I was a speech and drama geek in high school. From the beginning of classes in September until the school year ended in May, you could find me in Mrs. Campbell’s room. I was in every play, every musical, and competed at large group and individual speech contests every year.
Each and every event required a lot of preparation and practice. And there would be a huge level of anticipation as the lines came together and the speeches were memorized and on the day of performances we were all too giddy to contain ourselves. The big day or night would come and before we knew it, all of the work was over in one blazing flash of glory. We would come home from speech contest with our awards, or head to the cast party after our productions and we would celebrate for a bit, but the next Monday we would be back in Mrs. Campbell’s room working on the next project to come our way.
That’s how you had to operate because of the flow of the school year; there was never really too much time to celebrate. There was always something new to prepare for and we got back to work as soon as we had a moment to take our breath.
Those performances were always like mountain top experiences for me. So much hard work and preparation had gone into the weeks and months leading up to the big moment that you just prayed that you would get there and that everything would go well. You prayed that all of the hard work would pay off and that you would see the fruit of your work.
In some ways, I wonder if that’s how Peter, James, and John felt when Jesus took them up to the mountain.
They had been following their teacher for quite some time now and they had witnessed some pretty amazing things.
I can imagine that when these three were singled out to head up to the top of the mountain – they probably thought that something extremely important was about to happen. I can picture Peter and James and John nervous with anticipation. Would this be their big test? Would this be their moment to shine? Was this what they had been preparing for?
As they reach the summit, Jesus moves a few paces ahead and then turns around to face them. And as he does – he changes before their eyes! His whole body seems to radiate with an inexplicable glory and even his clothes shine brighter than the sun.
Just as the three disciples begin to adjust their eyes to this brilliance they see two figures appear beside their Master… two figures who could only be Moses and Elijah. As Peter and James and John cower in fear and trembling before this amazing visage – the three mysterious beings have a conversation.
Now, if I’m Peter, if I have been learning at the feet of Jesus for a few months, if I have been a part miracles that have taken place, and if I’m led up to the top of a mountain where my teacher suddenly begins to glow and radiate glory – I would be pretty fearful myself. Fearful of making a mistake, fearful of interfering, fearful of living through the experience!
But in spite of all that fear, Peter begins to think that maybe this is the moment they have been preparing for. Never mind the fact that Jesus just had a conversation with them about suffering and dying and taking up your cross before they made this journey up the mountain. This was what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah and Peter begins to think that this is the moment for him too.
Can you imagine what it would be like to interrupt Jesus and Moses and Elijah if they were having a conversation? “umm… excuse me, Hi, some of you don’t know me but my name is Peter, and I would be more than happy to make you guys some tents – you know a place to sit down and rest for a while – if that would make you more comfortable.”
We don’t know how the three radiant figures responded because a cloud overshadowed the trio of disciples like a fog rolling in. The glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was concealed by the dense cloud and in a rumble of thunderous glory the voice of God spoke to their hearts: This is my Son, This is my Beloved! Listen to him!
Just as quickly as the cloud moved it, it dissipated and the three bewildered and terrified disciples opened their eyes to find their teacher Jesus, standing before them alone. With hardly a word, apart from telling them not to talk about what they had seen until after the resurrection, Jesus leads them back down the mountain.
Is that a crazy story or what? You know, this Sunday when we celebrate the Transfiguration we try to hold together three really important ideas. First, we are remembering this mountain top experience of the disciples and we are invited to rest for a few moments in the glory of God. It is a time to remember that we are merely witnesses to the gospel and that God’s power far exceeds anything that we can imagine. As we heared in our reading from 2 Corinthians – we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Secondly, the Transfiguration is an affirmation that the law and the prophets, symbolized by Moses and Elijah are fully behind the ministry of the Son of God. Jesus doesn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Jesus is the one spoken of by the prophets – who will bring the restoration of Israel… the restoration of all creation… and that the power of God will be seen not in the sword, but in the suffering of God’s servant.
But lastly, the Transfiguration is situated in a particular time. It comes right in the middle of the gospel of Mark and it comes at an important time in the church year.
