Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
You may have noticed that the theme of the lessons we’ve heard this morning is mountain top experiences. Biblical storytellers and their listeners clearly loved mountaintop stories. This morning we heard about -
On the last Sunday in Epiphany every year we hear Transfiguration story.
It acts as transition moment - connecting us to both past and future:
The transfiguration experience takes place at a very difficult time for disciples:
Matthew tells us it occurred “six days later”. Six days before this, according to Matthew’s chronology, a set of confusing, troubling interactions occurred:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus’ prophecy didn’t fit Peter’s understanding of things, and Peter objected, earning a rebuke from Jesus, who called Peter “Satan”, telling Peter to “get behind” him, calling Peter a “stumbling block”.
And then six days later, he took them up the mountain.
The Sinai revelation to Moses took place as people of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, were most uncertain about where they were headed.
Transfiguration happened at a moment when disciples needed reassurance amidst their confusion and fear of the future.
In both cases, the mountaintop experience offered them a feeling, a vision they could hold onto, to sustain them in challenging times that lay ahead. As they faced Gethsemane and Good Friday, Peter, James, & John knew they had seen the face of God in Jesus, and that in Jesus, God was well-pleased.
Life is probably always uncertain, but the moment that we’re living in probably always feels the most troubling, and certainly there is lots to trouble us in these days of 2020.
It seems to me that three instructions included in Transfiguration story can speak to us in these moments of uncertainty:
To all these different fears, both then and now, the Gospel reply is the same: because God is God of the past, present, and future, we need not fear. This is not the same as saying that we will have no problems, or that with God we will avoid harm and hardship. Jesus’ and the disciples ARE heading toward Jerusalem, after all. The moment of joy and understanding that Peter would love to preserve by building shelters and remaining on the mountaintop will pass, just as our moments of knowing that we have caught fleeting glimpses of God also pass away.
The command not to be afraid reminds us that God did not create us for death but for resurrection, and so also God does not want us to be afraid, but rather, to move forward – even and especially in uncertain times – moving forward with courage and confidence.
Listen to him. Be raised up. Do not fear. It’s important to remember that these words are said about and by Jesus as he refuses to linger on the mountain top but comes back down again into the realities of the world – our world – as he makes his way to Jerusalem. There he will be tried, condemned, and crucified, for the world has no place for the encouragement and hope he offers. But the story does not end with the courage of one man defying the world. It continues with the promise that God raised this Jesus from the dead so that all of us might have hope that there is more to this life than we can see, that God will be with us every step of our way, and that love and life are stronger than hate and death. Amen.
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