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Be a Lamp! Share God’s Light!

February 25, 2017

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It seems as though the weather and an incredibly full schedule for both of us have been conspiring to keep us from enjoying our back yard here in the Rocky Mountains. One day a couple of weeks ago, we finally got out of the house and the office to take a drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t see any wildlife to speak of, and the day was overcast. As we drove higher up the road towards Bear Lake, we drove through snow, sleet, and rain. On the way back down, we stopped to take some pictures of the Moraine Park area.

Whenever I gaze upon the mountains I am overcome with a sense of awe. Such beauty and majesty is overwhelming. As I look at the tree in the lower center part of the picture, I can imagine the tree being me. Alone in a field and feeling dwarfed by the magnificent mountains towering over me. Of course, when you hike or snowshoe or drive up into those mountains and look back down, you see at once how small things are down in the valley by comparison.

Today is one of those holy days when preachers can sometimes wonder what to say. The Transfiguration of the Lord is something we remember each year (just like Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas). There isn’t much variation in the story to be honest and I have often struggled to come up with something relevant and new when this Sunday rolls around. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, a fresh perspective on an old tale can come to the heart if you only listen.

This year, as I pondered the readings for this Sunday, something came to my heart. Many times in years past, I have focused on the Gospel reading and the “mountaintop experiences” for Peter, James, John, and Jesus. It is indeed an amazing tale that is told. Jesus takes the three disciples who were the inner circle you might say. Of the twelve, these three are mentioned the most and they were the ones whom Jesus often pulled aside for leadership and teaching moments.

Peter seemed to be the loud one of the three. James and John were the sons of a well-to-do fisherman named Zebedee (Jesus gave them the name “sons of thunder” in Mark 3:17). Was that a reference to their loud nature? Or was it a reference to their mother who boldly came up to Jesus and asked him to save a place on his right and left side for her boys when he entered into his kingdom. Anyhow, it was these three whom Jesus took with him up the mountain where he had his holy encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Peter quickly spoke up and said, Lord, let’s build three shelters to commemorate what has happened today. Yet before he could finish his sentence, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my dearly loved son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.'” (Matthew 17:4-6) The puzzling part of this scene came after the cloud had departed along with Moses and Elijah. As they went back down the mountain, Jesus told the scared disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead. (Matthew 17:9)

I have often wondered what it was like for these three disciples to have to keep a lid on such an amazing event! How on earth do you keep a secret like that from others, let alone from the other disciples. As Matthew recounts the story, this isn’t too long before Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem just before the Passover. So why did they have to keep a lid on this story? Perhaps it would make more sense and they would remember it after the events of Holy week. The point is, I guess, that they needed to chew on the story a bit and continue to watch and listen as Jesus taught and healed. They would watch and listen with new ears and eyes though after this experience.

As we turn to the second letter of Peter, we hear Peter himself sharing this experience with the new church. Written near the end of his life, Peter is talking to the believers about the second coming of Christ which he believed was imminent. As he talked to the people about growing in their faith and paying attention to Scripture he tied the teaching into the mountaintop experience he had shared with James, John, and Jesus years before. I like how the New Living Translation puts it: “For  we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father.” (2 Peter 1:16-17a)

Now, years later, the story had a context which it hadn’t had when the three disciples were on the mountain with Jesus all those years before. They had traveled the road to Jerusalem with him. They had watched as Jesus was arrested, beaten, tortured, condemned in a kangaroo court, and hung on the cross to die. They experienced the Easter morning appearances of Jesus and the appearance to Thomas a week later. After the Pentecost experience, they were sent out to teach and preach in Jesus’ name. Yes, a lot had happened and they had a lot of time to digest just what that experience on the mountain could mean to them.

The light which had shone on that mountaintop couldn’t be contained. Peter initially had wanted to contain it by building three shelters to commemorate the experience. Peter, it seems hadn’t wanted to leave the mountain. Let’s just stay here and it will last forever!

The light that they had experienced was the light of God’s revelation. God revealed to them just who Jesus was. Now, years later, Peter is sharing with his “congregation” the insights which had been given to him after that experience. “You must pay close attention to what they [the prophets], for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place — until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19b)

When they saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah on the mountain and heard the voice of God revealing who Jesus was, life changed. All of a sudden the words of the Law and the Prophets had a new brightness to them. The words of Jesus as he summarized the Law and the Prophets — Love God with all of your being and love your neighbor as yourself — made sense of their Scriptures like nothing else ever had.

As I read these words on Monday as I put the bulletin together for Sunday, this thought jumped out at me. The words of the prophets are like a lamp shining in a dark place! As I chewed on this particular passage, I came to this realization — what that means for me and for you, dear reader, is that we are called, like the prophets to be a lamp shining in a dark place!

Instead of using faith and Scripture to beat people into submission (you know, my way or the highway… saved or damned by our standards alone), Jesus brought light and life to Scripture. He condensed all of the Law and the Prophets (which he came to fulfill, not abolish) into the Law of Love! That, dear reader, is the light that so needs to shine in this time of darkness, hatred, and fear.

Transfiguration Sunday commemorates the event when Jesus’ appearance was transformed and the disciples saw him take his place in the “Jewish holy hall of fame” with Moses and Elijah. Yet if we think that this is the only lesson for the day, we have missed the point. Jesus took the disciples back down the mountain so that they would be able to share that experience and the transformative nature of God’s light (and love) with others. The voice of the Lord spoke out of the cloud saying — “This is my dearly loved son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:6)

We need to listen to Jesus… we need to hear him over and over and over again as he teaches us how to live and to love and to serve… As we listen, dear reader, may we be transformed so that we too may be a lamp shining in a dark place!

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