“Where Are They Going?”
Sermon ~ Sunday, Feb 26, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
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.”
Often when a person, preacher or otherwise, does sermon prep or Bible study a useful exegetical tool is to ask oneself, “Which character in the story do I identify with?” We can do this with many of the biblical stories: The Prodigal son, the Parable of the Talents, in fact just about any of the parables lend themselves to this sort of imaginative insight.
As I read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration I was draw to some characters that aren’t actually mentioned in the text of the story. I imagined myself standing there when Jesus pulls Peter, James, and John aside. I kept wondering, “What about the nine left behind?” Seems like Jesus was often singling out these three. Was he playing favorites? I don’t know. But there they go off on this path that leads up a nearby mountain. And I’m standing there, one of the nine, wondering, “Where are they off to now? Why them? It isn’t fair!!”
Thus the title: “Where Are They Going?” said with a bit of envy and annoyance!
As many of you know I am a mountain person. Given the options of a day on the beach, a day boating on a lake or a day pounding my feet up a rocky trail to a mountain peak, I’m up bright and early on the trail. So to be left behind as these others get to go with Jesus would have been difficult if not heartbreaking for me!
But then I wondered, if I had been there, would Jesus have thought I was ready for what he was leading the three into on that mountain?
I also wondered were Peter, James, and John, really ready for what they were to experience? Are any of us ready for what Jesus may actually be calling us to be or do? But then it has been said that God doesn’t call the equipped but equips the called.
I wonder, on that mountain top, who was transformed more, Jesus in the divine glory or the three who accompanied him? They didn’t seem to know what to do with what they had experienced. So, what does Peter do? I like the way The Message translates this: Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain. . .”
Read in a certain way this was a part of the story that seems to have brought some embarrassment to those who first retold it. Mark explains it away by suggesting the disciples didn’t know what to say because they were terrified. While Luke says they did not know what they said, being “weighed down with sleep.” And both Matthew and Luke make clear that their offer was interrupted almost midsentence by the voice of God from the midst of the cloud affirming the importance not of all three but One alone.
It`s perhaps understandable that the disciples would say this or behave in this manner. What was happening was both exciting and threatening, it was something they had never experienced before. Something they could have never imagined. It carried the risk of changing them forever!
The impulse in situations like this is to try to make sense of things, get things under control, to be busy doing something, which often means defaulting to what we always done, doing the familiar! When faced with te unexpected, the temptation is always there to hold on to what we know.
Yet how could things be the same after this? They had seen their master, teacher, conversing with the heroes of their faith, Moses and Elijah. And more than this, he had been transfigured! And they were transformed by this event.
The cloud that overshadowed them out of which they heard the voice of God, what did God say? “This is my beloved. . .Listen to him.”
What is it we hear when we listen? Jesus says, ‘If any one wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind and take up his cross and follow me.’
To listen to Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus, is to walk with him as he makes his way to Jerusalem and what awaits him there. On this journey as we walk and we talk and we listen, our human nature is being transformed into the likeness of that same divine nature that was in Jesus.
The Season of Epiphany which we are concluding is all about the revealing of who Jesus is and this upcoming period of Lent is a time when we specially think of our life as a journey in the company of Jesus. A journey that will take us to Gethsemane, Golgotha and the garden tomb.
As we walk with our crosses on our shoulders, as we come nearer and nearer to Golgotha, we are also being transformed and transfigured. The life and the light of the cross of Christ will shine on our face. For to be filled with the divine light is our destiny. Remember “You are the light of the world!”
“Where are they going?
I might just as easily thought, “Who is that coming back with Jesus?”
Would I be ready for such a transfiguration in my life? To be forever changed?
I would like to think so.
But then who really knows until you have spent time with Jesus on the mountain, but more than the mountain when you have followed him down the path and joined him on the road, all the way to Jerusalem, carrying your cross upon your shoulder.
May we have the courage to be so transfigured ourselves. Amen!
There once was a stream which started as a small trickle high on the mountain. Dripping from the snow and ice far above the trees, it began its journey down over the mountain’s bedrock and stone-filled gullies until it reaches the forest below.
There it joyfully overcomes all the obstacles, roots and downed trees, as it runs down through the firs and pines. Eventually its pace slows as it meanders out onto the plain and finds itself in a shallow lake on the edge of a great desert.
And it is there that our little stream has to trust the wind to transform it and carry it across the desert into the life that awaits it beyond.
Over and over scripture called us to let the Spirit carry us through life’s challenges and Jesus relied on the Spirit that filled him at the Transfiguration to carry him to and through the cross into resurrected life.
May we also go forth transformed and carried to those places where the Spirit would take us.
Based on the story “The Stream” from One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World by Margaret Silf (Lion Hudson, 2011).
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