Transfiguration Sunday - "Listen To Him"

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the end of Epiphany, the last short bridge we must cross before entering into our journey of the Season of Lent. 

This Sunday, we are confronted with the truth about who Jesus is and what we intend to do about that startling and fantastic fact. 

The passage of Scripture that we will be studying today contains a story where a couple of the disciples get a glimpse of who Jesus is- and they don't get it.

More on that in a moment. 

But first, let me share something that might seem a little convoluted at first--but stick with me; it will all make sense in a bit. 

Sometimes the experience of glory is too much for us.  Sometimes, it's overwhelming when we get a glimpse of God's presence around us.  Sometimes we don't know what to do when we see Jesus for who Jesus really is. 

I decided to take a page from Joel Osteen today---hear me out, hear me out.  He always has a joke in every one of his sermons. 

I'll avoid the obvious thing I could have said here about how the whole sermon might be a.... nope. Not going to say it. 

Anyway, I have a joke: 

A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?

The reality of the moment was just too much for the parrot, you see.  It didn't compute.  

Let me illustrate this in another way.  

A few years ago, I read about a phenomenon that occurred when people watched the first Avatar movie in 3-D.  

As they were being surveyed after watching the movie, a considerable number of those surveyed indicated that when they were lost in the film's outstanding color and fantastic cinematography, they would often feel the urge to take off their glasses and look around them.  

To a person, those surveyed who responded with this observation said that they suffered an emotional letdown when they were confronted with the fact that what they were experiencing was not the grey, shadowy reality where they were sitting. 

To put it another way, the brilliant color and beautiful environs of the fantastic and utterly imaginary world of Pandora in the movie were so compelling that when people were forced to take off their 3D glasses and realized their feet were stuck to the floor in a dingy movie theater, in a dingy mall, in a dingy sort of world... they were bummed.

Some of you might be thinking to yourself, "Are you serious?  Who are these jackwagons that deserve a trip to Namby-Pamby land?"

According to the CNN study---ordinary people, just like you and me.

I get this.  I lived in Chicago for four years, and I remember after a particularly long winter where it had been weeks since I'd seen sunlight, I found myself driving through the downtown streets, staring at the dirty piles of snow on the sidewalk and dreaming of Key West.

As I thought about this, I realized something profound.  Watching Avatar in 3-D is kind of like going to church.  No one is blue and 9 feet tall, and the Sanctuary isn't covered in beautiful person-eating plants, but still kind of the same. 

Before you think I've completely lost my mind, let me ask you a question: 

What words do we usually use to describe our reasons for going to church---if you are into that sort of thing?   I'll tell you what people usually tell me if that's helpful.

"To get fed/filled up/fill up my tank"  or "I need this to get through the week."  "It's a great way to begin the week." "I needed to hear that sermon/worship to that music/pray that prayer."

Honestly, I've said every single one of those things, too.  But when you think about why we show up on Sunday mornings, doesn't it sound a little like we are looking for a spiritual "high?"

And what's wrong with that, really?  I mean, when church is good---and I mean really good---we don't want it to end.  Time passes so quickly that we almost forget that the pastor preached a little long and the service lasted more than an hour.  (wink)

But what happens to us when we spend our lives chasing the mountaintop moments when most of our time is spent in the foothills or the valleys? 

Trust me, the temptation to keep chasing the mountaintop moments is strong. Who wouldn't want to feel that all of the time? 

As I mentioned earlier, the passage of Scripture today tells the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Transfiguration is a word that means: a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.

Jesus and two of his disciples travel to a mountaintop and then see Jesus transformed spectacularly, and they experience something incredible... and they don't want to come down. 

And then they discover that listening to Jesus is the very thing that will help them carry the mountaintop experience wherever they go. 


Matthew 17:1-9 

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 

Where did this happen, exactly?  Mount Tabor?  Mount Hermon? Horns of Hattin?

2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

God's reality breaks through our reality--a glimpse of "heaven"

Moses and Elijah--the Law and the Prophets with the Word of God between

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

And then Peter just wants to stay there.  "Let people come (Luke's Gospel)."

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

The spectacle wasn't going to last, but the word of the Word lasts forever. 

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

People don't really get it when you've experienced something indescribable. 

John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

exulansis: the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it--whether through envy or pity or mere foreignness--which allows it to drift away from the rest of your story until it feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer looking for a place to land. 

Mountaintop moments will fade away, but what you learn on the mountaintop helps you persevere in the valley.  You carry the mountaintop with you. 

The Church With The Tiffany Windows

A historical landmark stands just a few blocks south of the South Loop of Chicago:  The 2nd Presbyterian Church of Chicago.  It's historic because it's 140 years old and contains honest-to-god Tiffany stained glass windows.   At one point, it was the church home to the wealthy folk who lived in that neck of the city, but over the decades, the area fell on hard times and became nothing more than a ghetto full of empty buildings, crime, and whatnot.

And the church basically died.  

It hung in there mainly because 140 years ago, some rich folk set up hefty endowments to keep the place open for centuries.

Only there's no one there.  When I lived there, the only regular members came from other places and returned there when they left the worship service.

Meanwhile, a whole neighborhood outside needed that church and what it had to offer.  It just took them 140 years to figure it out. 

During my time in Chicago, I saw some changes at 2nd Presbyterian; they began to do some outreach into the community, engaging in food drives, clothing drives, and the like.  They also had a Spanish-speaking congregation meeting in their space, quickly becoming a place where several community groups held their meetings and programs. 

It took a long time to figure out that the mountaintop they had once felt could be carried out into the neighborhood.  

Here are important things that we should keep in mind as we work to figure this out in our own lives: 

1. You can’t keep chasing the mountaintop moments. 
2. The word of the Word helps you carry the mountaintop with you. 
3. Don’t explain it.  Live it. 




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