Driving in today was crazy – the new snow from yesterday which was light and fluffy was being blown around by the winds in the frigid temperatures, and there were times where all of sudden I was driving with very little visibility, unsure of where I was going– I have lots of experience on roads such as these – this is the Bruce Peninsula in the winter – roads conditions. What makes it worse up north is that there is more snow and the banks at the side of the road are much, much higher – sometimes taller than the car – so when it is a day like today and the wind is whistling and snow is swirling around – coming off of banks higher than the car – one moment all is clear and next you can barely see a thing except possibly the road right in front of your left tire – at that time you are very much praying that the plow has cleared the road sufficiently so that you can see the lines to keep you in the proper lane – for when you drive into a section of highway like that – you have keep on driving because in that place the stopping is way more dangerous than the keeping on going. It is a very weird feeling – hurtling down the road at highway speed, than all of a sudden finding yourself enveloped in a blanket of snow, not being able to see much more than a foot or so in front of the windshield – slowing down but keeping on going because there is not much alternative, praying and hoping that you are in your own lane, that you are not going to run into something up ahead, or that the someone from behind is going to run into you – and just waiting to get out of the snow blindness – to see clear roads ahead.
I wonder how much time in our lives we feel like we are living like that? – going forward because stopping is harder than continuing – seeing only a fraction beyond ourselves, hoping that we are in our own lane on the right road headed in the correct direction, but keeping on going because – well what else can you do?
And then all of a sudden – next thing you know – the wind stops, the air clears, the blue sky becomes appears and you can see all around you – and everything becomes clear – and you think, ‘oh’… ‘here I am’ –… ‘this is my path’ – …‘I recognize place’ -… ‘this makes sense now’… a transfiguration moment.
Transfiguration is the moment when something changes and what was unclear becomes clear – where there was no way – a way appears – when what was unseen becomes visible. Transfiguration are that moment when you change your mind or have a new thought or your perspective changes, it could be when you forgive an old wound, or a value you cherished within yourself alters, or you the point of view you have held on to so strongly shifts. Transfiguration happens when suddenly something is revealed and it is never seen the same way again.
When we speak of having a mountaintop moment, we often mean any larger-than-life experience that reaches into our depths and radically changes our perspective. We suddenly see beyond our usual capacity, our hearts open, our defenses fall. Everything we think we already know and understand is transfigured.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain away from everyone else. Before their very eyes, the way Jesus looked was suddenly changed from the inside out. His clothing became so white it was dazzling. And suddenly they saw Moses and Elijah there too, in deep conversation with Jesus.
So is it any wonder that the disciples were terrified? Jesus is glowing and having a chat with 2 dead guys. I’m not sure I’d know what to do or say in that moment either .
Peter says “Woah… this is fantastic! What a moment! How about we build some huts, so that you, Moses and Elijah can all stay here longer.” And then this cloud engulfed them, and from deep within the cloud, a voice boomed: “This is my Son who I love greatly. Listen to him!” Peter, James and John looked around and suddenly everything looked normal again and they saw no one there but Jesus.
For me, this story isn’t about how Jesus changed. We can make assumptions and educated guesses, and come up with theories, but the bottom line is we just don’t know the “how”. For me, this is about how the disciples have changed – they now see Jesus in a different way.
Those transfiguration moments happen to you and I as well. They happen when we begin to see someone through the eyes of love. We are changed – our world is changed – when we begin to see other religions, other races, other genders, with caring and compassion. No, we probably won’t glow in the dark, but those transfiguration moments lead us to seeing others, and ourselves, in a new way. They lead us to knowing …. Not hoping, but KNOWING … that God IS with us.
