Holy Moments, Luke 9:28-36
First United Methodist Church, March 3, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration reveals the two interconnected, sometimes conflicting, and very real spheres of our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. There’s the divine, the holy, the blessed, the inspiring moments when we can see Jesus, when we hear God’s voice, when there can be no other response but to bow down in worship and praise—in awe and thanksgiving.
And then, there are those other moments in our lives: you can see in the painting the chaos, the frustration. There had been hope, but in this moment it is lost, and so, now what? Where do you turn? What can you hope for? What happens next?
There are the divine, the blessed and the holy moments, and then there are the ordinary, everyday and broken ones.
The setting for this painting is this morning’s scripture. Jesus has taken three of his disciples—Peter and James and John—up on the mountain with him to pray. These men are his inner circle; I don’t know why he doesn’t bring the others along. Maybe it is so he can really get away and not worry about what is happening below. Jesus has given his disciples power and authority to heal and cast out demons. They’re in charge, they’ll be called on when there is a need. His mission and ministry can continue while he steps aside for a time of replenishment/for a time of prayer. Doing this is important for Jesus. We read about him stepping away several times during his ministry, going to a quiet place. That’s important for us, too.
Here on the mountain he can focus. He can pray.
While Jesus is praying, something happens. Something totally unexpected. His appearance changes—his face, his clothing—they become dazzling white. The Common English Bible says they flash white like lightening. And then, Moses and Elijah are there, and they’re talking to Jesus. About his departure, we’re told. About what is ahead. No one on earth can really understand. How can they? But God provides, offering Jesus this heavenly community who do understand, who have passed from this life into the next, who know God’s plan and can offer the wisdom of the Law and the Prophets.
It makes me smile to see how the disciples respond to all this. Scripture tells us “they were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.” A few weeks ago I was watching the Grammy’s, and I REALLY wanted to stay awake and see the tribute to Aretha Franklin, and I fell asleep right as it was happening. I knew it was happening, but I couldn’t rouse myself to really tune into how cool that moment was. The disciple’s eyes are glazed over as Jesus is transfigured before them—they can see something amazing is happening, but it’s all they can do to be alert to what’s going on!
Peter responds by suggesting they build shrines/booths/tabernacles depending on the translation you’re reading. Let’s stay here. Let’s hang onto this moment. This is good! A mountaintop experience is a very good thing, why let go of it? And then a cloud covers them, and they hear the voice of God proclaiming once again, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!”
Can you imagine? I hope that each of us at one point or another have some sort of mountaintop experience: a time when an ordinary moment becomes holy. When it is as though a curtain opens and you can see and feel and understand in a way that you couldn’t before. Those moments don’t last very long and they can be hard to describe to someone else. The disciples didn’t tell anyone about what they’d experienced for a while. It was too much, too big. How could mere words describe what they’d seen? How do you tell someone that you literally heard the voice of God?
And yet eventually, at the right time, that’s what these disciples do. Their task, their mission, ultimately—is to share the story. To not only share about this mountaintop experience, but to share the good news of Jesus Christ: the foundation of our faith, the foundation for the salvation of our world.
On that mountaintop, the identity of Jesus is confirmed. You’ll remember how at the beginning of his ministry, when Jesus is baptized by John, the heavens open up and the voice of God can be heard: “This is my Son, by beloved. With him I am well pleased.” Now, we hear it again, God’s voice proclaiming that Jesus is God’s Son. But this time God’s words are spoken directly to the disciples (and ultimately to us): “Listen to him.” “Listen,” God says.
That’s our task, to listen and to follow. You quit wearing that bracelet a long time ago or thought it was too simple, but “WWJD”?/What would Jesus do” is the right question for us to ask ourselves every single day in every single situation. Listen to him! What would Jesus do? If we truly want to be his disciples, is there another choice? Is there a more significant question to guide us? I can’t think of one.
The Lenten season begins in 3 days on Wednesday, the day the church calls Ash Wednesday. We’ll gather together for worship for the purpose of reminding ourselves that we have been given an opportunity to re-align ourselves to God’s will and God’s way. We’ll remember that we’re human/that we’re mortal: that it is from dust that we were created, and that it is to dust that we will return. We’ll confess our sins together, recognizing that we have all fallen short, that there have been times when we haven’t listened, when we haven’t cared to be or to do what God has called us to be and to do. There have been times when we’ve gotten caught up in the moment or in the situation and we’ve done our own thing, gone our own way. And yet, God continues to love us, to call us, to welcome us back into the fold. There have been times when we, like his original disciples, have slept through our prayers, when we’ve gotten lazy with our assignment, when we’ve just expected others to do mission and ministry and neglected to participate ourselves, when what we say we believe and what we do don’t align, when we’ve spent time and energy on things that don’t communicate God’s love and care.
We’ve done that individually and we’ve done that as a church. We get distracted from our call. We think particular programs or ministries or people are at the center of who we are and what we do—but each one of us, each of our missions and ministries are instruments through which we proclaim the Good News. We must never forget our ultimate purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If that’s not happening, then we need to re-think and re-set our priorities.
As a church we evaluate the way in which we’ve met or not met our goals for the previous year and we set goals for the upcoming year. It guides us as a church and helps us to be accountable to one another. Perhaps that would be a worthwhile task for us as individuals, as well: to consider what we’re doing and how we might be better at making disciples of Jesus Christ…in sharing our faith…in living out our faith. Perhaps the season of Lent is a good time for us to do that.
We come to worship on Sunday mornings to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, to offer our worship to God, to be reminded of our task, to be equipped for the journey. There are times in worship when we feel sleepy or distracted, and then there are times when unexpectedly, it’s as though a curtain has been drawn back and we realize we’re on holy ground, that God is speaking to us, that God is equipping us for the moment when we walk out of this place, when we begin to make our way back down the mountain again.
When we read beyond this morning’s scripture, we learn that Jesus and James and John and Peter come down from the mountaintop the next day, and step into a buzzing beehive of humanity. Look back at Raphael’s painting and you’ll see a sick boy, a desperate father, a crowd of people waiting to see what Jesus will do…what he can do. We read that the disciples had tried to help but couldn’t. When Jesus sees the chaos, he responds with his own words of frustration. And then he tells the father to bring him his son. As he does this, the boy has yet another seizure. Jesus speaks harshly to the unclean spirit and heals the boy. He hands him back to his father. All who sees this are amazed; they’re overwhelmed by the greatness of God.
Right now, the painting looks chaotic in that lower section. The people don’t realize how close Jesus is to them, how soon he’ll be coming to heal and restore. But there are 2 hands in the crowd, pointing upward. I’m not sure that anyone sees them right now, they’re too distraught, too distracted. And yet the hands are there, pointing, reminding: Jesus is there. Closer than they realize.
Our task and our mission is to point people toward Jesus, people who are lost, whose lives are chaotic, who don’t know if anyone can make a difference. Jesus can. Jesus does. It’s our task to show them, to remind them, to invite them to be disciples, too.
May we remember that.
In Jesus name. Amen.