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1 First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame Seeing Triple Mark 9:2-9, February 22, 2009 Rev. Paul G. Watermulder Have you ever had an experience where you want to just hold the moment, where everything was so perfect? I asked some of you that this week and one of you said, “Yes, it was on the beach in Maui. I was looking at the sunset and everything, the whole world, seemed to be just right.” Another person said, “It was the birth of my child, the birth of my first born, I was just in awe and wonder and overwhelmed at the glory of it all.” Another talked about being on a ski trip to the Sierra Mountains and getting off of a chairlift at the top of a mountain. “It was early morning, a first run, and there was snow which was unblemished and the morning sun was just beginning to come up. All the Alpine mountain tops around were glowing.” And you said, “It was as though everything was just as it should be.” Another one of you talked about your wedding; and talked about never forgetting being walked down the isle by your father and being presented to your bridegroom. How that moment just is the kind you want to hold in place. I think God means every one of us to have an experience, a vision of glory, of awe, and wonder. A vision, a time when God is with us and we wish it could continue like that forever; a mountain top experience. That is the scripture which Grace read to us just a few moments ago, a mountain top experience by Peter and James and John with Jesus; an experience which we call the transfiguration. Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen. This little passage which we heard this morning is read in the lectionary (that is the church calendar year) the week prior to Lent. That is this season beginning on Ash 2 Wednesday night with Holy Communion, we go into a forty day period of preparing for the coming of Christ a time of great introspection, a time which takes us through His suffering and the hardship until finally Christ reaches the Cross and we encounter Good Friday and the grave before Easter morning comes and lifts us back out of that Lenten season. Transfiguration glory is the last event before that on purpose because this is an event which is meant to give inspirational strength of the Lord himself as he is about to enter Jerusalem and about to encounter such a horrid time as no one can imagine. Now, when I say that I believe God means every one of us to have such a vision, I know there are some out here who are saying, “I never had a vision like that. I’ve never had God just all of the sudden turn up glowing in the person of Jesus.” Well, I want to help you rest assured that of those twelve original disciples, only three of them, only three of them had this vision; not all twelve. It isn’t something which all twelve have, but for three. They were there and it made all the difference; Peter, James and John. Peter, you know Peter. He is the born marketer. He is the Vice-president of sales. He is always excited about life, excited about people. He is always building relationships. He is Mr. Extrovert. In fact, Peter will overstate his case as frequently as not. “Lord, I will walk on the water to get to you”, before he takes a swim. Peter is the one that perhaps you relate to most. Perhaps you see a little of yourself in Peter. He was at the transfiguration. Or maybe you’re not Peter, maybe you are like John. John is the disciple who is more mystic, who sees things in reflective, contemplative ways. The next time you are in New York City, I ask you to consider taking time to go up to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and to visit there and see this remarkable structure; one of the most remarkable cathedrals on the North American continent. It is in honor of John who is the mystic and you will see the cathedral is qualitatively different that cathedrals to Peter or to Paul. John, perhaps you are the mystic, the reflective, the contemplative one. He was there at the transfiguration. Peter and John, oh and James, James is the practical one. There’s Peter out talking to the crowds and John is dreaming his dreams. And there is James checking the nets to make sure they are in place for the next fishing trip. There is James making sure the sails are secured for the night so the sailboat doesn’t get out of hand while everyone sleeps. Maybe you, maybe you are the practical one; the one behind the scenes, the one who is not noticed always at first but who is constantly, dependably working away. James. James was there at the transfiguration. And together, they were going up this mountain and we know that every time a mountain is mentioned in the scriptures, it is not really a geographic notation so much as it is a spiritual notation. They went up to a mountain. Alert reader, alert, we are going to have a spiritual experience! They got to the top and Jesus was transformed, transfigured into this shimmering, squinting eye blast of glory. Some say that it could have been caused by a heavy fog being on the mountain top and then as the morning sun came