Posts Tagged ‘Mountaintop’

Shine 3-3-19

In this sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, I explore this amazing and yet confusing story from Luke 9:28-36. The identity of Jesus is on display, and we are reminded of the promise that we have been made heirs of that same identity.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/shine-3-3-19

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

It is good to be back to normal.  After cancellation of all services the past 2 weeks, not to mention education canceling and worship being a bit more on-the-fly than normal the week before that…I think its safe to say that we’ve had our share of winter weather lately haven’t we?

I’ve lost track of the number of storms we’ve had…but we’ve gotten our share of ice and frost and snow haven’t we?  Its pretty crazy out there to take in the piles and the drifts…the build up on the roads and the corners…the depth in people’s yards…after several winters in a row of low key conditions…we’ve been in for this time haven’t we?

And I don’t know about you…but with the enormous amount of snow out there…its unbelievably bright isn’t it?  All that light reflecting around…its hard on the eyes…when the sun’s out its almost unbearable…I’m squinting even when its cloudy…and to be honest…its so stinking bright out there that I’m about the point of wearing my sunglasses when I go to bed at night…ok so that’s a stretch but you get my point…and you probably see where I’m going with this.

Because its not too difficult to make the jump from the blindingly bright conditions due to all of the snow outside to today’s gospel lesson and what is apparently an equally blindingly bright event known as the Transfiguration. (pause)

Its kind of hard to believe that we’ve made it around to Transfiguration Sunday again…here on the last Sunday of Epiphany before we kick off the season of Lent…and yet here we are…and as we do every year, we wrap up this season of Christ being revealed to the world with the story of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain…where his face is somehow changed…and his clothes flash like the brightest lightning.

Honestly, this is a pretty amazing story…a moment that is perhaps, confusing to consider…I’m guessing it was pretty confusing for the 3 disciples who were along for the ride when it happened…evidenced by Peter’s impulsive words, not to mention the fact that he’s spouting off without knowing what he’s talking about.

But this is one of those times isn’t it? One of those moments in the story of the gospel when we just can’t quite put our finger on things can we…we can’t quite wrap our heads around the mystery of what’s going on. Imagine it.

Imagine that you’ve spent a pretty good chunk of time trudging up a mountain…and I can tell you it is pretty high…takes about 15-20 minutes to drive up it…now imagine walking up that…no wonder we hear the disciples were tired…they just climbed a mountain for pete’s sake. But once they get up there…and Jesus is engaged in prayer, as he often does. Suddenly things get crazy with a change in his appearance and his clothes flashing like we’ve mentioned.

Two random dudes are suddenly standing there talking to him…and I wonder if they were wearing nametags or something because it seems like the disciples immediately recognize them as Moses and Elijah…2 guys who had lived centuries before this…well apparently they’re all standing around talking about Jesus’ pending departure…ironically the original language calls it an exodus, maybe in a nod to Moses and his piece of Jewish history…

Now I wonder if maybe that particular subject caught Peter’s attention…because he and Jesus have some history on that subject. Shortly before this event happens, we have the exchange between the two men over the identity of Jesus and Peter’s declaration that he is the Messiah…an exchange that is followed up by Jesus’ words about his betrayal and arrest and death…all something that’s gonna happen in Jerusalem.

I wonder if Peter’s thinking about that…and in a wonderful and glorious moment that is blowing his mind…he thinks this might be an opportunity to side step Jesus’ earlier prediction….MASTER…it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up 3 tents…one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah…let’s do that and we’ll just stay up here on the mountain. (pause)

Now, maybe Peter had ulterior motives, or maybe he was just utterly confused…but we hear a rebuke…and its not from Elijah…and its not from Moses…its not from Jesus…its certainly not from James and John…this one comes from the top.

Out of nowhere a cloud overshadows them…and from within the cloud comes the voice of God….This is my son…the chosen one…listen to him…and the three disciples hit the floor…utterly terrified. Because not only has God shown up…but it would seem that Peter’s impulsive idea might have God a touch on the irritated side.

