28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men who stood with him.
33 Just as the men were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met Jesus.
38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of glory,
Your brilliance illumines our lives
and sometimes we struggle to be
the people you have called us to be.
As we make our ways through
mountains and valleys, walk with us.
Transfigure and transform our hearts again this morning,
Help us to reflect your light in our lives.
Help us reflect your love in our world
I had my first taste in the Summer of 2000. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I knew I had to have more. I was hooked.
I could have had it again in the same way 3 years later, in the Summer of 2003, but opted to try it in a little different form. This way was even better! So I would do it again and again and again, 3 years in between each time. 2006…2009…I had to miss 2012, but I was able to pick it up again in 2015 and 2018…
It’s not hyperbole to say that the ELCA Youth Gathering is a fundamental cornerstone of my faith story. I was blessed to attend in 2000 as a participant, and while I was eligible to go as a participant again in 2003, I opted to try serving in a volunteer capacity that year, and in each subsequent Gathering year, as a Hotel Life or Community Life volunteer, and then later as an adult chaperone. My experiences of the ELCA Youth Gathering have fundamentally shaped my view and my experience of God, that it will be one of my singular missions as Pastor for as long as I serve, to do everything I can to help our young people attend the Gathering as they are able.
We would have been scheduled to go again in 2021, which got postponed to this year, 2022. And through a confluence of really unfortunate events, some of which were outside of the organization’s control, the Gathering team made the difficult decision to cancel the Youth Gathering for this cycle. But not to fear, because we’ll pick it back up again in 2024.
And I absolutely plan to be there. With our high schoolers.
When we get a taste of, when we glimpse, an experience of the mountaintop, our very natural reaction is to want to have that same experience again and to share it with others.
(*again*) When we have a mountaintop experience…our very natural reaction is to want to have that experience again and to share that experience with others.
The problem is…rarely are two mountaintop experiences the same, and rarely is the same event experienced the same way by two different people. And…if all we do is chase mountaintop experiences…where does that leave us in the inevitable in-between times and the valleys of our lives?
Peter’s reaction is so understandable and so typical of us… “Rabbi…permit us to build 3 dwellings here…one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter, James, and John are literally standing in the embodied presence of God, they are literally looking God in the face…of course Peter wants to preserve and memorialize this moment. This moment is so beautiful, so perfect, so unimaginable…there’s no way this moment can simply be relegated to only a memory…”Teacher, we want to preserve this experience, bottle it up, take it with us.”
The heartbreaking thing about mountaintop experiences is that they seem to happen so rarely and yet they make us feel so good. How cruel is it then, that those experiences are so fleeting?
What I appreciate about the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration is that none of the authors let us dwell very long on top of this mountain. Perhaps more than the others, the author of Luke moves right on from the Transfiguration to coming down off of the mountain onto the healing of this young boy possessed by a demon. The call and the work…ministry…waits for no one. We have to get down off of this mountain because the mission continues, there is healing to be realized, work to be done, sight to be restored, and liberation to be proclaimed. Ministry must continue.
It’s one of the things you’ll hear from our own Danny Sigmon in just a few moments. As we claw our way through and out of this pandemic, God-willing, and we’re careful not to put things back in exactly the same way as they were before, the truth is, as we look to restart and reimagine ministries here at New Hope, we need your help to do it. It’s why for our Annual Stewardship Campaign we called it Reigniting Hope, and it’s why, along with a pledge card for your annual offering commitments, we also included a pledge card for how you’ll be involved with ministry at New Hope this year. The intention is to take time in discernment, to think on and pray about the gifts and abilities and time and resources God has blessed you with, and then to commit to offering those in tangible way to serving others and serving each other. Your gifts are needed here, church, to help ministry happen. We simply cannot do it without you. Ministry must and does continue, as it always has.
But don’t discount the sustaining power of mountaintop experiences.
