Transfiguration 2017 year A
Based on Matthew, Chapter 17
Being new to Texas, I have gotten plenty of suggestions for places we ‘have to’ see, and believe me, we are making a list – and we plan to hit as many as possible!
Before coming here, though, my husband and I used to make an annual trip up to the North shore of Lake Superior for a few days.
We could take the dog, get a little exercise, and there is some pretty awesome scenery there too.
We like to hike, especially short hikes, well, actually VERY short hikes, preferably a short hike up to a scenic overlook.
So one day we drove up one of the roads up into the hills – the closest thing to a mountain in that area – and stopped to look around.
The view wasn’t so spectacular, despite the height, so we wandered around a little, and discovered an arrow with a sign pointing to a trail.
We both needed the exercise, so we decided to take the trail for a little while and see where it might lead.
We walked a little while, and then walked a little farther, and then we walked a little farther yet.
We kept wondering when we were going to see something, when a gorgeous view was going to appear before us. But it never did. After about ½ hour we turned around and walked the other direction.
We both agreed that we didn’t really see anything, but the hike wasn’t a total loss, because we did get some exercise.
I suppose that we were looking for some sort of unmistakable sign – some gorgeous sight – a panorama, a vista – to have a feeling of “This is it! This is what I came for! I came to see this!”
But we didn’t get it.
Later I did a little internet research and found that we were actually on a very small segment of the Superior Hiking Trail.
The Superior Hiking Trail is a 296 mile long footpath running from Duluth up to the Canadian border.
The ads say that the hike includes a lot of spectacular views, especially of Lake Superior.
But I suspect that you have to stay on it for more than ½ hour, in order to get that feeling of: “This is it! This is what I came for!”
Just like I suspect that it would be a mistake for me to think – just because I’ve been a couple of places in Texas now – that I have really experienced and know what Texas is like. Right? I still have a lot to learn.
But here today, on this last Sunday after Epiphany – called Transfiguration – well, those three disciples got that, didn’t they?
They went up on the mountain with Jesus, a human being like them, their friend and their teacher, and suddenly – there he was, GLOWING
Transfigured – his face was like the sun, and his clothes were whiter than white, and Moses and Elijah – the two greatest prophets of all, are standing there, talking with him.
Elijah – the prophet predicted to come to herald the Messiah. And Moses – the one who led the people of Israel from Slavery to Freedom.
THIS IS IT ! they must have thought.
This is what we came for!
We can call it a mountaintop experience, because literally, it did take place on a mountain, but it wasn’t just a spectacular view – no, it was a revelation.
It was a revelation of Jesus’ true identity.
The voice confirmed it. “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Coincidentally, these are the exact words that were spoken at Jesus’ baptism.
And three more are added.
“Listen to him.”
Moses and Elijah are there to confirm that Jesus is indeed the one they are waiting for. He looks like one of them, like their friend, like their teacher – and he is.
But he is also the one who shines like the sun, the one who will save them, the one who will save us.
It is easy to forget.
It’s easy to forget when you come back down the mountain,
To deal with everyday life,
When you walk on those trails of life where – you know – you never see anything – just a few wildflowers, and some kind of berry – you’re not sure what it is – some rocks.
It’s easy to forget when the path gets steep, and there are no great views, and – let’s face it – there might even be SNAKES.
There is so much more than meets the eye, so much more than we see, so much more than we know.
And when you are up there on the mountain – if you even get to be up there – it’s tempting to think, in that moment, THIS is what we came for.”
This is it. That vision. That shining face.
But you know – the vision only lasts for a moment, and only three of the disciples even get to see it.
Only Peter, James and John. Sometimes I wonder why that is.
Sometimes I have been a little jealous – jealous of those who have been to mountains I haven’t been to,
who have seen visions that I haven’t seen – who seem sure at times when I have doubted.
Isn’t this what we came for, after all?
Isn’t the mountaintop the point of it all?
The vision only lasts for a moment – because that’s how visions are.
Like a couple of weeks ago during worship –
When I had the big basket and got out rhythm instruments for the first time
… and asked the children to come forward.
And they did –
They ran up to the front .. and they picked up the instruments and started playing
It was great!
Sort of a vision of faith and joy and love!
Or the day when the little kids all unwrapped Bibles
And someone unwrapped her Bible and shouted, “I got Jesus!”
The truth! A vision!
But not everyone got to see it.
And it only lasted a moment.
The vision those three disciples had – it only lasts for a moment, although the words linger. “This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased.”
And then the disciples go back down the mountain, where they will greet the suffering world,
Where they will walk the paths where everything seems ordinary, or hard,
Where they will fight among themselves about who is the greatest, where they will follow him,
And keep following him, even though his face is not shining.
This is my beloved son. Listen to him.
And so they follow him, and do you know – when Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane, to pray before he is arrested – it is those three disciples who are also invited.
They are invited to watch and pray, to see his face as he struggles with fear.
And they can’t do it. They fail.
The same three disciples who saw him shining, now they see him in darkness.
This is what we came for. Is this what we came for?
Today, on the last day of epiphany, we hold in our hearts the vision on the mountain – the one not everyone got to see.
But this is not what we came for.
We didn’t come for the vision, the momentary vision, the spectacular vista.
We came for the everyday service.
We came for the whole, ordinary trail,
All 296 miles of it.
Where Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age.
We came to hear the words
“this is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased
and to remember the words
that he is with us always
on the whole trail
as we bend down to serve
as we give a cup of cold water to a strangers.
This is what we came for.
We came to hear each other’s stories
Stories of where we caught a glimpse of Jesus – on the mountains
in the valleys
in the valleys
In the faces of strangers,
The faces of friends,
The voices of children.
Their faces are not shining, the but words are still true, “You are my beloved child”
Because when Jesus reveals his own true identity, he reveals ours as well.
See what love the father has given us, that we should be called children of God. That is what we are.
This is what we came for. Amen