Moving to the Rhythm & Transfiguration

This is a sermon I preached son February 26, 2017.

Simon was a native of Galilee. He had a little fishing business with his brother Andrew and his dad. Jesus called him to be one of his first disciples, and eventually Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. Peter is the Greek word petros, which means rock. Jesus says that Peter will be the rock that his church is built on.

Throughout the Gospels we learn about the close relationship of Jesus and Peter.

Peter is the first one to reveal Jesus is the Christ, in Matthew he calls Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus says that this is not something that Peter could have figured out on his own, it wasn’t something that could have been revealed by humans, but that it comes through the Father in heaven. 

Peter’s name is always listed first among the disciples, which means that he was probably a leader among the Twelve. Many times he is a spokesperson for the Twelve. Peter is among Jesus’ inner circle, and in our story today Jesus took James, John, and Peter up a mountain, probably Mount Tabor.

But even though Peter was among the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, understanding things that only could have been revealed to him by God, even though God had a big plan for Peter’s life, Peter still had his moments when he just didn't get what was happening and tried to understand on his own. 

We see one of those moments in Luke 9:28-45, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. 

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”
Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

This last week, we laid out in the grass with our new puppy, Margot. We played fetch. Or we threw the ball, then rand and got the ball, and then five minutes later we thought she’d get the game and tried it again. We went on bike rides and barbecued and had our windows open and washed the car, and went for evening walks, and lingered as we talked to friends walking by. Multiple times, I almost brought out my patio cushions and threw a tablecloth out on the picnic table.

My body was sure that spring had arrived. My soul needed spring to arrive.

And then what happened?

A rude awakening is what happened!

I was reminded that it wasn’t time for the season to change. And just like that, I sealed up the windows, put on a pot of chili and lamented that winter is not in fact over.

Winter seems like a nice change of pace in mid-November and December when there are friends and family gatherings, and holiday baking and Christmas lights shimmering, with the anticipation of Christmas and a new year filling the air. But then, we take down all of the decorations. Commit to losing the holiday weight. But nothing about the weather lures us to go out and exercise, and the recipes that keep us warm and cozy and comforted don’t help the efforts.

Come January, we’re ready to move on to Spring.

Spring brings new life and reminds us of the resurrection, quite literally. We watch all that is dead come back to life. Spring gets us outdoors and enlivens our weary spirits.

But January, January lags on. And then February is the same. And March too.

Everything is brown. Dried out. And dead.

And often we look at the dead of winter, and we want to hurry though it to get to the other side.

Peter is standing on a mountain with the Messiah, the anointed one, the savior the Jewish people had been waiting for. And before his very eyes, he sees Jesus’ face change, and his clothes become bright. Peter sees Jesus in all his glory! Moses and Elijah appeared and started talking to Jesus.

Two of the greatest figures in all of Jewish history are standing in glorious splendor next to Jesus.

Traditionally, Moses and Elijah have been seen as a representation of the Law and the Prophets. To understand them this way, helps us to to understand the way that God had historically worked to guide his people.

Modern scholarship sees these two characters as signifying the coming of the day of the LORD. Pointing to the last days. In Malachi 4 it is prophesied that God will send Elijah before the day of the LORD.

Both interpretations work together to show us that God is continuing to work to redeem creation, and God is continuing to guide his people. Not only did God give the Law and the Prophets to guide and redeem his people, he is also gave his Son.

Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about what’s going to happen next. Jesus has reached a critical moment in his mission, and it’s about to get extremely difficult. 

The text tells us that they talk about Jesus’ departure, but when we look at the Greek the word for departure, it’s one that you all know. The word is Exodus. Exodus.

Jesus is with Moses, and they’re talking about Jesus’ Exodus, just like the Exodus from Egypt, only greater. Scholar NT Wright explains:

“In the first Exodus, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and home to the promised land. In the new Exodus, Jesus will lead all God’s people out of the slavery of sin and death, and home to their promised inheritance - the new creation in which the whole world will be redeemed.”

Peter stands beside James and John, witnessing this glorious event, mostly clueless about what’s actually happening. Peter had realized just a few days earlier that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one. The one sent by God. And now, he’s standing with the Messiah, and with Moses, and with Elijah.

That’s the moment. 

That’s the pinnacle moment he had been waiting his entire life for. That’s the moment that the Jewish people had been waiting for. We’ve been talking about unmet expectations the last few weeks, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that Peter’s expectations are probably fulfilled right in this moment. 

