Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
I want us to do a little mental exercise this morning. I want you to remember that perfect spot. A place you might have seen on vacation, perhaps at the beach or in the mountains. Perhaps it is a special place on your own property that is sacred to you. I want you to close your eyes and place yourself there. That perfect spot. There are no bills to pay, no doctor’s appointments, no stress. The sun is softly kissing your face and warm breeze brushes your hair. We all have this place. This is a place that you feel at one with nature, at peace with yourself, and somehow closer to God. Are you there? Do you remember? When you were in that place, perhaps it was only for a moment, did you want to leave? Did you want to stay there forever, locked in that perfect place in that perfect moment?
This is where Peter, James, and John found themselves in our story from Matthew this morning. They climbed a mountain with Jesus and sat with him on the mountaintop. This was already a privilege for them because Jesus had chosen them for his inner circle, his VIP entourage so to speak. They were already excited and they were in anticipation of what was to come. Then it happened. Jesus was transfigured; the Greek might be better translated to metamorphosed into something glorious. His face shone like the Sun, his clothes were a dazzling, brilliant white, and he stood there in his glory that was to come. Peter, James, and John had to shade their eyes from the brilliance. Then Moses and Elijah, the two biggest people in the Hebrew Bible stood with him and were discussing something with Jesus. Peter wanted to stay in that moment; it was like nothing he had ever seen before. He told Jesus that it was good for them to be there and that he would build three shelters for him, Moses, and Elijah. Peter wanted to stay there on the mountaintop, but he couldn’t just as we cannot stay in our perfect place.
These perfect moments in time are just that…moments. This glimpse that these three inner circle disciples saw was only temporary. We don’t know exactly how long it was, but we might assume that it was only a few minutes and then it was over, back to reality. It was in the past, but Peter wanted to stay there in the past, it was safe, it was beautiful, it was perfect. Peter, James, and John could not stay in on the mountain and we cannot stay in our perfect place for too long. We cannot dwell in the past no matter how perfect and beautiful the moment. That doesn’t seem like good news, it is disappointing. There is good news that just as those perfect beautiful moments pass temporarily, so to do the ugly, hurtful moments. The moments that we or someone we love are in physical or emotional pain only last temporarily. We cannot dwell on the past no matter how beautiful or how ugly they might be. Jesus tried to teach this to the disciples as they were coming down the mountain. We must not dwell on the past, but be mindful of the present and hopeful for future.
Why? Why is this, why can’t we live in the past? One reason is because there is work to be done here in the present. Let’s go back to our story from Matthew. Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah; we don’t know what they were talking about. Perhaps they were laying out the plan for Jesus. Perhaps, they were telling Jesus what he must do in order to receive glory. This might be the case, but probably not because earlier in Matthew Jesus reveals to the disciples what must take place. That he must be arrested, beaten, and killed and on the third day be raised. It does not seem that this is what Moses and Elijah are talking about.
Perhaps Elijah and Moses were offering Jesus encouragement for the hard road ahead. Jesus knew what had to happen, Jesus knew God’s plan and we can only imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind. Is this what I really have to do? Is there not another way? In this moment, Jesus got a taste of future glory along with the three disciples. This was the reward at the end of the path, but Jesus path went through Calvary. If Jesus was to follow God’s path then it meant going to the cross, to that place called Calvary, Golgotha, the place of the skull, outside Jerusalem. However, this was not the only path to glory that was offered to Jesus. Remember earlier in Matthew, Jesus was in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. Satan offered him all the power and glory in the world, for what? All Jesus had to do was to worship him. Jesus had a choice, the easy path or the path of God which was anything but easy.
We don’t want to think about Jesus having a choice. We want to believe that Jesus came down and followed the pathway of God without pause or question. But if we believe that Jesus was fully man as well as fully divine then we must believe that Jesus had a choice and a difficult choice at that. He could take the easy path or he could take the difficult path of God. Jesus could have said, “I can’t do it, it is too hard, too painful.” But the love that he had for us, all of us, trumped the difficulty of the path of God that went through Calvary. That is the good news of the gospel, that Jesus had a choice and he chose us. He chose the cross, not for himself and his own glory, but for us so that we could share in his glory. God so loved the world that he sent his son and the son so loved the world that he chose the cross. That is powerful love that is the kind of love that breaks the heart of stone. That is the kind of love that transforms. It is the kind of love that can transform the most hardened criminal to the most powerful preacher of love. Feel that love flowing from the cross and be transformed by it. Let it carry you to places that you have never dreamed of.
Our paths are before us as well. Beware the easy path because it might end up being a trap. Often the path that God has for us is rocky and difficult, just as it was for Jesus. We can’t stand still we have to follow a path. We can’t just come to the safety and sanctuary of this church to talk about God. We have to follow God’s path, go out into the world and spread the love of God. It is the same path that Jesus followed. We have to tell the people we meet along the path that Jesus loved us so much that he chose the path that went through Calvary. This also means that we have to take risks for the gospel. We have to come down from the safety of our mountaintops and go speak truth to power. When we see things wrong in the world we need to speak out about it, write letters to our leaders, and write letters to the editors of our newspapers. If we are to follow that same path of Jesus then we must do for the least of these. We have to give to those who need out of our abundance. We should give without expectation of return or reward because our reward is not in this world, but in the next. We must embrace those who have been considered outcasts by society. This is that path that we must choose if we are to end up at the same place with Christ. This is not to say that our path might not get dark. This is not to say our path won’t be dangerous in places, but just like Jesus, God is with us every step of the way. God is with us on our paths of righteousness.
This Transfiguration was just a taste of what is to come. It was a sample of the goodness of what we can expect. If you have ever been to Costco, Sam’s Club, or sometimes even Wal-Mart they have these stations giving out free samples of things they are trying to sell. We have a taste in this story of our glory as well as Jesus’ glory this is because when Jesus went to the cross of us we get to share in his glory. We get to share in the glory of Christ.
The Transfiguration put Jesus on a new path. Moses and Elijah were encouraging Jesus to follow the plan that God had made for him. As he came down from that mountain he was more resolute and determined than ever. He entered into Jerusalem with confidence, even though he knew what was to come. We do not have to be afraid in our own paths because Jesus has walked them before us and Jesus is there with us every step of the way.
Let us pray…
Grant, O Lord, that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen