Transfiguration Sunday, 2/25/01
From the Mountain Top
ll of his life Jesus had no doubt admired the beauty of snow capped Mount Hermon, which stood only fifty miles north of Nazareth as the crow flies, the highest peak in Palestine. And now, just a few months before his march to Jerusalem, the Father grants him a transfiguring experience on top of that beautiful dreamland of his youth. Jesus' humanity needed this reassurance from his Father for it was with his human side that he was to face his appointment with a Cross. Jesus' Transfiguration was a time of renewed spiritual strength and a reminder of his greater purpose.
God's gift to His Son brought the additional blessing of the presence of Moses, who in his day had also talked directly with God on a mountain top. Last Thursday in worship we focused on the story from Exodus 34 in which Moses' face also glowed when he came back down from the mountain carrying the tablets containing The Ten Commandments. Elijah also appeared in glory at Jesus' Transfiguration experience. This Prophet Elijah had walked so closely with God that he never went through the experience of death, but had been transported directly into heaven in a chariot of fire (see II Kings 2:11).
The Father also allowed Jesus to have his three best friends with him on this glorious occasion. It must have made the event even more special for Jesus to have his friends with him. The experience also affirmed Jesus' divinity to Peter, James and John, and it further bonded their personal friendship. Jesus' humanity needed friends just as you and I do.
And the Transfigured image of Jesus in his glory also provided the three Apostles with an extraordinary spiritual crescendo: "the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white." (v.29, NRSV). No wonder Peter wanted to remain on the mountain top and bask in God's presence, but it was not to be. As with all watershed spiritual experiences, there comes the time to go back home.
You know the feeling when your rental at the condo is about up, the vacation is almost over and it's about time to get back to the real world. No matter how great the vacation, and our family has had some fantastic trips, we are always ready to get back home. We have often shared the thought that we feel like kissing the ground when we return from a trip.
The story of Jesus' Transfiguration conjures up these familiar feelings. Peter, John and James enjoyed the Mountain Top Experience of seeing Jesus in all of His Glory, but Jesus knew that their ministry with people lay in the valley ahead. Indeed, if they had stayed on the mountain top, what would have happened to the little boy whom they found waiting for his healing back in the valley? Just as Jesus' Sonship was revealed on the Mountain Top, back in town his power over evil was seen when he rebuked the demon in the child.
From what we have read about the current motion picture "Hannibal," Marilyn and I have decided to avoid the unnecessary gore. However, it might be a reminder to some who do see it that demented human life might be even worse than milder images of demon possession presented in the New Testament. We have all known people who seemed controlled by Evil.
I am reminded of the story from my childhood of the night that Satan visited a Revival Meeting. He came in red all over and with horns, a long forked tail, and blowing fire. Everyone who could not jump out the window hid under a pew. Except there was one old fellow who just sat there unafraid. Satan stomped harder and blew more fire and brandished his pitch fork and the one lone man just grinned. "Don't you know that I am the Devil and can tear you apart?" asked Satan. "Yeah, I know who you are but I am used to all of your stomping around because I have been married to your sister for 50 years!"
As a kid, it made evil seem a lot less fearsome to hear church folks making jokes about him. I grew up in an environment that was not preoccupied with evil, but was seeking that which was good and holy. My parsonage life, my Sunday School and my experiences in worship taught me early on that "Greater is the power of God's Spirit in me than the spirit of evil in the world."
This is the Good News that we need to share with a world that is limited by its obsession with perversion, addiction, and an overwhelming sense of fear.
Our ministry is in the valleys of life where people are hurting. Evil remains rampant in our world. Forces still threaten human life. Families are more fragile than ever. Disease seems more prevalent. Just when science develops a cure for one malady, another comes forth. Poverty, hunger, crime, violence, racism, elitism, and the never ending threat of world war all remain a real threat to humanity's survival. And God has chosen us to be voices of hope and instruments of change.
Did you notice our church advertisement in Saturday's "Atlanta Journal-Constitution"? The title line read: "Serving God In the Valley." The accompanying photograph was one I made from the world's tallest hotel, "The Westin-Peachtree," just three blocks south of our church. In the picture it takes a close look to see our historic cathedral down in the valley of skyscrapers. It is in this strategic place, in the center of the capital of the South, that we have the opportunity to reach out with the healing message of God's love and care. Ours is a message of hope and redemption. It is the same message that Jesus commissioned the first disciples to go out into all the world and proclaim.
Not only do we have our life transfiguring experiences here, we march forth possessed by the power to proclaim hope to a hurting world of humanity that God loves.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor