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Sermon for Last Sunday After Epiphany
Year A
Transfiguration of our Lord
"How to Keep a Secret"
Matthew 17:1-9
"Getting to the Mountaintop"
Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-9
"Jesus Savior Pilot Me"
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9
"How to Keep a Secret"

Matthew 17:1-9

Sometimes you just have to talk about it. Sometimes things happen in our lives that are so big. They redefine how we see the world. At first it is a little disorienting. And we have to talk about it. We have to share it with someone to help us process the event mentally and emotionally.

    Peter James and John had just such an experience. It all really started when Jesus asked them one night around the campfire, "Who do people say that I am?" After repeating all the different things people on the streets were saying he rephrased the question, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "You are the Messiah the Son of the living God." And Jesus told them that he was going to be rejected by the leaders and be killed and rise again on the third day. But they didn't understand.

      Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray with him. Nothing odd here Jesus was always going off by himself to pray. But while they were there it happened. Suddenly Jesus was changed and he glowed with the glory of God. Moses and Elijah were standing there with him. And then to top it all off God shows up and says, "This is my Son, do what he says."

        This spectacular event confirmed everything Peter had said and they all had hoped. Jesus was the Messiah the Son of God! But as they were on their way down the mountain Jesus told them, "Don't tell a soul about this until after the resurrection." How could they not tell? I mean how can you experience something like that and not tell everyone? It must have been incredibly difficult for the disciples to keep this secret, but keep it they did.

I wonder how they could keep a secret like that. How do you keep such a secret? First you don't talk about it. I know that sounds simple but it is more difficult than you think. First you have to get past the initial shock and the felt need to tell someone. When people go through a tragedy or a trial they want to tell people about it. Whether it be the death of a loved on or an auto accident. They just want to process it.

    But then there is the fact that the event changes the way one sees the world. Your perception of reality is changed and you could give the secret away because all your assumptions are different from those who don't know the secret. The story goes that a family had made plans to buy a second hand car so that they oldest could drive it to college. The car was going to be a surprise birthday present for the student. So everyone in the family was in on the surprise keeping a secret from the oldest child. One day they were trying to figure out rides for some events that would be after the oldest birthday. Without thinking one of the younger children blurted out, "Oh, sis can drive her new car!" Well the cat was out of the bag.

      So if you are going to keep a secret don't talk about it. No matter how much you feel the need to talk about it, don't say a word. And be careful that you don't let is out by accident.

A second rule for keeping a secret is don't think about it. If you don't think about the secret you won't have a problem not talking about it. When something big happens it is hard not to think about it. Whether it is something bad like a death or something good like a birth you find yourselves dwelling on that event. But if you can avoid thinking about it then you can avoid talking about it.

    One way to avoid thinking about it is to put away anything that will remind you of that event. I have seen families where someone has died recently; they will take down all the pictures of that person. Dwelling on and thinking about that person's death is too painful. So to avoid it they put away all the pictures of that person that will remind them of their absence.

      I can imagine it was hard on the disciples. I mean they couldn't exactly hide Jesus from their view. Every time they saw him they were reminded of what they saw. They could see in their minds Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah standing next to him. And every time they heard a rumble of thunder they could remember the voice of God saying, "This is my Son, listen to him."

So that is how you keep a secret. Don't talk about it. Don't think about it. Hide any reminder of it in your life. And you won't end up telling anyone about it.

    I feel like I am preaching to the choir. The church today knows how to keep a secret. In fact we have done a wonderful job of keeping this secret. So few people in our world seem to know that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God. We must have been keeping the secret.

      But wait a minuet. Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone until after the resurrection. Well this is after the resurrection! That means we can tell the world that we have seen the glory of God in Jesus! We can tell the world that God confirmed that Jesus is the Messiah the son of God!

The issue for the church today is not how to keep a secret but how not to keep a secret. Wait a minuet; let's see… OK - How not to keep a secret. First talk about it! Tell everyone. Just blab it to the whole world. Second think about it. Think about Jesus day and night. If he is all you are thinking about then you will find yourself talking about him. Next put reminders of him in your life. Making it a habit to stop and pray and read the Bible and go to church will remind you to think of him often. Wear a cross or keep on in you pocket. Put a Bible or across or a religious picture somewhere you will see it all the time.

    But it shouldn't be hard. I mean if you have seen the glory of God in Christ with your own eyes, and you have heard the voice of God with your own ears and in your own heart, how can you not tell everyone? How can you not simply explode with the Good News of Jesus Christ?

      Maybe that is the problem. Maybe you haven't seen his glory. Maybe you haven't heard God's voice. I hope you have. If you haven't, then ask him to show you. And if you have, please don't keep it a secret.

"Jesus Savior Pilot Me"
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Peter was a fisherman. We know from the Gospels that Peter and the others would fish at night. In fact on one occasion they had fished all night and early in the morning Jesus told them to go out again and throw their nets on the right side of the boat. On another Jesus greeted them on the beach with a breakfast of roasted fish after a long night's work. So I am sure that Peter knew the value of lights on the shore or on a boat to guide a sailor. More than once Peter would have used a light on the shore to help guide him in his fishing boat to find a safe harbor.

