First Lesson: Exodus 34: 29-35
Responsive Reading: Psalm 99
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 3: 12- 4:2
Gospel Lesson: Luke 9: 28-36, (37-43a)
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The big news story this week was the Iowa Presidential Caucus and the official start of the 2016 Presidential race. One thing that I’ll notice about candidates in the race is that they are always invoking the past. Presidential candidates want people to believe they will revive some image of past greatness. We need another Reagan or Roosevelt they say to lead us out of the times that we’re currently in. Great things happened in the past.
This year on Christmas Eve, I was talking to a couple of congregation members who were reflecting upon the hardship of going home with a spouse no longer around. In instances like this, you can’t blame people for wanting to recreate the past. Live again in what seemed to be the happiest days of one’s existence. We all have moments from the past that if we could only recreate that we believe could shape us forever.
Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke contains an important tale of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, Peter, James, and John go up to a mountain to pray. This seemingly ordinary occurrence quickly becomes transformed into something else. Jesus starts shining, and then Moses and Elijah appear upon the scene.
Moses and Elijah would have been any good first-century Jew’s Reagan or Roosevelt. Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, parted the Red Sea, and received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Elijah called down fire from Heaven, raised the dead, and ascended to heaven in a whirlwind. Here were Peter, James, and John coming to terms with past glory.
When I was in high school, my Dad and I took a vacation to California to see my aunt where we attended the U.S. Men’s Senior Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. I had been to golf tournaments before in Minnesota where there would always be fifty-thousand people. Being near Hollywood though attending a golf tournament was different as for California golf fans being around celebrities was common. So there was hardly anyone at the golf course for a practice round. So we see Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus, who many consider being the greatest golfer of all time, casually walks over to us when we call out his name like encountering a long-lost friend at the local golf course. There’s a picture hanging in my Dad’s office in Lindstrom of Jack Nicklaus with his arm around me. Soon after seeing Jack Nicklaus, we see Arnold Palmer. We see Palmer’s legendary charisma on display as he chats us up for like five minutes. As we’re waiting for a ride out of the Riviera Country Club, Palmer drives off in his Cadillac and waves to us. My Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus story wouldn’t have even begun to describe the experience of Peter, James, and John on this day as their faith heroes who had long been dead were now standing before them. Such a sign would have been interpreted that their faith was really working. The only problem is that such signs can be misleading.
When I go around visiting with people, I’ll often hear people invoke the “glory days” of this congregation. Pews filled Sunday morning, parents making sure they register their children for “Sunday School” early, and all sorts of young people coming to coffee hour. You know the type of church that seemingly has a limitless future. We all dream of being a part of a church like this. You see the very mission of the church and we can see how it doesn’t operate quite like the world works.
The world expects only to see God through dramatic signs such as transfigurations, whereas God never works according to our standards. People say if God is actually present in my life then all sorts of excellent stuff will happen to me. I will have the perfect spouse standing alongside me, I will have the well-paying job that I love, and we would be watching the Vikings play in the Super Bowl later this afternoon. I shall never experience ill-health, loneliness, or any anxiety; if God were to work according to my standards then things will finally be right with the universe.
A few weeks ago, we had the billion dollar Powerball Jackpot. We were talking about it at the school gym and what would we do if we won all that money? People were sharing their daydreams about giving money away, what they would do for their friends or how they would finally purchase a rocket ship to keep in their backyard. Such an event touches on the great human dream of how would we respond if everything changed tomorrow. We all want that payoff to our big struggles.
My good friend Carl absolutely loved seminary. He always loved being around to people to debate new ideas. He delighted in never having to eat alone. So Carl moves to Brookston and doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Seminary can never fully prepare you for 5 AM phone calls, family squabbles, or having to grind out a sermon week after week.
My Colleague Pastor Brostrom over at Faith Lutheran always jokes about how one of his favorite reality TV shows is called Preachers of LA. These preachers are living large, and live such exciting lives that they end up on cable TV. The lives these preachers live are not the marks though of a successful Christian.
I have a friend who is a Female Pastor in the Northeast she struggled with doing weddings for the longest time, as she kept having bad date after bad date. She began to grow conflicted over how God might ultimately be working in her life. We all go through life wanting that which we do not have. We all yearn for the life-changing moment whether it be that magical first date, receiving the glamorous job offer, winning the lottery or seeing your faith come to fruition before your very eyes.
Here Peter, James, and John were having one of these big moments. The moment though could not last. The truth is there is a lot of distance in this life between the top of the mountain and entering the holy city. We can not measure this distance in mere miles. You see it is in the midst of preaching our good news, we can begin to see that the past shall not be what defines us a people. God cannot and should not be about creating our ideal world. God shall rather be about creating the world that we can not even begin to imagine.
Humorist P.J. O Rourke once said the following “If you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word “dentistry.”
We do not and cannot look at the past as Christian people. Jesus had to instruct Peter, James, and John that this earth-shattering moment with Moses and Elijah could not last forever because their faith was so much more.
