Old Testament Readings
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling 12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
New Testament Reading
17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, Iwill make three dwellings where, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
What is the definition of “transfigure”? I found this last week:
transform into something more beautiful or elevated. “the world is made luminous and is transfigured”
syn- transform, transmute, change, alter, metamorphose;
“the glow of the sunrise transfigured the whole landscape”
It’s interesting to note that the transfiguration in today’s passage happened on a mountain top…I guess that’s where we get the phrase “mountain top experience”.
I can point to many “literal” mountain top experiences…I love to climb mountains! Some of those experiences can even be described as “transfiguring”…they are also often described as “thin places”. While writing a grant request recently, along with several folks in our congregation contributing, Bob Nottingham found this definition of “thin places”:
“Thin places”, a Celtic Christian term for “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses” – Eric Weiner .
“Thin places” can be found in every place, yet there are some where thousands have gone for centuries for rest, renewal, and as markers of new growth.
The transfiguration story in our gospel lesson takes up 6 days after a series of events where Jesus is going around sharing the good news of God’s Presence, a message that was about bringing about much anticipated change. They come to a thin place on a mountain top.
At one point in previous stories, Jesus is asking what others were saying about him. Some said that he was Elijah, John the Baptist. Peter said that He was the Messiah though…he had also healed some folks, one story right before this was a healing from blindness. He’s also beginning to share some hard things about his own suffering that was soon to come, that he would experience deep pain, and that he would die and rise again. Crowds were following him, I’m sure it was hard for them to understand, and even harder for Jesus to convey this message.
Then we come to today’s passage where Jesus is getting away from the crowds, as he of- ten did. He went up to a mountain with three of his friends. These were good guys I’m sure, but not always on top of things, and they had some serious issues. Peter was anxi- ety ridden and prone to making big statements, only to not be able to back them up. He denied even knowing Jesus during his darkest hour a short time later. James and John were concerned with greatness and arguing about who would sit where in eternity. They seemed to be way more concerned by another life other than the one they were living. They seemed consumed with theological discussions and fantasies on power rather than helping those around them. Jesus had a few words for the how the disciples were to be servants at their expense a while later as well. Yet, through it all, through their anxieties, image issues, and failures, Jesus counted them as friends and believed in them. He invit- ed them into events and life experiences with him that were transformative and meaning- ful.
This event, this mountain top “thin place” experience had a profound impact on the Peter, James, and John. They saw before them Jesus, their friend, changed, transfigured, beautiful. How did they react? Well, they were overwhelmed, but they were glad to be there, they knew they wanted to be there. Peter was so caught up in the moment, that he wanted to create three dwellings or set up tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Somehow he wanted to contain that moment. He was terrified, as they all were. They didn’t know where to go or what to do, yet, they knew that things had changed.
Then, the clouds came. Maybe that’s to say that things aren’t always clear. Yet, God says, this is my son, part of me, I love him, LISTEN to him.
Then, they left the mountain. But, notice that Jesus is with them. He’s not distant. Jesus told them not to tell anyone, they don’t have to validate themselves, just wait, there’s more to the story. Jesus would die, but he’d rise again.
I think that this story has a lot to say about us as persons and as a church. We are being changed, all of us. We experience change throughout our lives. It’s inevitable. Some- times that change can be terrifying. It can be confusing and also exciting. We know we want change and need it. When it comes, we’re not sure how to respond or the way for us may not be clear. But God says that we are not alone, that he’s with us, going through change with us, and to listen to his son. This Jesus is also rising up within us. He is alive and is working in and through us, calling us to have confidence in ourselves as his friends. We are invited to see thin places all around us, and even in us…sometimes to go to other places, yes, but to cultivate an understanding that we live in a liminal, thin space all of the time…and transfiguration is a constant flow in our lives.
That Son lives in us and his Spirit is moving all around us. I sense that in this church and community. And, we have to pray for eyes and ears to see and hear God’s flow, God’s Spirit, God’s presence…and that takes patience. I know we all want to see certain kinds of change that we think we want. For me, I often feel like I want to see change happen yesterday, I can be impatient, yet God has been whispering into my ear a lot lately to not follow the example of Martha and work excessively for things that are fleeting, but to be like Mary and sit and Jesus’ feet and hear words of love, invitation to deeper life, and re- lationship….words that are so encouraging…words that lead to my hearing God say that I’m beloved…and words that ultimately lead to a personal and corporate transfiguration.
Friends, I believe that Fleming Road is going through a transfiguration. We are being changed into something beautiful. We are inviting in conversation partners to help us see through the clouds of what that change will bring, we are practicing listening skills to each other, our community, and the word of God. I know I’m listening.
I want to see this church filled with people of all sorts of ages, color, economic back- grounds, thoughts, beliefs. Folks all being called to live life together in the way of Jesus and folks seeking out a Jesus who is pursuing them. I hope to see all of us living into Je- sus, a Jesus who was changed before the eyes of his disciples where they could see him in even deeper ways. It will take time, hard work, and some suffering, but it will also be dazzling, encouraging, and wonderful. We will be changed, and we will be glad to be on the mountaintop as that change happens. We won’t change overnight more than likely, and we will grow over time together. It is good to be with you as we go to the mountain- top together and hear God’s voice telling us, I love you, I’m with you, I am present.