Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Transfiguration 02/19/2012

It’s easier to start with the back end of the Transfiguration story and that is usually where we start, with the disciples coming down from the mountain.  Coming down from the mountain this story is more accessible, more understandable because coming down represents the life goes on part of it.  To come down though you do first have to go up and while the top may not be where we want to start with this story, we most likely do know something about mountain top experiences. 

For example, I usually look to the world of sports when talking about this and it’s probably easier to go back to last year, but when the Packers won the Super Bowl, if you’re a fan you went with them to the mountain top and it’s great, you bask in the glory and the glow for awhile, but the next day you still have to get up and do whatever it is you do; the routine of life goes on, you have to go to work or school, the meals have to be cooked, the house has to be cleaned, the snow has to be shoveled, the bills have to be paid, the price of gas is still going up; if your back or your knees were causing you pain, they’re still causing you pain, you get the idea.  The glow of the mountain top may linger, but life goes on. 

Still, we need those experiences, whatever they are, and they do give us a needed boost, they encourage us and help to keep us going; but you know it doesn’t last.  The mountain top is great, but you can’t stay there, so you might as well think about what you do down at the bottom and again, that is usually where we start.

There may be another reason though, that we prefer to start closer to the bottom of the mountain when considering this story.  It may be that when we’ve been to the mountaintop, when we’ve had those experiences, Jesus hasn’t been there, Jesus or any sense of the divine hasn’t been part of it.  For a lot of us, relative to our faith, we know a lot about the call to worship and service and mission that comes at the bottom of the mountain; all that is part of who we are; but it’s not necessarily attached to some dramatic, life changing revelation of Jesus.  Being life long Lutherans as many of us are, it’s a more gradual process, we don’t tend to talk about dramatic conversion moments, and as a result, we know more about the bottom of the mountain than we do about the top so it’s easier to gloss over that part. 

I raise the question in thinking about myself.  I did my true confessions on the religious nature of my Celtics years a few weeks ago.  There were some mountaintops in there, there’s no question about that, highs that I floated on for quite awhile, but not in any sacred, Jesus-y way.  When I try to pore through my life and come up with something truly profound and religious that compares with those experiences, something that’s really a God thing, I don’t come up with much.  When I think about my faith life it’s pretty much lived at the bottom of the mountain and it’s always been that way.

Last Sunday I was gone for the third of what will wind up being eight weekends over two years at the Grace Institute down in Dubuque, Iowa.  It’s a series of spirituality retreats that includes introducing the participants to a variety of spiritual practices and the reason I was attracted to it was because of what I’m talking about.  For me it’s kind of a quest for the mountaintop, some experience where I really sense the presence of God as more than an idea.  It may not happen, I don’t know.  One of the leaders of the Grace Institute who has been leading spirituality workshops and retreats for years talked about the fact that what he has found is that for the most part his “spiritual” life, his prayer life is pretty routine.  He has certain spiritual disciplines and practices he has engaged in for years, but it’s not a series of magic moments on the mountaintop; most of it he says, is pretty humdrum, but he persists.

I found that to be a good reminder for me, and one of the things it has done is to make me accept the fact that maybe I’m not destined for a spiritual mountaintop with Jesus; that may not be in the cards.  But it’s also made me think that perhaps it’s enough to just be more aware of and appreciative of moments, of glimpses of the mountain top; and they do happen.  I’ve mentioned some of my kayak moments in the past, especially on Lake Superior, and you probably have your own places where the wonder of creation and the majesty of the creator kind of overwhelms you.  For me, it doesn’t happen every time I’m out there, but there are those times it catches me.  Those are moments, glimpses of the mountaintop. 

For me, to be honest, those kinds of moments don’t happen that often during worship because I’m too involved in what I’m doing or I’m thinking about what comes next so I’m not all that present to God’s presence; I’m just doing what I do.  It was a few weeks ago though; communion was done and I had finished cleaning up the altar, but the choir was still singing the communion hymn with the refrain, “And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up…” and so forth.  But suddenly, standing there at the altar, I heard those words spoken to me, and it was one of those moments, a God moment, and then it was gone, and I was on to doing what I do “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in his grace;” but there was a moment.

A couple of things though:  in both of the examples I mentioned, the kayak times and the communion hymn, I wasn’t looking for anything, I wasn’t trying to have a mountaintop moment.  It just happened and I bet that’s true for you too, when you have such moments.  You don’t plan them; they surprise you.  When I try to have these moments, like during my daily devotion time, usually not much happens, it’s pretty dry.  So the heck with daily devotions, right?  Why bother?  Well, no; even if it seems like not much happens, that time is part of the journey and it is preparation for the moments that are special.  Most of us have a tendency to want to be in control but the God moments don’t work that way; they come when we’re consciously or more likely, unconsciously less in control, more vulnerable.

The other thing is that when these moments happen, for me anyway, they are just moments and then they’re gone.  But I’m thinking, maybe that’s all we can stand.  Like Peter wanting to build booths on the mountain to make the experience last longer, we might have the same kind of longing; but maybe that wouldn’t be good for us and…it might be more than we could take.  All of the gospel accounts tell in various ways of Peter, James and John being terrified by what they experienced; this wasn’t buddy-buddy warm fuzzy Jesus.  They could stand a glimpse, but that’s all.   Maybe it’s enough to be more attentive to the moments when God is there, to not let them slip by unnoticed when we’re busy doing whatever we do at the bottom of the mountain.

The story of the Transfiguration preserves a moment for us.  The season of Epiphany is about Jesus’ identity being revealed and it always ends with this as the gospel writers describe a moment, a moment when they saw Jesus as more than a prophet, more than a teacher, more than a healer, more than any of the categories that logic might want to place him in.  Jesus does fit all those logical categories, but if he’s reduced to just that, he becomes little more than a mild, moral philosopher who wound up martyred, a bland cardboard cutout is another way I’ve heard it described.  If Jesus is reduced to that bland cardboard cutout though, the season of Lent that we’re about to begin, a season that leads to the cross, makes no sense.  A mild, moral philosopher doesn’t wind up crucified.  So we have this other image of Jesus to consider as we move into Lent.  It’s Jesus transfigured, beyond all our human categories for him.

It is easier to start at the bottom of the mountain.  From there, as we think about what we are called to do, it’s easier or at least more manageable; we have some control as we consider our response to the moral teachings of Jesus.  The mountaintop Jesus though, is beyond our control and a little bit scary.

I used to dread this Sunday because the story is so weird; but I don’t dread it anymore because I’ve stopped worrying about whether or not it happened just this way.  Something happened, and what the writers have done is given us a glimpse, a moment, that imaginatively conveys to us the truth of who they came to understand Jesus to be.

For the past week or so during my morning devotion time I’ve spent some time with an icon of the Transfiguration, kind of like the one on the cover of the bulletin, not trying to figure it out, just spending time with it.  It hasn’t taken me to the mountaintop but maybe that’s OK; because somewhere along the line, there will be a moment, and I will get a glimpse.  Jesus will be there; I know he will.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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