Meditation on Matthew 17:1–9
The Presbyterian Church
Feb. 23, 2020
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
It’s cold outside! In this kind of weather, I don’t want to go outside without my gloves! Brrrr!
But I am finding that those who live in Ohio are a hardy sort. On Friday night, the cold weather didn’t keep most of our confirmation class from getting together for pizza at Amici’s in West Lafayette. Ever been there? Yeah, the pizza’s great. But you should have warned me how cold it is in winter! We were huddled together for warmth, choosing the booth closest to the heat vent so we didn’t freeze to death. It was so cold inside that when I ordered hot water for the tea bag that I brought with me for tea, by the time the waitress walked with my cup from the kitchen to our table, the water was ice cold.
But the Holy Spirit was with us on Friday night. I felt the warmth of God’s presence. And I discovered that the owner paid for most of our meal, which was very kind. Only in our small town, my friends! I enjoyed just being with the mentors and the youth, listening as they talked about things that matter to them; their likes and dislikes; what makes them happy or frustrated, mad or sad; what and who they care about and worry about. I look forward to hearing more of their stories and encouraging them to take risks and never give up on their dreams.
After I got home Friday night, I kept thinking about them. How it’s difficult to be an adult nowadays in our community with jobs that are going away, schools struggling to educate with fewer and fewer funds, and our community health problems, including drug addiction and mental illness. But how it must be even more difficult for the children and youth– how helpless and stressed they must feel. How do our young people stay positive in a world that seems to be crumbling around them? How do they stay positive when the adults around them are not always positive? For our words don’t always reveal our hope in Jesus, and our actions don’t always demonstrate our living resurrected lives with Him right here.
The answer for the youth and for all of us is knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In the weeks and months to come, I pray that the mentors, parents and I will reveal Him through His Word and the fruits of the Spirit—love and joy, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. This is how the children will weather the storms in their lives—knowing Jesus, learning to seek Him and trust in Him. Human beings will always let us down. Not the Lord!
What I want more than anything is for us to lead the children and youth up the mountain of God, so that we may meet our Lord together and hear his voice. May His light dispel all the darkness that remains in us—so that we may live as a source of light for others, walking in the ways of mercy, hope and justice.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus retraces the steps that Moses took in Exodus centuries before to be with God. Moses would return from the Holy Mountain after 40 days and 40 nights, equipped with the Word of God that would bring order and shape to the community of faith, teaching them how to love God and neighbor. In addition to the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, Moses brings back detailed instructions on how to build the tabernacle and ark of the covenant, make the sacrifices for thanksgiving and atonement, to anoint and dress the priests in holy vestments, and for Aaron and his sons to tend the oil lamp on a golden lamp stand that burns day and night before the Lord.
Moses, as he leaves for his climb, tells his elders to wait with the people, and settle their disputes until he returns. He brings with him his assistant, Joshua. Jesus will choose three disciples—Peter, James, and John—to go up the “high mountain, by themselves.” Nothing and no one will distract them from their meeting with God. It strikes me as curious that Jesus never tells them why they are going up the mountain or prepares them for what’s going to happen. I can imagine these fishermen are way out of their comfort zone.
When Jesus is transfigured before them, his face shining like the sun and his clothes a dazzling white, and is talking with Moses and Elijah who suddenly appear, I think to myself, “No wonder Peter says what he says.” For he is merely offering to use his gifts and skills to serve the Lord. Wouldn’t we do the same? Why wouldn’t he want to build dwelling places or booths for the guests, so they may be sheltered from the elements and have a nice visit? Peter longs to make this terrifying vision a comfortable, more ordinary reality. And by building booths, he reveals his desire for Elijah and Moses to stay—and this divine revelation to never end.
Then, just as Peter is speaking, the Lord overshadows them in a bright cloud, like the cloud that Moses enters when he goes up the mountain. A voice echoes the voice at his baptism when it says, “This is My Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased.” It’s when the voice adds, “Listen to him,” that the disciples fall to the ground and are overcome by fear. “Listen to him” means do what Jesus says!
But the one they are commanded to hear and obey comforts them with a touch and gentle words, “Get up and don’t be afraid.”
He orders them to keep this vision a secret until he has been raised from the dead. It will be some time after the resurrection before they understand how Jesus, the one who stood with Moses and Elijah on God’s mountain, is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Living Word and image of the invisible God, is also the new commandment, God’s love in human flesh.
Like Moses, Jesus would descend the mountain to encounter a faithless community below.
Today, we will install deacons and elders for our congregation. Their job, first and foremost, is to be spiritual leaders, praying for us and helping us to be more faithful to serve our servant Lord.
The message of the Transfiguration for Christ’s disciples then and now is to be still and listen for the Word of the Lord. Listen with awe and anticipation of what the Lord will do. As Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Come to God, not just to make your desires known, but to hear His will and be strengthened in your faith. Let the Lord give you the desires of His heart and make them yours. Come with the confidence of His Beloved Children. “Cast all your worries and cares on him,” says 1 Peter 5:7, “for he cares for you.” “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,” says Hebrews 4:16, “that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
To our deacons and elders, I say that you will feel peace doing God’s work. It will be satisfying and bring you joy. Other times, you will be out of your comfort zone. But that isn’t a bad place to be! For didn’t the Lord choose three fishermen to climb a high mountain with him and use them to grow His Kingdom?
As deacons and elders, you may, at times, feel overwhelmed. You may, when you’re tired or things don’t go as planned, wonder what you were thinking when you said yes. I assure you that you are, indeed, called to this ministry. God will be faithful to equip, teach and transform you as you seek Him in prayer. Ephesians 2:10 assures us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
And whenever you are afraid, the Lord will touch and comfort you with His Word, as he did for his disciples. You are never alone. Your brothers and sisters are behind you and with you. As you serve and give of yourselves, the Lord will surprise you with His goodness and grace. You will be blessed by your congregation.
So, come, everyone. God awaits us on His holy mountain. Let us meet Him together and hear his voice. May God’s light dispel all the darkness that remains in us—so that we may live as a source of light for others, walking in the ways of mercy, hope and justice.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for revealing the identity of your Beloved Son on the Holy Mountain to your disciples long ago and for offering us a new covenant with you when we were unfaithful and went our own way. Thank you for revealing your identity to each one of us by your Spirit, and speaking to us by your Word. We believe in the work of your Son on a cross that set us free from the burden of our sins. Lead us to have the courage to live new lives, walking with Christ. Lord, we thank you for all our children and youth in our community. Help us to nurture their faith and reveal your mercy and grace. Let them be filled with your hope and joy. May we all be transformed in your light and shine for others to see and come to know your salvation. In Christ we pray. Amen.