24 February 2019
Luke 9. 28-36
Church is rooted in a vision of god’s love!
I don’t know how many times, over the years, I’ve read the story. From Matthew, Mark, Luke. Each and every year, it’s always there. The last Sunday of Epiphany. The Sunday just before Ash Wednesday. Jesus goes up the mountain with his inner circle – Peter, John, James. And while he’s praying, the appearance of his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Suddenly, the trio sees two other – Moses, Elijah – talking to him. And as if that wasn’t enough, a cloud comes and overshadows them and a voice from the cloud comes and says, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!” And then, it’s all over, gone, as quickly as it happened. And year, after year, after year, we come back to the mountaintop.
And frankly, for some reason, I’ve always imagined it as Sinai! That wilderness peak where god met Moses and gave him the Law. Maybe it’s because of the First Reading. From Exodus. Where “Moses came down from Mt Sinai.” Or maybe, it’s because of Elijah’s presence. After defeating, destroying, Jezebel’s false prophets, Elijah ran for his life and hid out in a cave on the side. . . of Mt. Sinai! Whatever the reason, I just assumed, just took for granted, that the mountain, this morning, was Sinai-like. And each year, every year, on this Sunday, my assumption would be at the heart of the celebration. But this year? This year, it’s different.
This year, something else came to mind. I think it’s because of where we are as church, where we are as a congregation. For a few months, now, I’ve been thinking, a lot, on our “crossing the river,” our entrada, if you will, our entrance into the land. Like Joshua and Israel crossing the Jordan. But right before that crossing, there was another mountaintop. “Moses went up from the plains of Moab,’ we’re told, “to the top of Pisgah, and the LORD showed Moses the entire land!”
Moses went up from the plains of Moab, to the top of Pisgah,
and the LORD showed Moses the entire land!
Pisgah wasn’t a place of law and order, like Sinai. It wasn’t a peak of rules and regulations, of shalts and shalt nots. It was a place of revealing, a peak where the curtain was pulled aside.
Moses had led a messy group of slaves out of the mud pits of Egypt, through the sea, into the wilderness. And along the way, he made of them a nation, a people, of god! And there, at the edge, on the verge of a new day, he went up the mountain and was given a glimpse of the future he’d worked so long, so hard to realize. What if? What if that is the purpose of, the reason for, the transfiguration of our lord? To give a foretaste, a glimpse, of the feast to come? “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” said Dr. King, “and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land!” Seeing visions! Dreaming dreams! That’s what changed the appearance of Jesus’ face! That’s what caused his clothes to shine like the sun! Today, we don’t stand on a mountain like Sinai. We stand on one like Pisgah! And Moses and Elijah stand with us, looking over into the land Jesus sits before us!
Jesus didn’t go up the mountain to see them; they came to see him! To see him and to speak to him about his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem! They looked over and they saw the cross! The cross and the rising beyond! That’s the purpose of this mountain! To get us high enough so we can get a glimpse, get a glance, at what’s about to happen! To lift us up so we can see all the way to tomorrow! That’s what the transfiguration does. It gives perspective, it provides a vantage point, so we can see where we’re going!
Living here on the plains, wandering in the flatland, it’s easy to lose our way. No landmarks. No beacons. Back in the good old days, up on the staked plains north of us, people would climb up onto the caprock. And after a while, they’d get lost, disoriented. People living on there would always send out search parties. And so, they made their own mountains – their own Pisgahs – out of buffalo bones to mark the way. And we do the same thing here in the church. We get so busy, so distracted, so diverted, that after a while, we’re not sure where we’re headed. We end up walking in circles. It’s the transfiguration that gives us the outlook we need. Not Sinai, but Pisgah! Not laws, but the visions and dreams! If there’s one thing we need as church, as god’s very own, here, today, it’s visions and dreams!
I’ve lived in this place, going on eighteen years. Even now, I’m amazed at how religious, how deeply religious, this part of the world is. Church are a dime a dozen. There’re more churches than doctors! More churches, even, than lawyers! And every day, there’s a new one opening up. One thing this town doesn’t need is one more church. To dilute. To water down. To preach the same thing as all the rest. It wouldn’t be bad if it, actually, made a difference in the community. But it hasn’t. It doesn’t. No. We don’t need one more church just like all the rest. But we do need a church that brings good news to the poor! And we need a church that proclaims release to the captives and recovery-of-sight to the blind and god’s favor! We do need a church unlike all the rest that lets the oppressed go free! But that kind of church, that kind of congregation, is few and far.
Tomorrow can only be seen from the top of this mountain! The mountain of the Transfiguration! Not from Sinai! Even Moses and Elijah knew that. Together, with Jesus, they looked out at the promise! Today, Moses and Elijah, together, look out over lent and holy week and easter! Today, Moses and Elijah survey the wondrous cross! And they see the kingdom! The kingdom in all its glory! The kingdom in all its love! They see the kingdom stretching from horizon to horizon! As far as the eye can see! No, Midland doesn’t need just another church. . . even if that church is us! What Midland needs is a church that proclaims the gospel loudly and clearly! What Midland needs is a church that announces grace without limit and without measure! What Midland needs is a church that cares, that loves, without apology or excuse!
I’ve been here long enough to know that, up to now, there have been none with that reputation! There have been popular congregations. There have been prosperous congregations. There have been congregations known for one program or another. There have been congregations where everybody who’s anybody belong. But church is about love. Church has, always and forever, been about the love! From here on the mountaintop, with Peter, John, James. . . From here on the mountaintop, with Moses, Elijah. . . From here on the mountaintop, with Jesus. . . we catch sight of the kingdom. Even more, we gain our first glimpse of the king. Crown of thorns. A throne that looks a lot like a cross. And we say, “Amen!” We say, “Yes! Yes!” We say, “This is most certainly true! It’s going to be just like this!” We’ve looked over! And we have seen!