Luke 9:28-36 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
When we think of the words ‘before and after,’ what do we think about? Photographs of ourselves before and after diets. Or do we think about our lives in terms of before and after events – like before and after college.? Or before and after meeting the love of our life. Or before and after starting our first real job. Or before marriage and after marriage. Or before children and after children. You get the picture. Before and after. Even the difficult times of life can be told in before and after moments. Before and after divorce. Before the loss of a job and after. Before the death of a spouse or partner, and after that loss.
Each of these before and after moments, when we think about it, brings with it a change in our lives. Each phase we go through in life, like before and after photographs, captures a change within us. It can’t be helped. Life is change. And those moments of change affect us deeply and profoundly. These are important moments that often wake us up to God’s presence in our lives.
Since Christmas our scripture over these several weeks reflects that Jesus has healed, taught, given his disciples power and authority, and insights, fed the multitude, foretells the disciples of his death and resurrection. It is after these things have taken place that our scripture lesson today begins where we celebrate the mountain top experiences of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in what is called Transfiguration Sunday.
This week we enter the season of Lent beginning with two Services of Ashes on Wednesday. This is the season where we consider the temptations that assail us – the season where we gaze upon both the good and the bad that is in this world – and in our own hearts. And so, it is no coincidence that the placement of the mountain top story is situated where it is in our lectionary. We need these stories to sustain us through those Lenten days when we journey through the wilderness and the valleys.
The Transfiguration of Jesus speaks to us about deep mysteries – mystical experiences – moments of enlightenment. Often these are transforming moments – the before and after moments where we had a flash of God’s clear presence and unconditional love in our lives and that awareness cannot help but transform us.
Through these moments we can also come to understand and see the miracles of our everyday lives and realize that even in the ordinary there are extraordinary events that, if we’re not careful, we can miss all too easily. Part of the reason why it is so easy to miss them is that we don’t often think of our experiences in the context of faith or as mystical experiences. Sadly, we’ve not always been given the language or encouragement to speak of these events either.
Extraordinary moments are all around us. Sometimes we fall into the routine of our daily lives without any real awareness of God’s presence that surrounds us or in the many potently transforming opportunities that are before us. Before and after.
Transforming moments also help us to see the holy in the ordinary and the ordinary in the holy. Every time we celebrate Communion and eat the bread and drink from the cup we have the potential to be transformed: ordinary words; ordinary bread; ordinary juice; ordinary people; extraordinary moments. The same is true for the sacrament of Baptism: ordinary words; ordinary water; extraordinary moments. Through these simple rituals something sacred happens. As we witness these events we know that something has taken place in our midst; not only is our communal meal different, not only is this person who is baptized now different, but each time we participate and witness these events we too are changed.
We don’t need to have clouds or bright lights or to hear voices to understand that we’ve had an experience of the holy. But we do need to be able to at least realize that we are all capable of such holy and mystical experiences.
What are the mountaintop experiences you’ve had? These are the wonderful moment we wish we could capture and maintain and keep forever. The energy, clarity, beauty and sacredness of it all captures us and we in turn wish to capture it. And oh how we hate to come down off that mountain! We want to hang on to that moment for as long as we can. Why don’t we just stay right here and let the rest of the world go by for a while?
Edward Marquart, however, gives us a reality check when he wrote: “God never meant us to live on the mountaintop. I wish the gospel story told you the next Biblical story after the Transfiguration. This next Biblical story is never included in the lectionary series, and I feel badly about that. Because the next story is the key to the transfiguration story. The disciples and Jesus came off the mountain, and they came right down to the bottom of the valley and they found a boy who was having epileptic seizures. The mother and father were enormously upset and worried about the desperately sick boy, and the little boy fell into a fire and burned himself. In other words, the disciples came down off that mountaintop right into the problems of real life.
Home from a mountaintop vacation and into the real world at home. And the disciples discovered that God is also down in the valley and does not live only or even primarily on the mountaintop. You and I experience the valleys of life. You and I both know what happens the next day coming down from the mountain. It is the real world and the real life. After Sundays of life, there are always Mondays. You know, the tough ones of life. God is with us there. (Edward Markquart, Mountains, Valleys, and Plains. sermons.com)
This may be a good time to raise the topic of the vote of the United Methodist Church that took place this past week. This denomination has been debating the issue of gay clergy and same sex-marriage for decades. The vote taken came down to voting the Traditional Plan over the One Plan model. The One Plan model is much more expansive in scope than the traditional and would raise the ban on gay marriage and clergy,
Much was pinned on this vote by many hoping to bring the entire denomination to a mountain top experience where all of God’s children are embraced and recognizing the gifts given to all of God’s children – many of whom are gifted clergy.
I add my voice to the disappointed and pray for those who are hurt beyond their wildest imaginings with such a sense of betrayal. The grief and anger is real and painful and I weep with them. I am sure most of you do as well.
An open letter to the United Methodist Church from the General Ministers of the United Church of Christ is in your most recent newsletter – please read it, if you haven’t.
Words from Bill Lyons, Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference remind us that even though we would gladly welcome those who leave these churches and walk in our doors – they do so without celebration. It is important for us to realize that this is a time of deep pain and grief and anger. Leaving the church they love and its rituals is devastating and difficult. Those who expected to experience the mountain top are devastated to find that their denomination cannot fully value everyone for who they are – simply – God’s beloved, and find themselves in the valley of the shadow of darkness.
What will happen next is a good question? Will people leave the denomination because they don’t feel their beautiful gay children can be fully embraced by this church? Will LGBTQ Methodists leave the denomination because they don’t feel they are really and fully accepted? Will closeted gay clergy step out in protest? Will people want to develop a new “Methodist” arm and split the church over this vote? Is reconciliation possible? All good questions. I don’t have any answers and I suspect that you don’t either. But we can certainly hold the hurt in prayer and the denomination as well. Mountains and valleys.
Jesus leads his disciples up a mountain, and on that mountain everything changes. Jesus leads us and everything changes. Maybe it is that we don’t see God until we take the risk, to let ourselves go right into our faith, to live our faith into our everyday lives, and to live it, to feel it, to let it pour over us and to be open and vulnerable to the holy around us.
Yes, we need prayer. Yes, we need to listen for God’s voice, because, yes, God is still speaking. Yes, we need to follow Jesus and yes, we need mountain top experiences. And yes, spiritually we need to be engaged and involved in our everyday lives and open to seek God there – to look at our moments through eyes of faith on the mountaintop as well as in the valley.
As we go forth this day, may God bless us with an awareness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and to give us an awareness of the holy in the world that is around us. May God continue to bless our before moments and may our after moments reflect God’s presence in all we do. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019