03/02/14 Sermon (March 2, 2014) "What Happens on the Mountaintop..."

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:45 AM by David Hawkins

03/02/14 Sermon (March 2, 2014)

"What Happens on the Mountaintop..."   

Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.  

Sermon:  "What Happens on the Mountaintop…."   

As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we remember once more the transfiguration story of Jesus on the Mountaintop. It’s a story that puzzles us, intrigues, and ultimately, escapes us. We don’t really know what happens to Jesus on the mountain. All we know is that something big is taking place. A transition has occurred. A metamorphosis. A change. And from this point on, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, to a royal welcome, an intimate betrayal and a horrible death.

Because transfiguration changes everything.

Jesus has been busy these last few chapters. Twice he has fed a large groups of people, first five thousand with nothing but five loaves of bread and two fish, and then four thousand with nothing but seven loaves and some fish. Not many menu choices, really. I wonder if people complained. “What, no chips? No tartar sauce?” Still, it’s pretty amazing what Jesus can do when people share what they’ve got with each other.

And of course, Jesus has also been walking on water and trying to teach the disciples how to do it as well. It’s a good thing they brought life preservers. It turns out that it’s hard to keep your eyes on Jesus when you you’ve stepped into something way over your head. It’s easy to find yourself floundering, if you’re not really ready for a life of faith.

Jesus has also been challenging the religious leaders of his time. They keep wanting him to fit into their little Messiah-shaped  box, and he keeps not being able to squeeze himself in there, and consequently, their conversations never go very well. Jesus has this annoying habit of pointing out the heartless ways that the leaders of the church interpret the law. It’s as though they go out of their way to find ways to make faith become a burden, rather than a delight for their people. It’s as though they have forgotten how to love, somehow.

And he was even forced to deal with a canaanite woman, a stranger, an alien. Something to do with her daughter being possessed by a demon. Surely, there was no need to waste his time, his energy, his healing, his teaching on her, right?

I mean, what rights does she have in his country? She’s an outsider, an immigrant. Why should he care one way or another about her, or her children? After all, he’s supposed to take care of his own people first. These foreigners don’t deserve his compassion.

But, for some reason, Jesus heals her daughter, as though she also matters to him. It’s just another slap in the face to the authorities, of course. Doesn’t Jesus know where to draw the line? What would happen if everybody felt the same way? How would we know where the boundaries are?

The people are getting worked up, and people are saying strange things about Jesus. Some think he’s John the Baptist, back from the dead. Some think he’s the Prophet Elijah, some folks don’t know what to think. And so Jesus asks Peter what he thinks. And Peter makes a good choice. He says that Jesus is the Messiah.

And today, six days after this faith-based confession, Peter has a chance to see exactly what that means. Peter and James and John get to watch the whole salvation history of the people of God play out on the mountaintop, with Jesus and Moses and Elijah together as equals, as giants of the faith.

And before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured. And this changes everything

And if they hadn’t been convinced by the dazzling white clothes and the shining face that lit up the hillside, there was no doubt left when they heard God speaking from heaven, as he did at Jesus’ baptism, once again identifying Jesus as his beloved son. But this time, God adds just one more tiny sentence. Just one more additional thought for the disciples to keep in mind over the next few weeks.

“Listen to him.” God says. “Listen to what he says.”

Of course, that’s sometimes hard to do, isn’t it? Jesus says such difficult things, it’s hard to listen. He asks so much from us, it’s hard to listen. His words carry so much meaning, they are so convicting, so personal, so real, that it’s hard to listen.

It’s hard to listen to Jesus when he says that we really do have enough to share. It’s hard to trust that if we give what we have to others, there is more than enough to go around.

It’s hard to listen to Jesus when he says things that fly in the face of our traditions. It’s hard for us to hear him say that sometimes the rituals and the doctrines we hold dear in the church don’t mean that much to him.

It’s hard to listen to Jesus when he tells us to care for the unwanted, the alien, the immigrant, the leper, the sick, the poor. It’s hard for us to hear that we aren’t the only ones at the center of his universe.

And maybe that’s why God has to remind the disciples to listen to him. Because in the clear air at the top of the mountain, it’s easy to see Jesus shine. In the crisp, cool mountain breeze with Jesus and Moses and Elijah, it’s easy to see how it all fits together.

It would be so great to stay here forever. It would be easier to hear Jesus, to listen to him, if we didn’t have to pick his words out from the noise of the crowds, to try to hear him above the noise of a distracting world.

But we do have to go down, don’t we? We can’t stay here forever. We have to leave the mountaintop, leave behind the experience of seeing Jesus for who he really is, of hearing Jesus named as the son of God. We have to walk back down, without much to remind us of what just happened. Because what happens on the mountaintop stays on the mountaintop. That’s just the way it works.

Except for one thing. And it’s a small thing. In the midst of all the shining, and the dazzling, and the Moses-ing, and the Elijah-ing and the God-speaking, there is one more thing that almost goes unnoticed.

You see, God stays on the mountaintop. Elijah and Moses stay up on the mountaintop. But Jesus doesn’t stay up on the mountaintop. Jesus walks back down onto the plains with the disciples.

And maybe this is the meaning of transfiguration.

Maybe transfiguration isn’t so much about Jesus becoming divine. Maybe we look at this moment from the wrong point of view. Maybe transfiguration has less to do with Jesus becoming something, as maybe it does with something becoming Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t become the law. The law becomes Jesus. There’s a difference. Jesus doesn’t become a prophet. The prophecies become Jesus. And here’s the biggie. Jesus doesn’t become God.

God becomes Jesus.

This is the biggest transfiguration of all. This is the whole point of the law and the prophets. This is the whole point of everything. In Jesus Christ, God becomes man and lives among us.

God, the ruler of the universe, the creator of all that is, all-mighty, all powerful, all-knowing, all everything, becomes small.

In Jesus Christ, God stoops to our level, in a way that we can understand -- in a way that we can feel, and touch, and appreciate. God makes himself little, in order that we might truly know him.

And this God, whose voice just seconds before thundered from the heavens, and frightened the disciples to the ground, now speaks to us, calling us to get up. This God, whose hands shape the throats of volcanoes, whose fingers twist the braids of hurricanes, now reaches out to us, and he gently lifts us, and helps us stand.

And when Jesus touches us, when Jesus lifts us up off the ground, when Jesus invests himself in our lives, we also are transfigured. Our sins our gone, our faces shine with the joy of God’s forgiveness, and we are clothed with the the dazzling white of our baptismal robes. Before the eyes of the world, Jesus transfigures us. He gives himself to us, pours his life into us, takes us, renews us, and welcomes us into the presence of God.

When we go down the mountain, we do not go alone. We go down with the words of God ringing in our ears, with the vision of Jesus blinding our eyes, and the arms of our savior around our shoulders. It will be hard, sometimes to keep these words and this vision in mind in the midst of the wind and dusty air of the plains below. There are many distractions, and a lot of noise.

But it will be even harder to shake off the feeling of his hand on our shoulder. Because transfiguration changes everything.

Thanks be to God. Amen.