Exodus 34:29-35, Matthew 17:1-8
March 2, 2014
This is Transfiguration Sunday. And that event always falls just before Ash Wednesday. And Ash Wednesday, of course, is the beginning of the season of Lent. That’s this Week. And I do hope you will consider coming to the Ash Wednesday service at Bensalem Methodist. It’s a good way to start that important season of the year! It’s a good way to be “inspired” – and we’ll revisit that word several times today – “inspired” to begin that time of introspection and reflection!
Well, when I think of the Transfiguration, I think about the disciples – Peter, James, and John. I believe that they needed some “inspiration.” They needed to “see the glory” that Jesus showed them. More specifically, they needed to know that this Jesus was who he said he was. Those who were there at Jesus’ baptism heard the voice of God! And God said, “This is my beloved son.” And if they weren’t there, they heard people talk about it, because it was such a huge deal!
But that was then. Now it’s some three years later, and a lot of things have happened. We’re going to talk about that during Lent, both here and at our Lenten services. We’re going to talk about how Jesus was now heading down a road that would lead to the cross. We can’t begin to imagine what that was like for him. But we really can’t imagine what it was like for these disciples!!
Just think about them for a moment! Throughout the Gospels, we get little hints, little snippets, of their anxiety about where Jesus seemed to be headed. For instance, when he “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” that was troubling to them. They knew that Jerusalem was the hotbed of the growing controversy about Jesus. When he spoke of his suffering that was to come they were disturbed. Peter even rebuked him about it. “Surely that will never happen to you!” “Stop talking like that, Jesus!” And then, when he talked of his death and resurrection, we can only imagine what they thought! (Just imagine if I, as your leader, said such things about myself! You would think my little red choo-choo had gone chugging around the bend!)
Well, I wonder how many times that thought occurred to them! Remember, as I always say, we know the story. We know what was going to happen. These people were experiencing all this for the first time! This was all new ground, and they didn’t know what was coming next! We can’t imagine what it was like for them as they were living the story!
So, let me ask you. Do you think these disciples had their times of doubt? What do you think? I would say that it’s a huge understatement to say that the disciples had their times of doubt! Can you imagine this? Can you just imagine the conversations they had among themselves? “Did you hear what Jesus said today?” “Did he really mean that?!” “Do you think we need to ‘tone him down’ a bit?” We can only imagine the conversations! And we can only imagine the fear that was growing inside them about what was happening? This was no longer just about being the chosen disciples of a local rabbi. There was something much bigger going on here!
So, whenever I think of this event called “the Transfiguration,” I think of these men. And I try to imagine what they were going through in following this young rabbi. And the more I do, the more I’m sure they needed confirmation that they were really following the right guy! They needed encouragement when things happened that were disturbing, or when they were threatened by the authorities, or when the outlook for the future looked bleak!
So, Jesus led them up the mountain. And there his appearance was changed before them. And there they heard again the voice of God! And amazingly, God said nearly the same words they heard, or heard about, at his baptism!
Sometimes I try to imagine which part of this encounter had the most impact on them. Certainly they were amazed by the change that came over Jesus, and by the appearance of two of the greatest of their patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. They knew that what was happening to them was very important! Peter even offered mark the event by making three “booths.” I know that word sounds a little strange to us, but maybe it makes more sense if we used the word “shrine.” Making a shrine or an altar is what those people did when something big occurred. And this was big! But I do wonder which was bigger for them, seeing this vision, or hearing the voice of God? I suspect it was the latter.
By the way, why do you think Jesus told them not to say anything about this? Matthew tells us that, “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them(!), ‘Tell no one about the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’” Oooh, there’s that “raised from the dead” thing again. Do you think maybe they believed it more now – now that they had seen this vision? Frankly, I doubt it.
At any rate, it seems as though there was still this sense of timing for Jesus. He was always very concerned about how the news would get out about who he really was. And, even though his disciples needed this vision, it was still too soon to talk about it openly.
So, I think the great part of this story is the disciples’ part. And what’s great about it is that these disciples often have the same feelings we have! We’re not always sure, are we? We have doubts about Jesus. We’re uncertain about God’s power in our lives. We wonder if he really loves us, or if he’s just way ‘out there’ somewhere – if he even exists at all. We all have those feelings, don’t we. Anybody here that never had doubts about God? (Anybody breaking the 9th commandment right about now?)
So I need to ask us today, do we see the glory? Do we have those times when we doubt God, and then God “shows us something” – perhaps a “little glimpse” into his glory? Does he ever take us to the mountaintop like this. And does that help us to believe? What are those times for you?
For me the best mountaintop experiences are literally on mountaintops! The Rockies, the Wasatch, the Tetons, even the Appalachians! I don’t know if it’s just awe inspiring, or if I get to see more of God’s creation, or if I’m just a couple of miles closer to heaven. I don’t know, but being up there “in the thin air” always does something to me. It’s always a spiritual experience! And so it’s no surprise to me that Jesus took his disciples “to the mountaintop” for this experience. And I have no doubt that, when they went there, they would have thought of Moses on his mountaintop – even before they saw him in this vision!
So, I want you to think today about your own visions of God’s glory. Where have they happened for you? What experiences have inspired you in your faith. And that kind of thing happens, do you tell someone about it? That can be the hard part, can’t it? I think sometimes there’s a disconnect between “seeing the glory,” and telling about it. At those times, we are “inspired” – a word that means “having the spirit inside” – and yet when we try to tell about our faith, we feel like we have to explain it to someone! That’s not always the same thing, is it?
I was a “Campus Crusader” in college. But I have to confess that I wasn’t a very good one. That’s because God had touched my heart in those days, and it was hard to “translate that” into their standard “Four Spiritual Laws.” To me, that was more about teaching someone something, rather than telling how I had been “in-spired.” Think about Jesus’ experience. Many times he tried to “explained” who he was to the Pharisees, but they didn’t get it. And the more I think about it, Saul had to have been among those who encountered Jesus in his ministry, and maybe even argued with him. But it wasn’t Jesus talking to him and “explaining things” that changed Saul. It was Saul “seeing the glory!”
That’s the real telling. We might think that we need to “convince” people. But what we really need to do is to seek to inspire them! That’s more effective! You see, it’s not peoples’ brains we are trying to reach, it’s their hearts! And it’s all about “seeing the Glory.”
It’s interesting that, in this story, the disciples were charged not to tell anyone their vision – which they didn’t. And I think that is well contrasted in the Gospels with the people Jesus told not to tell, but who did anyway! But then you add to that, Mark’s account of Easter morning. Because there, the women were told to tell, and they “said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And as one professor of mine once said, “Who does that leave to do the telling? We the readers! That was “in-spiring!”
So now that it’s all said and done, we are charged with the telling of the story. But too often we don’t. We think we have to explain. And we don’t think we can do that. But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is “seeing the glory.” It’s telling people how God has touched our hearts and inspired our spirits.
So think of these disciples on the mountaintop. Think about what this event did to them. Think about what God has done for you. Think about those things that have touched your heart. Seek those experiences every day! And let the world see what it has done in your lives!!
Eternal God, we do ask for the inspiration of your spirit. We ask for visions of your Glory, so that we may be assured in our faith and know the joy of your kingdom. Like Moses, my people see it in our faces that we have been in your presence. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.