Sermon for Year A, The Last Sunday After the Epiphany
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
March 2, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Some sermons being preached today
Are about how Peter, James, and John
All end up being talked down off the mountain of Transfiguration by Jesus.
The point will be made that they don't end up staying,
Even though Peter makes an invitation to build three dwellings --
That they don't decide to stay up there, because they can't, and neither should we.
And that is the perfect message for a mission-minded, Jesus-following church --
Folks who are ready to spring into action --
To follow him wherever he happens to be, into the highways of life. Well and good.
I know it's what some are saying because I've preached that myself.
It preaches well.
I suppose, though, I might add this one caveat:
Why did they go up the mountain in the first place?
Did they go up there just to have a reason to come down?
Of course not!
Coming down the mountain is what you do after you've had the experience
Of being on the mountain.
Let's be careful and keep our carts behind our horses.
If we have had a legitimate experience on the mountaintop with Jesus to begin with,
Then we will naturally want to come down the mountain
To love and serve Jesus in all the forms we find him in today.
So here's how I take it:
Let whatever happens on the mountain just go ahead and happen;
Then, let loving action follow on from whatever happens up on the mountain;
But meanwhile, get you up to a high place to see the glory of God firsthand,
And never hinder a single soul from climbing that mountain in the first place!
In fact, far from just being a stumbling-block like Peter,
Shouldn't Christians be about the business of getting folks up the mountain?
Wait a second -- forget I asked that as a question!
Christians are to be about the business of getting folks up the mountain!
And what happens up there, anyway?
Just what is it that transpires on the mountain?
When we're there,
We receive a glimpse of something that our eyes can't properly perceive
And our brains can't create any order out of
And our hearts aren't big enough to hold.
We receive, for one moment, the contemplation
Of the Mighty Source of All Wisdom.
We get a peek at something that reminds us that, as someone said so eloquently,
"There is a God and it ain't us."
On the mountain, we get all the proof we'll ever need that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
We get a voice from heaven equating Jesus with Moses and Elijah as prophets,
Just as Moses went up a foggy mountain to talk with God and received a revelation himself.
The curtain is pulled back -- a little. Enough to make an impression.
We get all that and a whole lot more,
And what is more -- this is key -- about 99.9% of what we get on the mountain
Cannot be properly encapsulated or described with words;
For silence, they say, is God's first language,
And if the Transfiguration calls for anything, it's stunned, holy silence --
Stunned silence and eyes big as baseballs and mouths hanging open.
No time to act cool or in the know.
It's no wonder we preachers want to rush on past this.
But really, the only appriate response to the Transfiguration is amazement.
Whatever this is, it's bigger than us and it's way beyond us.
And perhaps I don't need to add this next bit, but here it is anyway:
I hope you'l be careful not to turn the Transfiguration into a magic show --
Just the display of God's power for the sheer bloody sake of displaying it.
Jesus as Hulk Hogan, or God as David Copperfield. The disciples trying to figure out the trick.
Nothing would be more pointless.
Power this real doesn't need to brag about itself or put itself on display.
When I was a kid, we all shared one bathroom -- one sink, one shower, one toilet --
And I used to have to watch my older brother stand in front of the mirror
And flex his muscles while I waited to brush my teeth.
Believe me, there's no joy in just watching someone watch himself,
Other than if you can get a good laugh out of it --
A peacock spreading his feathers and strutting his stuff for his own sake.
It must be something more than that, and of course it is.
For we have come to the end of what's called the Sundays After the Epiphany.
These past several weeks, beginning January 6th, have been a time
To ponder the early life and ministry of Christ.
"Epiphany" is an old word that means "shining forth" or "manifestation."
It celebrates the fact that in Jesus Christ, God has become truly human --
That because of Jesus, we get glimpses of the shining-forth of God.
And so in those weeks, we've gotten all these wonderful things
That have afforded us those glimpses:
-- The presentation of Jesus in the Temple by his parents
-- The appearance of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus,
-- The recruitment of the first disciples,
-- And the Sermon on the Mount.
All well and good.
But now what comes next? Lent!
Sackcloth and ashes, forgiveness and healing,
And an honest assessment about how we can live our lives better for God.
So this mountain is a hinge place.
We are between these two things, these two seasons,
Looking back while also looking ahead.
And what does the Transfigured Jesus teach us who dwell in this moment in time?
Well, there's an old discussion among Bible scholars
Concerning "the Jesus we want" versus "the Jesus we get."
The Jesus we want is a smiling winner who loves kids
And is remembered for being so incredibly nice to everyone.
He's powerful and smart and funny.
The Jesus we get is a broken, dying loser hanging from a cross.
That's a disconnect worth exploring!
So perhaps it is,
That the Transfiguration presents us with an image of the Jesus we want,
Whereas Good Friday is the Jesus we get.
We should be careful about this, however, because it isn't entirely the picture.
What happens to this point in Matthew's Gospel
Is that Peter confesses he believes Jesus is the Messiah
And Jesus, in response, explains what's going to happen to him in Jerusalem.
Then six days go by (the same amount of time Moses had to wait until he went up the mountain)
And then the four of them hike up the mountain,
Where Peter, James, and John witness the ultimate sort of shining-forth.
The Jesus who is transfigured and revealed in radiant glory
Is the one who has already predicted that he will suffer and die and be raised.
We can't worship this glory without understanding that the cross is part of it.
Transfiguration isn't just one more instance of the Jesus we want;
It's one more example of the Jesus we get.
And oddly, somehow, this more glorious than just him being a winner.
It's far more glorious, because it comes to us in the shape of our actual lives.
Suffering, dying, and rising to life looks to me to be a lot more like the human condition
Than perfection and heavenly light for its own sake, or just silly magical sleight-of-hand.
Now that's good news.
Good news from a blessed moment of revelation.
And it's worth contemplating.
It's worth trekking all the way up that steep, dangerous mountain.
We don't go up there with them, and we have our socks knocked off.
We go up there, and come down, and eventually come to understand
That God being with us
Has these beautiful, forever kinds of implications.
We have not seen a display of glory for its own sake,
But a glory shown for the sake of showing us something important --
That God has appointed the Son to be like us,
So that we might in turn be shaped like him.
One more thing.
There's a sherpa from Nepal
(You know what a sherpa is? Person who guides you up a mountain?).
A sherpa from Nepal. His name is Pem Dorjee.
He's 32 years old.
He holds the world record for the fastest ascent from the Mt. Everest basecamp
To the summit of the mountain.
On May 21, 2004, he made this climb, from basecamp to summit,
In just a little over eight hours!
That's going from 17,700 feet above sea level to 29,035 feet --
The very edge of the livable atmosphere of Earth.
An ascent of 12,000 feet in eight hours at that elevation seems basically impossible.
But he did it.
And among his other ascends of Everest,
Pem Dorjee also climbed the mountain on May 30, 2005,
And this time he did so with his girlfriend, Moni Mulepati.
When Pem and Moni reached the summit,
They exchanged wedding vows, and they became the first couple ever
To get married on top of Mt. Everest.
They went up single and came down married.
A wedding. Way up there, at 29,035 feet.
Perhaps that's some of what we need to grasp for here,
As we come, Sunday by Sunday and moment by moment to the mountains in our lives.
Imagine that when we go up a mountain to greet God,
We become indissolubly bonded to God as if made one with God.
The true nature of Christ is our birthright as the children and creatures of God.
Perhaps as we turn to descend the mountain,
We might know first that we are God's people forever,
And that a little of that glory lives in us as well --
Enough to kindle and enlighten our corner of the world. May it be so. Amen.