what happened on the mountain doesn't stay on the mountain...
March 4, 2019, 9:30 AM

Sermon from Transfiguration Sunday - March 3, 2019

Luke 9:28-43a

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, have you ever experienced something that you just don’t understand? Where you are witness to something incredible, and you still don’t get it? I remember two and a half years ago gathering in downtown Newberry for the total solar eclipse. It was an amazing event. It’s one of those things that you just cannot describe fully to someone who has never seen it. I know understand a little bit more when people say they ‘chase’ total eclipses around the world.

In that moment when totality was complete, I remember first the quiet ‘awe’ that everyone had and then the rush of noise as people cheered and screamed and more. It was an interesting experience, yet I couldn’t help but think – just be quiet and live this moment. Listen to what God is trying to say in this time and space to us.

I get those same feelings as I read our gospel reading for this Sunday of the Transfiguration. It’s a text that I don’t quite ‘get’ all the time. Jesus is out ministering and healing, he then takes three of his disciples and goes up on the mountain. And something incredible and indescribable happens.

Now, here’s the thing, throughout scripture, important things happen on mountains. People throughout history have wanted to scale mountains – those who are religious and those who are not – because they feel ‘closer’ to the heavens on those peaks. There is a sense of transcendence and peace that comes in those high altitudes.

For me, it is the peace and closeness to God that I feel when I get to go to Lutheridge every year. For others it is scaling some ridiculously tall mountain. For others it is just the adventure and the exertion of taking a hike up a steep cliffside. We as humans want to be closer to God, and mountains are great ways – we feel – to do that.

The same was true for those throughout the history of our faith. Moses went up the mountain to commune and speak with God and brought down the tablets and law that would help guide God’s people in faithfulness. Elijah sought refuge upon the mountain and ended up hearing God speak in the still calm quiet, he then came down from the mountain to speak God’s word to a people in need to hear it.

Even Abraham ascended the mountain hoping for God’s presence to be made known – and thankfully he received it. He was able to return down the mountain in joy with his son Isaac with him.

Mountains play a pivotal role in our faith and it is no surprise that Jesus scales the mountainside with his disciples, and something happens. He is transfigured before them, his face shines brightly and he is flanked by Moses and Elijah (like I said, two other heroes of the faith who had important mountain moments).

And in that pivotal, emotional, and confusing moment. Peter speaks.

I recently read a Babylon Bee article (an online religious satirical news outlet) that gave brief 1 or two sentence synopses of the books in the bible. Each summary of the gospels included, “Peter does dumb stuff.”

Peter, overcome with emotion and confusion (and probably a healthy dose of fear – I’d know I’d be freaked out if my friend started glowing and two people just showed up with him) recognizes the importance of what is happening. He acknowledges that something holy, spiritual, and incredibly good is happening here. And his first suggestion is to clutch it, hold on to it, and dwell in it there.

He appears ready to hold on to it like Golem from The Lord of the Rings holds on to his precious one ring. It is so good, that we want to stay here.

Let’s sit up here together. We’ll make three places for y’all and we’ll be good.

And in that moment, the other important aspect of our faith life occurs, for in that moment a cloud descends upon them.

If those lovingly created by God ascend mountains in an attempt to be closer to the heavens, God our creator at times descends to be with us in the form of clouds. There is the pillar of cloud that guided the Israelites by day and night as they wandered in the desert. Clouds have shown the people of faith of God’s immediate presence and closeness. There is even the story of God’s presence as fog rushing into the temple at its dedication.

And in that closeness God speaks, and he speaks of Jesus’ goodness and the call to Peter, the others, and to each of us – to listen to him.

And then just like that everything is ‘back to normal.’ The relationship has changed and evolved – into something better and more full. I imagine Peter is just sitting on the edge of his seat in anticipation of what Jesus is going to say.

And we are not told what he says. In fact, we don’t ‘hear’ him speak for a few days as he doesn’t utter a word (according to the scriptural account) until he goes to heal a young man overcome by an evil spirit.

But, what do you think Jesus might’ve said to Peter and James and John?

What I always think of – especially as we end this season of Epiphany – the season of God being made known – and enter into the season of Lent – is that we cannot stay on those mountains. We cannot clutch, hold, horde, and keep what we know of God to ourselves.

We cannot contain that goodness, that new life, that acceptance, that mercy, and love to ourselves. We literally cannot hold on to it. Why? Because Jesus is going down that mountain whether we like it or not. Jesus is leading us down that mountain to share this goodness and love to those in need to hear it.

And as we’ve seen throughout scripture, that goodness and mercy and love – may have started with a small few, but throughout scripture that circle continues to grow. Wider and wider. That extension of grace and love cannot be contained in small places and in small groups. That joy of God’s love rushes down the mountain moments of our lives and pulls us along for the ride.

Where we come down those mountains of our lives to share in this goodness and truth with everyone and all people no matter who they are or what they are like. God rushes down the mountain in love to say even to that person who feels pushed to the side by their culture, family, community, their church and says, “I’m here for you. Perhaps even you especially.”

Throughout this season of Epiphany our readings have centered on God being made known to those around them and being made known to each of us. Those ways that God is made known shatter our world views and expand us to live into the call of God’s love. That way of being made known is culminated in this reading as Jesus literally glows with God’s love and spirit.

There is the temptation to hold on to that knowledge to ourselves. But we cannot. We must share and speak and act. We are compelled to rush down the mountainside and share God’s love and radical welcome, healing, and hospitality to all we know and see.

We are rushed into Lent with this joy. We are pulled through this love by God so that all might know this closeness and presence.

I don’t quite get the transfiguration, there are moments when I too want to speak like Peter and just dwell in those holy moments. But, God calls us to quiet and listen to Jesus. And what does he do? He goes down the mountain; he heals, shares, and loves. Everyone. Always. Let’s follow him. Amen.

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