Sermon for The Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 15, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Mark 9:2-19
Sermon Theme: “Why Can’t Life Be All ‘Ups’?”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; original ideas; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 25, Part 1, Series B; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
From the time I was a child until I graduated from high school, I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. Maybe that explains why I start so many of my sermons with one of my favorite Charlie Brown Cartoon strips. So, here goes yet another one:
In this one, Charlie is listening to Lucy, who confesses, “Sometimes I get discouraged.” Charlie responds, “Well, Lucy, life does have its ups and down.”
“But why should it?” complains Lucy, “why can’t my life be all ‘ups’ – if I want ‘ups,’ why can’t I have them? Why can’t I just move from one ‘up’ to another ‘up’ to an ‘upper-up’? I don’t want any ‘downs,’ I just want ‘ups’ and ‘ups’ and ‘ups.’”
Charlie Brown walks away shaking his head, saying, “I just can’t stand it!”
We all feel the way Lucy does in the strip at times, but after having “mountaintop’ experiences, we are usually called to service somewhere down below. In our sermon text, Peter wanted to remain on the Mount of Transfiguration with its mystical experience of seeing Moses and Elijah and Jesus together, and then hearing God speak, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” But there was work to be done in the valley below.
Moses, who was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, wrote the Torah, or the Pentateuch, as it is also called, or the Five Books of Moses, as it is also called, — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Now the Old Testament Torah and the Old Testament Prophets were created by God and designated to point to Christ. They were never an end to themselves, but merely served Israel as a teaching tool and as teachers and guides until Christ came. This is made clear at the Transfiguration. Not only do Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus as witnesses to affirm and confirm this Rabbi from Nazareth as the Messiah, but also the voice of God Himself proclaims, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!”
The disciples needed the awesomeness of this mountaintop experience, they needed to experience the affirmation and confirmation of the Transfiguration of Jesus if they were going to pull through the terrible events ahead of them which would climax in the Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. So it was necessary at this point in Jesus’ ministry on earth for Him to show His “true colors” so to speak.
Our text doesn’t say why Andrew was not also invited, which is a question I have always wondered about. James and John were brothers and both were invited, but Peter’s brother was not; yet it was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus. It amazes me that Andrew was not upset about this, and remained a faithful follower of the Lord, — let that be a lesson to us all.
Well, at least Jesus showed His true colors to James, John, and Peter. The garments Jesus was wearing became glowingly, radiantly white, — whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them, the text says. The disciples were witnessing Jesus in His great glory, they were witnessing for a brief span of time what heaven would be like! They were also able to see and hear the great prophets Moses and Elijah. You talk about an awesome mountaintop experience!!!
Many of our youth over the years, when they came home after a week at Camp Lone Star, would talk about their stay in terms of a mountaintop experience, and that they didn’t want to come home.
For my wife, many of the LWML Zone Retreats at Caney Creek Orchard were exhilarating mountaintop experiences, and coming back to everyday life was a comedown. Yet, we have to come down from the mountain. When the disciples came down from the mountain, they were going to face some of the most challenging, frightening happenings of their life.
Charles Laymon talks about the “moral content” of true worship. After experiencing an incredible “high” in a person’s worship experience, and then, after all of the emotion has fled away, there should be a strength and a renewal that remains inside of you, which will see you through the worst of times. There is more to true worship than feeling and emotion. Of course, there is nothing wrong with feeling and emotion, in that it can help lift you up to the peak of the mountain, so that what remains after the high moments are gone will serve you well.
One pastor tells about a family who attended a week-long retreat at a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. At the end of the week, not a single member of the family wanted to leave; they all wanted to stay at the camp.
Before they left, they expressed their feelings to one of the camp counselors, who said to them, “We all need, in our lives, mountaintop experiences. But there comes a time in everyone’s life when they must come down off the mountain and live among plain, everyday people. We all would rather remain on the mountain. We feel so good about life while we are on the mountain. And, of course, it is often so difficult and frustrating and annoying to live with the folks down at the bottom of the mountain. We must thank God for the mountaintop experiences as it helps us with everyday living.”
The counselor’s words helped the family to return to the valley below, as did the mountaintop experience itself. So it did for the disciples. So it will for you, too.
A new church made up of young adults was organized in a city, and for a while, they rented a school gymnasium on Sundays for their worship services. Eventually, they were able to rent an old, old church no longer used by anybody. Even though a bit rundown, it had stained-glass windows, beautiful frescos of Biblical scenes on the high ceiling and ornate altar work.
The pastor and the officers of the church, who were afraid that this young adult congregation would prefer the gymnasium, were surprised to find the members loved it. Being in this old sanctuary had a transforming effect on the young worshippers. They felt drawn into the Holy. They had a sense of the Holy, a sense they were in a Holy place, something not felt in the gym.
The disciples in the text had a mountain peak with a stunning view, they had a Savior who was glowing whiter than white, they could see Moses and Elijah, and they could hear the Heavenly Father’s voice. They had a sense of the Holy, a sense they were in a Holy place.
Just as it is true there must be something deeper than mere feelings and emotions in genuine worship, and something greater than crucifixes and beautiful stained-glass windows in genuine worship, it is also true that such things are powerful aids which help worshippers have a sense of the Holy. Whatever can help us experience the presence of Almighty God in worship is a good thing, whether it’s the thundering of an organ, the strumming of a guitar, or the ringing of an ancient church bell. We need to be able to take the sense of the Holy with us when we leave God’s house to serve us in the briar patches of life.
The purpose of worship is more than presenting information about God, it is more about transformation by God. Jesus was transformed from His humanness to the startling glory of His divineness. The disciples were transformed from confused followers to followers with greater insight. As believers, we are transformed into servants who reflect God’s glory. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
No doubt about it, the Transfiguration was a peak experience. From it, Jesus received confirmation from the Heavenly Father and affirmation from Moses and Elijah. The disciples who accompanied Jesus received new insight about the Lord. And it brings us the assurance that we will be more than just hearers of the Word, but that we will also be transformed by the glory Jesus earned for us on the cross. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.