What Are We Sleeping Through 2-7-16

This sermon is based on Luke 9:28-36, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

One of my most vivid memories of my time working at Bible Camp back in my college days was when lightning hit a tree on site. I was in a building about 100 yards away when the strike occurred…and in a split second, a lot of different things happened. The tree that was hit literally exploded, sending off wooden shrapnel in every direction as far as 3 or 4 football fields. Also, the enormous surge in electrical power blew out the light bulb in the room I was standing in. The boom of thunder was deafening and instantaneous…but most striking was how bright it was…unbelievable and words can’t even describe it.

The power in a bolt of lightning is beyond my ability to comprehend. Some estimate that a bolt carries upwards of 10 BILLION watts…and reaches temperatures roughly 9 times hotter than the sun…and while I can’t really wrap my head around the reality of those values, having witnessed the awesome power first hand, I certainly believe it…but the thing I remember the most about that instance was the unbelievably bright flash…and that’s where I connect into today’s gospel.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday…and as such our gospel features the story when Jesus is somehow changed…transfigured…and we hear of the unbelievable brightness of his clothing…so much so that the translation is literally that his clothes became white like a flash of lightning.

There is so much to love about this story…and yet, just as we lack the ability to really wrap our heads around the true amount of power found in a bolt of lightning…the transfiguration is one of those instances in scripture that is amazingly huge…so much so, that perhaps we lack the ability to comprehend just what has really occurred.

Perhaps part of the problem stems from the lack of detail that the different gospels give us regarding the transfiguration itself. This story appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so we get a different accounting each respective year…but overall the details about the change that comes upon Jesus in this moment…well they are pretty lacking. We hear that the appearance of his face changes…and his clothes become uber-bright…and that’s about it.

But fortunately…Jesus must have had a little bit of foresight about this…and lucky for us…he brought along some witnesses…Peter, James, and John…3 out of 4 of Jesus first disciples…the Big 3 as I like to call them…the 3 guys who for whatever reason…always seem to be the ones that Jesus chooses to witness the really big events. All throughout the gospels we hear of different situations that Jesus head’s off to deal with…and he separates off the big 3 to come along with him. We don’t know why its these three and not some of the others…but time and time again we see it…and this time, is no exception.

And wow…what a thing to witness this time around…beyond the obvious, if ambiguous situation of the transfiguration itself…amazing though that must have been for them…there’s a whole lot else that they are privy to in this instance…Jesus invites them to come away…on up the mountain…for some private prayer time…then Jesus’ divine nature comes blazing through his human form…and low and behold…Moses and Elijah show up talking with Jesus…and then Peter decides that this is worthy of a long term camping trip, so he suggests building some shelters for the Messiah, the representative of the Law, and the Representative of the prophets…3 pretty important aspects of scripture mind you…but then as he’s uttering this, for lack of anything better to say…a giant cloud comes rolling in, scaring the pants off the big 3…and then the voice of God booms down around them…reminding them of what they’ve heard before…that THIS is God’s Son…the one he has chosen and they better listen up…and as soon as they receive this divine instruction to pay attention…the cloud disappears…Moses and Elijah are gone…and there’s only Jesus, standing there along with the three of them…and because they are so confused…and probably still scared…and most likely overwhelmed by this entire experience…they traipse back down the mountain in silence, and didn’t tell anyone what had happened for a good long while. (pause)

That’s the story…that’s the transfiguration…this moment that we feature each and every year, here in the last week of Epiphany, just before the start of Lent…just before we begin that dark journey together…a season that grows steadily darker until we reach holy week…and it culminates with the death of Jesus…in a time when it is both figuratively as dark as it can get, as well as a moment when it literally grows dark.

Now often times, people think of the transfiguration as the ultimate “mountain top experience.” A time when God’s glory literally shines and its literally on top of a mountain…but to limit this story to just a feel good experience that we compare with the high notes in our own spiritual lives…to do this misses the point…but it is good to recognize that this is simply the first mountain top…for on the other side of the dark valley of Lent, Jesus is found on another mountaintop…this time just outside of Jerusalem…as he hangs on a cross…dying in the literal and figurative darkness.

