February 07, 2007

Transfiguration Sermon -- Jesus' Story

Jesus was tired. So tired, he couldn’t remember being this tired before. This was more than just weariness; this was a tiredness that struck to the core. It wasn’t just all the work of teaching and healing and answering questions—although that was tiring. No, this tiredness was because something was missing; he needed time to be alone with God.

It hadn’t always been this way he thought. There had been a time, it seemed so long ago now, when he had felt that wonderfully close connection to God. Jesus thought about that time, out by the river with John the Baptist. He remembered how John had taught him about a different way to communicate with God, a mysterious and mystical way to get closer to God than most people. Jesus had not truly understood what John was talking about until the moment of his baptism. With a smile on his face Jesus remembered coming up out of the Jordan and that light that shone on him, almost like a beam of sunlight piercing the clouds. But this light had been different, somehow it was warmer, more comforting. It was like being surrounded by love and support. Jesus remembered the words he had heard: “You are my beloved son, I am pleased with you.” Afterwards Jesus was told that others had seen the light and heard the voice as well.

Jesus had liked that feeling of support, of closeness with God. He had wanted to keep it so he went out into the wilderness for several weeks. He remembered the visit of the Tempter, a visit that pushed him to determine what his ministry was going to be. That visit had made Jesus realize that he was not meant to stay where he could always experience the times of extreme closeness. Those times were meant to refresh and re-energise him so that he could return to the world and share God’s vision. So he left the wilderness and went home.

Jesus thought about that day in the synagogue in Nazareth. The day when he had proclaimed to all his lifelong friends what he was called to do. With some bitterness he thought of their reaction when he told them that the message was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews—a reaction that forced him to leave the only town he had ever called home, possibly forever. From that point on it seemed that life had been an unending spiral of teaching and healing and answering questions. There always seemed to be questions. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been so bad but sometimes it seemed that people were more interested in the healing that the message. And then some of the people who paid the most attention to the message only seemed to do so to find fault with him. There always seemed to be someone around trying to catch him in a trap of some kind.

Jesus wondered, what would it take to make people see how wonderfully, and radically, different the world could be. True there had been some bright points. Jesus thought of the day at the seaside when Peter, James, and John had so willingly left their nets, their entire lives, behind and followed him. That had been good. But even Peter and the rest of the 12 didn’t seem to understand all of the time said Jesus to himself, thinking of the storm and their amazement when the waves went still. Jesus had spent time with the 12 chosen, teaching them about god’s vision of the world. He also tried to teach them about the mysterious, mystical way to experience God that he had learned from the Baptist but they didn’t understand, maybe they would have to experience that to understand it. All of it had been important work but somehow there was never enough time to get off alone and pray, at least not as often as he would have liked.

Finally Jesus had sent the 12 out to share the teaching and the healing. Maybe this way the word could reach more people, maybe this way he would not be so tired. It was uncertain how successful the trip had been. When the 12 got back Jesus called them together and asked what people were saying about him. Some said he was a prophet, maybe even Elijah himself. Some said he was John the Baptist. No one said so outright but Jesus had the sense that there were those who remembered the ancient prediction that one day a prophet like Moses, the Lawgiver and leader out of bondage, would come to once again lead God’s people. Maybe they thought Jesus was this prophet. Jesus realized that some honesty was needed to help people see who he was, so he told the disciples that the road was not going to be easy. I am going to die he said. And there will come a time when you will be asked to make enormous sacrifices because of your connection with me. Somehow that talk had not helped at all. The 12 still did not fully understand. And now Jesus was tired.

That day, late in the afternoon the group found themselves stopped beside a large hill. Jesus looked up to the top of the hill; noticing the narrow, barely worn, path that led to the summit. “I’ll bet nobody ever goes up there” he thought to himself. Surely up there I will find the space and quiet that I need to be with God for a while. Telling the disciples to make themselves comfortable Jesus started to walk up the hill.

