Meditation on Luke 9:28–36
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Feb. 27, 2022
Link to livestreamed service: https://fb.watch/brIzQy5AHY/
Jim and I watched Chariots of Fire last night. The 1981 movie is based on an inspiring, true story of two athletes. One is a devout Christian named Eric Liddel, who runs for the glory of God, and the other, a devout Jewish man named Harold Abrahams, who runs to overcome prejudice.
In 1919, Harold enters the University of Cambridge, where he experiences antisemitism. But soon, he gets involved with the Gilbert and Sullivan club and meets and falls in love with Sybil, a leading soprano.
What Harold is really good at is running. He wins a number of national competitions.
Eric Liddell is the son of Scottish missionaries to China. He is also passionate about running, though it upsets Jennie, his devout sister. Eric sees running as a way of glorifying God before returning to China to work as a missionary. When he accidentally misses a prayer meeting, Jennie accuses him of no longer caring about God. Eric says, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
After years of training and racing, Eric and Harold are chosen to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. While boarding a boat headed for France, Eric discovers that he will have to run the 100-meter race on a Sunday. He refuses because of his Christian convictions, though he’s pressured by the Prince of Wales and the British Olympic Committee. A solution is found—his teammate, Andrew Lindsay, offers to give him his place in the 400-meter race on the following Thursday—so they switch events.
Eric preaches a sermon at the Church of Scotland in Paris that Sunday and quotes from Isaiah 40, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Harold is badly beaten by runners from the U.S. in the 200-meter race. His last chance for a medal is the 100-meter race. He runs! He wins a gold medal!
Before Eric’s race, the American coach dismisses him, telling his runners that Eric has little chance of doing well in the 400-meter race, since he trained for the 100-meter race. But one of the American runners, Jackson Scholz, hands Eric a note of support before the race. He quotes part of 1 Samuel 2:30, “He that honors Me I will honor.”
Eric runs and wins a gold medal. The British team returns home triumphant. They come back on the train to London; the team excitedly spill out into Waterloo Station. All except for Harold, who waits for the crowd to disperse before he gets off slowly from the train, and meets his girlfriend, Sybil, whom he had neglected for the sake of running.
Bible scholar N.T Wright says, “He has achieved what he set out to do. He has the long-coveted prize in his hand. He has been up the mountain and is realizing that whatever he does now, he will never stand there again. He has to come down from the giddy heights to face reality.”
And this is what happens after the Transfiguration, which is the highest point in the ministry of the three disciples whom Jesus chooses to go with him on the holy mountain to pray. Imagine how it must have felt to be in the chosen 3 to climb the mountain with him that day and see the mysteries of God. Before their drowsy eyes, they see a remarkable sight: his face and form transfigured before them, his clothes a dazzling white. He is talking with the shining, glorified figures of Moses and Elijah—representing the law and the prophets and Christ’s fulfillment of them.
But what they are talking about is what is going to happen to Jesus in Jerusalem—his departure. Another translation of the word for departure is exodus. Both Moses and Elijah are figures of exodus—with Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Lord and Elijah a figure of departure by ascension to the Lord, without dying. In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah and Elisha, his assistant, are walking and talking, when “a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.”
Soon, Jesus will be a figure of departure—as he has been warning his disciples before this. They will have to learn to get on with Christ’s ministry, with the power of the promised Spirit to do even more amazing things than Jesus did when he was them.
On the mountain, as Elijah and Moses begin to leave, Peter wants to linger in the awesome moment a little longer. He says to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. Peter was thinking that if he built houses for them, they would stay!
Moses and Elijah leave, and immediately the disciples are overshadowed by a terrifying cloud. This also connects to the Exodus story, as God led Moses and the Israelites through the desert wilderness by appearing as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The cloud proclaims Jesus as His beloved Son—and commands them to listen to him. Because up to now, they were hearing, but not listening with understanding. They were watching and applauding him in all his teaching, preaching, and miracles of healing, feeding, and casting out demons. They themselves were given his power and authority and sent out to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and heal—and still they thought Jesus would be there with them forever.
Now at the Transfiguration—the seriousness of the calling and the truth of what he has been saying up to now about what would happen in Jerusalem must have been brought home to them—that Jesus, the Messiah, is preparing them for ministry without him. He is going to die.
When they come down from the mountain, the other gospels have Jesus telling the disciples not to tell anyone about what happened—not until he has been raised from the dead. Here in Luke, we only know that they decided to keep silent “and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Maybe there weren’t words to describe what they heard and saw and felt. Maybe they didn’t think anyone would believe them. Would you?
But Peter, James, and John were changed that day. They would never look at Jesus in the same way. They would always have the memory of the Transfiguration—when he was shining and his clothes were a dazzling white. They would share this memory with one another and later with the world as a testimony to their faith.
Peter in 2 Peter 1:16-19 says, 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Friends, we have been to the top of the holy mountain with Peter, James, John, and Jesus. We have seen through our eyes of faith in the Living Word the transfiguration of Jesus, God’s Beloved. We will never think of Jesus in quite the same way, now that we have seen his shining face and form in our imagination.
As we come down the mountain and leave this place in a little while, let us consider what this experience of hearing God’s voice and being urged to listen to Christ might mean for our ministry in his name today, tomorrow, the next day, and next year. What will it mean for us personally, today and for the rest of our lives? For God made you for a purpose! It’s up to you to seek God’s will for your life and for the ministry of your congregation.
For if you leave this place with only the remembrance of a fantastic Bible story, then you will be missing the point of this message—which is, what, now? We have a future filled with hope, brothers and sisters! We have the power of God living within us!
The Transfiguration will guide and inform the disciples’ ministry from that day forward. I pray it will guide and inform you—and that you will, above all, listen for God’s voice and pray for your church, your community, the world. You don’t need to fear death or anything in this life—for nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
You can live in freedom! You have the promise of eternity with him!
And when you grow weary or discouraged, for it will happen, I pray you will remember the words of Isaiah 40, preached by a devout Christian athlete, a future missionary to China, who ran for the glory of God—and won Olympic gold in 1924.
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Let us pray….
Holy One, thank you for Jesus, your Son, your Beloved, fully divine and fully human, like us, but perfect, without sin. Thank you that through your Beloved’s sacrifice on a cross our sins are forgiven, and we are your Beloved now, too. Thank you for working in our hearts and minds by your ever-flowing Holy Spirit, transforming us and teaching us what we need to know through Christ, your Living Word, as we seek to follow him every day. Help us to be bold and share our eternal hope through belief on your Son—and the abundant life and freedom from fear available to us right now. Remind us that nothing, Lord, nothing can ever separate us from your love shown in Jesus Christ. Stir us, more and more, in our prayers to talk less and listen more for your loving, calming voice, so needed in this world of chaos and disorder. We surrender our wills and desires to you, O Lord, and ask that you replace them with your will and desire for us, your church, as we minister here in Coshocton, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and seeking to heal a wounded world. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.