Today in our Old Testament story as well – we witness a transfiguration – the Transfiguration of Elisha – The story is at the end of Elijah’s life – he is very close to being dead and Elisha knows it – but Elisha who is Elijah’s friend, student and the one to whom the responsibilities of prophet will fall after his death – Elisha is doing everything he can to not let this death happen. He is following the prophet very closly, making sure that he never leaves his sight, and every time someone reminds him that the death is imminent – Elisha tries to shut them up – by saying – ‘I know – but don’t talk about it’. Because he is afraid of what it means Elijah dies and because he feels he is not ready to become the prophet himself and because it is easier to pretend that this is not happen – Elisha continues to walk around in a cloud refusing to see what is right in front of his face – he is refusing to have a transfiguration moment – but eventually – and as we all know so well – death cannot be denied – and Elisha will have to face his fears and finally Elisha will be willing to witness to the death of Elijah – so he walks with him into the desert – and stands and watches that glorious moment that the old testament scribe describes as having fire and chariots – and Elijah is carried up to heaven – Elisha’s transfiguration moment – Elisha picks up the mantle of his friend and teacher, his mentor and prophet and walks out of the desert to live a new life in a new way….transfiguration.
I think I’ve shared this story with you before but it is one that stands out in my mind … I go back to it frequently …. And so I share it with you again today …..
Some of you may remember back to the latter half of 2013 – we were between ministers and for several weeks, we relied on pulpit supply for Sunday worship. I was lined up to fill in for the last 2 weeks of November and the month of December.
My Sunday morning – November 10, 2013 – started without incident.
Jim was camping with the Scouts …. I wasn’t “on deck” for another week …. so I was enjoying the quiet of the house. When the phone rang at approximately 9:05, I hadn’t showered ….. I was still in my pyjamas … When the caller identified himself as Harvey Murphy, I must confess it took me a minute to mentally ‘place’ who, exactly, that was … and then suddenly all these questions started running through my head . “Harvey Murphy ???? Why is he calling me on a Sunday morning??? I’m still in my pj’s for heaven sake … How does he even know who I am??? How did he get my phone number??? What in the world would he be calling me for at this time of day????
I pulled my head out of that cloud of confusion just in time to hear him say “…..and Cecil Wittich is sick” ….. and for a split second, I was back in the cloud thinking “so you’re calling me at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, while I’m in my pyjamas, to tell me somebody I don’t know is sick … this is not making any sense” ….. and then the lights went on. Cecil Wittich was our pulpit supply for November 10th.
Church was to start in just over an hour and we now had no minister. Dear. GOD. You have got to be kidding.
I heard myself saying “yes, ok, I’ll come up with something” ….. and I hung up the phone, realizing there wasn’t enough time to panic … I had to come up with something – fast. I stood in my family room, looking at the 7 different piles of resource materials I had been gathering …. One pile for each of the upcoming 6 Sundays that I would be leading worship, and one pile of stuff that didn’t “fit in” anywhere …. Not really knowing where to turn or what to do at that precise moment …. And as I looked at each of the piles again, on the very top of the “cast off” pile was “God’s Dream of Peace” …. A conversation between God and 3 ‘voices’, written by a member of Claremount United Church for use around Remembrance Day. Up until that moment, I had not given it a second look. I had no idea what it contained …. What it looked like …. and I was running out of time …. So I grabbed the document and started thinking “ok, I need 3 more voices … who can I call last minute who won’t say ‘no’ ….” … and in less than 10 minutes, I made 3 calls, got 3 yeses … and I was headed for the shower. Before 10 o’clock, Jan, Steve, Glenn and I were in the parlour, reading over the drama for the first time.
The service went off without a hitch … it wasn’t until after it was all over that folks had any idea what had transpired that morning … and when I looked back on it later that day, I realized that from the moment I hung up the phone with Harvey until I got back home after church, I honestly couldn’t remember feeling my feet on the floor. It truly felt like I was being carried the whole time. And I was. God picked me up, showed me what I needed to do, helped me get there, and carried me through it all.
It was in that moment … that moment of clarity … that I was changed. I wasn’t glowing in the dark, but it was a moment unlike any other.
I could see things differently … could see what really happened …
the service going seamlessly had nothing to do with me … it was God.
God carried us through the whole thing.