My Dad and I were one time on a family vacation out in Banff, Alberta. We decided we were going to go for a hike to the top of a mountain with a Gondola. The only problem was what we thought was a hiking trail, wasn’t a hiking trail. We soon had to start climbing and scrambling being cautious with nearly every step. I’ve probably never been more nervous in my life until the moment we finally see another hiker and reach safety.
You see this is an apt metaphor for life. Life is mostly spent fighting, clawing, surviving, and advancing. The real neat thing about our story for today isn’t Jesus appearing alongside Moses and Elijah. Nor instead is it Jesus clothes shining brighter than the sun.
Instead, something much cooler happens. Jesus goes down the mountain; he encounters a boy having epileptic seizures, who falls into a fire burning himself. This boy starts out with every sort of nasty chain that one can imagine: social ostracism mixed with psychological torment. What starts out as an awful story shows us the way of redemption. Jesus healed the boy when it was thought for years before to be impossible. The eyes of the Christian faith are never on the mountain top, but always looking downward towards Jerusalem towards the cross. We are above all else a people of Resurrection. We are a people of hope!
I came across a great quote by Timothy Keller this week which says “The opposite of joy is not sadness. It’s hopelessness”
We are a people who believe that what lies ahead in the future will outshine anything that the Disciples see on the mountain top of Transfiguration on this day. “Rise and Have No Fear” is the key verse that Jesus speaks to the Disciples within this passage. Jesus knew that the days, weeks, and years ahead were going to contain some scary moments for the Disciples. Moments of loneliness, moments of uncertainty, and moments where they might doubt God’s plan for it all.
The great struggle as Christian people is exploring the meaning of these moments. What these moments shall remind is that life shall not be whole once again going backward, life shall only become whole once again moving forward.
We don’t need another Reagan or another Roosevelt. We rather need a reminder of the hope of Resurrection that is to come. Amen
 Luke 9:28-43
 Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher: No Ordinary Mountain Top”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 31.Jan.2016. Web. Feb.2.2016.
 The O’Rourke quote comes from All the Trouble in the World.
 Luke 9:28-43
 Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher: No Ordinary Mountain Top”.
 The following quote appears on Keller’s Facebook page on February 5th, 2016.
 Matthew 17:7 or the Matthew account of Transfiguration.
First Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 2-9
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture a moment in your life? The moment that I want you to picture is the moment that you would deem to be the most special or unique. The moment could be the time in high school, when you hit the shot at the buzzer to win the game. The day, when you looked down at the scale to see a particular goal weight achieved. It could be a major life accomplishment in the day that you received the significant award or got offered the new job. For many people, this moment might be the moment that you saw your bride getting ready to come down the aisle, or the time that you held your child for the first time. Chances are these moments define your life. I want to tell you the story about one such moment for three men today in Peter, James, and John.
Peter, James, and John had been traveling with Jesus for about two years throughout all of Israel. They had heard Jesus give plenty of sermons. They had seen him walk on water, heal the sick, and even feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. For Peter, James, and John their minds could not fathom what they were about to see next. For one day, Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a hike. They could not quite figure what the purpose was for this hike, yet it would soon become apparent.
Once they reached, the top of the mountain, they saw a fireworks show like one could not imagine. Jesus’ appearance changed right before them “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Peter, James, and John knew the famous Old Testament story of God appearing before Moses in a Burning Bush and Moses’ life changing forever as he encountered the living God.
After overcoming the initial shock, of Jesus’ change in appearance, Peter, James, and John mind were further blown as appearing before them was Moses of said Burning Bush fame and Elijah the only man to ever ascend to Heaven in a whirlwind. There were not two more important figures in the history of Israel than Moses and Elijah. The whole Old Testament was summed up in these two men the Law and the Prophets. These men were Israel’s George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Here they were back to life, after, not having been seen for hundreds of years. Think if you could invite any three people living or dead to dinner who would you invite? This question had just become a reality for Peter, James, and John upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
So Peter’s reaction to this most incredible of scenes is expected. Peter wants the moment to last forever. Peter wanted to camp out at the Mount of Transfiguration for as long as possible. Peter figured this was the payoff to his faith. The scene to which they were witnesses was the completion of the years of getting ready for that one shining moment. Jesus quickly had to correct Peter’s imagination as soon as this moment came to end.
What are we to make of this story of Transfiguration today?
As many of you know, I’ve hiked the North Shore as much as anyone possibly could. You ask me about a hiking trail from Duluth to the Border, I could give you a description of nearly every trail’s difficulty, its scenery, and its logistics.
