LENT THRU THE EYES OF PETER…
IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!
Matthew 17:1-9, 14-18
March 22, 2015… 5th Sunday in Lent
1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.”18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
It was a moment that left me utterly speechless. Tears of joy and disbelief rolled down my cheeks. My wife and teen-aged kids were more than a bit embarrassed as I just stood there, blubbering, taking it all in, thanking God for the opportunity to visit a place I had dreamed about since childhood.
I was standing in the aisle of the upper left-field deck of Dodger Stadium at twilight. The lush green playing field was beneath, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains shimmering evening sun to the east, the crack of the bat echoing throughout the ballpark as players went through warmups. Faded memories of Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Tommy Lasorda flooding my mind. The Dodgers were the team I idolized as a kid and teenager.
I never ever thought I would get to see them in person. And that evening in late April, 2003 was as perfect as it could possibly get for me! Absolutely perfect!
Have you had any similar mountaintop moments in your life? Moments that brought you very near to God? Moments that you thought it can’t get any better than this!
This morning, as we continue our journey with Peter during this season of Lent, we are going to join him in encountering God’s glory in some fascinating places….
SEEING GOD’S GLORY ON THE GLISTENING MOUNTAINTOP
Insert yourself in Peter’s sandals for a moment: Jesus has invited James, John and you to accompany him to the mountain to pray. That’s the way Jesus is—he regularly withdraws from the hectic pace of life to pray.
As you near the summit of your hike, there, in the stillness of the sunset, something mysterious, something bizarre, something defying description takes place. Jesus’ attire changes to a glistening, dazzling white. His face takes on a glimmering, radiant countenance.
Suddenly, Elijah and Moses, the twin towers of Israel’s religious heritage, the twin towers of the prophets and lawgivers, strangely appear. They walk right out of the glory days of long ago and straight into the neighborhood of now.
Wow! This is, beyond question, the pinnacle of your religious experience—the most profound, speechless moment in your entire life. And you want this moment to endure forever. You awkwardly break the awesome silence with some nervous chatter. Attempting to make the strange more familiar, you offer to build some condos so everyone can remain here happily ever after. You grab a hammer and a tent peg.
But then, a boneshaking voice thunders through the cloud enveloping them—“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
You fall to your knees in bewilderment, fear and adoration! There is something humongously holy going on here! You are woefully unprepared and underdressed for the occasion. You have caught a glimpse of eternity.
Listen to him! Sometimes we need to hear those words. Right now, it’s not about you saying the right words. Right now, it’s not about you doing more for God. Right now, it’s not about you controlling the moment, scripting God’s work in your life, attempting to domesticate the Divine.
It’s about stopping, being silent for a while, listening, paying attention Jesus. And in doing so, you come to the realization that Jesus is not just a teacher, a healer, a prophet. He is the Almighty Son of the Living God!
My friends, we all need to join Peter on the top of that hill. We all need to ascend to the mountaintop of close encounters with the divine. Pity the person whose soul is never stirred by the Spirit of God.
I heard about a baby named Mikey who loved to clap his hands. He clapped for everything, whether it be his strained carrots, his SpongeBob, his bath, his dog Chester, his poopy diaper—after it had been changed, of course.
His parents commented, “We only worry that someday Mikey will stop clapping.”
Well, if Mikey is like most of us he probably will. There seems to be an unwritten creed in our society that we must not possess or express passion.
We go through the mindnumbing motions of existing. We work, we grab something at the drive-thru, we come home and devour it in front of the latest, mindless reality show, we fall in bed, we sleep fitfully, until the alarm clock goes off and we repeat the monotony all over again. And that’s all we expect out of life.
Even church—the one place where we are supposed to be grabbed by grace—it’s just one more appointment on the endless, stress-laden list of our week’s activities.
We grow callous to the awe, the adoration, the love, the glory of God in our lives which Peter encounters on the mountaintop.
Psalm 46 compels us to make those moments where we follow our Lord’s admonition to Be still, and know that I am God. To be still is better translated cease striving. Cease striving and know that I am God. Could you possibly do that?
In the movie The Bucket List, a terminally-ill patient makes a list of all the things he wants to do in life before he kicks the bucket.
At the top of the list, on a piece of lined, yellow paper, Carter (played by Morgan Freeman) writes, “Witness something majestic.” Before he dies, he wants to catch a glimpse of something that is breathtaking to behold.
