Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 26, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon Theme: “Do We Have to Come Down from the Mountain?”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Short’s The Gospel According to Peanuts; Footnotes, Concordia Self-Study Bible)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
So Jesus takes his three best friends, Peter, James, and John, to the top of a high mountain where they meet up with Moses and Elijah, — that’s how Matthew starts to tell the story of the Transfiguration. It almost sounds like the start of a joke, — like, “Did you hear the one where three nuns and a penguin walk into a bar? . . .” It has all the elements of a joke: there’s a normal setting (a mountain), the people you’d expect (Jesus, Peter, James, and John), — and then there’s the kicker: Moses and Elijah!
It’s got to be a joke. Those things don’t go together. Just like three nuns and a penguin don’t go together, four New Testament leaders of the Way don’t join two Old Testament prophets on top a mountain. So you wonder what’s the punch line, — but there isn’t a punch line, because this isn’t a joke. In fact, it’s one of the most serious activities Jesus has involved his disciples in thus far.
This very serious activity, the Transfiguration, took place for three reasons: ONE, it was to reveal the glory of the Son of God, a glory now hidden, but to be revealed fully when Christ returns at the End of Times; TWO, to serve as proof of the difficult-to-understand teachings of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi; and THREE, to uplift the disciples, to give them a shot in the arm, so to speak, after learning that Jesus would suffer and die in Jerusalem.
The Transfiguration took place on a high mountain near Caesarea Philippi, so, even though the Bible doesn’t specify, we think it was Mount Hermon (which is near Caesarea Philippi). You see, in the previous chapter to our text, it was in the region of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They had replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” Jesus asked, “who do you say I am?” It is there and at that point Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So, you see there was still confusion on the part of the people and on the part of the disciples about who Jesus was and what His mission was. And, even though, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter strongly confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God incarnate, the disciples were still feeling down, — how could the true, incarnate Son of God be tortured and crucified?
Here, on the mountain, Peter, James, and John are getting first hand proof of the divinity and glory of Jesus, as “Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light,” and they got to meet the great Moses and Elijah! Then, to top it off, they hear the voice of God the Father from the clouds saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.” Triple wow!!! What a mountaintop experience for the three disciples! One they will never forget!
What a disappointing experience it must have been to go back down that mountain and back to the ordinary daily grind of life! All of us have experienced at least one mountaintop experience in life, haven’t we? And it was such a let- down when it was over, wasn’t it? The mountaintop experience of your wedding day, — or even the beautiful, exciting, grand wedding service and reception of your daughter’s wedding day! Graduation from college followed by an exuberant party with family and friends! The excitement of your first major job!
Great mountaintop experiences! But what happened when you came back down the mountain? The responsibilities of marriage challenged your patience and drained your energy. The graduation party is followed by having to get a job, getting up at 6 a.m. every morning, and fighting city traffic to the office! The great promotion at your job is followed by the devastating effects of the Peter Principle of being promoted to your highest level of incompetence!
No wonder we want to stay on the top of the mountain, and never go back down where the vicissitudes and struggles of life pull us down even farther. That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t seek to have mountaintop experiences. Every woman, for example, needs to go to something like an awesome Christian retreat to re-ignite the glow from God’s love flowing out from your sisters-in-Christ, lifting your faith up to the highest level ever. No matter how high the mountain, how beautiful the retreat center, you have to go back home, — you couldn’t afford the cost of staying there for a month! And, of course, your husband is missing you.
I love the Peanuts cartoon, where Lucy is sitting on the curb, looking down in the dumps, with Charlie Brown sitting near her. She says to Charlie, “Sometimes I get discouraged.”
Charlie looks at her and says, “Well, Lucy, life does have its ups and downs, you know . . .”
Lucy jumps up and shouts, “But why? Why SHOULD it?! Why can’t my life be all “UPS”? If I want all ‘ups,’ why can’t I have them?”
She turns to Charlie and continues shouting, “Why can’t I just move from one ‘up’ to another ‘up’? Why can’t I just go from and ‘up’ to an ‘UPPER-UP’?”
Charlie looks dumb-founded, as Lucy continues even louder than before, “I DON’T WANT ANY ‘DOWNS’! I JUST WANT ‘UPS’ AND ‘UPS’ AND ‘UPS’!”
Charlie walks away from her, gasping, “I can’t stand it . . . .”
I guess we have to admit that deep down in our hearts, we all kind of feel like Lucy — that’s exactly why we need Jesus all of the time! And the good news is that we do have Jesus all the time. By grace through faith, He lives in us, His Holy Spirit works for us! What Lucy, and, sometimes, what WE don’t get is, even when we come down the mountain, Jesus is still with us, just as He was with Peter, James, and John when they came back down the mountain. He is with us even when the vicissitudes and the struggles of life show up.
I have always loved beautiful yards, alive and vibrant, with flowers of all colors and descriptions blooming. That’s why going to Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island was a mountaintop experience for me. The flowers were so beautiful and so profuse, the experience almost made me faint!
I’m not able to travel anymore, so that’s a mountaintop I will never experience again. But, you know, God gave me a very talented wife who keeps our backyard planted with vine-ing roses, firecracker plants, verbena, different kinds of lilies, nasturtiums, irises, etc., along with potted plants; and God has enabled me to see the great beauty in our rather small backyard.
In a like manner, on those many, many days at the foot of the spiritual mountain here at St. Paul’s, God enables us to experience His life-changing presence even in the ordinariness of the pages 5 and 15 services, through participation in the monologues of Advent and Lent, by the uplifting sounds of the organ and the guitar, through our Sunday School lessons and our Bible class, by sharing together the joy of Baptisms and even the sorrow of funerals, and during fellowship time, the laughter-filled conversations and the encouragements spoken to one another while sipping coffee and nibbling on cakes and cobblers.
While Mission Festivals and Retreats take us up the mountain, God enables us to experience our regular activities down below as joyful times of our life together in Christ. In our simple life together here as the Body of Christ, we are uplifted because we know who Christ is, what He does for us, how He restores us, renews us, and keeps us going even through the vicissitudes and the struggles. We know that He loves us so much He went to the Cross for us, and because we know Him so well, we obey the Father’s voice from Heaven, “Listen to Him.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.