He had only gone a few paces when something told him that he should not go alone. Turning around, he found Peter, James and John watching him closely. Waving them over Jesus said, “I want you three to come up with me.” There is some reason that you need to be with me. Together the four friends climbed up the narrow winding path to the top. Once there Peter, James and John sat down on some large rocks and started to relax while Jesus walked over to a grassy spot to pray.

Jesus started with the words he had learned as a child “Shema Yisroel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is one.” He continued with the prayers that he had learned while sitting at his father’s knee but somehow they just did not seem right. Eventually in a burst of emotion Jesus fell to his knees and cried out “Abba! Father! You promised that You would always be with me, that you would always help me to explain what the world could be. But so often it seems that people don’t understand me when I try to explain to them. How can I make them see? The people who listen the closest seem bound to destroy me. Does this path really have to lead to Jerusalem and the death that is likely there?”

As He prayed Jesus saw out of the corner of his eye that Peter, James, and John were falling asleep as they watched. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought them up here, they too needed to rest. Then, all of a sudden, the light came back. That same warm, comforting light that had greeted him at his baptism came flooding onto the hilltop. This time, in the glow of the light, were two forms. As they came closer Jesus knew, somehow, that they were Moses and Elijah. Jesus watched them come close in amazement. Moses spoke, “Jesus, God has heard you. You are right that going to Jerusalem is a risk but sometimes we need to take the risk. I did not want to return to Egypt but I did and God helped me lead the people to freedom. Take your risk and you will lead your people as well, even if you do die in the process. I died and the people entered the Promised Land, so will yours.” Then Elijah spoke, “It is true that prophets are not always heard. In my time the true prophets were harassed and hounded, some were even killed but that did not stop us from telling the truth that people did not want to hear. Tell them the truth, some will listen.” After they had spoken Jesus wept with relief and poured out all his fear and frustration.

The three of them talked for what seemed like hours and then Jesus heard some noise off to the side. Looking over he saw Peter waving and saying something about building shelters, the words were hard to make out. Just then a cloud or mist covered the hilltop but the light in the middle seemed to get brighter. Jesus heard The Voice, the same voice he had heard at the river, saying, “You are my son, my Chosen. People will listen to you.” Then the cloud, the light, and Moses and Elijah all vanished leaving the four friends alone on the hilltop.

Peter came over, confusion etched into his face, “Master, what has happened?” Jesus told the three of his experience then stopped and looked at them. “Tell me,” he said softly, “did you see anything?” “Yes, we saw you start to glow as if the sun itself had entered your body and was shining through you. Then two men came, we thought they were Moses and Elijah. Peter wanted to build shelters for all of you so that we could stay here, in this holy place. Then the cloud came and a voice said: “This is my son, my chosen. Listen to him.”

Jesus smiled and asked “Do you remember what I told you about that other way of knowing God, the mysterious way?” The three nodded. “Well that is what has happened here today, remember the way you feel right now. It will help you when times are tough. Come, let us go back. It is suppertime, the others will be waiting.” Jesus turned towards the path. “Wait master,” called Peter, “Can we not stay here, in this place? God is so close here.” Jesus shook his head slowly. “No Peter,” he said thoughtfully, “no, we can not stay on the hill top to have these experiences all the time. We have the experiences so that we can have the energy to continue with the teaching and healing that God has called us to do.”

As he started down the path Jesus stopped and looked at his friends. “Don’t tell the others about what has happened here. They will not understand yet. Later, when the time is right, they will understand and then you can tell them.” Smiling, he turned and, before he could ask the question, said “Don’t worry Peter, you will know when the time is right. Come, our friends are waiting.” And with that the four of them went back down the hill.

The three friends did remember what had happened on that hill top and later, after their world was torn apart and put back together, after anguish and darkness followed by an unexpected hope, they told the story to their friends. The story of an experience of God’s presence and the man who had helped make it possible.

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