February 11, 2018 – White Bluff Presbyterian Church
When we read a story like this from the Bible, it can come across as just another story from a story book. We already know before we read it that Jesus did some things that other people don’t do. We already know that he had some followers who watched him do those things. The Bible is full of stories like this one, one after another after another. But when we slow down to really see what was going on, we can see that this little scene was filled with big drama. We can use our imaginations. We can try to see the events in the way the disciples saw them, and feel them the way the disciples felt them.
Just imagine. The disciples had already seen and heard some pretty amazing things from Jesus. They had seen him heal countless people, one after another, of all kinds of sicknesses and disabilities. They had seen him cast out demons: those people who had come up to him babbling and frothing and cursing were, all in an instant, emptied of all of that wild hatred and freed to be calm and to rest for the first time in years. They had seen him give food to a hungry crowd, and they had seen him walk by night across the surface of the sea.
Their minds were filled with the memory of all that they had seen and heard from Jesus. It was a pretty incredible set of events. But still, did they really understand what they had seen? I don’t know. I have been through stretches of time that seem so full of new experiences and new love and new power that I have not been able to make sense of them while I was in the midst of them. All I could do was to experience what I was going through, to live through it and to take it in, but not to make sense of it. Sometimes, those have been times of great awe, like vacations to beautiful places. Sometimes, they have been times of great difficulty, like times of loss and of grief. They are times when the world has shifted a little bit, and they are impossible to understand while I am living through them.
One day, Jesus took three of them and led them on a hike up a mountain. Our Scouts here ought to be able to imagine such a hike: outdoors, maybe among trees or maybe just among some scrub brush, but anyway, not much able to pay attention to the details around you because you want to keep moving up the hill, along the trail. They took a little break, and all of a sudden, everything changed. “He was transfigured before them,” Mark says. His clothes dazzled with an impossible brightness. No one had ever seen anything like it. Can you imagine what that felt like for the disciples? Then, two figures were standing with him, and it’s not like Jesus paused for a moment and made introductions. They just somehow knew: these were the heroes of the olden times. They had heard the stories over and over again about these men: Moses, who had led the people out of Egypt, where they were trapped as slaves, and Elijah, who had commanded fire to come down and show the people that God is in charge.
None of them had ever seen anything like it. So what was it? It was these figures from the past. It was a shining. But really, it was simply another vision of the glory of God. That was all they had been seeing all along. God’s power was at work in everything they had seen. God’s love was evident in all that they had experienced. Maybe they had understood that, and maybe they hadn’t. This was a moment when it was unmistakable. Jesus was a part of that power of God and that love of God which they had been witnessing ever since Jesus had invited them to be his disciples.
Have you ever seen the glory of God? I don’t know all of you personally, so I might be wrong, but I am going to guess that you have not seen exactly what those disciples saw that day when Jesus was transfigured before them with an impossible light. But I think all of us have probably seen the glory of God. We might just not have recognized it in the moment. We see God’s glory all around us. We see God in what God created, in the moments when we stand still and recognize the profound beauty of our world. We see God the Creator in the colors of the sunrise, in the trees which dwarf us and the flowers which open up our souls a little bit. We see Jesus’ love as we watch children in their exuberance, and when that gets to be too much, we see Jesus’ love in watching those same children grow and learn and discover and develop into remarkable people. We see the support of God’s Spirit in the community of fellow travelers which surround us, as we help each other to face the challenges of being parents and students and teachers and workers and spouses and friends. In the moment, we cannot always recognize that we are looking at God, because a lot of those moments are hard to make sense of. But they are the moments when the world shifts a little bit, and whether we understand them at the time or not, they are no less moments of glory that that moment on the hilltop when Jesus was shining impossibly bright.
The question is not whether we see God’s glory. The question is what are we going to do about it? The three companions Jesus had brought up the mountain with him bumbled around a bit. Peter took the lead; he sputtered out a suggestion that they build three shrines of sorts to honor the holy men standing in front of them. They wanted to do something: to set up structures that they could stand back and look at and point to and show that they had accomplished something that honored the great people standing in front of them.
Peter’s suggestion didn’t get very far; he really just blurted out the first thing that came into his mind. He didn’t really know what else to say, Mark tells us. Peter and his companions were clumsy, understandably so, given what they were seeing, but they were onto something. They wanted to do something. They wanted to build a space where they could just be in the presence of the glory of God as it shone through Jesus and the men standing with him. What God wanted them to do was not necessarily to assemble a set of structures so that they could feel like they accomplished something.
But God did want them to do was to honor Jesus. Suddenly, a voice came from the sky: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” How do you honor Jesus? What do you do when you see God’s glory? How do you react when the world shifts a little bit, and maybe you don’t even understand what is going on, but you know it is something? You pause, you create a space in your life, and in that space, you simply listen to Jesus. You listen to whatever he wants to tell you about how God wants you to live. You listen to whatever he wants to show you, whether it is the miracle of healing or the miracle of walking on water or the miracles of God’s glory that you see each and every day but you do not notice or understand in the moment. You set aside all of your own cares and concerns, your day-in-and-day-out routines. And you put your attention to God, and to God’s presence, and to God’s glory.
We call that worship. Worship is a time set aside not to accomplish anything that we can see and touch, but to put ourselves out of the center of our lives and instead to put God at the center. Worship is a time to remember God’s glory, to hear testimony of God’s strength and God’s love. Worship is a time to sing of God’s amazing grace, how sweet that sounds: to admit that we get lost sometimes, but that, by the miracle of God’s presence and the light of God’s glory, we are found. Worship is a time to gather with others, to tell God’s stories with others, to pray with others, to look for God’s glory together with others, so that we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
There was a time in the church’s recent history when all people did was to come to worship. It was where everyone came, and while they were in worship, they made their business connections, they showed off their fancy clothes, and they were there to see and be seen. Rightfully so, preachers and church leaders started telling folks that it was not enough just to come to worship. If you sit in worship on Sunday but don’t let God’s word change you for Monday through Saturday, you are missing the point. More than just worshipping, the church needs to be about the business of serving people in tangible ways. And all of that is true. The church is not the church if we are not serving people in tangible ways. But I am afraid that the message might have gone too far. Now, we have a lot of people who work hard at serving people, but who never feel the need to worship. That is not their fault; they were taught that worship is not important.
I am here to say today that worship is important, too. I am here to say that we need a time to remember God’s glory, to hear testimony of God’s strength, and to sing of God’s amazing grace. I am here to say that we honor Jesus by pausing at least once a week, by creating a space in our lives, and by simply listening to God. I am here to say that there is no question that we see God’s glory all around us, and that what God wants us to do about that fact that we are witnesses to God’s glory is not only to do something, to accomplish something, to build something we can point to and say, “see, I am honoring God!” What God also wants us to do is to worship God, to get ourselves out of the center of our lives and to put God at the center. And from that space we have here to put God at the center, we can go out to work hard at serving people in gratitude for the glimmers of God’s glory which we see.
The question is not whether we see God’s glory. The question is what we are going to do about it. My prayer this morning is that we will simply do as God commanded those disciples to do on that mountaintop that day: to pay attention to Jesus. My prayer is that we will respond to the impossible brightness of God’s light, to the beauty of God’s creation, to the love of Christ’s guidance, and to the support of God’s Spirit, by setting aside time to put God at the center.
May it be so. Amen.