A Photo Op?
Peter was already feeling a bit sheepish when Jesus woke him up that morning. It had been six days since he had made Jesus upset and he had been keeping to himself since then. Usually the outgoing chatterbox of the disciples, this withdrawn and solitary Peter made the other disciples nervous. The didn’t like what Jesus had been saying, and now his reaction to Peter had them on edge.
Six days ago Jesus had been talking about how he was going to die, and of course – none likes to hear that kind of talk, especially from someone they admire and love. But Jesus had begun this death talk and it was unnerving. When Peter finally spoke up and said what they all had been thinking, Jesus rebuked him calling him Satan and telling him we wasn’t setting his mind on God’s things, but on human things. Then Jesus called everyone near him that had been following him – the large crowd – and began telling them that in order to be a disciple needs to abandon themselves and take up their own crosses and follow him. And as the crowd heard these words they began to buzz with questions, looking toward Peter – knowing he would ask what they wanted, but Peter wasn’t near Jesus. Peter was in the back of the crowd. Lost.
So it was, when six days later that Jesus approached him and woke him up. “Get James and John and come with me.” Peter looked as him, sighed, and rolled over, ignoring Jesus. Jesus just tapped him on his shoulder and left, began looking for something to eat. Unable to get back to sleep, Peter threw off the blanket his mother-in-law had woven for him. He got up like a teenager being woken at 7 am on a Saturday, went over to James and John. Kicked each of them in the shoulders to wake them. “Come on. He wants us to do something.”
The three fishers of people went over to the food grabbed some bread, saw Jesus and went toward him. As they approached, he got up and began walking toward the path that lead to the top of the mountain whose base had been their camp for the night. Petulant, the three just stood there wondering why he wanted them to wake up if he was just going to leave them. Sensing their attitudes, Jesus stopped. Turned around, “Well, come on,” he said.
The three began to follow just as they had that day at the sea of Galilee when he first called them. They couldn’t explain why they followed. Peter was still mad at him, James and John were still half asleep, but when he called the only thing they could do was answer.
Jesus waited as they approached. And as they got to where he was, Peter made sure James and John stood between he and the teacher. Afraid that he might do something he wold regret later.
In silence the four made their way to the mountain top. The trees began to recede and the air got thin. By the time they made it to the top it was mid-day. Even though there were high above, the thinness of the air and the aridness of the desert caused their throats to burn and their heads to begin to spin. As they situated themselves at the summit, Jesus told them to wait there and he went off and began to pray. Grateful they had grabbed extra food the three began to prepare lunch. Some fish and bread, leftovers that seem to not go bad. They began to eat, their senses regained, they waited for Jesus to return. As they conversed there was a wind that began to stir, worried a storm was approaching the three ran to where Jesus was and immediately fell to their faces.
There a light exploded. And Jesus seemed floating above the ground. Light radiating from him. Not reflecting off him, but coming from him. His clothes, brown with dust and sweat had become whiter than anything they could explain. No one could clean something to be this dazzling white. And into this light they saw two silhouettes. Terrified they watched as the shadows grew. They began to take shapes of men. Strangers they did not know, faces they had not seen, but as their mouths began to speak they knew there on the mountain, shinning in that divine light were the law and the prophets – there on either side of Jesus were Moses and Elijah.
This was the presence of the divine on the mountain. All the feeling of anger had disappeared from Peter. The shame he felt. The harbored rage that he was so rejected by his teacher left him and he, unsure what to say knew he had to say something. “Teacher, It is so good for us to be here. To see this glory. To see you glorified. Let us build tents here so that we can stay.”
Then in the silence of the wind came a voice that rattled their bones. A voice that was not Jesus’. A voice that came not from the law or the prophets, but a voice that came through them all. That they had all encounter bellowed in the silences, “This is my son. The beloved. Listen to him.”
In a second that seemed like an eternity, all he had said flooded their hearts. “To become a disciple one needs to take up their cross and follow me.” Holy terror and joy flooded their souls. And when they looked up, they saw Jesus alone. In silence they made their way down the mountain. As they neared the camp Jesus stopped, “Tell no one of this until I have risen from the dead.”
They began to discuss amongst themselves what this meant. Until he rises from the dead, and Jesus explained.
“It is good for us to be here.” Peter’s response to the miraculous event the transfiguration. “It is good for us to be here, let me put up tents.” Let me hold on to this feeling. Let me remain here in your glory. Isn’t this only the natural response to such a holy moment? Who would want to leave the mountain after seeing something so glorious? I mean, really, Jesus, Elijah, and Moses! It is really couldn’t get much better than that, and then add to it the voice of God and a dazzling light show. You would have to be goofy to not want to stay. This was a touch of heaven!
