The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
2 Peter 1:16-18
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.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 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.”
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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 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.”
I love to hike up hills and baby mountains. There are a couple of trails I hike up every time I go to Palm Springs. There is the Araby trail which takes one up above Bob Hope’s former residence, a big round house with a few golf holes around the outside, which I was told was on the market for 25 million.
And there is the Bump and Grind which is a popular trail behind the Target store in Rancho Mirage. What I like about that trail is that there are two ways up so you can go up one and down the other. More interesting. An elevation gain of about a 1000 feet.
Back in New Brunswick I used to go up something called Frost Mountain which was part of the Loyalist Farm that was deeded by the crown to Sarah and William Frost back around 1783. It was the farm where my grandmother Leah Frost was born and raised. And from the top of the little mountain you could see the house where she lived. You can see all up and down the Kenebecasis River Valley and over to Hampton where I grew up.
For me mountain tops are special places, spiritual place. I feel closer to God on top of a mountain. I don’t know whether it is because from the mountain one can see better the beauty of creation, or maybe it is when one goes up the mountain, the distractions of the world fade away. I don’t know but I feel close to God on a mountain.
Today’s gospel is about Jesus going up the mountain and being transfigured.
He is full of glory shining brightly, dazzling. It seems Jesus is closer to God, or maybe even more fully God up on the mountain.
But Jesus isn’t the only one up the mountain. With him
are three of his disciples, Peter, James and John.
And then appears two other figures Moses and Elijah representatives of the Law and the Prophets…
Two figures from faith history who also had mountain experiences…
It is a glorious moment where the voice of God is heard. “This is my beloved son…. In whom I am well pleased.”
But it is much more than a private glorious moment for Jesus.
Jesus transfiguration is not just his personal moment of glory, where Jesus hears from God.
Jesus’ transfiguration happened, so that the disciples can be transfigured, so the law can be transfigured, so that prophecy can be transfigured…so that you and I can be transfigured.
“Listen to him” the voice says.
Listen to him so that you can be transfigured.
Listen to him so you can be changed.
Because this Jesus is all about change….This Jesus is about us being born again, resurrected, transformed, made into new creations.
Moses appears on the mountain. In the Old Testament lesson it talks about Moses going up the mountain to receive the Law, the two tablets with the commandments.
And I want you to note three contrasts between Mt Sinai and the Mount or Transfiguration.
At Sinai the glory of the Lord covered the mountain for six days. That is when Moses went up the mountain.
But six days is mentioned in the transfiguration story. Six days later. What was six days earlier? Six days earlier Peter has said that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah and Jesus began to teach them what being the Christ meant.
It wasn’t glory as the world thinks of glory. It was to suffer and die for us.
Peter can’t believe it. That isn’t glory. He starts to tell Jesus off, but Jesus corrects him…because…
The glory of the Transfiguration is a different glory than that of Mount Sinai and the Law. It is about a suffering glory not a conquering or winning glory.
Secondly who goes up the mountain? In Mount Sinai it is Moses alone. Nobody else is allowed up.
There are strict boundaries set up and people are warned not to go up lest they die.
For the Transfiguration three disciples go with Jesus. With Jesus the glory of God is not so other and separate and holy, for with Jesus the new home of God is with people, it is in relationships, it is in community. We the people are the body of Christ.
And thirdly, what is God referred to at Sinai? God is a devouring fire. The people who cross the line will be killed. God is so Holy and other that one cannot see God without being killed. So stay back. Fear this God who can kill you with a look.
And in contrast there is Jesus, who is God, who is intimate and close and loving and peaceful. You can see the face of God, whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father.
The glory of God in Jesus is not a devouring fire but the fire of an inclusive love for all people. So Jesus says “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid.
So that is Moses.
The other person up the mountain is Elijah. He too has a mountaintop experience with God.
I don’t know whether you remember the story, but he had a contest with the prophets of Baal. 450 of them.
The contest is…. Who could make fire rain down from heaven and devour the sacrificed bull?