All of us need to climb upward….we need to witness something majestic…we need to see the glory of God on the glistening mountaintop…
SEEING GOD’S GLORY IN THE GLARING MUCK
And yet, Peter teaches us that it is equally true we find God’s glory in the glaring muck of being in mission to our neighbor.
We can only visit the mountaintop. We cannot live there. We must come back down to where life is lived—in the miry mud of the real world, where there is grime and toil and sweat and hurt.
Yes, Peter wants to remain on the mountaintop and build some nice chalets up there. He enjoys the wonderful camaraderie, the breathtaking view. But Jesus leads him and his fellow disciples back down the mountain to the clamoring crowds below, where they are immediately confronted by the heartbreaking needs of a demon-possessed child.
Yes, God always pushes us back down the mountain to those places of pain and struggle where we can make a difference for him.
And you don’t have to look very far to find those places—just open your eyes and ears.
Our community has been wracked by gutwrenching heartache this week with the fatalities of four young people in auto accidents. And many of you have reached out to the surviving family members and friends, offering a comforting presence and a healing prayer.
On a lighter note, I am very grateful for a young man in our neighborhood. David is 22-years-old. He works for Asplundh-a forestry company, but his job doesn’t pay enough for him to make it on his own yet. In his spare time, he makes sure that his neighbors are taken care of, especially those who are senior citizens or are nearing that chapter.
One evening, in the midst of a driving rainstorm, the Abshires had a water pipe break in the front yard near their meter. As he was passing by, David saw the water gushing.
He spent a couple of hours, face down in the mud, shutting off valves, repairing the pipe.
Our next door neighbor Richard, dying of cancer, had a tree blow over on his fence. David was there the next morning, cutting it up, hauling away the limbs and wood.
During the recent snowstorm, David saw me in the driveway shoveling. “Mr. Burch, you had a heart attack, you don’t have any business doing that!” He brought his snowblower and shovel and took care of my driveway. He also took care of everyone else’s driveway in the neighborhood, free of charge.
And David will tell you he enjoys doing such work. He says it is what being a Christian is all about.
Peter, and David, have found God’s glory wears many disguises. Many times we discover that glory most vividly in rolling up our sleeves and serving our neighbor.
How did Jesus put it in that foundational passage of scripture we read in Matthew 25:31-46? – Whatever you do for the least of these, you do unto me! We see the face of Jesus in the faces of those who are dealing with tough circumstances. And when we respond with compassion, we see God’s glory revealed in the glaring muck of the needy world that surrounds us.
Pastor Lloyd John Ogilvie wrote a book some years ago titled Falling into Greatness. In it he tells about an old friend who called him one day. “I can’t talk about it over the phone,” he said, “but I need to see you. I’ve fallen into a terrible thing which I can’t seem to shake.” They set a time to go to lunch. Ogilvie wondered what terrible thing his friend could possibly have fallen into. The man had once been a staunch Christian, but he had drifted away from the church and from the fellowship of other Christians.
When they sat down for lunch the friend blurted out, “Lloyd, I’ve become a cynic! I’ve become a negative, critical, nasty, sarcastic man.”
Inwardly Lloyd Ogilvie was relieved that his friend was not confessing some heinous sin, but it was clear he was distraught just the same.
Ogilvie writes: “My friend had been jarred by the reality of the kind of person he had become because of an ultimatum his wife had given him. She was not willing to spend the rest of her life with a man who had come to be down on life, people, and even God. Several friends had confronted him about his snarky attitude. Three people had resigned from his company because they said they could not work in the negative atmosphere his attitudes had created. The man’s world was falling apart.” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), pp. 15-16.
That man by his own admission had become unbearable. Maybe you know somebody like that.
Maybe you’re on your way to becoming that somebody.
It happens, doesn’t it?
Perhaps today is a good day to begin reversing direction. We need to catch a glimpse of God’s glory. We need to know God is real and that God loves us and has a plan for us.
Where do we encounter God’s glory? On the mountaintop? Or in the muck?
Perhaps in both.
We need to climb the mountain, to be still, to cease striving, to know he is God.
And yes, we need to roll up our sleeves and wallow in the muck, getting involved in serving the least and the lost…for in their faces we see the face of Jesus.
Yes, our Lord beckons us to join Peter on the journey—to come, climb and wallow!