Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
February 11, 2018
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
As most of you know, Laura and I returned from our Florida vacation this week. We’ve been going to the Disney Vacation Club Vero Beach resort for the past six years now. We don’t do a lot of traveling or tourist stuff. We are content to walk the beach or to sit by the pool and read. This year was probably the worst year that we have had weather-wise in Florida. The temperatures topped 70 degrees only twice. The famous Florida sun was usually hiding behind a layer of clouds. We were wearing jeans and a sweatshirt as we sat in our lounge chairs beside the pool. The winds were so strong that it made walking the beach more of a struggle than a pleasure. I felt a little like Lawrence of Arabia with the sand in my eyes and in my teeth. While I was in Vero Beach, I had a wonderful time. It was very relaxing being away from the routine of life, if only for a few days. Yet I have to admit that I felt a little sad, maybe even a little peeved by the misfortune of cool and windy weather. And then I came back to Michigan! I spent a few hours the first day back shoveling snow from my driveway and at the church. On Wednesday morning it took me over 30 minutes to drive the four miles from my home to the church. Suddenly 65 degrees and 30 mph winds didn’t seem so bad. I was able to see the blessing of my Florida vacation with more grateful eyes.
In his journal Pulpit Resource, William Willimon tells of an experience a fellow minister had aboard an airplane. The preacher, on his way to a denominational meeting, was dressed in a suit and tie and shiny shoes, carrying his laptop computer and briefcase. He sat next to a rather casually dressed woman whose carry-on bag appeared to be a kitchen size trash bag. It was quite obvious that the woman had never been on an airplane before.
After introducing herself, she told her reluctant seat partner that indeed this was her very first flight. In a loud voice that the entire cabin could hear she said, “Boy, is this going to be fun!” As the plane took off the woman volunteered a great deal of information to the preacher. She was going to Dallas to see her son. Her son had the flu. He owned a black lab named Wilbur. And she thought that from the air, the trees out the window looked just like peat moss.
Soon the other passengers turned and stared at the vocal woman. The preacher just wanted to crawl under this seat. When the beverages were served, the woman stated her amazement that such good apple juice could come from a can. When she ordered a deli sandwich, she commented on the miracle of the tiny little condiment pouches. During the entire flight, she didn’t miss a thing. She had something to say about every landmark out the window, about every bit of turbulence, and even about every person who walked by to the bathroom.
The preacher looked around the cabin. Except for the woman near him, all was uneventful and routine. Two people seated directly in front of him were quietly pouring down beers. The man behind him was talking to his seat partner about a dreaded business trip to Japan. The lady across the aisle was sorting through a stack of important looking papers. Even the preacher wanted to open his laptop and return to the normalcy of his work. Yet it appeared the woman sitting next to him was the only one really enjoying the flight and her joy was unrestrained.
When the plane finally landed she turned to him and said, “Now, wasn’t that just a fun ride!” He nodded silently. Suddenly his annoyance turned almost to envy. Why had she enjoyed the whole thing when he was so miserable? What was it that she knew that he didn’t? What was she seeing that he didn’t?
This morning we read the story of Jesus taking three of his disciples up to the top of a mountain. It was a turning point in his ministry. At the time, things were getting difficult for Jesus. His teachings and miracles of healing had attracted the negative attention of the religious authorities. His opponents were looking for ways to trap him and punish him. His disciples didn’t seem to be catching on to his message, arguing instead about whom among them was the greatest. Jesus has begun to think about the future- and the pain and suffering that would be there. But his followers were instead caught up with the excitement of the crowds and the possibility of their own personal achievement in that future.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. And something happened. Moses and Elijah appeared. Jesus’ clothes turned dazzling white. The voice of God spoke just as it did at Jesus’ baptism. Although the disciples didn’t understand it at all, they understood this event to be significant. Their eyes were opened to the reality of Jesus. There were eyewitnesses to majesty. They suddenly saw the big picture. The sights and sounds of that day lived in their hearts forever. It was a day filled with meaning and inspiration.
The story of Transfiguration is supposed to teach us something as we prepare to enter the Lenten season. I believe that lesson is one of perspective. Too often, like those pre-mountaintop disciples, we get caught up in the importance of our everyday routine and the complications of our own situation. Our lives get their meaning from the one day that leads to another, the one task completed before the next is ready to start. We immerse ourselves in busyness. We fail to take the time to reflect upon the larger yet simpler truths before us. We get so used to the noise that we don’t hear the whispers. We are so used to continually seeking answers that we don’t appreciate mystery. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration teaches us that when we disengage, when we stop doing, we might find God’s intention. When we open our eyes, focus on the moment, and look around us, we may see things that we never saw before.
A few years ago I attended an installation service for a colleague at a Seventh Day Adventist Church across the street from my church in Salt Lake City. The service was very similar to the installation all of you held for me several years ago, until something quite strange happened. We were invited to pray. That in itself wasn’t so strange but we were invited to pray from upon our knees. We were asked to get off our pew, leave our feet, and put our knees on the ground before God. I wasn’t sure I liked this. I wasn’t sure I could do this without pulling a muscle or my hamstring. But I tried it. I prayed from my knees. And I prayed with a spirit and a comfort from God that I had seldom felt before. I was pushed from my routine to a transfigured moment. On my knees I felt closer to the divine and certainly more receptive to the mystery of the spirit.
Preacher Carlyle Marney used to say that God doesn’t come to church every Sunday. He added that when you are God, you don’t always have to be there. But we need to be there. Some Sunday when we least expect it, God is going to walk down that aisle and sit next to us. On that day we will be turned inside out. We’d better start paying attention. We need to be there to recognize the moment.
Such moments may be rare. Such moments are short-lived. Like that day on the mountain-top long ago, we must leave them behind and return to the difficult valley. The test of any vision is what happens when one gets back down the mountain and into real life. Yet without the inspiration of a vision, real life becomes meaningless and shallow.
But the lesson teaches us that such moments are always possible. A transforming moment may be here even now. Or it may come when we least expect them- in the face of the next person we meet, in the words of the next song we sing, in the wonder of the next breath we take. Life is usually what we experience when we come down from the mountain. But the face that shines and the spirit that lifts us in the high places will light our way and support us even in the midst of darkness and confusion. The God of the mountaintop is there all along. To experience God, we must simply pay attention.