Peter wants to stay right there, in that moment as long as he can. He wants to linger on the mountain with the figures God has sent to redeem Israel. He’s ready to pitch tents and settle in. Why not stay there, in that moment, on that mountain top forever?

But, there’s more that has to take place before it can be all mountain tops. Peter had a taste of what’s to come, and he wants to stay, not realizing that there is so much more to come.

As Peter is planning how he’ll arrange the tents, “a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’” 

And just like that, Moses and Elijah were gone. The next day, they came down the mountain.

I can’t help but think about my own mountain top experiences. Those moments I have been at a conference or at a retreat, or even a quiet walk, when I was able to get away from the everyday and completely focus on God. If you’ve ever been to camp or a conference or a retreat, you probably know what I’m talking about. I’m thinking about those moments that you encounter God, and it is like a mountain top experience.

Maybe you’ve gone to a movie, and when it was over, you sat through the credits, lost on your thoughts. And as you leave the theater the way you see the world begins to shift a little, and you realize that you’ve been changed by what you just experienced.

After one of those experiences, there is a next.  Our mountain top experiences are meant to empower us to continue moving forward. To equip us for the next phase of our lives. And so thats what we do. We move forward.

Moses and Elijah prepared Jesus for what he had to do. And Jesus didn’t linger on the mountain, resisting the next step. 

He walked down the mountain.

He met a large crowd. There was a man whose son was possessed by a spirit. The disciples were unsuccessful in driving out the spirit. And so Jesus rebuked the spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. Everyone was amazed.

Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Listen carefully.” The Greek is actually better translated as, “let these words sink into your ears.”

He’s saying, “You better hear this.”

And remember, God just told Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus.

Let these words sink into your ears. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.

This wasn’t the first time Jesus predicted his death. He did just 8 days before heading up the mountain. Just a few verses before. The Transfiguration story is bookended by Jesus telling his disciples about his death. 

There’s a natural order to things. God designed the world to operate in seasons, with a rhythm. This morning, I noticed green shoots popping up through the snow, next to my driveway. It’s a promise that spring will come and tulips will bloom. All that was dead, will soon resurrect from the ground and blossom from the branches and turn colors all around. There are times to start and begin and birth and create and lean into something. 

But, just like the trees in the fall, we have to let go of what was. We have to let go. We have to let things die. Winter is a part of the natural order. Death is a part of the natural order. We can’t have resurrection without death. We can’t have new life without the old life dying. I’ve heard it said, “if you hold on too long, what should have been a graduation becomes a divorce.”

It is written in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
a time to search and a time to give up, 
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, 
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate, 
a time for war and a time for peace.”  

There is an order. A season. A time. A moment. 

In our own lives we see this over and over. There is a time for every thing and a time for everything to be over. We grow up and out grow. It doesn’t always feel good, but when you think of some of the things that time has erased, doesn't it seem good? When you think of mountain top moments, would you have stayed on the first one at the expense of all the ones that followed? The difficult times that shaped your character in a profoundly positive way, and gave you the ability to endure, do you wish you could have skipped those?

Peter wants the moment on the mountain to last because he wants this moment, the one he’s in, to be the moment where things change. He wants it to be the moment that Israel is redeemed. He wants that moment to be the moment that God’s work is finished. That God’s people are reconciled. 

There is a lot of pain to come, and wouldn’t it be better to just call it good right here and live in this moment forever?  But if the story of Jesus ended right there on that mountain top, before the cross, and before the resurrection it wouldn’t have the same power, would it? It’s a moment at odds with itself. To want things to finally be changed, but to also want them stay the same. 

For Jesus, the pain and the glory are inseparable and he lingers in neither. 

Our mountain top experiences inspire us and equip us to move in to new seasons and unfamiliar valleys. In those new, or exciting, or difficult places we grow, and growth can be painful.  But when we lean in to the pain of growth, it isn’t long before we find ourselves pushing our way upward to another mountain top. 

Peter’s reaction is to pitch a tent. To build a house for ghosts. To hold on to that one moment as long as he could. This is a pretty natural thing for us to do. Sometimes we just want to live in the tent of the “good old days”. And sometimes this is a natural response to difficult and unexpected change. But if we aren’t careful we end up stuck in a mindset that insists that our best days are behind us. That we need to go back to where we’ve already been, instead of continuing to move forward. When we let this happen, we end up sitting in our own tents with our own ghosts.

We must keep moving forward. We must continue to learn to die again and again, so that God can make us new.

There is an order. A rhythm. Peter wants to stop it. Jesus moves to it.