There are some moments in our faith that take us into the unknown, into the unfamiliar, into the transcendent. Moments that are so holy and unexplainable that all we can do is stand in open-mouthed-awe and wonder. When Moses encounters the burning bush that never burns up in the wilderness of Mt. Horeb – it is such a moment. When Elijah encounters God outside of a cave on the same mountain – not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the stillness – it is such a moment. And in the shining presence of Jesus, dazzlingly bright there on the mountain – it is such a moment. Take off your shoes and worship, friends, for our Lord, Jesus Christ, the light of the world is among us and it is so very holy.
As beautiful and awe-inspiring as it is, this scene from scripture, this transfiguration is challenging for us. We want to get excited about it, it’s incredible. But reality is – it’s a little beyond us. It’s not an experience we are likely to have ourselves and so we might tend to dismiss the lessons we can find here. Let’s not do that. Instead let’s truly appreciate this incredible event and ponder and then search for what this word has to say to us. For if nothing else, we can take away from this the knowledge – that when we choose to follow Jesus – whether it’s up a mountain, across the globe, or just around the corner – when we make that choice, we are never the same.
Wouldn’t you agree? I hope so. There are days when you may not be feeling it, but scripture tells us so. I like the way the Message translation puts it: “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life emerges!” (2 Cor 5:17) For most of us that’s a good description: a new life emerges – day by day by day – ever so gradually we change from the old and become the new person in Christ. We are not meant to stay the same. My former pastor used to say, “take a look at where you were a year ago as a Christian, if you are no further along in your faith – it’s time to do something about it!!!” That’s kind of startling isn’t it. But our relationship with Jesus SHOULD change us, it should be transformative, we should come down from the mountain changed. And even though Jesus admonished the disciples that were with him to keep the whole thing secret until much later, can you imagine how much this experience must have changed them? So let’s stop right there a minute and talk about change.
We don’t like it, our sensibilities rale against it. Kathryn Johnston who writes for the Christian Century periodical speaks about this in a recent article as she talks about how hard it is to change her expectations for her church. She laments a time when her church was growing and vibrant in a certain way. Johnston writes, “It was a different era then, … A time when church mattered (or at least going to church mattered) and that version of our congregation had to move out to a larger parcel of land to accommodate everyone. If only we could have frozen time and stopped right there—maybe set up some tents and kept things exactly like they were. It’s hard to let go of what we once had… But the truth is, time marches on and we get to see what God has in store for us next.” To me, that’s the exciting part – seeing what God has in store for us next.
Johnston goes on to say, “Transfiguration is the annual Sunday when we roll our eyes at Peter for wanting to set up tents, though really none of us can blame him.” Can we? Yet, if we stay frozen in one spot, we miss God doing a new thing. Still, our tendency is to want to stay where we are and build a few tents.
A number of years ago, I took a small group of youth to North Carolina on a mission trip. A couple of the kids were really reluctant to go. They didn’t want to leave home (their current tent, so to speak) and as teenagers are wont to do, they were kind of sullen on the way there. They were being pulled away from the familiar in order to experience something new and they weren’t at all sure they wanted to go! Over the course of the week, however, things gradually changed. They found it meaningful to get away from all of the distractions they experienced at home. They found great joy and connection in slinging paint and hammering nails. Inconveniences became learning opportunities, and it became important to them to help others. They learned something, they grew during that time. They strengthened their relationship with Jesus and with others. They built some real friendships and their faith was rekindled. When it came time to go home, these same students who had balked at coming on the trip did not want to return. They wanted to build tents and stay in this apart place. They hugged and cried and said – it is good for us to be here, let us build tents and remain. They experienced a transformation of sorts, but the real transformation occurred when they were able to return home as more mature Christians, taking the real lessons and their deepened faith back into their everyday lives.
That is what the disciples are called upon to do here, because as soon as they come down from the mountain they are confronted with people and problems and the daily grind. Life is like that for us too, isn’t it. We have a moment of supreme certainty in our faith, and in the next the demands of the world crash in on us. We walk out of the worship service and into the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. We encounter those who need our help. We re-enter the fray of daily life. And that’s what it will most likely be like today. We’ll go to coffee hour and someone’s gonna spill their coffee, someone else is gonna say something disagreeable. Or you’ll leave to go out to lunch and have to stand in line at the restaurant. The car won’t start, the roast will burn, the laundry will need done. Life will happen.
But it can be different. We can be different. And we don’t have to wait to start. Because the real transformation takes place at the foot of the mountain where we, as changed people live, truly live, as Christ lives in us.
What does that look like? You might ask. Let’s return to the reluctant youth group kids. When they returned it looked like a awakened desire to learn more about Jesus – a greater attentiveness to prayer and what Jesus had to say. It looked like a more compassionate way of being with each other. It looked like a joy in being together in Christian fellowship – genuinely encouraging each other. It looked like a putting aside of smaller animosities and harsh language and petty quarrels. It looked like a higher confidence within themselves because of Christ and a greater desire to serve as a result. Did it look like perfection? Absolutely not, but what it did look like was transformation.
So here’s my questions for you. Will you come down the mountain with me? Will you allow Jesus to transform you? And my friend, what will that look like? I will be praying for you and for all of us as we answer yes as Jesus says, “Come Follow Me.” I will be praying that you and I – will never be the same.
 Kathryn Johnston, “What God Has In Store Next.” The Christian Century, 2023.