in at a certain angle, perhaps you’ve seen this, when every single droplet of moisture seems to get and increase the intensity of the sun and it is so bright, especially if there is snow on the ground. It’s so bright you can’t even see. Your eyes squint and it’s still too bright. We don’t know how it happened but we know that Jesus was filled with this glowing 3 presence and to their surprise, there were two others who had not walked up the road with James, Peter, and John and Jesus, because they had been dead for centuries, Moses and Elijah. There was Moses, the one who had received the law, the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Oh, in another experience of glory, chicina (30:19) glory, glory which surrounded him so he was barely able to see. And there was Elijah; Elijah, the grandfather of all Prophets. Elijah, the one who if Moses was the great representative of the law, Elijah was the representative of grace. If Moses was the head, Elijah was the representative of the heart. And there these two were with Jesus. What a scene! What could you make of that? For several years, I have lead mission trips from this church to Indian reservations in the Phoenix, Arizona area; the Gila and the Salt River reservations of the Pima. And you may know that the Pima have a tradition which is common to several tribes of Native Americans and that is that when a person is going to die, they believe that person is first visited by their ancestors. And so if you are a pastor to a Pima Indian who is in the hospital and tells you he or she is dying, your first response is, “Have you been visited by your ancestors yet?” And they will tell you. And if they have, then they have been given permission and also strength for the journey. They know they are being accompanied by their ancestors on the journey which is about to come. It’s a beautiful tradition. And here Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah, who had been dead for centuries, but clearly alive in the kingdom of heaven and now, was with him. And they were talking; Mark doesn’t really tell us what they were talking about; but it’s a fair guess that they were giving encouragement and spiritual strength to Jesus for the road was about to walk when he would come down from this mountain top experience. You remember, we just said it is the road into Jerusalem; the road of trouble. Moses and Elijah; how appropriate for them to be with Jesus just before he entered the time of greatest trial for him because they were the people who had experienced more torment, more temptation and more persecution than any of the others in the name of God throughout the years of history of the Hebrew people. Moses and Elijah; they experienced more faithlessness and more testing from the very people they led than anyone, except of course Jesus was about to as he was about to be betrayed by Peter as well as by the others. And so there they were in the midst of glory, giving to Jesus counsel for the journey he was about to take. What to do with that scene? Well, Peter thought he knew what to do, Peter always thinks he knows what to do. And so Peter said. “Lord, Lord, let us build three booths, let us build three booths and one for Moses and one for Elijah and you’ll be in the middle, Jesus, right here. And that way we can always have someplace to come back and to re-experience this.” Haven’t you had a wonderful spiritual experience that you don’t want to let go of? You never want to forget it. And I pray you don’t, because spiritual experiences are given to us by God on purpose; that we may be strengthened spiritually. But Peter 4 thought this would be a fine solution. “We will hold everyone right in place, Lord. Don’t move just freeze the frame right there and we will always have these three wonderful giants of the faith. And we disciples can come up this mountain and visit with you. Won’t that be great?” It is a temptation isn’t it, when we have a mountaintop experience to want to keep living there and to forget that life is not all lived on the mountain top. Earlier in the month, the Saturday Morning Men’s fellowship here at the church, asked me to come speak on marriage. As a part of that presentation, we talked about marriage often having three distinct chapters. The first chapter of marriage, which can last anywhere from one day to thirty years, but often lasts about seven years, is really that time of, as I call it, Disneyland. Both husband and wife are so happy. They’re excited, they’re ecstatic and they do everything together. They bend over backwards to accommodate each other and they just can’t be separated. They go every place and do everything together. What a great time. But that doesn’t last forever because sooner or later tire of always being like that and they want to be real. They want to be themselves and so they begin expressing their own needs and wants and feelings. And that is a hard time because no longer is it Disneyland. Everybody is not sugar coated and so things become more real. That’s the good, but much more difficult time. You have to deal with a real person, not just an extension or