As Peter rightly notes, “Teacher, it is good for us to be here.” Yes, Peter, it’s very good to be there, in the presence of Christ. And not just in the presence of Jesus, your Rabbi that you’ve been following around for a year or two at this point, but in the presence of Christ whose likeness is reflecting brilliantly the glory and majesty of God. A brilliant likeness, by the way, that is reflected in every single living thing that God has ever created. As St. Paul will remind us in 2 Corinthians, “All of us…are being transformed into that very same image from one degree of glory to another.” Every single beloved child reflects the very same radiance and brilliance that shone forth from Christ’s face. You…me…your neighbor…the oppressed, the marginalized, our LGBTQIA2+ siblings, especially our trans* siblings this week, Ukrainians, Russians, refugees, immigrants, indigenous people…there is not one single person on earth that isn’t made in God’s very own image and that doesn’t reflect God’s magnificent glory.
What Peter witnessed on top of that mountain is the same so many of us remember about our mountaintop experiences, the same so many of us hope to witness in the mountaintop experiences to come—God’s glory come to earth…the brilliant and moving image of God’s very self standing right in front of us.
That’s what it is for you about mountaintop experiences, right? They’re memorable and you long for them because if even for just a fleeting moment you have seen God. The same light that was called into being when the foundations of the world were being laid, the same brilliance that was called “very good,” is staring you in the face and it’s the most wonderful thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.
It’s why we chase them, these mountaintop experiences. It’s why we want more of them. It’s why we long for them. It’s why it pains us to wrestle with the reality that the entirety of our lives isn’t lived on top of that mountain. Because it is good to be there. It is good to behold the glory and power of God.
So how do we reconcile our very real and very good experiences on top of the mountain with the truth and reality of our lives that there are valleys, that all of life isn’t lived on the mountaintop?
What if we reframed our experiences of beholding the glory and majesty of God? What if instead of only on the mountaintops, we strove to see the image and likeness of God in every single person we encounter?
The good news, church, is that Jesus doesn’t stay on top of that mountain. Jesus descends with Peter and James and John and they get right back to the ministry to which they are called. But they are not the same as they were before. It is the transfigured Christ who goes with them. The glory of God and their experience of God’s majesty journey with them.
And so it is for us.
The transfigured, brilliant, shining-with-the-glory-and-majesty-of-God Jesus journeys with us. Up the mountain, down the mountain, on the plain, in the rough places, through the smooth patches, and especially into our valleys.
Whether your heart is in Ukraine today. Or with relatives in Russia. Or with a servicemember stationed in Eastern Europe… Whether your heart is at MD Anderson today. Or Houston Methodist. Or Memorial Hermann. Or wrestling with decisions about hospice… Whether your heart is breaking for your beloved friends and family who are trans*—who, again, unequivocally, are bearers of God’s divine image and who brilliantly radiate the transfigured glory of God. Or with friends and family who are struggling to get the resources they need. Or behind on their rent. Or struggling with the rising cost of food. Or wrestling with what your children or grandchildren are hearing in school—from bullies, from friends, from caretakers…
Wherever you are today…Christ is walking with you.
As we prepare to enter into our Lenten pilgrimage…as we continue in our Capital Campaign Building on Hope…as we discern the ministry to which God is calling us as New Hope Lutheran…this is where I’m drawing immense comfort. It’s where I implore you to seek comfort and refuge.
God has not abandoned God’s people. God does not abandon God’s people.
Mountains…valleys…and every place in between…
Yes, this journey down the mountain will ultimately take Jesus to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the cross…but the journey does not end there. Because it will ultimately take Jesus to the tomb and through death to the glorious and brilliant joy of Easter. This journey does not end in a valley…but rather in resurrection. And in transformation.
And as we travel with Jesus, remember that we, too, are being changed as we journey…being transformed into the very same image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another, through the Spirit of God.
So we journey with faith.
We journey with hope.
We journey with Christ.