a sermon for Transfiguration of the Lord on Exodus 24:12-18, Matthew 7:24-27, and Matthew 17:1-9, the last in a series on the Sermon on the Mount
preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone on on March 6, 2011
It’s time to come down from the mountain. We’ve spent much of the last two months – nearly every Sunday since Christmas! – up on the mountain with Jesus, hearing his vision of the kingdom of heaven from the Sermon on the Mount and exploring how it gets lived out in our world today. Today our time on the mountain comes to an end, but not without a pretty spectacular ending, for as we prepare to walk the road of Lent over the next six weeks, we find other mountaintops before us as well that also take things to a different level.
In our readings from Exodus and later in Matthew, we have more than just a glimpse of something new or instructions on how to be a part of the kingdom of God. Here we finally glimpse the fullness of the glory of God, the way things would be if we were actually able to live out all those instructions that Jesus gave in his teaching up on the mountain. In our reading from Exodus, Moses received the law and commandment from God atop the mountain, standing very, very close to the fullness of the glory of God as God shone so bright with glory on top of the mountain that the people down in the valley could see it. Then in the second of our two readings from Matthew, Jesus too went up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, where he suddenly began to shine with light as he joined in a strange conversation with Moses and Elijah and a voice called out from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
In these glimpses of glory, the view from the mountaintop is transformed once again as the glory of God shines brightly in the world and we see how we can live in this new way, too. We don’t always understand what is going on here – the devouring fire of the presence of the Lord in Exodus is incredible, especially since it somehow does not claim Moses’ life, and the transfiguration of Jesus is one of those stories that truly defies explanation, understanding, and even sometimes application, to the point that I know colleagues who find a way to avoid preaching it each and every year! But somehow, these mountaintop moments must translate into our world.
We can’t leave the transformative glory of God on the mountaintop – Jesus himself made that clear in his own parable that concludes the Sermon on the Mount, where a wise man builds his house on rock but a foolish man builds his house on sand and watches it wash away. For this vision of the kingdom of heaven or this glimpse of the fullness of God’s glory to have any real meaning, it has to go beyond Sunday, beyond the days when we have a visual reminder of the mountain here around the pulpit, beyond the mountaintop moments where our faith is strengthened and our eyes glimpse God’s glory. We must bring these words and these experiences down from the mountain and make their glory real in the world.
This glory can’t just reside up on the mountain, waiting for us to return there and fill up again from its endless store of grace and hope when we need a dose of spiritual energy. We can’t leave this glory someplace where we won’t see it and think about it every day. We are reasonably tempted to pull a Vegas moment and let what we have seen up on the mountain stay on the mountain – but what we have seen on the mountain demands to be shared and most of all lived. And sadly, we also can’t live up on the mountain, either – but what we see and hear and experience there must transform life down on the plain and in the valley.
When we start to live in the way we’ve seen up on the mountain, we build on a solid foundation and find the beginning of God’s new way taking hold in our lives and our world. Or, to put it another way, if we live down in the valley or on the plain in the same way we have seen up on the mountaintop, God is not only revealed to us but through us as the transfiguration becomes real in us who have been transformed by God and made citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Living in the valley or on the plain in the way of God’s glory as we have seen up on the mountain is not easy, but it is truly our greatest privilege and call to live in this way. We can’t just be happy experiencing these things from time to time when we find ourselves atop one mountain or another but instead must make them real in our lives as we join in the work God is doing in our world. Later in worship today, we have two opportunities to follow in this way. First, we ordain and install our church officers, setting a few among us apart for particular service in our midst and recognizing that they have a special role in leading us to translate our glimpses of glory on the mountaintop into the everyday life of this community. Then, we celebrate communion, the eucharist, the joyful feast of the people of God, where we get yet another little glimpse of God’s glory and of what God is up to all around us as we share a simple feast with the great company of all the faithful and look for God to do something more in our lives and our world.
As we walk this road together today and come down from this mountaintop one last time, may God show us how we can be a part of making what we have seen from this mountain real in the world, and may God use us to reflect the incredible glory we see here beyond ourselves and beyond these walls into all the world.
Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.