Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 26, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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And after six days, Jesus took along Peter and James and John, his brother, and led them up onto a high mountain by themselves. And he was changed before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, and they were talking with him. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, then I will make three booths: one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” And while he was speaking, behold a bright cloud enveloped them, and behold a voice from the cloud said, “He is my son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” And when the disciples heard they fell upon their faces, and they were very much afraid. And Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise and don’t be afraid.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus by himself.
And as they were going down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Don’t tell anyone the vision until the son of man from death might be raised.
Remember, oh, about a month ago; during worship, we remembered the baptism of Christ, and I told you every year, on the first Sunday after Epiphany, if you follow the lectionary, you focus on exactly the same thing. Well, on the last Sunday after Epiphany, you know, the one right before we enter Lent and start looking toward Easter, we do the same thing, only this time it’s with the transfiguration, that time Jesus went up to the top of the mountain and was changed right there in front of God and everybody and then started talking to Moses and Elijah, who actually looked pretty good, especially considering the fact that they’d both been dead for quite a while. But you know, it’s really kind of neat, the way this works out. I mean, the season of Epiphany starts with a voice from heaven saying, “He is my son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased” and ends with that same voice saying, “He is my son, the beloved one, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
And like I said, for years, I used this story to kind of warn people about this stuff, and I’ll tell you why. Not only did I believe mountaintops can tempt folks to try to escape or ignore the often harsh realities in the real world, I’ve also known some very dedicated believers who seem to spend their entire lives trying to recreate something they experienced at church camp when they were in high school. And I’ll tell you, if you spend your life looking backwards, it’s pretty hard to move forward. And so, when preaching the transfiguration, I’d generally remind the people that although being on a mountain may be nice and fun for a while, life is lived in the valley below. It’s sort of like cotton candy: it tastes good but you wouldn’t be very healthy if that’s all you had. In other words, I preached that all this stuff can make us so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good. Now, in a nutshell, that was my view of the top.
But you know, in the last, oh, I’d say six months or so, I’ve been rethinking mountaintops in general, you know, the kind of experiences we’ve been talking about this morning, and in particular, what happened to those disciples at the transfiguration, and I’ll tell you why. I can’t see any reason why mountaintop experiences couldn’t do for us the same thing they did for Peter and James and John. I mean, I don’t see why they can’t refocus our attention and remind us of our savior and then return us to our world, refreshed, renewed and ready to do the things God has called us to do. And that’s why I’m rethinking mountaintops, but let me explain.
And second, I’m telling you, they can also remind us of the one we call savior, and of course I’m talking about Jesus Christ. I mean, it’s when we’re on the mountaintop, when we’re closest to God, it’s then we can share the experience of those disciples. For example, when we’re quiet, in prayer or meditation, that we can get a glimpse of his glory, a glory that shone from his face at transfiguration and that we can see when we remember the life he lived and the love he showed. But not only that, I think we can also know his importance, because not only is he still above every other lawgiver and prophet in human history, I’m telling you, that voice from the cloud still speaks, it speaks right to us, it still interrupt what we’re saying and tells us to listen to him, to listen to the beloved son of God, to listen to what he taught and preached, lessons and sermons we can find right here in the Bible, if we take the time to look and follow. Man, we can be reminded of the glory and the importance, but again, that’s not all. We can also feel his care. You know, it’s amazing, in the passage we read, when those disciples were down on their faces, trembling with fear, Jesus went to them, and he “...touched them and said, ‘Arise and don’t be afraid.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus by himself.” And brothers and sisters, the same is can be true for us. Regardless of what we face, Jesus still comes and he still touches and he still comforts. And you know, if this is something you’ve never experienced, maybe it’s time to seek out that mountaintop, because it’s up there that we’re reminded of just how great our savior is. And for me, that’s the second reason they’re important.
And finally, in a very real way, since it can help us refocus and then remind us of the one we serve, the mountaintop actually prepares us to return to the real world, and I’m talking about returning to lives that are crammed full of stress. You know, in one aspect, my view hasn’t changed at all: we just can’t live on the top of the mountain all the time. And Jesus must have known that, because at the end of the passage we read, Matthew wrote, “And as they were going down from the mountain...” No, coming down is just a part of living. But you as we follow Jesus down, well, I don’t think we’ll be the same people who went up. I mean, no matter how crazy things get in our lives, and let’s face it, they can get pretty crazy, I don’t think we’re not going to forget what’s really important. In other words, we’ll come back with a renewed appreciation of both the gifts and the giver. And I also don’t think we’ll be able to push aside the glory and the importance and the care of the savior who’s love we may have never fully appreciated before. And then, having been refocused and reminded, we just might be different people, ready to not only face the junk that comes up in each and every life, but able to help others cope and maybe even find their own path to the top of the mountain. And that’s the third reason they’re important, at least to me.