    Peter knew about lights on the shore but he also knew about the light of Christ. After all it was Peter who first confessed that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah because he saw the light of God in him. But as you remember he didn't see very clearly. When Jesus told him that the Messiah must suffer and die Peter rebuked Jesus!

      But shortly after that, six days later to be exact, Jesus took Peter and James and John up a mountain. And on top of that mountain Peter saw the light! They saw Jesus glowing with the glory and light of God. Elijah and Moses were also there with them. And the voice of God thundered from heaven, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."

For Peter the light of Christ's Transfiguration was a beacon on the ocean of faith. Years later when the church was wrestling with what it meant to be faithful he recalled this incident. The church several decades after Jesus had ascended, faced many challenges. Among them were people who tried to modernize and adapt the Gospel to their own views. We know of some of them. Some argued that Jesus was not really the Son of God but just an angel. Others said that Jesus was not really in the flesh. He just appeared to have come in the flesh. And others held other views that Christians now call heresy.

    So Peter offered his advice. He pointed out that his Gospel was not based on clever myths. His Gospel was based on and verified by a real live experience of God. He had seen Jesus on the mountain and he had heard God say "Listen to him." This event was where Peter got his theological bearings.

      But to plot a position and then a course you need two point to get your bearings. Peter offered the second one as being the prophets of the Old Testament. Their writings were not the concoction of human minds. It is the inspired message of God. So Peter tells the church to get their bearings from Christ and the Word of God.

Times haven't changed much. The world is still a dangerous theological sea full of hidden shoals and reefs. There are people who want to update and modernize the Gospel to suit their political sensibilities. Others try to change the Gospel to make it serve their national interest. Some try to make the Gospel serve their materialistic goals as in some forms of the prosperity Gospel. Some change it around to justify their lifestyle. Some come up with cleverly devised myths to make the gospel more interesting. I think the best example of all this is the recent titillation about the DaVinci Code.

    But all these loose their bearings. God and Peter have already told us what to do when we are faced with these alternative Gospels. First God said, "This is my beloved Son, … listen to him." Peter too pointed to Christ. We should not let ourselves to taken in by clever explanations. We should focus on the light of Christ.

      The other source light for finding our direction is the Word of God in the Bible. This is more than a good book it is The Good Book. I love a good story with clever twists and turns in the plot. But this is truth with a capital T. It is not devised by the minds of people but was revealed by God.

Now I am talking about getting your theological bearing. You may think to yourself "well, theology is just something for preachers and professors." No, theology is what a Christian does every day. If you wake up in the morning and ask yourself "How can I serve God today," that is theology. If you seek to know what is right or wrong that is theology. If you want to know how Christians should respond to some social or political issue you are doing theology. If you want to serve God and have a closer walk with Jesus you are doing theology!

    There are plenty of cleverly devised myths out there to help you answer all those questions. But I am telling you to look to Jesus and the Bible for your answers. "Well Martha, the preacher done gone fundamentalist on us." I am being a Methodist Christian! I think the Methodist Church and other mainline churches have gotten a false reputation for not being Bible believing churches because we often take stances that are different from those who so loudly claim they believe the Bible. But we take the stances we do because we have read and believed our Bibles. The Methodist Church ordains women because the Bible says in Christ there is no Male of Female. And our other stances are based on the Bible.

      In this world of theological alternatives, keep your eyes on Christ. Let the light of His glory guide you through life. Read and learn the Bible. Let it be a guiding light as well. Don't take my word for it. Take it from Peter the sailor who saw the glory of God in Christ himself. "You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place."(2 Peter 1:19)

"Getting to the Mountaintop"
Exodus 24:12-18
Matthew 17:1-7

A mountaintop is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Maybe it's the panoramic view, and the realization that all that beauty is God's creation. Maybe it's the experience of watching clouds float by at eye level. Maybe it's the thin air. Whatever it is I simply feel close to God on a mountain.

    But I have discovered that getting to a mountaintop is difficult. Melissa and I like to go to the mountains. Sometimes if you cannot drive to the top a particular mountain we take to foot. Usually these mountain trails are uphill but smooth at first. However as we get further and further up, they become steeper and steeper. There are more rocks and roots to stumble over. It becomes more and more difficult to keep a good footing. When we are the most tired the trail gets its roughest and the last 100 yards are as difficult as the whole first mile.

      Mountain tops are great, but they are hard to get to. In the same way the high points or mountaintops of our spiritual lives are wonderful. But they are sometimes hard to reach. It seems that we have to go through a lot of trials to get to those times. But in those moments when God's glory is revealed to us, we feel closer to God than other times and we are given a new perspective on the lower points in our lives.