But then…just as suddenly as this whole deal began…its over…the extra 2 guys are gone…the cloud has disappeared…the booming voice from heaven is silent…and there’s only Jesus…and then, the moment being done, they start heading back down the mountain…and for whatever reason…the three men remain silent…perhaps feeling the sense of shame that comes with a rebuke. (pause)

That’s the story of the Transfiguration…one that is amazing…and yet is utterly beyond our ability to make heads or tails of.  And considering that point…sometimes I think that the description of a moment when the divine and the finite…the heavenly and the human are both on display in the same instant…that is so utterly beyond our human ability to describe or even comprehend…that this is the best we can do in terms of a description.

Of course, it goes without saying that countless scholars over the centuries have made attempts to explain what’s going on here…but maybe its okay just to sit in the enormity of the mystery.  A mystery that points towards an even bigger mystery…of whatever it is that God is up in constantly inviting our reality forward…and in connection to that…whatever it is that God is up to through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  (pause)

The apostle Paul talks about this mystery…saying that now we see as in a mirror dimly…but one day we will see face to face.  I’ll admit it…there are times when we call something a mystery that we can’t explain…or we answer a question with “I don’t know” and it almost seems like a copout…its frustrating…and yet…that’s the truth…that there are things about God and heaven and the kingdom and Jesus and that which is divine being found among that which is not that is simply too much.

And so maybe, just maybe as we consider this event…all we can say here is that somehow, the event of the Transfiguration is a moment that reveals something about the identity of Jesus…because we have a name that is given to him…the Son of God…the one who is chosen…but as we think about that heavenly proclamation that comes about as Jesus is in a moment of quiet prayer…maybe we’re reminded of another time when that happens.

I can’t help but think that this sounds a lot like Jesus baptism…which we hit back at the beginning of this season of Epiphany…as Jesus is praying, post baptism…the heaven’s are ripped open and that same voice declares an almost identical statement…You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.

Above all else…these two similar events point us towards a vital aspect of Jesus’ identity…the one who has been claimed as the Son of God…but as we dwell on that point…let us remember something else…though we fail to understand how it all works…we have been given a promise through the baptism that we share with Jesus…and that promise is that we have also inherited the same identity…beloved child of God.

That is an identity that trumps….EVERYTHING…it’s a promise that God is with us…that God has claimed us and dwells among us…even within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s huge…because if there’s one angle that we can pull from the entirety of scripture…its that God desires to dwell among us…and be with us…and that we are with God.  God is together with humanity in the Garden…God dwells among the Israelites in the desert…God literally comes among us in the person of Christ…and in the end…the promise of Revelation says “Behold, the dwelling of the Lord is with his people.” That’s where this is going…not limited to any single instance…or any super exiting mountain top experience…God shows us over and over again that our existence begins from a place of divine delight…and whether we feel like it or not…whether the world confirms it or not…we are the pinnacle of God’s divine creative joy…both as individuals and as a species.

And the amazing thing about this…is that we are invited into the work of bringing this to fruition…over again Jesus offers this invitation…to live our lives in a way that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven being here now…because it is.

Now I know…life doesn’t always feel like it…and to live our lives this way is scary…its daunting…and that sense of doubt loves to squawk in the back of our minds doesn’t it…that voice that tells us we aren’t good enough…we aren’t smart enough…or savvy enough…or skilled enough…that lie that tells us “You aren’t enough” so that we’ll cower in fear from the work and from the very gifts that God has given us to benefit this world. Maybe that voice of fear is even louder than the voice of doubt…that voice that asks what might happen if follow that call? (pause) The potential that lies within every single one of us…the gifts and the talents that you were born with…maybe they scare you…because who knows what might happen if you turn your God-given potential lose in this world…

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine as children do. Its not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” A brilliant author named Marianne Williamson wrote that…and I believe that if Jesus was standing here right now…he’d be nodding and cheering…because he said some of the very same things.

You are the light of the world…a city on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and places it under a basket…so shine.  Shine in this world that loves its darkness…be that light that reflects the perfect light that was shining through Jesus on that mountain. Shine in a way that reveals your identity as a beloved child of God.

