Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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A Moment of Clarity

Luke 9:28-43a

Shortly after Caesarea Philippi, the place where Peter made his confession of Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God,” Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto a high mountain to pray. There he was transfigured before them. For a few moments, the fullness of his divine glory as the Son of God was revealed.

Moses and Elijah appeared with him. Together they represent the Law and the Prophets. Most Jews expected Elijah, and to a lesser extent Moses, would return before the coming of Messiah. They speak with Jesus about his “exodus.” That’s the word used in verse 31. It could simply mean death, “exit from this life.” But it was also used to talk about God’s work of salvation.

The experience of the Transfiguration was a confirmation of the hopes the disciples had in Jesus. They hoped he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and that he would bring God’s Kingdom on earth. This is a moment of clarity, a moment when the things that are hidden or difficult to understand suddenly become clear.

Such moments are rare and fleeting. Some people spend their lives seeking to have moments of clarity, even to the point of disengaging from life. I’ve always thought this was the danger of the monastic idea. Some people separate themselves from life in the hopes of having these kinds of experiences of God. The problem is that then you are not engaged in the world. How can you bring those experiences of God to those who truly need to hear about them?

On the other hand, it’s also possible to have those moments of clarity and fail to learn from them or act on them. We might have that moment but then we just carry on with life. We don’t “get it.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about people in my life, it’s that some of them just don’t get it. Whatever it is, some people don’t get it!

When we have those moments of clarity, we don’t want them to end. Peter speaks up, “Let’s just stay here. Let’s build some shelters and hang out on the mountain top. ‘Cause this is awesome, Jesus!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like that on the canoe trips I lead for the church camping program. I find wilderness is conducive to having moments of clarity. We strip away all the noise and distractions of the “real world,” and it’s so much easier to hear from God; so much easier to understand what is real and significant. Usually about day five or six of the canoe trip, about the time we’re on our way out of the wilderness, someone says, “I wish we didn’t have to go back.”

But those moment can’t last forever. God speaks: “This is my Son, my Anointed One,” that is Messiah. Or it could be “my beloved Son,” Bible scholars disagree about how best to read that, but it’s the same sense either way. “Listen to him.” The phrase “listen to him” recalls Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses foretells of a greater prophet to come; and says that people should listen to him.

It’s that listening part that gets difficult. We all want to hear the things that we want to hear and not the things we don’t want to hear. And if the disciples who walked with Jesus in the flesh had a hard time listening to him, then we should never presume that we will have an easy time listening!

“They didn’t tell anyone about this for a long time.” Jesus’ words and actions can only really be understood in the light of his death and resurrection. Without the death and resurrection, the disciples really couldn’t fully understand this event.

They come down off the mountain. And the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain this strange juxtaposition of the beauty of the mountain top Transfiguration with the ugliness of a demon-possessed child in the valley below.

He is an only son. That means that he is important for carrying on the family lineage, and also for supporting to his parents in their old age. And he is suffering terribly, afflicted by an evil spirit.

The disciples are unable to do anything. The Gospel of Mark implies that maybe the problem is the disciples are trying to do something on their own rather than relying on the power of God. And Jesus doesn’t seem to be very happy with them for their failure here. But Jesus does what he does: He takes the child, blesses him, and returns him to his father, restored to wholeness.

We need the mountain top moments, the moments of clarity. And we should seek them out. Worship should be a time that brings clarity to our lives. Worship should remind us of what is true and good and eternal. And we can seek out moments of clarity on a retreat, at summer camp, on a mission trip. Those are all good occasions to find clarity about God and ourselves. We need the strength and hope and encouragement those moments bring to our lives.

But we can’t stay on the mountain top. There is a hurting world out there in need of God’s grace and presence. We should go to the mountain seeking God but then return to the valley because the world needs what we find on the mountain top. Come to worship seeking God, but then go out into the world because the world needs the God you have been seeking.

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