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Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

No doubt you’ve heard, or will hear in your lifetime many variations on the “You need to come down from the mountain” sermon on Transfiguration Sunday. They often interpret Peter’s suggestion that he build a tent as a metaphor for those wanting to stay comfy in their spiritual life without changing their actions – to hang on to the mountaintop moment. And I don’t want to dismiss those sermons out of hand, faith without works is indeed dead, and so the message that we need to live out our faith is important. But that’s not the sermon I’m going to give tonight.
Because on some level I don’t believe that sermon is really appropriate to this day’s texts. I’m going to offer a different interpretation of what Peter said, and then focus on God’s response to that. Our text says that Peter didn’t know what he was saying, for he was terrified; hardly a moment of spiritual complacency. In fact I’d suggest that Peter is all too quick to take action.
We live in a culture of action, of drive, ambition, impatience, moving on with things, short attention span, your team is only as good as their last game, what have you done for me lately? What’s really going on? I don’t know, let’s build a tent.
And how does God respond to Peter? God came in a cloud and spoke. Shhh, calm down, listen to my beloved. Jesus was Peter and John and James’ beloved too. They gave up everything for him. Yet, how often do we rush ahead to respond to the people we love instead of actually listening?
How often do we even have mountaintop moments? How often do we actually seek them? Do we take time in our busy schedules for going off and praying as Jesus himself often did? We can’t make the mountaintop moments happen, but we can take time to climb the mountain.
Every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection. Every Sunday should be approached as a mountaintop moment. Why when people talk about praxis do they not often talk about the effort of climbing the mountain in the first place?
When we gather together, sit, stand, kneel – if we do, bow, cross ourselves, sing – whether we’re good at it or not, take, eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord. We are climbing the mountain. Maybe we are not in a headspace to have a mountaintop moment. They actually aren’t all that common – even for the apostles. But if we approach our worship knowing that in the bread and wine that transfigured glory is present, or even that when two or more are gathered that glory is present, we are opening ourselves up to those moments.
And oh what glory it is. Christ truly has the power to transform. Christ can change the direction of your whole life. Turn you in the direction of being who you really are, who God sees you to be. In the direction of the you that God holds beloved.
And should we have a mountaintop moment, how easy is it for the cares of the day to wipe that moment from our consciousness. Even if the cares of the day are the result of the praxis – the living out the implications of that moment?
And how often or how long do we contemplate the implications? I do not believe that sitting still and listening is spiritual complacency. If you’re truly listening, it’s anything but complacency. What Jesus says is wonderful, compassionate, loving – but really really hard. In co-operation with God, you can be transformed. Not by simply saying, ok, I see what you’re on about, I’ll take it from here. You can not be fully you without God.
This is the last Sunday before Lent. Lent is meant to be a time of slowing down, of reflection, of fasting – getting out of our normal routine for 40 days. As a penitential season, it’s often thought of as grave, serious, dark. But what if we see that darkness as the cloud of God enveloping us; as God quieting us to tell us about God’s beloved? And telling us who we are and can be.
And this darkness was on the mountain. It is part and parcel of the mountaintop moment. Peter, John and James saw something amazing, but they also heard something amazing – heard it in the cloud, in the darkness. And Jesus told them not to say anything right away. Listen, contemplate, be with this.
The other side of the “faith without works is dead” coin, is that all the works in the world if they have no love are nothing more than a bunch of noise. Cultivating that love is the work of contemplation, or reflection. The question before us is often, what’s the right thing to do. How often do we ask what is the loving thing to do? What can we do with God that we can’t do on our own?
Remember in the flight from Egypt God led the Israelites to freedom both as a column of bright fire and dark smoke. Both light and darkness have love in them. So as we travel this Lenten season together, let’s listen for the love that’s in the darkness, let’s be in the calming darkness of God’s cloud. Let’s listen to God’s beloved together.

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