“Glorifying the past can never be the key to our future. We need to get a new perspective on today
by getting a new vision of tomorrow”. (Keith A. Russell).
Exodus 24:12-18 & Matthew 17:1-9
Today we depart from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus had taught the gathered crowd. Today we are on a journey with Jesus and his disciples, a journey that will ultimately lead him to Jerusalem where the events of Holy Week will unfold. Today, Jesus takes his three closest disciples and heads up a mountain.
Our two stories we read comes to us from two very different settings.
The one is the Story of Moses leading his people through the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. It is a time of great uncertainty for this group of people. They were a people without a destination. In many ways they were rudderless, without a destination and lacking a vision of how to navigate life itself.
The second is the story of Jesus, leading people who felt directionless in a spiritual wilderness-journey. Their institutionalized visions had lost its promise. Their future uncertain. They, like their ancient forebear’s trekking through the wilderness, hungered for a spiritual destination that made sense to them and offered them hope.
Both periods of history are marked by this hunger for something more than what they had. A yearning for hope.
In both cases there is an ascent up a mountaintop. Why mountaintops, because that was the symbolic meeting place where God would descend, and God’s representative among the people would ascend. It was a kind of neutral ground, neither fully heaven where God was believed to reside, and a place elevated from the valleys and plains of the world where human life took place.
And so, in the first meeting, Moses descends with the gift from God, namely the Law or Torah, the blueprint for human meaning and happiness.
In Jesus case, he ascends the mountain with his three closest disciples and there God does not give Jesus a new Law or Torah to take back down to the people—but in this case, Jesus is affirmed by God to BE the new law and Torah.
The author of this Gospel, Matthew, is a crafty writer. He is writing predominantly for a Jewish audience. It is absolutely pertinent for him to establish Jesus’ credentials for the consumption of his audience.
After Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, Moses was the one to receive from God, the mandate and blueprint for the life of God’s people.
Jesus is being established in his audience’s mind as the NEW MOSES, empowered by God to bring a blueprint to them by which they could live their lives.
For good measure Elijah appears with Moses, with Moses representing a time roughly 1,400 years earlier and Elijah about 900 years prior.
So, Jesus credentials are now established and he is confirmed as one in the great line of prophets of Israel.
According to Matthew, the bewildered disciples stutter into life with dumbest idea ever. They want to encapsulate this incredible experience by remaining on the mountaintop with these great figures of history. Makes one wonder whether they wanted to hog these experiences for themselves.
However, Jesus would have none of it because his call is to be with the people and the people, well, they lived in the valleys and that is where he leads the three stumbling disciples for there is great work to be done among the people.
Their mission, just as with Moses, to give people hope and direction. To encourage, cajole and even admonish, but always with a message of hope and expressions of God’s love.
In his book, In Search of The Church, Dr. Keith A. Russell says it like this;
“Glorifying the past can never be the key to our future. We need to get a new perspective on today by getting a new vision of tomorrow”.
There was no chance that Jesus was going to get sidetracked by his experience on the mountaintop, in fact, it appears to have strengthened his resolve to act decisively.
A vision that appears, at first, to fail with the crucifixion, is carried forward by a transfigured core of disciples who eventually “got it”. Only after their own transformation on Pentecost Sunday, are they able to carry forward the vision Jesus given them.
The key word in the Jesus story is “transfiguration”. According to this text Jesus is changed before their eyes, affirming his status as God’s representative. Now he ready for what Thomas Lang calls his “death march to Jerusalem.” Now he is fully equipped. Now he has set his eyes on the goal.
What stands out in this story is the portrayal of the three disciples that accompanied Jesus and who witnessed this event, as being clueless. Even in this glorious moment they struggle to find context, understand the brevity.
Jesus, the Light of World, is revealed to them in dazzling brightness and they appear to flop around like fish out of water.
Can it be that there are times when the Light of God is revealed to us in spectacular ways, and we fail to see it for what it is. We may not get the full mountain-top experience, and let’s face it, there are no mountains here on our island.
But what about those moments in life when clarity and awe and wonder overcome us? What about those moments when joy and purpose come into focus and we know that we are experiencing a sacred opportunity? Or can it be that our moment of illumination comes in the quiet moments we make to think about our place in the world?
Let’s not be like the disciples, overcome by a lack of imagination as to what God’s purpose for us is, when God’s love reaches out to us.
Everyone is imbued with the radiant light that comes from God. Everyone is programmed and gifted to shine in this world. We all have opportunity and ability. There is so much left to learn and apply in our lives.
For that to happen we cannot be flopping around like fish out of water. We cannot be like the well-meaning but visionless disciples, clumsily trying to capture permanence from an ecstatic experience.
Be on the lookout for the simple moments when God’s love affirms who we are and what we can do. When we are transfigured from the dull and dreary to the illuminated and beloved.
And then, may we be prepared to allow the love of God to transform us from who we think we are to who God knows we are.
If we live with the expectation that God is not done with us and if we are willing to allow the illuminating light of God to penetrate our defenses, and if we are willing to experience transformation, our journey into the future holds great possibility. No matter how old or young we are. No matter what our social status or our level of faith or non-faith. Promise lies in our willingness to be transformed. Amen.
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.
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.