The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 7, 2016
Luke 9:28-36 – Scout Sunday
In the summer of 2005, I worked at a Boy Scout camp in the far northern reaches of Maine. Part of my job was to guide crews on hikes up Mount Katahdin, which is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Mount Katahdin is a five thousand foot and chunk of granite that towers above the landscape.
One of the routes up Mount Katahdin is called the Knife Edge. The description is perfect. For a full three tenths of a mile, the trail is only three feet wide with a sheer drop on either side. Now, the scenery from there is spectacular. There’s a crystal clear little pond nestled in the foot of the mountain. Two of the largest lakes in Maine are dominate the horizon. The northern pine forest stretches out far beyond the eye can see. It’s breath taking from up there.
But you don’t notice how gorgeous it all is, because you’re focused on the Knife Edge, and not falling off of it. At that point, you don’t really care about the view, you just care about putting one foot in front of the other. But once you made the harrowing journey across you could look up, and then your whole perspective changed.
It’s not too different from the story of the Transfiguration, the gospel lesson for today. It’s all about a matter of perspective. Now, whenever somebody goes up a mountain in the bible, buckle your seat belt. Something big is about to happen. Moses gets the ten commandments on a mountain. Elijah hears the voice of God on a mountain. Jesus gives his most famous sermon on a mountain. And here, Jesus is transfigured into dazzling array on a mountain. The three disciples see Jesus in the fullness of his glory talking with Moses, the law giver, and Elijah, the prophet. Here the whole story of God comes together. And a cloud overshadows the entire group and they hear a voice, a voice which confirms the sight the disciples can hardly understand.
After their encounter, I would imagine that Peter, James, and John saw things differently. They had seen Jesus transfigured, and they would never look at him the same way again. And more than that, they would never look at the world the same again. For everything would now have a tint to it. A new different color. A brighter light.
And that’s part of the lesson. When we have seen Jesus, the way we look at the world changes. It simply has to. We no longer see strangers as threats, but as opportunities to show mercy. We no longer see enemies, but rather we see people to pray for. We no longer see the old labels that this world puts us on, we only see God’s children. All because we have seen Jesus and our perspective has changed.
Peter, James, and John saw their whole world with new lenses because they had seen the transfigured Christ. The question is turned to us. When we leave this church, and walk out into this world, will we still see with our old eyes, or with our new eyes? Will we see through the lens of hope, peace, and grace – or will we see the world through the lens of greed, envy, and competition? Has Jesus really changed the way we see the world?
And more than that – has Jesus changed the way the world sees us? And perhaps that is the bigger question.
On those days that I climbed Mount Katahdin, we would usually reach the summit about noon. We would enjoy a spectacular lunch on what seemed to be the roof of the world. But in truth, we were only halfway through the journey. You have always have to come down the mountain. And the way down was a hard, tough slog. With each step your knees screamed out. Your ankles cried with agony. It wasn’t that you couldn’t catch your breath, it was that each downhill step knocked the breath out of you. The way down was much, much harder than the way up.And by the end of it, the crew would look different. We looked ragged. And tired. And beat up. You could tell that we had just been up and down Mount Katahdin.
So the question is turned to us. Do we look different? Has our encounter with the Lord Jesus really changed us? Can the world see where we have been? Can the world tell that we have seen Jesus?
What I’m talking about is the process of transformation. Not only seeing with new eyes, but being given a new heart. Transformed from our old selves into our new selves, into who God created us to be. And it is not an easy thing. I have met plenty of people in my life that have wanted to know Jesus, but have not wanted to be transformed by Jesus. Including me. But I’ve learned that it just doesn’t work that way. If we have truly seen Jesus, then the encounter will change us. And the way the world will see us must be different. We must be different. When we offer ourselves to God, God transforms us.
The first step in this transformation process is usually the hardest. This is when God holds up a mirror to our lives. When you pull up to the gate for your storage unit, you might hear God ask: why do you have so much stuff that it has to live in a gated community? When you say that you don’t have any time to pray, but you’re binge watching Making of a Murderer on Netflix, God might ask you: what do you really worship? When you are so busy, when work has become your life, when your office runs your life, God might ask you: is this a life worth living?
These are not popular questions to ask, but I don’t think God is concerned with being popular. God is only concerned with transforming your life to look like the life of Jesus. God is only concerned with inviting you to become new again.
See, the word “church” does not mean a building or a worship service. The word “church” really means, “the assembly of those who have been called out.” The assembly of those who have been called out. We, as Christians, as the people of the church, we should look different from the rest of the world because we have heard God’s call to be different. God calls us to be a community of grace in an inhospitable world. God calls us to be a community of love in a hateful world. God calls us to be a community of mercy in a judgmental world.
This transformation, this march up and down the mountain with God, requires us to take an honest look at who God is and who we are. The story of Peter, James, and John going up a mountain with Jesus has been terribly domesticated. We read it as a sort of proof that Jesus is God. That is true, but there is more. The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain holds up a mirror to our souls. And when we look in that mirror, what do we see? Do we see the person we want to be, or the person God wants us to be?
You cannot do this work alone, it is the work of God. As we embark on our journey of Lent, I invite you to look into the mirror and ask yourself the hard questions.
I challenge you to climb up the mountain to meet God. And I challenge you to climb down again. During this journey, open your heart, so that you too are transformed and transfigured into the image of God.