We do that…and we’ll see some change in this world…because that’s the work that God has invited us into through the one who was shining in the first place.  Amen.

We Get To Work 6-18-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 9:35-10:8, I explore the work that Jesus is up to in the world. He’s bringing about the reality of the kingdom of Heaven, and as his followers, we are invited into the very same work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/we-get-to-work-6-18-17

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

The phrase “mountain-top experience” has become synonymous with those events in our lives that are just big…those things that are rare or deeply meaningful…those times that sear themselves in our memory. I’ve had several in my lifetime. My wedding day and the birth of my kids are great examples. Another one was sharing in holy communion, quite literally on top of a mountain during one my annual trips to Colorado. My graduation from seminary was a big one…and one more…my ordination day on June 16th 2013…this past Friday marked the 4-year anniversary of that day…truly a mountaintop experience for me.

That was a wonderful day, but it preceded my start date here in Underwood by a couple of weeks…and immediately following my ordination, we actually headed back up to the Twin Cities, where we were still living…and interestingly enough, since school was already done and I had some free time on my hands prior to moving, I spent the next week after my ordination volunteering at our church in the Cities…helping out with the opening and closing assembly for their Vacation Bible School. VBS had a kingdom theme that year and so I was portraying a character known as King Humperdink…but since Humperdink is kind of a difficult name for small kids to remember, over the course of the week my name morphed slowly into King Hobodog Dude. (pause)
Now interestingly enough, on the first morning, I can remember having a conversation with the other guy that I was working with. We didn’t know each other at all prior to that day, so as we talked he discovered that I had just been ordained the previous day…and he said “Oh wow…so I guess its ‘Pastor Scott’ isn’t it?” (pause) And thinking back on that, I realize that my first ministry work as “Pastor Scott” was volunteering to make kids laugh as King Hobodog Dude…but more importantly, that the 2 weeks that I thought I had between that mountaintop experience of my ordination and the beginning of my work in ministry were non-existent…and the work was starting as soon as I came down off that mountain.

Now in similar fashion…the narrative that we have of Jesus’ life and ministry in the gospels is full of mountaintop experiences as well…and in his case…pretty much all of them occurred when he was, quite literally, on a mountain. The sermon on the mount…that one is right there in the name…the long sermon that begins with the familiar passage of the beatitudes and his words about those who are downtrodden…those who are broken and suffering, and how they will be somehow lifted up.

There’s other mountaintops for Jesus as well…the transfiguration…his night of prayer and betrayal in the garden was on top of the mount of olives. The great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel is on a mountaintop…and even the crucifixion took place on the pinnacle of a small mountain outside the city of Jerusalem.

All of these big momentous events that are so memorable out of the gospel narrative…but interestingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of Jesus’ ministry work happening in those spots do we? (pause) The ministry…the work, that happens in the valleys between the mountains…and with just a little bit of searching, we see that work typically kicks in as soon as he comes down.

Take for instance, the rather lengthy Sermon on the Mount…no sooner does he come down off the mountain, then he encounters a man with leprosy…and the man is cleansed…and then a Roman officer comes to him, speaking of a beloved servant that is sick, and the servant is healed…and then Jesus ends up in Peter’s house where he restores Peter’s mother in law to health…and he casts out demons from 2 men, sending them into a herd of swine, and then the lame are made to walk, and to top it all off, Jesus raises a little girl from death…and throughout all of this that has been going on since Jesus walked down off that mountaintop experience, he’s been sharing the good news that the kingdom has come near.  That’s what he’s been up to in the early days of his ministry.

And this is exactly where today’s story starts isn’t it? Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. (pause) And as we hear, he’s attracting quite the crowds…and when he looks upon them, he is moved to compassion for they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd to guide them and protect them. (pause)

Now that’s an interesting way to describe the people in the crowds isn’t it? Harassed and helpless…you might also call them troubled…or wounded…or lost…and to say that are with a shepherd is to compare the people to a sheep who is wounded and helpless and afraid…just waiting for a predator to come in for the kill…it seems that they are in a state of brokenness…that whatever it is that troubles them…whatever it is that has them downtrodden and oppressed…whatever their individual situation is, they are broken and lost…they are in need of liberation from what hinders them…they are in need of healing of whatever ails them.

