How good, Lord, to be here
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 3 March 2019
Readings were Luke 9: 28-36 and 2 Corinthians 3: 12 – 4: 2
We know the meaning of the phrase ‘a mountain-top experience’. And that’s literally what this episode in the Gospel is – for Jesus and for the disciples who were with him.
One way to preach on this could be to compare the ‘mountain top experience’ to the necessary coming back down from the mountain to the regular grind, where the real tasks are waiting for us to get on with.
But it feels to me that’s the wrong message for many of us today. Many of us need no reminding of the tasks we have in our lives; that we undertake dutifully, and sometimes wearily. Our awareness of this often manifests as busyness, and we experience this as not having enough time in our lives. Time is one of the scarcest commodities – for too many of us in this busy city.
So today I want us to linger a little at the top of the mountain.
Next week we begin the season of Lent. Before this journey of self-examination and repentance, I’d like us to know the assurance of God’s presence and power. I want us to understand and accept how this episode of the Transfiguration offers us replenishment. (Isn’t it a lovely word…? You can get your lips and tongue all around it.)
This is a moment of replenishment, for us, as it was for Jesus.
Back nearer the start of the Gospel story, Jesus is baptised in the river Jordan. He, and the astounded people around him, heard the voice of God the Father declare
You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. (Luke 3:22)
This is an assurance of Jesus’ identity and mission, as he wades out of the river to the tasks ahead; to the demands of his ministry as he takes on the resistant status quo.
Jesus shared our humanity, therefore he shared our human fears and our human doubts. In all his busyness, wouldn’t he need to be reassured and replenished? – especially that God’s presence and power were still an essential part of his being.
So – he went up the mountain to pray. And what happens? Just like at the river, he hears the voice of God the Father reassuring him:
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (v35)
There have been times when I’ve needed reassurance. When I came to lead my first funeral – I was very nervous about the responsibility I had. There was the intensity of event, the emotion, and the tight time frame to get it all sorted. I prayed for God’s strength and calm to do what I had been called to do. That day I did not trust in my own abilities, but in God to give me what I needed. And God was faithful; I felt a profound assurance that I was doing what I was meant to be doing.
When have you been aware that you need reassurance? Was it God you turned to?
In hearing this word today, let us take great hope in the fact that Jesus shares our experiences, and understands our need for reassurance and replenishment.
In addition to the voice of God, another aspect of this Transfiguration episode (that is an experience of replenishment) is the company Jesus has. The presence of Moses and Elijah (like the declaration by God) is an assurance of Jesus’ identity and mission.
To understand the presence of Moses and Elijah, the key word is coherence. Their presence indicates coherence with 1) the whole story of Israel to that point, and 2) the person of Jesus. These key figures of God’s story are the assuring presence that God’s story is extended and expanded in Jesus.
And for us, lingering at our own mountain top, we keep company with Jesus (who is “God with us”). In the company of Jesus, we are transformed into his likeness:
all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
My neighbours across the road have a tall hedge around the outside of their property. There is a gap in the hedge for the front gate, and for the last few years they have been shaping the tops of the hedge on each side of the gap toward each other, so that one day they will join and grow together forming an archway over the top. They have put frames up and tied portions of the hedge branches to the frames. These get shifted as the hedge grows. It’s a slow and gradual process – as the hedge is carefully and lovingly shaped at the pace the hedge naturally grows.
And it reminds me that our Christian experience of being transformed is like this at times. Sometimes we find immediate answers in prayer but, more typically, our prayer is about keeping company with Jesus in stillness and with patience. Our faith is grown and shaped so we become more like Jesus, gently over time in his presence.
The company we keep with Jesus replenishes us and shapes our identity. If we are able to do any good in daily life; if we are able to offer authentic hope to a troubled world; we need to be replenished by God who graciously desires to keep company with us.
I encourage you today to be patient in prayer; and honest enough to dwell in God’s presence. Let God carry the weight of your life and the burden of the world’s worries.
Risk awe, risk feeling tiny, risk feeling foolish, risk feeling sinful, and risk feeling loved with a searing Love that searches your soul with intermingled pain and joy.
Put yourself where there is replenishment. Linger where you find reassurance.
Please…visit the mountain often!