28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.
33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.
35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen.
Thoughts on the passage:
What do you do when you are going on a trip? If you are like me, one of the things you do is think about where you are going. Jesus does the same with his disciples. He is taking them on a journey, from being fishermen to being fishers of men. He is transforming them from humble men and women into apostles who will bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. In order to help them on this journey, Jesus takes moments to prepare them for what is coming and to give them a glimpse of where they are going. The transfiguration is one of those moments.
When Jesus took a few of disciples up onto the mountain to pray, he used it as a chance to teach them about what was to come. He did this in several key ways. He allowed them to see his radiance and divine nature. Through the visions of Moses and Elijah he allowed the disciples to understand what was to happen with his death and resurrection. Finally, the voice of God reinforced what they were seeing, that this was the Son of God that they should be listening to. All of these combine to help the disciples understand what was coming.
Just as we like to have a map, a plan, or an idea of where we are going, Jesus outlines things for the disciples. He knows that they will need to leave the mountaintop and go back into the valleys of the world again. He knows that they will be distracted by the day to day busyness and the trials and tribulations of what is to come, but he wants them to have a greater sense of where they are going. The transfiguration on the mountain is meant to lead and guide them to their destination.
The morning after I arrived in Saint Louis, I walked from my hotel to see the Gateway Arch and found it shrouded in an early morning cloud of fog. The clouds where thick enough that you could not see the top of the Arch, only the base. You knew it was up there because you could imagine it, but you could not see it. You had to trust that it was there, beyond our vision, something yet to be realized.
Saint Louis was not a mountaintop moment for me. Instead for me it was a moment in the long and difficult valleys of the world. For the last 25 years I have been working in different ways to make the United Methodist Church a fully open and inclusive place for GLBTQIA people and an inclusive place for everyone. For years I have been working for that vision of a church where everyone is welcome, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, questioning and certain, Republican and Democratic, everyone. I have seen glimpses of such a blessed community over the years, and I have been working to make it possible.
At the special General Conference, our denomination made the decisions to uphold our stated beliefs about homosexuality and even to tighten our standards, adding more penalties and rules to prevent people from breaking the rules we had created about ordaining gay clergy or performing same-sex weddings. For many, this was a step in the right direction, helping to bring our churches stances more in line with their understanding of scripture and rein in acts of disobedience. For me, it was a painful moment, where my denomination caused harm to people that I love who have been working and longing for a sense of welcome that has been denied them by our institutional church since 1972.
The General Conference was not a mountaintop moment for me. Instead it was one of the moments in the valley where I had to remind myself of what it is that I am working towards. Thankful, I did get glimpses of what I am working towards in worship services and even points when everyone gathered together to pray and worship before taking a meaningful vote. In the end, I must hold on to that vision that God has given me of a beloved community united by our love for God and our love for our neighbor. I need to let that be the image that leads and guides me in the work that I do as I seek to faithfully follow God in my life.
I share my experiences and struggles with you today not because I expect all of you to be in the same place. I believe that we are not of one mind as a congregation on what scripture teaches us about human sexuality. Some of you may share my pain and others might not. My point in sharing is to let you know where I am, but also to help you think about where you are.
We all have had mountaintop moments in our lives where we have had a glimpse of God or visions of what God Is calling us to. These moments are a guide to us when we go back into the valleys of the world. They are there to help us in the hard times when we feel like we are losing our way. They are meant to give us the strength and courage to push forward when things can seem too painful to go on. In those difficult times, we look back and remember those mountaintop moments and use them as a beacon that leads us to God.
Mountaintop moments are important, and they are amazing. The challenge is to avoid wanting to linger on the mountain and stay in that moment. When Peter experiences the transfiguration, his instinct is to try and enshrine it, and linger on it. He wants to build a monument to it and remain in that sacred place. He is not alone in his desire to dwell on mountaintop moments. What we need to remember is that those moments are meant to give us fuel to do the work that God is calling us to do.
Bishop Ough, in his closing thoughts after General Conference challenged all of us in Minnesota and the Dakotas to go back to work. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, tend to the sick, comfort the grieving, and do so many other things in the name of Christ.
It is my hope that every Sunday is a mountaintop moment for you. It is my hope that each week when we gather in worship we can get a glimpse of God and God’s vision for our world. We can use those glimpses and visions as fuel for the work we do in the week. It helps us to be better parents and better sons and daughters. It helps us to be better neighbors and community members. It helps us to be better co-workers and friends. It gives us the strength to face whatever the week might throw at us, because we have seen the transforming power of God’s love through Jesus Christ and we have known God’s grace in our lives. Amen
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time when you feel you had a “mountaintop moment”?
How do you hold onto mountaintop moments when you face valleys in your life?
What is the work that God is calling and equipping you to do in the valleys of the world?
Holy and loving God, may your presence shine down on us and your voice once more call us to bigger and greater things. Grant us a vision of your enduring love and grace that we might use it as a beacon as we seek to do your work in the world. Forgive us when we linger to long on the mountain and walk alongside us as we descend back into the world. Amen