And Jesus…God in human form…looks upon them with compassion. Not distain…not irritation…but compassion and love. And when I consider this state of compassion that Jesus experiences for the lost sheep of the world I am reminded of the words of our most famous Psalm…the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd…and Jesus…God…gets to work…and this work…this ministry begins with the proclamation that the kingdom has come near…but then Jesus goes another step to show us just what that looks like…liberation from what enslaves us…and healing from what ails us…whatever the brokenness is, Jesus enters into it, and somehow, someway…in ways that go far beyond our ability to understand, Jesus…God…does something about it. (pause) And the same promise is made for us…for like the people that day, we all experience brokenness…and it manifests itself in so many different ways…but make no mistake, its there in the lives of all of us, and to claim otherwise is to deceive yourself…but remember that God sees your brokenness…God meets you there…and God works to free you from it, to heal you from it. (pause)

But here’s the thing…it’s a great big world out there isn’t it? And its full of broken people in need of the good news…in need of news that liberates and heals…and Jesus knows it…and so what does he do? Well, he brings in reinforcements…calling the 12 disciples by name…he empowers them and sends them out with a mission. (Pause) Did you catch what that mission is?

As you go, proclaim the good news that the kingdom has come near. If they are sick, YOU heal them. If they are dead, YOU raise them. If they are lepers, YOU cleanse them. If there are demons, YOU cast them out.

Jesus calls his followers by name, he empowers them, and he sends them out to do exactly the same thing he’s already been doing. The mission of the disciples is to multiply the work of the kingdom that Jesus…that God in human form is already up to. (pause)
Now here’s the cool part. Keep in mind that Jesus summons the 12…he calls them to him…and they are called by name…and as he calls them he empowers them…now does that sound familiar? I don’t know about you but it sounds an awful lot like baptism doesn’t it? A time when we as individuals are called by name, are claimed by God, and are empowered with the Holy Spirit to join in the body of Christ…to join in the work that God is up to in the world.

And if the work that Jesus gave the to the 12 that day was the same work that he’d already been doing, well then it stands to reason that our mission is the same. Where there is sickness, offer healing. Where there is bondage, bring liberation.

Now I can’t tell you just what that looks like…but I find myself wondering if that’s the work that we’re up to…if those two things are the driving force behind the work of the church…behind the work of our congregation? Behind the work of the kingdom that we as individuals are participating in…because if its not, then we better take a long hard look at just what our motivations are….and if we are off…if our motivations are selfish…then repentance is our next step…but praise be to God that where there is repentance of our own brokenness, there is also forgiveness…and we will hear that word spoken to us today as we share in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which was broken and poured out for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.

And that right there…that IS good news…that is news of liberation from what enslaves us…and that is news that brings healing beyond our physical bodies…and the work that God has begun in Christ Jesus…and that Jesus has invited us to participate in is to carry that news out in the world…to break down the barriers that exists that hinder…and to fight tooth and nail to overcome anything that stands in the way of God’s mercy reaching those that need it, even those who are so broken that they fail to recognize that need.

God has invited each on of us into this work…and in the midst of it we do experience those amazing moments…those mountaintop experiences that fill us with joy at this world and this life that we are blessed with…and those moments are important for us, but as we come back down from those mountains…may our eyes be opened to see the kingdom work that lies before us…and may we get to work. Amen.

The Story Within the Story 2-26-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 17:1-9, I explore the Transfiguration of Jesus, which was both thrilling and terrifying for those who witnessed it.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-story-within-the-story-2-26-17

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

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

If you happen to be a movie buff as I am, then today is an exciting day for you…because today, or more specifically, this evening is…the Oscars. One of countless award shows that goes on every year, but in the movie world, this is the big one…the most important.

