us in this fallen world. In Jesus name… AMEN!