From Pastor Kenny's Desk
March 3, 2019
About eight days after saying this, Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up onto a mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and the clothes he wore became dazzlingly white. Suddenly two people were there talking with Jesus – Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and spoke of the prophecy that Jesus was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.
Peter and the others had already fallen into a deep sleep, but awakening, they saw Jesus’ glory – and the two people who were standing next to him. When the two were leaving, Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, how good it is for us to be here! Let’s set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” Peter didn’t really know what he was saying.
While Peter was speaking, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and the disciples grew fearful as the others entered it. Then from the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to Him! When the voice finished speaking, they saw no one but Jesus standing there. The disciples kept quiet, telling nothing of what they had seen at that time to anyone.
The following day, when they came down the mountain, a large crowd awaited them. A man stepped out of the crowd and said, “Teacher, please come and look at my son, my only child. A demon seized him and he screams, and it throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth. It releases the boy only with difficulty, and when it does, he is exhausted. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they couldn’t.”
Jesus said in reply, You unbelieving and perverse generation! How much longer must I be among you and put up with you? Bring the child to me.” As the boy approached, the demon dashed the child to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus reprimanded the unclean spirit, healed the child and returned him to his father. All present were awestruck at the greatness of God.
~ Luke 9:28-43
In Luke’s story of Jesus’ Transfiguration, we learn Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him to pray. Even though they had already fallen into deep sleep they still experience Jesus’ clothes turning dazzling white and the appearance of his face changed. Moses and Elijah also appear with him. However, in Luke’s story, the figures are leaving when Peter declares it is good to be there and suggests making dwellings for all three of them … suggesting Peter wants the other two to remain. A cloud overshadows them, and Peter, James, and John are terrified. After the voice booms down from heaven saying: This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to Him! they find Jesus alone, and they don’t say anything to anyone. In the continuing verses, it is the next day that they are met by a great crowd, and a desperate father looking for help for his son possessed by a spirit. Jesus appears to be angry at the unbelieving and perverse generation after his own disciples were unable to cast the spirit out. Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and gives him back to his father. While we don’t know why the disciples were unable to cast out the spirit, it seems that they had given up and left the father to fend on his own for help.
Mount Tabor is the site said to be the location of the Transfiguration of Jesus. I have only seen Mount Tabor from a distance, from the position of other sites throughout the Holy Land. On the one hand, it is a mountain like any other mountain: beautiful, majestic and mysterious. It is a assorted topography marked by hills and valleys, fertile plains and dry desert, mountains and wildernesses. On the other hand, Mount Tabor is extraordinary. And then you remember that such is their nature … mountains, that is. While I grew up mostly in California, as a child my family also lived Olympia, Washington. Talk about mountains … Rainier, Hood, Shasta, Baker, St. Helen’s. They are all magnificent and beautiful. I remember very well the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s. Ash was everywhere, even though we lived miles away.
Mountains are particular and poignant. They rise up from the plains of our lives to invite majesty and awe; wonder and fear; to call to mind the heights of the heavens and yet the reality of the valleys below.
Mountains have a way of disarming you. There are those who choose to conquer certain mountains, whether an item on the bucket list or simply a quest that meets a certain life need, want, or desire. The truth is, mountains can kill you ... and perhaps there is a certain truth to that when it comes to the Transfiguration.
Mountains have a way of disrupting you. They change your framework, your way of seeing the world. Mountains don’t lie.
Mountains have a way of transforming you. Yet, at the same time, this is the difference between Luke’s story of the Transfiguration from Matthew and Mark’s version of the story. The Transfiguration story does not occur in John. Notice that immediately after Jesus descends from the mountain in Luke, he is met with need. Matthew and Mark include a dialogue about Elijah, whereas in Luke Jesus has to address healing and not theology.
I believe this significant difference can tell us how Luke feels about the Transfiguration of Jesus … that mountaintops provide moments for seeing reality and not making up theology. That mountaintops experiences create spaces for perspective instead of justifying preconceived perceptions. That mountaintop experiences truly change your way of interpreting or making sense of the world. One cannot escape some sort of draw toward the mountains of the Holy Land. They force you to make sense of your confession of faith that is outside any predetermined, isolated, and limited opinion.
As permanent as mountains appear to be, mountaintop experiences are fleeting. Mountaintop experiences are temporary. Mountaintop experiences are momentary. Yet, we so long for them to be lasting. Why is that? None of us are strangers to this quest. Why do we want the mountaintop experiences to last, to make a difference, to mean something. Why? My hunch is because we long for understanding. We long for a viewpoint that others do not have. We long for perspective that results in the very true possibility that we can make sense of the world … not only for ourselves, but for those we love and care for, for those who make a difference in our lives and the lives of others … and the list could be endless!
We long for mountaintop experiences. We need them. The difference in Luke’s Transfiguration story is the radical revelation of a mountaintop experience that is then interrupted by the urgency of reality of need. Luke reminds us that our own proclamation of the good news of God’s unconditional love will elicit real need. The question is: Are we ready to handle that? Are we ready to embody that? There’s a lot of terrain between hills and valleys, mountaintop experiences and the trenches of real life, the highs and lows of human existence.
And this is the exact point of the power of mountaintop experiences … they define for us the power and intimacy of God, a revelation of Jesus and who Jesus is and a powerful revelation of relationship ... God’s desire to be in relationship with us. Further, I believe God continues to intimately reveal God’s very self in moments of transfiguration and transformation … in ways that are breathtaking, miraculous, even wondrous. Why? Simply because it is God’s greatest desire for us to know and experience the depth of God’s love for us.
The Transfiguration is a strange story we read each year the Sunday before Lent begins. It marks the end of the season after the Epiphany, the season of revealing Jesus to the world. Jesus is revealed in full glory to his disciples on the top of Mount Tabor, but what exactly does that mean? Peter seems to still think of Jesus in worldly terms, as a divine king now establishing his eternal throne on earth, but this isn’t what Jesus set out to do. Instead, Jesus came to heal those who were sick, to restore those who’d been left out, to bring hope to the hopeless, to demand and instill justice to those who face injustice, discrimination, bigotry and marginalization, and instead reveal and show a way of living based on love and grace … where all are welcome, accepted and affirmed as the Beloved of God.