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Over a decade ago I had an opportunity to visit the continent of Africa. I spent seven weeks in the country of Tanzania representing the Southern Province at Unity Seminar where we discussed the affects of poverty, HIV, and globalization in the Moravian Church worldwide. Flying out of the capital city of Dar es Salaam to Tabora I was able to catch a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro. Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest mountain and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world with its highest point over 19,000 feet. Every year, hundreds of people venture to Africa to climb up to the summit, the mountaintop of Mount Kilimanjaro.
As we think of mountains, people have said that mountains are metaphors in life. Mountains are metaphors for testing, for seeking and most of all for vision. Today in the church calendar year we have come to what is known as Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration is the word from where we get the word metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is a change from the inside out.
Our Old Testament lesson from Exodus reveals that Moses received two tablets of the law from God on Mount Sinai. Moses did not realize his face was aglow with the light of God’s presence. The people were afraid to approach Moses so he placed a veil upon his face when speaking to the people. We see a different reaction in our lesson this morning from Luke’s gospel from Jesus’ disciples upon witnessing the presence of God among them. The glorious revelation of God in Jesus Christ and Christ’s manifestation as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets did not scare those who were witness to this event. Jesus’ radiant appearance on the mountaintop like the time of Jesus’ baptism, saw God claim him as a beloved child, in whom He is well pleased and this excited those who were present. The transfiguration showed that Jesus was different from what the disciples first believed. Perhaps those disciples present for the first time truly recognized the divine nature of Jesus and they began listening to him differently. They were forever changed and transformed by that experience.The event upon the mountain amazed the disciples. They were happy to see Jesus glorified but they did not truly understand its meaning. Peter wanted to seize the moment of glory on the mountain and build booths and stay awhile. He wanted to enjoy the mountain top spiritual experience and remove things like struggle and doubt. We learn through this experience that some experiences cannot be captured and held back. 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. In their summit to the mountaintop Peter, James and John learned some things that helped them and will help us in our journey of faith.
First, as mountains are a metaphor for life, seeking the summit in our life requires us to become the best person we can be. Henry Kissinger, in his book The Whitehouse Years, tells of a Harvard professor who had given a written assignment and was collecting the papers in class. There was one particular student in this class that often did enough just to get by, perhaps never applying their full potential to any assignment. The next day the professor handed the papers back and at the bottom of this student’s paper was written, “Is this the best you can do?” The student thought, “no,” and actually rewrote the paper. It was handed in again to the professor and returned at the next class with the same comment. This went on several more times until finally the student went up to the professor and said, “Yes, this is the best I can do.” The professor replied, “Fine, now I’ll read it.”
In relationship to our lives as followers of Jesus, we must strive to be the best disciples we can be. We must be willing to help and serve in our congregations and also in our community and world. In doing so we might achieve that spiritual “mountain top experience.” For us, this 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 “mountain top” experience is one of God’s greatest blessings and is often reached when we give to God our best self.
Secondly on the mountaintop as throughout Jesus’ life he found answers to what he was seeking through prayer. We too should always take time to pray. Jesus climbed the mountain to gain a vision that would enable him to be everything that God called him to be. 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 often before teaching others or performing miracles and he taught his disciples to pray. As we speak of prayer, the late E. Stanley Jones the great missionary to India wrote once in his book, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome the following about prayer: Prayer is surrender–surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. (Pg. 73)
Throughout Scripture Jesus often took followers to pray with Him. Jesus understood the need to communicate with God, to make sure He was following God’s will. Jesus needed others with him to pray to 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 others for these reasons, surely we need to do the same.
As Jesus, James, John and Peter scaled the summit and saw that great vision of Christ with Moses and Elijah, we too must have a willingness share the light of Christ in our dark world. `The Light of the World’ is the title of a famous picture by the late Holman Hunt, an English artist. This particular painting portrays the Lord Jesus Christ, thorn-crowned, and carrying a lantern in his left hand, knocking at a closed door. It is said that the artist, after completing the picture, showed it to some friends who praised the merit of the painting. One of them however pointed out what he considered an omission on the part of the artist. This particular person commented that Holman had failed to put a handle on the outside of the door. Holman quickly responded that the handle for the door to Christ is found on the inside. We must be the ones willing to open that door to let Christ into our hearts and lives.
As we strive to let Jesus into our lives and hearts we learn in our passage from Luke we must have openness to listening to God’s voice among us.God spoke of Jesus by sharing that he was His Beloved Son and encouraged those who were witness to the Transfiguration to listen to him. As Jesus’ followers we are called upon to not only listen but also share Jesus’ teachings about loving God and serving others through our words and actions. While the Transfiguration of our Lord is a day that gives those at worship a glimpse of the coming future glory of Christ on Easter, this day serves also to remind us that the way to Easter is through the cross. Jesus came to reveal God’s love and to redeem humanity. The way that God has chosen to carry out his redemptive purpose is to send his Son, Jesus, to bear our sins upon himself at the cross. The way of God for Jesus cannot bypass the cross.It is upon the cross that a new exodus takes place, the new event of redemption for the entire world, reminding us all about the changes that need to take place in our lives.
Together, we begin our journey to the cross and our Lenten journey with the celebration of Holy Communion next Sunday. My hope and prayer during our upcoming season of Lent is that we prepare ourselves to encounter God in ways that bless us all.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
March 3, 2019