2/10/02, Transfiguration, Yr. A
Fear to Understanding
here is something about mountains that stand there challenging us to climb to the top. As sixteen year olds Bobby Bulla and I dared to climb to the top of a small mountain near Asheboro. It was somewhat of a gentle slope until we got near the top and had to scale some boulders. Reaching the top we beat our chests like Tarzan and celebrated our conquest. Six years later Bobby was killed as his unit was climbing another small mountain in Vietnam. Although he didn't make it all the way, in my mind he scaled to the top.
In our story of Jesus' Transfiguration, he took three buddies along. Although he had thousands of followers, hundreds of dedicated disciples and twelve Apostles, he chose the three that were closest to him, Peter and the brothers James and John, to share in his experience of glory. Actually, the revelation of Jesus as the Glorified Messiah may have meant more to the three Apostles, and later to the Church, than to Jesus, who already knew that he was the Christ. Although they were initially afraid, later the Apostles had time to process all that happened on the mountain top and eventually came to understand the revelation in relation to the Messiah, and his forerunner John the Baptist.
As Hebrew School alumni the Apostles would have understood immediately the significance of the presence of the two greatest Prophets of the Old Testament. Moses had brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai and had predicted the eventual coming of a great leader who would further fulfill the Covenant. (Deut. 18:15-19). Elijah had later foretold the coming of the Messiah and his presence confirmed Jesus as the Messiah. (Malachi 4: 5-6). In the previous chapter of Matthew's Gospel Peter had boldly confessed that Jesus was "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." (16:13)
The inclusion of the three Apostles at the Transfiguration also enabled them to put the piece of the puzzle into place that John the Baptist had already fulfilled the role of forerunner to the Messiah, and in a sense was a type of Elijah, who was to prepare the way for Jesus. (Malachi 4:5) The reason that Jesus insisted that his three amigos not relate the events on the mountain until after the resurrection was that only after the resurrection, and the forty days of the risen Christ's instruction to them, would they have all of the pieces of the puzzle put together and only then step back and see the big picture. Eventually they would overcome their fears and doubts and understand the fulfillment of Messianic Events and how they fit perfectly into the Biblical prophecy that they had been reared with. Jesus told them not to tell the story yet because they would have not been able to explain it. But soon the man that they had come to love and respect became more than just a charismatic leader and a good teacher for them; he became God's Son, the Messiah and their Savior. The Transfiguration was a major event for Jesus, but it was mostly for the edification of the three Apostles, and for us.
However, even though they would eventually understand, while on the mountain top they were still in the dark. Peter even suggested memorializing the great event with three monuments when the proper response was to experience the event and move on into fields of service. It is human nature to create monuments to the past when we do not know what else to do. Monuments at sacred places are not inherently bad if we continue to move forward and not hold onto the memories only. The greatest challenges to the Apostles lay at the foot of the mountain where there were important things to do.
We can't fully understand the Transfiguration without reading the story that followed when they arrived back down at Caesarea-Philippi. "A huge crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 'Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly I brought him to your disciples and they couldn't heal him." (14-16, NLT). There were miracles to perform and the Apostles had wanted to remain longer on the mountain top. In fact, up until this event they were incapable of healing the sick and lacked power and authority to teach and to preach. The disciples asked the right question, "Why couldn't we cast out that demon? 'You didn't have enough faith,' Jesus told them. 'I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." (19-20).
Like Peter, James and John, I would probably have wanted just to establish a Transfiguration Memorial Association and offer a limited religion around that one event for that would seem like enough for me. However, Jesus still dares us to move on ahead into ever receding horizons. He calls us to become doers of the impossible, or what seems impossible to us now. The founders of our nation never dreamed that the country they were daring to declare independent and free would one day become the greatest nation in history. The Apostles did not know then what we can see clearly in retrospect that the Christian Church would transform human history. What seemed impossible became possible through faith.
So, the Transfiguration was mostly about us after all: Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles, disciples, followers, and later Paul, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley and us. We who are yet alive are challenged to keep the impossible mission of Jesus Christ rolling along. We do not know now how it will end up, or exactly what we will face tomorrow, but we do know that if we are going to follow Jesus we will not remain the same, for the same old situation in never enough, it is incomplete. God calls dinosaurs to become innovators of the impossible: He turns regular folks into future Kingdom builders.
I wonder if those first Methodist missionaries who followed the railroad builders west to this fair land had any idea what would eventually transpire along this ridge near the Chattahoochee River. I doubt if they had any vision that a city of four million souls would occupy this then rugged territory. The believers who split the logs for Terminus' first church building and school had no idea that we would still be here on what is now Peachtree Street in this cathedral 155 years later. We can say that they began the impossible and we can see that it is up to us to come down from the mountain, begin to minister with gusto, and to continue to catch the impossible vision for our future. Let us never hold back for fear but move ahead with understanding knowing that nothing is impossible if it is God's will!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor