FIRST LESSON II Peter 1:16-21
SECOND LESSON: Matthew 17:1-9
SERMON: “After the Mountain”
A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain’s parrot would yell, “It’s a trick. He’s a phony. That’s not magic.” Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, “OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?”
The parrot couldn’t explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Scholars over the years have tried to explain what in the world Peter meant by this suggestion. But, I think trying to find meaning to these words is pointless. It’s simply the way Matthew explains: Peter was frightened and he just said the first thing that came to into his head. He simply could not comprehend what was happening.
The disciples experienced that mouth-drying, heart-thumping, knee-buckling kind of fear on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration. After rejoicing at the presence of Elijah and Moses, they were suddenly reduced to blubbery, quaking jelly by the power and splendor of the voice from above. They could not comprehend the magnificence of the divine presence, nor the implications of what the voice was saying. The entire experience was a mystery way beyond their experience. No wonder they reacted by curling into defensive little fear-balls at Jesus’ feet.
The glory of the transfiguration event shines as incomprehensibly today as it did for those disciples nearly 2000 years ago. The church in which I grew up didn’t observe Transfiguration Sunday, or if it did, it certainly sailed right past me. But if we are puzzled by this Sunday-before-Lent begins tradition, at least we can learn from the disciples some things about how Jesus would have us act and react to events that challenge our comprehension and threaten to paralyze us with fear. While Jesus did not explain the meaning behind the Transfiguration mystery, he did give us a map for coming back down from the mountaintop experiences in our lives.
Jesus’ counsel to the disciples as he helped them to their feet might be paraphrased as, “Get up, come down, keep quiet (until the time is right), then yell!” These four steps for getting off the mountain work just as effectively in our lives today
What keeps us from getting up when we’re down. Frequently it is fear, and certainly the Peter, James and John had every reason to be afraid considering the unusual bordering on the alarming events that day on the mountainside. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being hurt – all of these can keep us down. Someone said “Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.” Everyone experiences fear from time to time in one form or another; the trick is not to let it immobilize you. One of the best bits of advice I ever got from reading “self-help” books was Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “14 All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:14-16)
In The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning tells of the day a disgusted “Prince of Darkness slinks up to the chalet of bummed-out disciples who have made their home in Jesus and nails a legal document to the door:”
You are hereby banished from the House of Fear forever.
With malice aforethought, you have flagrantly withheld the monthly rent of guilt, anxiety, fear, shame and self-condemnation.
You have adamantly refused to worry about your salvation. Already I overheard one dismal tenant say, “There goes the neighborhood!”
Your freedom from fear is not only dangerous but contagious.
Real estate values have plummeted; gullible investors are hard to find. Why?
Your callous and carefree rejection of slavery [to fear]!
A pox on you and all deluded lovers of liberty!
Jesus tells his disciples, “Get up, Come down.”
Will I ever hear the command, “Come on down” without finishing the thought in my head: “you’re the next contestant on the Price is Right!” ?? An audience member whose name is called cannot play the game or win any prizes unless they come down from their seat to “contestants’ row.”
The disciples could not do what they needed to do if they stayed up on that mountain. And we cannot accomplish anything for Christ or our human family if we remain isolated. We come here to learn and be equipped for ministry, but the real ministry happens outside the walls of this sanctuary and of this building.
Get up! Come down! Be quiet! Jesus tells his disciples. Quiet – at least for a time. Timing is everything, isn’t it. The disciples still had much to learn and much to experience. The voice they heard from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
My mother had an uncanny ability to tell whether I was listening to her or not. Now and then she would call me on it saying “You are so busy thinking of what you are going to say next that you’re not listening to me.” Listening is an underdeveloped skill for many of us.
Waiting to be interviewed for a job as a telegraph operator, a group of applicants paid little attention to the sound of the dots and dashes which began coming over a loudspeaker. Suddenly one of them rushed into the employer’s office. Soon he returned smiling. “I got it!” he exclaimed. “How did you get ahead of us?” the others asked.
“You might have been considered if you hadn’t been so busy talking that you didn’t hear the manager’s coded message,” he replied. “It said, ‘The man I need must always be on the alert. The first one who interprets this and comes directly into my private office will be hired.’”1
Jesus tells his disciples, Get up, Come down Then yell!
Yell about it: Here is the proof Jesus is not outlining a short course in denial, sublimation and repression. His fourth step is an opportunity for triumphant testimony. After shaking free from fear, coming down from the mountain and re-entering life, Jesus declared that at that point it was time to shout about it. For his disciples, the yell about it moment did not come until after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Only then could they recall the wonder of the Transfiguration moment and yell to the world that Christ is alive.
Jesus’ four-step method brings us to this point - we go up to the mountain, but we must come back down again. We come to worship, we go to serve.”
In these times of declining church membership, in these times of reduced percentages of the population who claim Christian faith, the time has come for us to yell that Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God is the risen Lord.
1 www.sermons.org, "Hearing & Listening, opportunity, paying attention"