Transfiguration: From the Mountain top to the Street Corner
Bible Readings : Exodus 24: 12 – 18 / Matthew 17: 1 – 9
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
We stand, between two seasons. Behind us is Epiphany, the period in which we look at ways in which Jesus revealed God’s glory and his own power. Ahead of us is Lent, the period in which we seek to penetrate the mystery of suffering and love and salvation. Between these two seasons, we have the Festival of Transfiguration, which are at the same time both a great mystery and a great revelation. Mountain top – we can’t stay there all the time. The light of world calls us to go up to the mountain to experience the Holy One, and to see the world that God so loves. The light of world also calls us to come down the mountain and into the lives of those who are lonely. We will explore why we need both of those times to become a better disciple of Jesus.
Mountains were very important to Matthew. (S) When Jesus was tempted to worship the devil in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world (4:8), it happened on a mountain. (S) While Luke records Jesus was preaching and standing in the plain (Luke 6:17), in Matthew Jesus preaches essentially the same sermon on a mountain (5:1). That is why we call it the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus also went to the mountain to pray (14:23).
And today we have this story of the transfiguration, which also happened on a mountain.
Then, why is something happening on a mountain so special for Matthew? The gospel of Matthew was written for his Jewish community and Jewish Christians. In Jewish tradition, mountains were holy dwellings of God. Mountains were places where God’s presence was known and God’s laws were given.
In this story of transfiguration, on a mountain, the glory of Jesus is revealed, and the voice from heaven says,
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
We like the mountains.
Some people invest a lot of time and money in mountain-climbing.
(S) We even describe some of our greatest moments as mountain-top experiences, but we can’t stay on the mountain forever.
(S) A young woman made an announcement one morning to her co-workers, “My honeymoon is over and I am so relieved. Now we can get on with our marriage.” And that is the way it is with our mountaintop experiences. We cannot live there forever: The light is too bright,
the pace too frantic, and the demands too great.
It is a relief to return to normal lives, but that does not mean the honeymoon is forgotten.
Just because we do not live on the mountain all the time, that does not mean we forget what happened on the mountain. (S) So one of the most important verses in the gospel reading today to us is verse nine.
It begins, “As they were coming down the mountain …”
The mountain- climbing is great, but on Monday, people have to go back to work.
The honeymoon is great, but then we start to notice the dirty dishes and the clothes left lying around.
We realize we are being led down the mountain and back into other areas of life.
Today is my 12th wedding anniversary and I also thought about my honeymoon and wedding. It is now a bit like “where in the world?” We had our honeymoon in island called, Boracay in Philippine. It was so lovely trip. I looked through the photos of our honeymoon. Most of them like this one, we all are high in the air. (S) These are the photos I like. You may see some of them posted at my facebook this afternoon. Typical Korean couples have these pre-wedding photos taken before the wedding. In this photo, I am also high in the air. (S) In this one, Inae is high up in the ladder. (S) In this one also, I am jumping high. Wedding, honeymoon is an experience of jumping high and high up in the mountain, but our daily married life cannot be always like that. Perhaps before having the children, things were all quite manageable, but with the little people in your family, it is a very different story.
We all have different circumstances. Whether it is honeymoon, promotion in your job or success in your business, it is nearly impossible to stay on top and have a feeling of flying high all the time. (S) We can understand ‘worship’ in a similar sense. As mountains are very important to Matthew, to us Christians,
worship is very important.
Worship is the occasion in which the unseen and unknown God is experienced.
Here on Sunday morning, we anticipate some revelation.
Here we expect some hope given by God must lift our spirits, and challenge our minds, and encourage our best actions.
It may happen when we gather in God’s name this morning.
It may happen when children learn about Jesus at kids church and Junior discipleship.
It may happen any Sunday morning and the power of God’s presence and his coming down to us deepen our appreciation for what it means to be followers of Jesus.
But that is not to say worship services are meant to be as mountaintop experiences all the time.
In fact, some churches’ worship service is a performance and the congregation is merely invited to sit back and enjoy.
So many churches are willing to do anything, in order to attract people that I am afraid that the worship no longer places the demands of God on their lives. (S) I believe that this is where that critical verse nine comes in.
(S) People are drawn to the mountaintop highs. We want things to be interesting.
We want to be entertained. In short, we want to stay on the mountain.
Maybe then we fail to see the difference between being entertained and being on the mountain in the biblical sense.
In scripture, being on the mountain was about experiencing some revelation – experiencing some assurance that God was with the people.
The mountain had nothing to do with entertainment, but it had everything to do with focusing on what God was doing.
So what about our worship service?
I believe our service is well-organized and dynamic. We have a good music and well developed live-streaming system. In our worship, we express our love for God and in turn we experience that same love and it shapes us into new people.
(S) For us to grow in our understanding and experience of the faith, there must be the connection between the time spent on the mountain and the time spent away from the mountain.
(S) What happens on Sunday when we gather should be directly related to what happens the rest of the week.
If nothing happens the rest of the week, if there is no service done in Jesus’ name, then we have made a mockery of what we do on Sunday morning.
That does not mean the mountaintop experiences are not necessary. Being a Christian assumes being a part of a community.
Something happens when we worship God together that does not happen anywhere else.
Here, we are molded into the people of God. That is the best reason not to miss church. Sunday after Sunday, in word, song, and act, we rehearse the story of God’s saving grace, and every time we are drawn into it more fully.
The key is spending the right amount of time on the mountain.
We know we need to be in worship regularly, but if we only worship and never move into the parts of the world that need our love and service,
then we have stayed too long.
On the other hand, if we do not stay in worship long enough, or fail to immerse ourselves fully in it,
then we will encounter challenges and problems for which we will have inadequate amounts of hope and energy.
(S) The light of world calls us to go up to the mountain to experience the Holy One, and to see the world that God so loves.
The light of world also calls us to come down the mountain, and into the lives of those who are lonely and oppressed.
And this is God’s son calling
from the mountain and the street corner, from the sanctuary and the detention centre.
So let us listen to him!