Now my only complaint with the Oscars…is that it is really long…the typical runtime is usually way over 3 hours. Its long for different reasons…but one of them is the number of awards that are given out. There are a lot of them…and they are aimed a lot of different directions…but if I’m perfectly honest…I don’t really care about most of them…the only ones that I’m really excited about are Best Picture…which makes sense as that’s sorta the big one…and then the acting categories. Best Actor and Actress as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

I think both sides are pretty important. In the lead category, you are looking at the actor or actress that carries the story…they are absolutely central…the supporting categories are aimed at performances that occur more in the background…important for the story…but not absolutely central…but that being said…I’ve often found that for those supporting characters…we could describe their role within the movie as “the story within the story.” (pause)
As I was working with this week’s text for the Transfiguration…and honestly as I was pondering on the gospel as a whole…I recognized that this idea of a story within the story seems to apply.  (pause) Now I don’t think any of us would argue that Jesus would fall in the leading actor category when it comes to the gospels.  Its kinda hard to have a Gospel of Jesus Christ without Jesus in it…and understandably, as we work our way through the different gospels…doesn’t matter which one…Jesus is at the center…and if the New Testament had its own Oscars ceremony, I think Jesus would take Best Actor every single year.

And maybe, just maybe, today’s story would win for best visual effects…because here at the Transfiguration some pretty amazing things happen. You’re likely familiar with it…we hear it every year at this time, just before the season of Lent kicks off.  Jesus decides to hike up a mountain…he takes the Big Three disciples, Peter and James and John and up they go…and while they are there…Jesus is transfigured.

Now just what that means, we don’t really know. All we hear within the different gospel accounts is that his face starts to glow like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white…honestly that’s not a lot to go on…but as I’ve pondered on this event over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that somehow, someway…the Big Three were given a glimpse at the truth that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine…and this man that they’ve known…this man that they’ve followed around without too much in the way of problems…somehow the divine nature comes blasting through the human.

Now this is not to say that in this moment he became fully divine…I think its safe to say that the divine had been there all along. By this point in the gospel he’s performed countless miracles…but for what ever reason…it is in this moment that the divinity of Christ…the God-ness if that’s what you want to call it…becomes visible for a brief moment.

Now that in itself is amazing enough…but to add fuel to the fire…we also hear that Moses and Elijah show up here on the mountain and they are hanging out jabbering with Jesus as well. Admittedly I don’t quite know how Peter James and John would have known that this was Moses and Elijah…as both of them lived centuries before Jesus and the disciples were walking around…who knows, maybe they were wearing nametags.

But what we do know is that this moment is so amazing…it is so GOOD…that Peter wants to capture it.  If it had happened today…he’d probably want to take a selfie and post it all over Instagram and Twitter and Facebook…and if he did, he’d probably end up with millions of likes. (pause) But truly, Peter wants to stay put doesn’t he? Lord…it is good that we are here…how about I build three tents, one for you and Moses and Elijah…and we can just stay here for a while.

Peter wants to stay in this amazing moment…he wants to stay in the good…to capture it…because I think Peter realizes the truth…that it won’t last…because Peter knows that there’s more coming…that there’s some stuff right around the corner that will be a polar opposite of the glory that he’s witnessing here on the mountain. (pause)
And that brings me around the point that I started off with…the story within the story…because if there was a New Testament Oscar for supporting actor…I think it would go to Peter…at least here in the gospels.

I don’t know about you…but I’ve always related to Peter. He’s present for much of what goes on throughout the gospel…and maybe this is intentional on the part of the authors of the gospels…but he seems to be portrayed as the MOST human out of any of them. He sees incredible things…and he marvels at them. He makes incredibly Spirit filled proclamations about the true identity of Jesus as the Messiah….but he’s also impulsive…and he’s a blabbermouth.  He doesn’t think things through.  He walked on water with Jesus, but then promptly sank.  He expressed faith, and then when Jesus revealed that he would be killed, Peter rebukes him and promptly gets called Satan.

Later on he’ll swear up one side and down the other that he’ll stay with Jesus even into death, only to wimp out and swear up one side and down the other that he doesn’t even know Jesus.

Maybe its just me…but I often think that we are supposed to see this stuff through the eyes of one that we can relate to…because this stuff all happened…and real people witnessed it…real people who lack the ability to describe these amazing things that occurred…and for Peter…right on the tail of this amazing moment that he is seeing…Jesus transfigured on the mountain…just as Peter makes the statement that he wants to hang out here where its good…where he’s happy and comfortable…things take a turn.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a bright cloud envelops them…cutting off their vision…and the voice of God booms out “THIS IS MY SON THE BELOVED. LISTEN TO HIM.” (pause) It’s not quite a “no” in response to Peter’s question of “should we stay here.” But in the very least, it reveals, once again…just who Jesus really is.

And Peter, along with James and John…all three of them freak out…because they have now realized that GOD…IS…HERE. And they are on the ground, flat on their faces because they are terrified….scared out of their wits…or to use a phrase made popular by Luke’s gospel in the King James Version…they are sore afraid, just like the Shepherds who hear about the birth of Jesus…not to mention the women who will experience the empty tomb at Easter and a couple of angels addressing them…they’re absolutely terrified as well…not to mention when the resurrected Jesus shows up and starts talking to them.

It seems, that when God shows up…that when something truly DIVINE happens…it is simply too much for us.  I don’t why…and even if I did I don’t know if I could articulate it.  The only conclusion that I can reach from these different moments in scripture…including this one at the Transfiguration…is that whatever God is…whatever the DIVINE is…words cannot adequately express it…we cannot truly describe it.

That’s why we only hear that Jesus starting glowing…that’s why Moses was unable to actually look at God back there on Mount Sinai but couldn’t look at the place where God had just been. Because God is simply too much. God is in someway bigger…or stronger…or greater than we are…and to be in the presence of the divine must make the individual feel every aspect of being smaller…of being less…of being inadequate.

When I think about the attempt to describe God, I can only realize that our language is insufficient, just as our human limitations are insufficient…however “big” we might describe God, its not enough…and the only thing that I have ever experienced that might just give me a glimpse of this is when I stand next to the ocean…because as I have stood there on a few different beaches over the years looking out at this endless expanse of water, it makes me feel very small…but admittedly that’s not the right word either. Language fails me both in that description as well as in trying to define God.

So no wonder Peter freaked out…because God showed up…and if I was there, I’d say it’s a fair assumption to say I’d be facedown groveling in the dirt right next to him. (pause) But here’s the thing…this isn’t the end for Peter…and even though there’s still some dark junk that he’s going to experience between now and the cross of Christ…the message that he receives is one that we need to hear as well.

Listen to Jesus…and the next words that Jesus speaks are “Be risen and fear not.” Get up, and don’t be afraid because I am with you. (pause)  I love Peter’s story, especially today…because today his example shows us that we will experience the good and the terrifying.  Perhaps you’ve heard me say that the point of the sermon is to bring comfort to the afflicted and the bring affliction to the comfortable…and often times there are people on both sides of that coin sitting out there. But Peter’s example reminds us today that we will experience both in our lives…and sometimes we can go from one to the other just like that.

Peter went from absolute joy and wanting to bask in it, to absolute terror…and our lives reflect the same…but just as Peter was reminded to listen to Christ…we do the same…When we are comfortable and thinking that things are going well, let us look to Christ.  (pause) When we are terrified because what we are experiencing is simply too much for us…let us look to Christ.

Because if we are all doing that…regardless of the division that might be going on that separates the comfortable from the afflicted…well then maybe we can all begin to see what we have in common…a shared humanity redeemed by the one who allows us to approach the divine and not experience the holy terror that comes when our smallness butts up against the Lord’s bigness. (pause)
Truly, Peter’s journey through the gospel is a smaller story within the story…but if he shows us anything…its that he’s human, just like we are…and our limitations are on full display. (pause) And if today’s story of the Transfiguration shows us anything…its that we can’t really describe or understand just what it means when the divinity of Christ shines through the human…and you know what, that’s okay. Maybe we don’t need to know what it looked like…but we can be encouraged to know what the transfiguration means. That Christ bridges the gap…somehow, someway…and that he has assured us that we don’t have to be afraid. Amen.

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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-sleeping-through-2-7-16

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