And I frequently go back to that moment … that feeling …. That transfiguration …
Transfiguration – The sermon title “I have been to the mountain top” is a quote from a from a Martin Luther King Jr speech – he too was man who understood and experienced transfiguration – very early on in his ministry – when he was questioning his call from God because things as a preacher was becoming difficult and discouraging in Montgomery, Alabama – and Dr. King had moment of transfiguration when he heard the voice of God which said to him: “Martin, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you even until the end of the world”. It was the crystallizing moment of his life – it transfigured him.
And even three nights later, when a bomb exploded on his front porch, Martin never forgot the power of those words, the reassurance of that Voice, and that voice is what sustained him time and time again in his ministry of equal rights.
And it has happened to me too, once on the floor of General Council of all place – in an auditorium at York University in Toronto – It was a pretty contentious time – there were many hurting people, and we were in conversations about residential schools and the United Churches complicity in the damage to our native brothers and sisters, things were heated in that meeting and we had many getting up to the mic who seemed to be talking but not helping the conversation in any way – and then I saw an old white man start to shuffle towards the mic – and I remember thinking to myself – “here we go again” and this man began to talk – and it was like the light shone out of the darkness and the clutter and the chaos in the room cleared – and I heard such pearls of wisdom that I never looked upon the residential school issues the same again – and more than that – I learned that appearances are deceiving and old white men often have much wisdom to share. The man’s name was Right Reverend George Tuttle and I will never forget the man or that moment because I was transfigured.
Mountain top moments are happening all the time – I about heard two more yesterday on the radio as our family drove home from Perth.
The first happened to Andrew Ferris – Edmonton Oiler – he was once asked in a Toronto Star interview who he would most like to have dinner with – his answer was David Suzuki – Canada’s leader on the Environmental Front – the Suzuki Foundation contacted Andrew three days later and set up a breakfast meeting – it was there when David asked Andrew what he was doing environmentally that David challenged him to speak up and speak out because as a sports star he had a responsibility to share his concern and love for the environment – because of that conversation – that moment of transfiguration when Andrew shifted from inward to outward focus – there are over 500 NHL players who have pledged to be carbon neutral and contribute to the Suzuki foundation’s carbon offset program.
Another story of transfiguration I heard on the radio yesterday was told by Timothy Taylor author and short story writer and cook from Vancouver – He walked the Camino with a close friend a few years ago, they went the northern route through Basque country. After a particularly grueling day, they stopped at their bed and breakfast and with much hunger and exhaustion sat down for dinner in a simple restaurant with a limited menu – Timothy was in the mood for a substantial meal and was disappointed when what he ordered was less than appetizing – what happened next for him was a transfiguration moment for when he ate the simple food of the Basque region, he realized that he was eating – and this is a quote – “the most perfect food in the moment” and his whole attitude towards food shifted in that instance – and he was transfigured – and it was never the same again.
Because our scriptures record often only the big spectacular moments – it is hard to remember that more often than not it is in our every day and ordinary moments of life that transfiguration happens and God gets in and our worlds change. It is also good to remember too that our mountain top moments don’t have to happen on a mountain either – they can happen in the desert like they did for Elisha or the floor of General Council in Toronto at York University in the year 2000 like they did for me, or in a eating breakfast with David Suzuki for Andrew Ferris or in a café restaurant in the Basque region of Spain like it did for Timothy Taylor or where – where have your moments of Transfiguration happen?
And remember, mountaintop moments NEVER EVER happen for their sake alone. They are ALWAYS tied to what happens down below. I am convinced that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain because he would soon be taking them with him to the Garden of Gethsemane. The mountain experience and the Garden experience are divinely intertwined in that these unsuspecting disciples come face to face with the two sides of Jesus’ glory – the ecstasy of divinity and the agony of humanity. They witness the joy – and the cost – of the Chosen One’s servanthood.
Mountaintop moments are meant to equip us for the Gethsemane moments of life. They empower us to
see beyond the hopelessness and trust when life seeks to undo us. In the end it all comes down to: Jesus words to the disciples: “get up and do not be afraid. Get up and trust that God goes with you and this moment of transfiguration will give you what you need to go on even when the road becomes hard to see and the journey gets tough again. Get up and walk down the mountain and go about your ordinary days… but keep your eyes open… because God is coming to meet you in surprising and startling ways. Amen.