To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Matthew 17:1-9
Have we ever had a mountaintop experience with God? It brings a sense of joy and peace that eclipses any other human experience. While a mountaintop experience is often temporary, it provides for us a fresh awareness of God’s reality and closeness. Within the Bible a mountaintop experience often involved learning something new about God. It also involved one’s emotions as the person or people felt overcome by that greater awareness of God. Also a mountaintop experience helped people or groups of people determine God’s will and purpose for their lives. As people come down from that mountaintop they are impacted, not in only in what they know and feel but often in what they do as well. For us as Christians, a mountaintop experience may happen at a summer or mission camp experience, Christian music concert or play, a church revival, or when God has answered a special prayer request. A spiritual “mountaintop” experience is one of God’s greatest blessings.
As we speak of a mountaintop experience, today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday celebrates the glorious revelation of God in Jesus Christ and Christ’s manifestation as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Jesus’ radiant appearance upon the mountaintop like Jesus’ baptism saw God claim him as a beloved child, in whom He was well pleased. The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus records the kind of “mountaintop experience” that only a privileged few ever witnessed. Ordinary people like us have had great experiences we could not explain or moments in which we have felt God’s presence vividly but perhaps not as powerfully as the Transfiguration. Like Jesus’ disciples, we too during these times want to build shelters and stay on the mountaintop, to stop time for a moment and capture forever that wonderful feeling of God’s eyes looking favorably upon us. Unfortunately, along with the mountaintops of life come those valleys in life. Our life of faith is not just one spiritual mountaintop after another. Our life of faith at times is full of challenging obstacles that must be overcome. The key for us is to use these mountaintop experiences to better equip ourselves to handle those valleys or whatever lies ahead in life. Jesus knew this truth better than most. He could see what was coming around the bend and he knew that He had to be prepared to fulfill God’s will and purpose for His life. This morning I would like to offer some simple suggestions to help us come down the mountain and enter back into our reality, our day-to-day lives that brings joy, sorrow, anger and doubt from time to time.
First, take time to pray. It’s interesting to note that prior to the actual Transfiguration that Jesus was in prayer. Jesus always took time to pray. Jesus prayed to overcome temptation in the desert, he prayed before he chose the twelve disciples, he prayed before He did miracles. He taught the disciples to pray. As we speak of prayer, the story is told that early African converts to Christianity were very earnest and very consistent in their private devotions. They believed in the power of prayer. Each convert reportedly had a separate spot in a thicket of grass where they would pour out their heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect their prayer life, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind each other by saying the following, “Brother or Sister, the grass grows upon your path” (Today in the Word, June 29, 1992). Throughout the Bible, we read of how Jesus took the disciples to pray with Him. Jesus understood the need to communicate with God through prayer. Jesus also needed the disciples and other followers to pray with Him and for Him. Through prayer Jesus received the necessary strength to face the difficulties that would lay ahead in his life. If the Son of God needed to pray with friends for these reasons, surely we need to do the same. Coming down the mountain is not always an easy experience, but it is more difficult when we don’t take advantage of the privilege and powers of prayer.
We also must learn in life is to enjoy the mountaintop! The story is told of a rich businessperson who was getting ready to board their yacht who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” the person asked. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?’ the person asked. The fisherman asked,
“What would I do with them?” You could earn more money,” came the impatient reply, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.” The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the businessperson. “What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea. As this illustration shares, being content with what we have and being content with who we are is sometimes different. From time to time there is a need to revisit and enjoy those mountaintop experiences but we don’t need to stay stuck in the past.
Surprisingly, the Transfiguration had little impact upon the disciples who witnessed this event. None of those present as witnesses ever mention this experience in their own preaching. While they marveled at the Transfiguration at the time, they did not understand what Jesus told them about his death and resurrection. Peter would still deny Jesus three times, other followers would continue to look for an earthly and not heavenly kingdom. I believe the reason this “mountaintop” experience was not as significant in their life as we would think, is because Jesus would not allow this to happen. While we do see in our lesson from Matthew that Peter asks Jesus if they could build three shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Jesus would not allow them to do this. Why we might be asking ourselves? The reason is that Jesus recognized that there was a task to complete, a purpose from God to fulfill. While Jesus rejoiced in his confirmation from Moses and Elijah he also knew that God through the Transfiguration was preparing Him to come down the mountain to continue ministry. A growing faith the disciples learned, was not achieved by freezing a moment in time, but by continuing to move forward in confidence that God was leading them. When God blesses us with a mountaintop experience it is because God perhaps has a greater purpose for us to pursue. Enjoy the mountaintop, but never stay there too long.
We should never stay there too long because we are also called to embrace the future. Rather than staying, the next day Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain. Immediately Jesus confronts a boy possessed by a demon who needs healing. Jesus heals this boy and tells the crowd of his upcoming betrayal. Jesus says first to the crowd and than to his disciples that he would be betrayed, but no one really understood. Instead the disciples began to argue about who would be the greatest. In order to embrace our future, we have to be willing to let go of control and let God lead our lives. In letting God lead us we will come down the mountaintop embracing our future. I like the thoughts by the late Henry Drummond; a Scottish theologian when he shared that God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops. It is not God’s desire that we live on the mountaintops. Drummond went on to share that we only ascend to the heights of the mountaintop to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. Comparing our life of faith to a stream, Drummond shares that it is true that streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to the valleys. Streams start in the mountaintops, but they come down to the valleys below. In comparison to our lives we all will experience the valleys of life. We know what happens the next day coming down from the mountain. It is the real world and the real life. After Sundays in life, there are always Mondays.
If we are struggling in our lives in those valleys remember these words from Jesus:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
As we remember Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountaintop let us also remember how Jesus prepared himself and embraced the future. This future path would be headed towards Jerusalem, and his eventual betrayal, arrest and death. Next week we begin the season of Lent, considered to be a time of personal reflection upon our spiritual lives. Through the event of the Transfiguration, let us all take time to pray, enjoy those special moments that define our faith and embrace our future. In these simple ways we too can come down the mountaintop and discover God’s purpose in our lives.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 26, 2017