Friday, February 12, 2016

Led to a High Mountain (Matthew 17:1-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I called my bank the other day.  Here is the gist of the conversation:

Hello, this is your automated customer service center.  To continue this message in English, press 1, in Spanish, press 2.   I punched 1.  Please punch in your account number on your touch tone phone.  I punched.  Thank you.  For account balance verification, please punch 1.  To make a withdrawal, please punch 2.  To question a charge, please punch 3.  To apply for a credit increase, please punch 4.  To speak with a customer service representative, please punch 5.  To hear these instructions repeated, please punch 6.  I punched 5.  Thank you.

To speak with a representative about additional features of your card, please punch 1.  To report a lost or stolen card, please punch 2.  To speak with a representative about any other problem, please punch 3.  I punched 1.  Thank you.  I'm sorry, our office is currently closed. Please call back during normal business hours.

I pray God's office isn't closed.  I pray this is not how it is when we go to God in prayer.  No, I know it isn't.  In fact, God our creator and Lord is proactive and reaches out to us in the course of our lives on earth.

In this light, let’s turn to our morning story which portrays a profound event in the life of Jesus’ and his disciples: the indescribable, the ineffable moment of Jesus’ transfiguration.  Think, aren’t there moments in your life which are explainable?  Extraordinary moments.  We have difficulty putting them into words.  Have you ever experienced such a time?

The joy at the birth of a child is one of those moments.  The loss of a loved one is one of those moments.  A brilliant sunset or sunrise is one of those moments.  An early morning walk along the beach or in the mountains can be such a moment.  Having your soul stirred by uplifting music is one of those moments.   A moving worship service is one of those moments.  When your child says “I love you” and wraps his or her arms around you is one of those moments. There are mountaintop and valley moments throughout life.  They often surprise us.  They arrive unannounced and change us in irreversible ways.  They often move us to silence.    Such moments touch the depth of our souls.

Our story from Matthew's Gospel is one such time.  Jesus leads his disciples Peter, James and John to a high mountain.  And once there, Jesus is suddenly transfigured before them; his face shines like the sun, his clothes become dazzling white, his appearance is radiant.    Moses and Elijah suddenly appear and are talking with Jesus.  Peter is awestruck and says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”   Well I should say so.   He was in the company of two former Jewish superstars.  Moses, the great leader who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and brought God’s 10 Commandments to them and the prophet powerful Elijah, who with God’s power defeated the false prophets of Baal and ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.  These are two giants in Israel’s history.

Peter, understandably, wanted this magical moment to last forever.  He offers to build three booths - one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.   Realizing they are standing on holy ground the disciples fall to their knees in awe.  Then the story says: “A voice said, this is my Son, whom I love.  With him, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

What does this story say to you?  I think it says God on occasion, leads us to high mountains. Jesus reveals special experiences from time to time, because we need moments of ecstasy in our spiritual life.   I know I do.   Life can be devastating.  Life can threaten to crush us.  Life can be frightening.  We need mountain top moments that engulf us.  We need glory moments, transcendent moments, special moments in which we sense the holy presence of God.   We are created by God to live in fellowship with him and God knows we need such special times, sacred moments, along our spiritual journey.

Our story says that God speaks, God communicates with his people!   God spoke that day on the mountaintop and the undeniable implication is that God continues to speak to believers today.    A young mother writes: “My 3-year-old son, Ian, enjoys the Bible story about Samuel hearing God's voice at night.  One evening after reading the story to Ian, I asked him if God had ever spoken to him.  To my surprise, he answered, "Yes."  "What did God say to you?" I asked.  Ian thought and then said in his deepest voice, "Ian! Go to bed!"  That explained why Ian settles down more quickly when I'm outside his room and tell him to go to bed.”

Scripture tells of how God spoke to Elijah in a cave out in the middle of the wilderness, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a still small voice.  Other translations say - “God spoke in a gentle whisper, in the sound of sheer silence.”

God is either alive or God is dead.  Our Easter faith announces that God is alive.  God loves us with a passionate and unconditional love and reaches out and intervenes in our lives.  Scripture says:  “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

A Christian writes:  “I knew that it was God speaking to me because I was in tune with my inner spirit and my spirit suddenly became light.  Years of heaviness were lifted from me.  I heard God’s forgiving and accepting voice.  A new yet wobbly courage started to live in me, and I became comfortable in my own skin, in my own circumstances.  I felt safe and certain and grateful. Nothing around me had changed, but everything was different.  I knew it was God’s voice speaking because I could smile once again.”

Second, the story of the transfiguration says this – listen!    Why should you and I listen to Jesus?    Because God commands it: “This is my Son, whom I love.  With him, I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

Jesus is the Word of God.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  Jesus is the way out of darkness into the light.  Jesus is the way out of despair to hope.  Jesus is the way out of fear to courage.  Jesus is the way to discover purpose and meaning.  Jesus is the way into the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is lord over all other rulers and authorities in the world.  Christ is the Head of the Church and is present in both Word and Spirit.

We should listen to Jesus in prayer, in worship, in meditation, in the teachings of the Bible, through the words of other trusted believers, because Jesus sees things about our lives that we don't see.  Because Jesus is concerned about the life you and I are leading.

When artist Sir James Thornhill was painting the inside of St Paul's Cathedral, he began walking backward to get a better view of his work.  As he inched back, his left foot stood just on the edge of the scaffold, and he was in danger of falling and breaking his neck.  His helper, instead of screaming at him, took a brush, quickly dipped it in the paint, and splashed it on the wall.  The artist rushed forward to reprimand his helper, but when the helper explained his action, Thornhill was exceedingly grateful.  The helper saw something Thornhill did not see.  There are elements in life that Christ sees that we do not.  So we need to go to him, to spend time with him, to listen to Jesus.

This coming Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our journey through the season of Lent.  Keep alert, keep your eyes and ears, your heart and mind open, for you never know when the Lord will lead you to a high mountain.   Amen!

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