The church year continues and we find ourselves on the doorsteps of Lent. Soon we will journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. However, before we can arrive in Jerusalem first we must travel with Jesus to the Mountain Top. Jesus will travel there with Peter, James and John for prayer. He will meet with Moses and Elijah and they will discuss his departure.
The story around the events of the Transfiguration remind us that Jesus approached his task through prayer. That he was fully aware of the events which were laid out before him.
Text: Luke 9: 28-36
The Mountain Top
How many of you have ever had a problem staying awake? Perhaps it was during a class at school, perhaps it was while teaching that class. It might have been a movie that a friend or your spouse asked you to watch. Perhaps it was during a meeting at work. It may have even been during the sermon on Sunday Worship, hopefully not this sermon. Or maybe it was during a conversation with a loved one.
So there you are. You are tired, your eyes are heavy and the sweet embrace of sleep is calling. You begin to do the slow blink, followed by the eyes wide maneuver to force yourself awake. Eventually, the slow blink turns into the head nod. Which is usually followed by one or two cases of whiplash as you desperately try to fight off sleep.
At some point while sitting in that class, watching that movie, listening to the sales report or sermon or while having that conversation you will hear something which will draw you back from the depths of sleep, right back to the present situation. The only thought on your mind will be, did I just hear that correctly? Did they just say what I think they said, or did I see what I think I saw?
The problem is that because you were in the hazy stages of sleep and not fully aware you will be unable verify, without embarrassing yourself, what you think you witnessed.
Welcome to the Mountain Top.
Welcome to that pinnacle a-ha moment! A time when you can shout Eureka! If only you weren’t in the midst of sleep. If only you were fully aware of what it is that you were supposed to witness. In that moment you may say or do all sorts of crazy things. However, as you begin to come down the mountain you start to question the validity of what you think you witnessed.
This is not dissimilar to the experience that Peter, John and James had when they climbed the mountain to pray. They were tired, but had forced themselves to stay awake. As a result of being awake they witnessed what we call the transfiguration of Jesus. How he was covered in a bright and dazzling light. They saw him speaking with two men which they deduced were Moses and Elijah.
They heard the conversation about how Jesus was to depart soon, an event which would take place in Jerusalem. Peter in his tired stated, witnessing these events decides to construct shelters so that they can remain on the mountain top. While proclaiming this the voice of God is heard saying, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”
When Peter, John and James descend down the mountain they kept silent. The told know one about the things they had seen. You see they were in that state of mind where they weren’t sure if what they saw was real or not. They were trying to make sense of things. Wondering if they had actually seen what transpired or if in their tired state they had imagined it.
Coming down from the mountain top is not fun. The exhilaration that we previously felt has been replaced. We are left feeling a little empty and bewildered. We wonder if we can recapture a part of the experience. I suspect that Peter, John and James felt that way as well.
But what does the Transfiguration mean? Why is it important that Moses and Elijah were there? Why those two figures? What does this story tell us about Jesus, the church or God’s mission in the world? A lot actually.
Let’s frame the discussion by understanding the role of Moses and Elijah in Jewish thought. Moses reminds us of the past. Of the Exodus and the journey the ancient Israelites took towards freedom. Of their communal responsibility towards one another and the laws God put in place to guide them.
Elijah is the prophet who will one day turn the people’s hearts back to the covenant. Elijah is therefore associated with the end times. It is interesting to note that God met with both Moses and Elijah at Mount Horeb. Both Moses and Elijah appear and speak to Jesus about his departure which is to take place in Jerusalem. The transfiguration then is an event which makes clear what the mission of Jesus is. The continuation of God’s redemptive work which begins in Genesis and which concludes at the end times.
For his part Jesus is resolute in his purpose. He approaches his task prayerfully which is the purpose of the sojourn up the mountain.
If Jesus is the head of the church and our high priest. If Jesus is resolute in his purpose then we too must be resolute in ours. If Jesus approached his task through prayer, then we must also approach our task in prayer.
But what is our task, what is our mission?
Our task mirrors that of Jesus. Not to die on the cross, but to continue God’s redemptive work in creation. To allow all people to live full lives, to protect the meek, to feed the hungry and to root out injustice where we find it.
However, in accomplishing this we must exercise spiritual discernment and a social analysis of our present situations. Theologian Jeffrey Tribble writes, “…our theology of mission must be informed by our historic traditions. It must also be informed by visions of the future reign of God.”
Over the past year we have looked at the question of the church’s mission. We have continued to worship and praise God. Study of God’s word in scripture continues. We care deeply for one another as a community of faith. We have also begun to deepen and broaden how we care for the people in the community of Northumberland and the wider world.
Most recently this has been realized by our involvement in the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship. A collaboration of many churches to work towards God’s redemptive plan in creation. Sponsoring refugee’s, taking them out of harm’s way and providing a safe place to live is fairly common sense. If we can do it we should and so we are. Through prayerful reflection we recognize that this is part of God’s plan. That this is something that God would want us to do. It is right and it is just.
Does sponsoring one or two families complete God’s redemptive plan for creation? No, not even close. However, beyond bringing a family to safety is the message that is sent through our actions. A message which states that this is important. A message which demonstrates our commitment for God’s mission.
It is our unwavering commitment for God’s mission that is seen by others. Our understanding of God’s mission speaks to other people. It inspires people to ask the question what is this all about? What is it you Christians do? Why is caring for the meek important to you? What do you think that it will accomplish?
Our response is that it will accomplish God’s mission. A mission which started at the beginning of all things. A mission which Jesus refined and demonstrated with his own life and death. A mission which centers on the healing of the nations, which focuses on change that is made in individual lives.
When we go up to the mountain top we are witness to things that we do not fully understand. We do our best to grasp them, through prayer we seek to discern their purpose. Through our sleepy eyes we may not always see the full picture of what God is doing. However, we trust that we are being guided by the Spirit.
In our present understanding of God’s mission we acknowledge that the world is not as it ought to be. We believe that we are called to make a change which can have a lasting difference on people’s lives. That is why we are involved in refugee sponsorship, because we cannot come down from the mountain the same. We may not understand everything we have witnessed, we may still have questions for God, but we have glimpsed a part of what God requires of us.
So as changed people, made whole and new in Jesus Christ we go into the world as salt and light. We come down from the mountain with eyes wide and an awareness that we are a part of God’s mission. We can do no less than our part. Amen.