“It is good for us to be here.” It is good for us to be in this place this day. To welcome two sisters into the baptismal life that is a follower of Jesus. It is good for us to be here. To be gathered with our friends and for some, our families. To be present in this holy place and this holy time.
It is good for us to be here. The thrill we get playing a gig that we know is pitch perfect. The joy in watching our child shine like a new born star as she dances across the stage. The giddiness we feel as we leave a conference that seems to set our lives back on the right course.
We all have been there, those high points. Those mountain top experiences. Those places when we can really say we have had an encounter with the Divine. Those place where we see God revealed in all of God’s glory and are able to touch heave.
Those moments draw us out of ourselves, they free us to see the world with new eyes. Like Peter, who climbed the mountain grumpy and angry, we come into these moments carrying the weight of all of our problems and responsibilities. We climb the to the top with a mountain of debt always in front of us. We climb to the top with the pain of family nipping at our heels. We climb to the top of the mountain – going we know not why, but we climb and when we get to the top we encounter something so transforming that those things do not become our idols, but our eyes are open to the one we worship. We come face to face with the one we praise. We fall down terrified, but ultimately freed. These encounters with the holy renew us and revive us. And we want take a picture. We want to never let this moment end. That joy we feel when we come up for that first breath after our baptisms. We want to never leave that moment. All that has been bothering us is forgotten, and we are freed.
But while we are there, like Peter and James and John, there is a voice that brings us comfort – we hear God’s word proclaimed. We eat the Lord’s Supper. We hear the divine voice, and it reminds us -“This is my son. The beloved.” and then the words that burn in our hearts “listen to him.”
“Listen to him.” Listen to what Jesus says. Just before taking the three to the mountain top, Jesus tells them that to be a disciple they must forget themselves and take up the cross and follow him.
Listen to him as he speaks a word that illuminates the Reign of God rather than the reign of people. Listen to him as he heals the deaf, so they may hear. Listen as he gives sight to the blind, so they may see. Listen to him.
The word of God reminds us to what we are called, and that is disciples. We are being called to leave the photo op of the mountain top behind and face the cross with Jesus. We are being called off the mountain top and back into the dark and scary places we are trying to avoid. When we listen to him, we are carried off the mountain and to the side of the sick, into the house of the hurting. When we listen to him, we are drawn out of ourselves and into the world as it is.
But here is the difference. Having been to the mountain top, we have come face to face with the glory of God. We have seen – we have experienced the transformation that happens at the transfiguration. We have had the opportunity to be in the divine presence – and instead of lamenting that we are leaving that behind we are given the power to move down the mountain. To leave the picture at the mountain top because it has been burned into our souls. We can come down the mountain and come face to face with the cross because we have been transfigured.
The cross is the place of death and darkness. It is the place of pain. The cross is not a pretty thing, but when we face it transfigured we see it not just as an instrument of death, but as thing of power. The cross is transfigured from an instrument of death to the gateway of life. Having been to the mountain to we can see. Listen to him.
Beloved, it is a wonderful and beautiful thing to be on the mountain top. To be engulfed in Glory. But it is easy to make an idol of that glory. To build up a theology of glory that sets us apart from the word. That beings to create an us vs. them world view. That begins to see us as better than. When we try to remain on the mountain are doing what we want to do. We are making it about ups and the good feelings. It is a wonderful thing to be on the mountain top, but the voice is telling us to listen to him. To take up the cross. To face the valleys with the promise that the glory we experienced on the mountain top will carry us through. To take up the cross and confess that there is something beautiful in humility, rather than bloviating hubris. When we confront the darkness we do so with the light of the mountain top burning in our souls. We are reminded that we face the cross not alone but with the very one who took on the cross himself. God come to us in human clothes. That is the power of the mountain top.
That we see the glory of God with us even in the dark.
When family disputes begin to nail you to the cross, the glory of the mountain top give you strength.
When the demon of addiction rears its ugly head and again tries to separate you from those you love, the glory of the mountain – the love of the God – give you strength.
When the storms of depression begins to pelt you with anxiety and doubt, the glory of the mountain top shines a light of hope and promise.
When you are mocked and ridiculed for daring to be the person God has called you to be – the glory of the mountain top lights your way.
Jesus takes you to the mountain to not for a divine photo op, but to give you the strength you need to face the cross. To pick up and cross and move beyond belief into a life of true discipleship. Jesus takes you to the mountain not for you to stay, but for you to come down new – renewed. Jesus take you to the mountain top – shows you the glory – so that when the dark days come – you know…you know that the light shines within and you can face anything. Jesus takes you to the mountain, because Jesus takes you to the cross. Jesus take you to the cross and there is the glory of God. Strength in weakness. Light in darkness. Hope in despair. Love in hate. There, at the cross, is God revealed fully. And it is the mountain top that gives us the strength to face the cross. That prepares us for what is to come. That sends us out.
Thanks be to God