That’s what we are kicking off today…as we join Jesus and the big 3 on top of this mountain, before traveling back down with them into the valley that lies before the next mountain…and the cross that marks the fulfillment of Jesus’ true work on Earth…the fulfillment that Moses and Elijah are discussing with him when they appear.

I love Luke’s account of the transfiguration because he includes a few little details that are lacking in Matthew and Mark…and this is one of them…the subject of the conversation that is going on between these 3 vital Biblical figures…Jesus, Moses, and Elijah…talking about his departure from this world…both in his death, but also in his ascension back to heaven following his resurrection…and interestingly enough…another little detail here in Luke is revealed when we remember the Father’s words. This is my son…listen to him. (pause)
Now when I think of that command…I’m reminded of when I tell my kids to listen up…it usually happens for 1 of two reasons…either I’ve just said something important that they missed…or on the flip side I’m about to say something that they need to hear…and in the case of God saying this to the Big 3…both sides of the coin are in effect.

If we look backwards…the last thing that Jesus has talked about was the fact that the Son of Man must undergo suffering and rejection and he will be killed before being raised 3 days later…some pretty healthy foreshadowing…and on the flip side, if we look ahead…his next words are “how much longer must I be with you?” (pause) God tells them to listen up and in both instances Jesus is talking about his departure from this world…something that will happen in Jerusalem…the very conversation that Peter, James, and John have just witnessed at the top of this mountain.

Now this is all big stuff…but there’s one more little detail that Luke includes here that really catches my attention…and that is the fact that Peter, James, and John…almost sleep right through this whole episode…did you catch that…they were weighed down with sleep…and perhaps understandably so…they’d just climbed a mountain after all…and that’s hard work…I’ve done that and it wipes you out…and their weariness…their desire to rest and sleep is simple evidence of the weak state of our frail human bodies…we have needs…we need rest, we need nourishment…and these needs often command out attention…so much so, that for these three guys…their need to rest almost caused them to sleep through this amazing situation…they almost missed it…and funny enough…this isn’t the only time that happens.

Because there’s another time when Jesus brings the disciples along…and then invites the big 3 to remain close to him…and this time its not on a mountain…its in a garden…just before Jesus is betrayed…and he’s praying to his father that the cup will pass from his lips…and when he turns around to face Peter, James, and John…having literally been sweating blood from his intense anxiety…he finds them asleep…because it’s the middle of the night…and they’ve been celebrating the Passover all week…and their bodies, their frail weak bodies…require the rest.

What else have these guys slept through…they’ve walked around with Jesus for 3 years…all this time while Jesus has performed countless miracles…when unbelievable moments of the divine have occurred and I wonder just how many they missed.

And I also wonder…how many, do WE…miss…what are…WE…sleeping through…what is God up to over here (hand up behind me) while our weakness has our attention over here (hand up in front me of)? There can be little doubt that God is up to something in the world…and just like the big 3, we are invited to experience it…to witness it…and then to go on share that experience…but I fear that all too often we miss it because something else is going on.

Because life happens it…sometimes the good things…but often times it’s the hard things…diseases…accidents…the phone call that rocks your world with bad news…death…pain…sadness caused by countless different sources…all of these things can get in the way…all of these things remind us of the dark valleys that we walk through…those dark valleys just like the one that we are about to entire…this dark of season of Lent…with the brightness of the transfiguration behind us…and the utter despair of the cross before us.

We live in this valley don’t we? This place of life with all its unpredictable nature…but the good news is that we don’t walk that valley alone. You all know Psalm 23…the one that we hear at pretty much every funeral…Even though I walk through the darkest valley…YOU..ARE…WITH ME. (pause) Jesus walked down that mountain of the transfiguration along with the disciples…he was there as they went on to Jerusalem…and then he walked the road to the cross alone…he took those steps that we are unable to walk…He braved the darkness so that we don’t have to do it on our own.

And perhaps the good news of all this…is that in those moments when our weakness…when our frailty…when those things command our attention over here…the amazing “God-thing” that we are missing back here is simply that He is still here beside us in that weakness…and that he will help us bear that burden…and that one day…somehow, someway, we will walk out the other side of this dark valley, and into the glorious light that God has intended for us. Amen

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