Jesus' disciples knew this truth. It was a rough trip to the mount of transfiguration. Their journey to that mountaintop began when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus had asked, "Who do you say that I am? Peter had faithfully responded by saying what was probably already in the hearts of the other disciples. "You are the Christ the Son of the living God." Then Jesus explained to them that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to die and on the third day rise. Peter, the one who had spoken first before said, "Never, we won't let it happen." But Jesus spoke back just as sternly, "Get out of my way you devil. That is the way humans think." The disciples probably felt like they had been kicked in the teeth. It was like their best friend had told them that he was dying of an inoperable cancer and only had six months to live. And when they had tried to convince him otherwise he pushed them away.

    The account of the Transfiguration begins with the phrase, "Six days later." For six days they carried this news of Jesus' impending death around inside of them. For six days it soaked into their souls. For six days they secretly grieved for the inconceivable death of their Savior. If he was the Messiah how could he die? What would they do without Jesus? For six days they walked in a daze between denial and acceptance of the most unacceptable news they had ever heard.

      On the seventh day, Jesus took Peter, James and John, a representative group, up the mountain. And suddenly on the seventh, or "Sabbath" day, the day of God's favor, the glory of God was revealed to them in Christ. His clothes and his face glowed. Heavenly light shown from him. And that wasn't all. Moses and Elijah appeared. The two greatest Prophets of God right there with Jesus. Then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from heaven and said, "This is my Beloved Son, with him I am well pleased; listen to him."

        Maybe if the disciples could hold these two truths in balance: maybe if they could remember Jesus the Messiah suffering and dying, and Jesus the Son of God high and glorified; maybe that balancing act could help them understand or at least cope with what was happening. Maybe the vision of glory and the voice from heaven could help them deal with the trials of the past; and the future. Maybe it would give them the strength to lead the other disciples in their trials also.

Moses had appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. Maybe, as the disciples pondered this incident later, they remembered that Moses had been on that mount before. Oh, not that exact pile of rock, but that same situation. Except that time Moses was not part of the vision, he was the disciple. It wasn't easy leading God's people through the desert. They were always complaining and talking behind Moses' back. "Who made Moses King anyway?" "Maybe we should go back to Egypt." "At least we had three square meals there. All we eat here is this manna"

    One day God called Moses up to the mountain. And when Moses arrived a cloud covered the mountain. For six days Moses had no vision. Visibility, both physical and spiritual, was zero. The worries of being the leader of a nation of escaped slaves plagued Moses like the waves of frogs and locust that had plagued Egypt. For six days Moses sat in the shadows of the clouds and wondered where God was, and he thought: Maybe it was all just a fluke, a coincidence the plagues and the Red Sea and all. Maybe God hadn't really called him there. Maybe it was all just the product of his conceited imagination.

      Then on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, the day of God's favor, the glory of the Lord appeared to him. It was like a glorious fire that made the burning bush seem so small. And the voice of God came out of the cloud. God had been there the whole time. In the cloud no less. And for forty glorious days and nights Moses listened to God's council and basked in God's glory.

        Maybe if he could hold on to that vision; maybe if he could remember that almighty glory of God; then he could handle leading that ragtag mob that God loosely called as a nation. Maybe the memory of God's greatness could help him handle the constant complaining of the people. Maybe it would give him the strength to lead them through the desert to the Promised Land.

Life, especially the life of faith, is an uphill journey. There are rocks and pits in the trail and at times it gets steep. As we trudge up the trail we are met with disappointments and doubts. Even though we have confessed Christ as our Lord and Savior, it gets difficult. And we are troubled by doubts and dilemmas. Why does God let innocent children suffer? Why does God allow faithful people to die of cancer or to contract AIDS? Why does God let the suffering of the world touch me? Why does God let me suffer? It's like a kick in the teeth. "Hey, wait a minute Jesus, remember me, I was the one who said you are the Son of Living God, and now you do this. You can't go die on no cross for me, I won't let you."

    And we sit and stew in our disappointment. We grieve over a loss that we can't seem to accept. We keep poking the sore spot to see if it is any better. And we doubt. For six long days, or months, or years, or decades, we sit in the darkness of a cloud that overshadows us. And our spiritual vision never goes beyond our hurts and doubts. But in faith we sit where the Lord has called us to be.

      But then the seventh comes, the Sabbath day, the day of God's choosing. What then? Then the Glory of the Lord is revealed. On the Sabbath day Jesus stands transfigured, glowing with a heavenly radiance, right before our eyes. On the Sabbath day the voice of God speaks out of the cloud itself. I don't know where you are. Perhaps you are in a valley or in darkness. Or maybe you are going up a mountain, or coming down the mountain. Wherever you are remember that God's people have been there before. And when the time was right, when God decided the time was right; the glory of the Lord enveloped them.

        Remember that. When the trail gets steep remember that God's glory is always revealed at the right time. Hold on to the glory that you have seen and the promise of the glory that you will see. Balance it with the truth that the trials of the past have shown you. And let it prepare you for the desert places and trials ahead. If you can hold on to that glory and the voice, it will enable you to face the memories of the past and the troubles of the future just as Moses and Peter did. The mountain is steep, but remember that God is with you and God's glory will meet you at the top.