Luke 9:29–31

(29) As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed,
and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. (30) Two men,
Moses and Elijah, (31) appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.
They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to
fulfillment at Jerusalem.

 

Opening Prayer:

Come Holy Spirit:
Come as the wind and cleanse;
Come as the fire and burn;
Convict—convert—consecrate our lives, to our great good and your greater glory.
In the name of the living God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

For one reason or another most of us always seem to be at a point of
transition. We live in a world of transformation. New this, improved
that, reforming and retuning who we are and what we are about at every
opportunity.

Throughout humanity, in almost every culture known to us, there is
a striving for good, better, best. Throughout society there is a longing for a validation of our most
meager enterprise. Throughout our lives there is a yearning for an acceptance, a
success and a connectedness that is thought to be our confidence and our
peace. Often we are not satisfied with who we are, or what we are about.

Often we want to make a change, and often a change needs to be made.
So we search for that elusive Shangri-la that is “the right place for
me.” We search for that place, or that special thing, which will
miraculously change our life for the better. Our search takes us to what seems to be a continuous point of
transition. We seem to be always caught midway between that which we
are, and that which we would like to be. Before I continue, please
understand that this transition does not necessarily represent negative
aspirations.

On the contrary, it is precisely because women and men of faith and
honor have not been content to rest in the safe harbors of life, that
justice and righteousness have not been put on the shelf of antiquity,
but are still the active ingredients of a just society and a world
moving toward reunion with its creator, even in spite of the all too
real conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel and Lebanon, the Darfur
and Mozambique as well as all over this country. So we turn to the
gospel reading that you just heard. My text this morning is taken from
the 9th chapter of Luke’s gospel beginning at the 29th verse.

 


As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his
clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. (30) Two men, Moses and
Elijah, (31) appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke
about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at
Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29–31)

 

This morning’s gospel highlights a point of transition in the life of
our Lord and in the lives of his followers. If we follow the gospel
narrative it had only been a week since Peter, speaking for those who
followed Jesus, acknowledged him as the Christ of God, the messiah, and
the deliverer, whom Israel had been awaiting for centuries. Imagine for
a moment what it must have been like for those who had given up
everything to follow Jesus.

We have it easy. There is no persecution for us. No minority status.
No sense of abandonment. No risk. Maybe that is our problem. Our faith
comes much too easy.

We have the advantage of knowing the reality of the life of Jesus. We
know what came of the long journey to Jerusalem and the cruel reality of
the cross.

We do not have to second-guess the meaning of the ministry of Jesus,
as the disciples must have done, especially during those final days and
hours in Jerusalem. Earlier in the 9th chapter of Luke we read that
Peter sees the reality of the life of Jesus.

 


“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say
I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke
9:20)

 

The confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ acts as an earthly
acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God. The setting apart of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration acts as
a divine ratification of his ministry. Before our Lord set his sights on
Jerusalem he needed the assurance, or the reassurance, that his part was
the correct one. So Jesus did what he always did when he needed the
confidence and strength to go on: he set himself apart from the crowd to
listen to the will of God.

For Jesus, prayer as communication with God was all-important.
Throughout the gospels we see that prayer always preceded the pivotal
events of the life of Christ: prolonged, sustained communication with
God. The highs and the lows of life were brought before the creator. So,
as Jesus was about to make his way to Jerusalem and the cross, he
sought “the approval of God for the decisive step he was about to
take.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 123). In
the silence of prayer the voice of God was clearly heard directing and
guiding him to his appointed task.

In the solitude of his retreat he was empowered to carry on the
legacy of Moses and Elijah, for he was the fulfillment of the law and
the prophets. So it was appropriate that Moses, the greatest of all the
lawgivers, and Elijah, the most prolific of the prophets, should see in
Jesus the very consummation of all they had hoped for Israel. In the
story of the transfiguration we see the full sweep of Israel’s salvation
history in the lives of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. For Jesus, and more
importantly, for us, all of history led up to Calvary.

This mountain event marked the point of transition—the point of
departure from the winding quest to bring Israel to a renewed awareness
of God, to the awesome prospect of sacrifice for the sins of the whole
world. But “it was as a result of the events on the mountain that Jesus
was assured that he had not chosen the wrong path. He saw, not only the
inevitability, but the essential rightness of the cross.” (William
Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, p. 245)

We are told that while Jesus was praying and communicating, the
disciples who accompanied him were trying to keep awake. But
wasn’t this what they had left home to find, that place where they
would have the opportunity to come face to face with their God?
Hadn’t Jesus told them? Hadn’t they listened? Or were they
still reeling from the sober words of Jesus concerning his mission in
Jerusalem? A few verses earlier in this same narrative Jesus had said,

 


The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the
elders, chief priests and teachers of the law and must be killed and on
the third day be raised to life. (Luke 9:22)

 

That was not the messianic description that Israel had been raised to
look for. This was not messianic symbolisms that had meaning for them,
other than to alarm and frighten them.