In Mark, Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem. Life as it was for the disciples would never be the same for they were leaving behind the healing and the teaching and were heading straight towards the seat of power… not to be a force that would overthrow it violently, but through a display of righteous love that would “refuse to play the world’s power game of domination, exploitation, greed, and deception.”
We, too, are setting our faces towards Jerusalem as we enter the season of Lent. This Wednesday, we are invited to take upon ourselves signs of our mortality through a cross of ashes placed on our foreheads and we enter into the Lenten wilderness. It is a place of testing, a place of barrenness, a place where we remember that stripped of everything else that defines us, we are God’s children.
As we make that discovery in the coming weeks, we, too, will head towards Jerusalem and live together the last week’s of Christ’s life.
The Transfiguration is the key transition point. We need to remember where we have been, and all that we have learned and seen and let that shine in the light of God’s glory, but then we need to set it down and move forward – through the wildernesss, through Jerusalem, through the cross – so that we may eventually come to fully live in the glory of God in the resurrection of Christ.
The disciples got the first part right. They understood that the past – the law and the prophets were coming to bear on the present. They understood that it was a moment to celebrate – to wonder in fear and awe.
We too, need to have those moments where we head up to the mountain tops and experience the glory of what we have accomplished so far and reflect on how far we have come.
In our congregation, we have a lot to celebrate. We just had a hugely successful dinner to raise money for our youth ministry. With all of your help, through donations and the work of your hands, we were able to earn $1450! That will cover the first half of our mission trip as well as help all of the kids who join us on Thursday nights have a good hot meal and activities that will both challenge them and help them to have fun.
This past year, the mission outreach of our congregation was amazing. We traveled to places like Lamont and Olin to serve with our hands, and we gave with generous hearts to the tune of $4300 to mission projects locally and around the world! We increased our involvement in worship and other activities – just look at the nursery class which has 7 regular little ones, or our confirmation class of 7 or the Adult Sunday School class. Look at the youth program which had 20 students who came and participated this past Thursday night. Those are some really great and wonderful things to celebrate and to hold up for God’s glory to shine upon them!
I have one more to share with you. (Hold up the paper) This is the list of Iowa Annual Conference churches and the percentage of their apportionments paid in this last year. Right here is our church – and right next to it is something that says 100%. That is a HUGE accomplishment, and it says that not only were we committed to something, but that we were willing to put our money where our mouth was and we made it happen.
What we need to learn from the disciples is that as we take this moment to celebrate, to sit in the glory of what we have accomplished, we can’t stay here. We were never called to build tents and tabernacles to enshrine these moments forever.
We can’t say – oh, well, we accomplished that, look how great we were, and be done.
We have to keep working. We have to keep seeing what changes need to be made. We have to keep following the guidance of the spirit. And that means coming down off of the mountain top, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.
Jesus is the one that we have to follow down off of that mountain. He takes the time for affirmation and to rest in the glory of God, but then he has to move.
Because you see, that light that overcame him on the mountaintop – the glory that transformed him into a dazzling visage wasn’t meant for him alone. It wasn’t meant only for the mountaintop. Christ is the light of the world and he knew that in order for that light to dwell within each of us, he was going to have to shine even in the darkest places of the world. He was going to have to confront evil powers. He was going to have to withstand betrayal and abuse. He was going to have to carry his cross and enter the grave of death.
But he did it all in order for the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to shine on us.
We can’t stay on the mountaintop either. We can’t rest for a moment longer. We have to come down and let that light of Christ shine through our hearts. Like that girl I once was back in high school who was always coming down off of one performance high in order to get ready for the next project, we too have to be ready to practice what it means to be disciples.
The only difference is that plays and musicals and speech contests are full of fantasy and make believe and acting.
As Christians, we are practicing our roles in the coming Kingdom of God – a Kingdom and a reality that is so real that in the light and the power of it’s glory – all of our human cultures and systems, our ends and aims, the projects we undertake and invent all are seen as a box too small to contain the bubbling creativity of the really, really Real.
The question that is before us is whether or not we are ready to set behind us all of the things the world tries to define us by? Are we ready to let the light of Christ shine in our hearts and to accept our true identities as brothers and sisters of Christ? Are we ready to come down off of the mountain and enter this season of Lent? Let it be so.