a shadow of yourself. This is the second stage which is when most divorces occur because it is not nearly as fun as the first stage was. In fact, one member of the Saturday Morning Men’s fellowship said, “I have a friend who has been married five times and now I get it. You know, he’d go for Disneyland, Disneyland, Disneyland, Disneyland, Disneyland. He just wanted that relationship with every woman but wasn’t willing to go to that second chapter or of course then to the third which is the rewarding phase of interdependency when we are able to hear our spouse say no and recognize our spouse is a separate and independent person but we are interdependent in our lives. And so we find a new balance which takes us forward. The experience of being of being on a mountaintop doesn’t last forever. After all, what is the most popular piece of scripture any of us know? “Yea, though I walk through the VALLEY of the shadow of death”. God is not only the God of the mountaintop; God is also a God of the valley. Some of you are on a mountaintop, some of you are in a valley, my guess is most of us are on the plains, in the middle. Life is not a crisis but life is not pure ecstasy either. We’re in the middle. And now we need the spiritual strength of God with us, for these different parts of our journey and so Peter, James, and John witness Jesus being transfigured and meeting with his ancestors Moses and Elijah, preparing for the for journey of coming down from the mountaintop, and having the spiritual strength to go through life in the valley and life on the plain. You know God only speaks three times in the gospel of Mark outside of through the voice of Jesus; this is one of them. He spoke at the baptism, “Behold, this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” He spoke at the resurrection, “He is not here, He is gone to Galilee.” He speaks today in Mark 9 at the transfiguration, “Behold, this is my beloved child, listen to him.” 5 And so we know this is an immensely important passage which is brought to us to cause us to consider, how is it that we have a spiritual experience? How is it that God draws us to himself so we have strength for when we leave the mountaintop? God is good and means for us to have these experiences particularly through two ways I would propose. One is through the gift of sorrow. If you are broken hearted, that means by definition of the very phrase, your heart is left open and it is vulnerable and in that experience God can act in ways more rich and deep and beautiful than ever when it is closed and when it is moving so fast. If you are heartbroken, I don’t expect you to want for a moment to stay heartbroken but when you are there I want you, in the midst of your sorrow to recognize that God means to be present. And God means to be present in ways that are hard to apprehend if you are not heartbroken. There is a second situation besides heartbreak when we are particularly open to God with us to an experience of transfiguration glory. That second experience is not sorrow but it is love. It’s when we are in love. Do you remember, maybe you are now, do you remember being in love, especially the early times when every thought was for that other person and you dressed up and you worked your schedule around so you would have chances to meet, perhaps seemly chance encounters with that person? Your whole day was set up around what she or he was thinking or feeling or saying or doing. And during that time when you were so in love, life was as though it was in high def. Life was crystal clear. You could see things and perceive things that otherwise were hidden to you. Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Sorrow and love are two times in our lives when God especially means to be present because our heart is open and vulnerable. And God is able to give us strength and comfort and guidance at that very time. The transfiguration of Jesus. Strength for the journey, strength from the past, strength for the future. Knowing that even though there is betrayal coming, even though there is deep hardship and exhaustion coming, yet there is Easter coming. Yet there is glory coming. And so Jesus is able to go from Glory unto Glory and Jesus followers, that’s all of us, are meant to go from Glory unto Glory. My prayer for you is that you would experience Jesus in this way. My prayer for you is that your heart will be open whether you are in love or in sorrow. That your heart would be open, that you would open yourself in the midst of a worship experience, simply asking God to come in, to feed you. We don’t have to tell God what to do but we simply ask God to come in and then we listen. We listen with caring ears. We don’t pay attention to what our friends have to say, what God probably would say in their opinion. We listen to what God, God’s-self has to say. And we are aware that God means to touch each of us in our soul and give us new life. Life for the journey here and life for the journey beyond. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I preach to you this morning. Amen.
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