A close look at the gospel narrative will indicate that, for the
followers of Jesus, the days leading up to his experience on the
mountain had been confusing and challenging. They were not ready for the
changes that were about to take place. They were not ready for
Jerusalem. They, as we so often do, overlooked the glimpses of the holy that
were set before them. Yet the holiness of God comes shining through at
those times when we least expect it.

Peter, James, and John accompanied their friend to a mountaintop to
pray. And out of the prayer the glory of God came shining through to
anoint and sanctify our Lord’s ministry of reconciliation and
love. But the disciples were also affected, because they were in the
presence of the holy and they could do nothing else but be changed and
transformed by their experience. Peter James and John had followed Jesus
to the mountaintop, baffled and bewildered by his talk of separation in
Jerusalem.

Talk of separation and death is always uncomfortable, and always
heart-rending. Just talk with, or listen to, the families of the young women and men
of many nations and beliefs, being deployed daily to the ever increasing
areas of this war torn world and you will see the pain, concern and
anguish of God etched in their faces, as they pray for peace and a safe
return of their loved ones.

I imagine that for the disciples of Jesus the same fear and concern
was etched on their faces. They had heard the voice of God on the mountaintop, they had seen
Moses and Elijah, but they could not stay. They had to leave the safety and security of the mountaintop. They
were called to a higher task. They had to deal with the reality of the
cross as they made their way along the Galilean plane.

Yet for Peter, James and John, the solitude and silence of the
mountain was a chance to be away from the pull and tug of the masses
that wanted nothing more than a chance to be near Jesus. It was a chance to lay aside the talk of Jerusalem and death, at
least for a little while. What they witnessed on the mountain gave them something to hold on
to, even in the face of the death and the grave.

They had heard their Lord acknowledged as the son of God, and they
had been charged to do that which they had already done: to follow and
obey. In their brief time on the mountain they had been shown the glory of
Christ. No wonder Peter wanted to remain in that place; in the presence of
the holy. But that was not to be.

The theologian “A. H. McNeile has said, ‘the mountain of
transfiguration is always more enjoyable than the daily ministry or the
way of the cross.’ The events on the mountain only make sense for us insofar as they
provide strength and renewed courage to enable us to carry out Christ’s
ministry of reconciliation daily, away from the solitude and sanctity of
the mountain. ‘The moments of glory’ that we are privileged to encounter, those
little epiphanies ‘do not exist for their own sake; they exist to shower
the common points of life transition with a radiance they never had
before.’” (paraphrased, William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2,
p. 163)

And now a homework assignment! When you have a moment in your hectic
coming week, please read what happens when Jesus steps off of the
mountain. Read the remaining portion of the 9th chapter of Luke. Jesus’
first experience is to heal and help. Not to send out a press release
announcing his new status.

“The events in the life of our Lord stand alone, but we often have
the unexpected privilege of seeing some familiar, ordinary object or
occurrence assume, even if only for a moment, an altogether new and
glorious aspect. In such moments we know that the “transfiguration,” far
from hiding a {glorious} reality, is revealing it. We may have looked on
the person, object, or occurrence thousands of times before; now for the
first time we see it.” (Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 8, p. 173)

For our Lord, and for his disciples, the mountain experience acted as
the catalyst and transition for the glorious consummation of the earthly
ministry of Jesus. For us, it reminds us once again to set our eyes on Jerusalem and
Calvary. It is, for us, a guide to the transition that we must make as
we undertake the task of readying ourselves for our Lord’s great
sacrifice.

As we search our hearts, minds and souls for the clues that will
enable us to find the right place for each of us, let us be aware that
it is in those moments when we least expect it that we are most likely
to witness, in whatever measure may be possible for us, the glory of God
and experience, our own transfiguration.

Let us be open to the transitions of life that set us on the path of
reconciliation with God, and with humanity. And let us never rest content on the mountaintop, eager to escape the
world in order to remain close to God. For surely God is not confined to
the mountaintop. By word, and by deed, our Lord and savior has taught us
that to forsake the world and the children of God is to forsake God and
all that has been given to our care.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.