Luke 9:28- 36
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Now aside from being here with all of you, and aside from my family, my great passion in life is doing historical research. For many years now, I’ve researched my Dutch and Swedish family trees on all sides back a very long way and I’ve written stories about several of my ancestors. And a couple of years ago now my mother gave me a very old photo album full of very old pictures of people in Sweden. Apparently it was an album that my grandfather had brought with him from Sweden when he came here over a hundred years ago now. I was thrilled to have it, of course, but I was also quite dismayed. Because there were no names on the back of any of the pictures, so we had no idea at all who these people were. I made copies and sent them to my cousins in Sweden, and they didn’t know who those people were, either. But then. I noticed that one of the pictures looked exactly like my cousin Chuck when he was in his early twenties. We have always said, in our family, that Chuck looks exactly like grandpa, and I knew for sure, at that moment, that that was a picture of my grandpa in his early twenties, before he came to this country.
For months, all over the country of Israel, people had been asking who this young man named Jesus was. He wasn’t a priest. They knew he wasn’t a leader in their synagogues. He hadn’t graduated from Rabbi school, so they knew he wasn’t a Rabbi. They knew that his supposed father was a woodworker in Nazareth and they knew his mother and all his brothers and sisters up there in Nazareth and there was nothing special about any of them. But here is this young man who appears at the age of thirty from nowhere, and nobody knows who he is. He is healing people who were sick, even people whom the doctors couldn’t treat, and disabled people, and he was curing people of their mental illnesses. And though he’s no Rabbi, he’s speaking eloquently in the synagogues and he’s talking about God and the Kingdom of God all the time, passionately. And shortly before our story for today he had healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and he had brought back to life a little twelve year old girl who had died. And after that he had taken a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and had turned that into an entire meal for well over five thousand people. And people were asking, all over the country, “Who is this guy?”
Some people said he was John the Baptist come back to life, others said he was the prophet Elijah come back to life, who had been dead for a about a thousand years, or one of the other prophets.
One day Jesus chose three of his disciples. You remember that he had twelve male disciples, whom he had especially called to travel with him and work with him, and an uncountable number of women who were also his close followers. But he had three who were his inner circle: Peter, James and John. He took the three of them to a mountain to pray. And while he was praying there on that mountain, something happened that even today we cannot quite understand. As he was praying, Jesus face changed and his clothing became a dazzling white. And suddenly, somehow, Moses and Elijah were on the mountain there with them – Moses dead about 1400 years, and Elijah dead about 1000 years – there are both of them on the mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John, and talking with Jesus – discussing his death. Two heroes of faith whom every single Jew knew well. Two men who knew God well and had actually talked with God. With them on the mountain. Reliable witnesses whom everybody would trust, to validate what was about to happen. It was a deeply spiritual experience, and Peter wanted to make it last.
You remember Peter, don’t you? He was always the first in line, always first with all the right answers, first in charge, first with the best ideas. We love Peter for his passion even if it was sometimes mis-directed. Peter wanted to build little structures so that they could all stay there for a while, together, in that deeply spiritual experience. He wanted to make it all last. But all of a sudden, a thick cloud came over that mountain, and they were terrified to be in such a dense cloud. And out of the cloud, a voice came – “This is my Son, listen to him.” And when the thick cloud passed and they could see each other again, only Peter and James and John were on the mountain with Jesus. And for a long time, none of those three told what they had seen and heard.
And the next day, there they were back down the mountain again, and life is back to normal for Jesus. And there he is, in the middle of crowds of people who need him once again and people are clutching at his clothes wherever he goes and he’s healing a young boy who seems to have had epilepsy.
Now even today I can’t exactly explain what happened on that mountain. And if I’d have been there with a camera, I’m not sure what I would have seen. But the message is powerfully clear: Jesus is the Son of God. That’s who this young man named Jesus is. He’s the son of God. That’s why he’s speaking so passionately about God and the Kingdom of God all over the place. That’s why he’s healing little boys with epilepsy and feeding people and bringing little girls back to life again. He’s doing all that because he’s the Son of God.
And here’s the real point. If you want to know who God is, look at God’s son. If you want to know what God wants, and whom God loves, and what God favors, and what God intends - look at Jesus. Take a good long look at Jesus. Listen carefully to what Jesus says. Watch what he does. And then you will know God. Only Moses has ever seen God face to face – Moses, the great partner of God. Not even Elijah was allowed to see God’s face, though he did go directly into heaven in a fiery chariot. But if you want to know God, then look at Jesus, the Son of God.
There is a special quality to those who have been in the presence of God. Moses’ face shone when he came down the mountain from talking with God – his face shone so brightly that people couldn’t bear to look at him or they would be blinded. And there on that mountain, Jesus’ face changed and his clothing became a brilliant dazzling white.
Even today there is something that happens when people experience God. We can tell the difference. We can sometimes tell by looking at them that something is different and wonderful and deeply spiritual about them. They have a certain calmness, perhaps, from knowing God well. They live in the silent certainty of God’s presence in their lives. Or they have a passion, maybe, for taking on the work of God in this world. Or they are centered, or they conduct their lives with a certain grace that comes from talking to God intimately and often. Or they are radiant at having experienced the love and peace of God in their lives. There is a humility about them, and a quiet steadfastness. They are fearless because they live their lives in the hands of a loving God and they know that nothing bad can really harm them there. They love who God loves, and honor those whom God honors and do I even dare to say that they start to think like Jesus.
This isn’t something that happens quickly. This happens over a life time of knowing God, and loving God, and listening for God, and being in companionship with God. And it starts when we offer ourselves, in silence, to God in the early mornings or the late evenings or at quiet moments through the days. We sit silently in front of God and breathe in and out. We watch the morning arrive or the day disappear into night and we feel the presence of God with us. We are calm at our core and we listen for God for long moments at a time. We don’t have Moses or Elijah but maybe we have a devotional book or some favorite Psalms or scripture passages that open the door for us into God’s presence. We have these experiences with God that we can never put into words, but they are beautiful moments with God and we wish they would last forever.
And then we go back down the mountain again, and we go to work and we tend our families and serve on boards in the community and volunteer at the homeless shelter and give our good used clothing. We bring boxes of cereal and toilet paper and people clutch at our clothing and we serve them. Because we have learned from Jesus and because we have been with God.