The Prophets of Baal go first and they cannot do anything. Elijah even torments them saying that maybe Baal is sleeping or going to the bathroom.
And when Elijah’s turn comes, he soaks everything in water and the fire comes down.
He wins and then according to the story he kills all 450 of the Prophets.
But after this great victory he hears that Queen Jezebel is out to get him and he runs away in fear up Mount Sinai. Fourty days and nights he is there depressed, feeling alone. He wants to die. “Enough,” he says. “Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.”
Why does Elijah want to die?
The Roman Catholic theologian James Alison suggests that killing 450 priests of Baal was empty and hollow and devoid of the glory of God.
He goes up the mountain and finds that God is not in contests and killing in thunder and lightning, but after going through his kind of Lenten fourty days, that God is in a still small voice, in humility and service.
So Jesus being transfigured is not just about a personal experience it is about a whole new understanding of God that is peaceful. The Law is transfigured. The prophets are transfigured.
It is not about Judgement and condemnation and punishment for those who go astray.
It is about finding the lost and bringing them home.
It is about the sick who need a doctor.
It is about the ones shut out of the banquet, good and bad, poor and sick, and inviting them in.
It is about you and me having the power to be children of God by listening to Jesus, by trusting his way.
To those who receive his love, accept his love and trust in Christ’s way of love they are transfigured into children of God.
They are not only children of God, but the body of Christ. They are Jesus operating in this world, to share that same love.
That is what Jesus is about today. He is trying to change you and me into his image.
He is trying to transfigure you.
About 9 years ago a movie came out entitled Gran Torino. It starred Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski, a cantankerous retired Polish American factory worker, a widower who was a Korean War Veteran, who was still troubled by his experience in the Korean War.
Walt lives in a poor neighbourhood of Detroit, which was formerly predominantly white, but now is predominantly filled with Asian immigrants. A family moves in next door. They are Hmong people from Laos.
Walt is prejudiced and doesn’t like them but gets involved when one of them tries to steal his Gran Torino as a gang initiation. Walt stops him and takes him back to his mother and the boy’s mother in appreciation for not calling the police makes the boy do odd jobs for Walt.
Walt begins to get to the boy and then know the family and then other Hmong families…
And Walt begins to change and care for these former outsiders.
In the end Walt decides he will try to get rid of the gang that has been bullying and threatening the neighbourhood and the family next door in particular.
He buys a suit, gets a haircut, makes confession and goes to the gang members house, standing outside. Pretending to draw a gun, the gang members shoot him, but Walt is unarmed. The police come and arrest the gang.
It is obvious that Walt sacrifices his life to save his friends, his new found family.
Walt is transfigured. What changed him is how he, the bigot was accepted and loved by his neighbours. Walt did not really deserve that love, but the outsiders, like the Good Samaritan loved the neighbour, even though that neighbour was originally more enemy than friend.
I don’t know about you, but the people who have always have had the biggest influence on me were the ones who loved me and accepted me. The ones who were non-judgmental in their approach, the ones I could share anything with because I knew I would not be condemned, but loved.
In the movie Chocolat, Vianne moves to a small French town and opens up a chocolate shop during Lent. Her chocolate almost seems to have a magical effect of opening people up to love and laughter, to reconciliation and healing.
She spreads grace and love and inclusion around the town even though she doesn’t attend church.
She is opposed by the mayor who thinks it is an abomination that a chocolate shop should be opened in Lent; that she doesn’t go to church, and that she has a daughter and there is no father around.
He tries to shut her down.
Towards the end of the movie, the Priest who has been intimidated and dominated by the mayor, who sometimes has his sermons edited by the mayor, gives a little sermon from his heart:
I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create… and who we include.
Chocolat is a movie about transfigurations or transformations. About people who are changed to embrace, to create, to include and to love.
That is what Transfiguration Sunday is about. It is about us becoming like Jesus radiating love and kindness, exuding grace and mercy, welcoming stranger, friend, neighbour and enemy…
…practicing peace and non-violence
…forgiving one another and being reconciled.
That is what it is like to be on the mountaintop. It is to make that Promised Land a reality in our lives.