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Sermon based on Mark 9:2-9
Today is the Sunday known as 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 on the mountaintop like the time of Jesus’ baptism, sees God claim Jesus as a beloved child, in whom God is well pleased. The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus records the kind of “mountain top experience” that just a privileged few ever witnessed. Ordinary people like us have had experiences we could not explain or moments in which we have felt God’s presence vividly. Like the disciples, we prefer to build shelters and stay on the mountaintop, to stop time for a moment and capture forever the wonderful feeling of God’s eyes looking directly upon us. As our sermon title shares we desire to grab the glory.
Unfortunately, along with the mountaintops come those valleys in life. Life is full of challenging obstacles that at times we must overcome. The key for us is to use these mountaintop experiences to better equip us to handle those valleys or whatever lies ahead. Jesus knew this truth better than anyone. He could see what was coming around the bend and he knew that He had to be prepared to fulfill God’s will and mission for his life. This morning we will explore some ways to better handle those valleys in life when we are unable to grab and hold on to those mountaintop experiences.
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. He prayed to overcome temptation in the desert, he prayed before he chose the twelve disciples, he prayed before He did miracles and he taught his 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 the thicket where they would pray 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 Scripture we can see how Jesus would often take others to pray with Him. Jesus understood the need to communicate with God, to make sure He was doing all he could to stay within God’s will. Jesus needed friends with him to pray and help him receive 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 an easy experience, but it is more difficult when we don’t take advantage of the privilege and power of prayer.
The second thing we learn in life is to enjoy the mountaintop! It has been said that one of the greatest weapons in the face of adversity is joy. The story is told of one of Napoleon’s generals named, Massena. He suddenly appeared with eighteen thousand men before an Austrian town that had no means of defense. The town council had nearly decided to surrender when the old dean of the church reminded them that it was Easter and begged them to hold services as usual and to leave their fate in God’s hands. As the French army heard the church bells ringing joyfully they concluded that an Austrian army had come to relieve the place and quickly they retreated. Before the bells ceased ringing, the Frenchmen had vanished. In relationship to our lives, this incident has often been duplicated. We have rung bells of joy in the face of pain, and sickness, and poverty, and fear, and loneliness, and all other trials. Over time those bells of joy have conquered our fears. There is no enemy quite so strong as faith accompanied with joy. While we can enjoy the mountaintop experiences in life, we know it is not always possible to stay there because there is more work in the Kingdom of God that we are called to do. 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 respective 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 and other followers would continue to look for an earthly and not heavenly kingdom. I believe the reason this “mountain top” 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 Mark 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 he had a task to complete, a mission to fulfill and a destiny to embrace. He welcomed the affirmation from his Father, “This is my Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him!” Jesus rejoiced in his confirmation from Moses and Elijah about his necessary death. But God through the Transfiguration was preparing Christ to come down the mountain and become an everlasting blessing to the world, by dying for us upon the cross. Faithfulness the disciples would learn was not achieved by freezing a moment in time, but by continuing to move forward in confidence that God was leading them. In God’s leading they would learn that God’s blessing would be far greater than what they already experienced. When God blesses us with a great experience in our faith journey it is because God has a purpose for us to pursue. Enjoy the mountaintop, but never stay too long for we have a third direction to follow.
Our third direction is 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 understood. Instead the disciples began to argue about who would be the greatest. As we think about being the greatest it has been said that a truly humble person is hard to find, yet God delights to honor such selfless people. The late Booker T. Washington, the renowned educator, was an outstanding example of this sentiment. Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was out walking in an exclusive section of town when a very wealthy white woman stopped Washington. Not knowing the famous Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. The woman’s daughter recognized him and later revealed his identity to her mother. The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work for the University to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.
Likewise we should remember those words of Jesus when he said to his disciples the following:
The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12 NRSV translation)
While today we remember that Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop we must also recall that this act in ministry was also preparing Jesus for his destiny. This destiny would set his path towards Jerusalem, and his death on the cross. Next Sunday 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 take time to pray, enjoying the moment and embracing the future. In these simple ways we can take time to grab the glory and also prepare ourselves for service in God’s Kingdom.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 11, 2018