My favorite hike on the North Shore is Mount Josephine up in Grand Portage. Most of you have been to Palisade Head, many of you have been to Shovel Point, but what makes Mount Josephine, so spectacular is its climb. Mount Josephine is an ascent of 600 feet in about 6/10 of a mile. You will huff, and puff to get up to the top of Mount Josephine regardless of your fitness level. But the difficulty of the climb is what makes Mount Josephine so spectacular. The steep angle gives you an incredible view of Lake Superior where you can see out even as far as Isle Royale. Once you get to the top of Mount Josephine, you feel a sense of accomplishment as your breath gets taken away by the view. You vow to stay at the top of Mount Josephine for maybe a half-hour staring a site like you will never see again. Something happens though during your time on the top, the view from Mount Josephine becomes more ordinary. Eventually right before that one last look, you now know that it is time to descend the mountain.
Misunderstanding the moment is the problem with Peter’s mindset in our Gospel lesson for today. What people seemingly can’t grasp about life is the life is mostly spent down in the valley, not upon the mountain. For like Peter seeing Jesus transfiguration before his very eyes, this experience was going to be fleeting.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a science teacher named Mr. Collins. The benefit of being around science people is they tend to see the world not in terms of emotions and feelings, but rather how pieces fit together. Now Mr. Collins wasn’t much to look at he was short, he was bald, and he had put on a few pounds since high school. Mr. Collins though knew seventh graders quite well. He knew they were at the age where every single person was judged on the basis of physical appearance or “how hot they were?”
Mr. Collins one day addresses the class, where he points out that looks are a terrible reason to choose to marry. Mr. Collins reminded us that he didn’t think of his wife in the morning for how she looked, but rather he thought of her as his wife. The one to whom he was going to spend the rest of his life, long after both their looks had faded. The problem that Mr. Collins was addressing is that basing a marriage on its initial excitement or romance leads to the moment fading and the marriage not lasting. You can not create the same thrill on day in and day out basis. For as Jesus seeks to illustrate to Peter, mountaintop experiences don’t last.
Our question for today is ultimately “Where do we find God in the world?” Peter, James, and John in the rush of initial excitement believed that they had discovered God upon the Mount of Transfiguration. They believed there would never be any bigger moment in their lives than seeing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus standing together.
Often, I’ll hear people talk about grand spiritual life-changing experiences. When I was fourteen years old, I spend the week at Bible camp in South Dakota in the Black Hills. I made some new friends, had some cool counselors, had my faith challenged. This initial surge of the moment led me to believe that this was proof of God’s presence. I vowed that I was going to be a changed man from this day forward. I remember going home and apologizing to my parents for being such a brat in the months prior. Something happened after I got back from South Dakota called everyday life. I kept encountering the same friends, I got back into the same routines, and as the initial surge of South Dakota wore off, I reverted to being just as big an attention starved brat as ever. Just like as soon as Peter, James, and John traveled down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were forced to encounter a boy begging to be healed of Epilepsy. The snap back to reality is often difficult for us to grasp. We want certain moments to last forever, only for us to be disappointed when they don’t. Disappointment can confuse us as to the realness of God’s presence.
What we must remember this morning is that God’s presence is not found merely in mountaintop experiences, we find God’s presence in the everyday world. When we say that we live by faith, what this means is that we live by promise. We live with the belief that even though we might not see Jesus at this moment, this doesn’t mean that he is not present in our lives.
Often, I’ll hear people say “I wish God’s presence could be clearer.”
As we begin Lent in a few days, we look towards the hope of Easter. We look towards the God, who at the world’s creation said, “Let there be light”, and we see this light in the light of the world who shone amongst us in Christ Jesus.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I took a Sunday off to go to California with my aunt and my grandma. I had a guy I knew from seminary pinch hit named Mark Lund. Mark was just getting a comfort level for speaking in front of others. Mark this Sunday is giving a Children’s sermon. The thing about Children’s sermons is that kids will blurt out just about anything at the most inopportune moments. So, after being asked a question that Mark was unsure how to answer, Mark just told the kid “Remember the correct answer is always Jesus.” So when I return to teach Confirmation, when the kids didn’t know an answer they just kept answering like Mark had taught them. The right answer is all spiritual questions, all spiritual doubt and despair is “Always Jesus”.
We will all have plenty of events and experiences in life that we won’t know their meaning. This much is true. What I also know is that Christ comes to us on this day in two ordinary forms (Word and Sacrament), the promises of our Gospel given to us in Bread and Wine.
Plenty of us can clamor that we wish that God would deal with us a bit differently than he does. The reason, that God deals with us as he does, is because we need to encounter God within humble means. If I was to call down fire from heaven, like Elijah this morning. People would go home amazed with me, or the fact that they were worthy enough to be part of this congregation, rather than to look towards the cross the reality of God’s work in the world.
In closing, one of the big news stories of the last few months has been the Charlie Hedbo massacres that took place in France where three armed gunmen stormed a newspaper office killing twelve people within the building. The reason for the attacks is the Muslim Gunmen were deeply offended by a series of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published a few years previously. One of the central tenants of Islam is that Muhammad cannot show any weakness, Muhammad cannot be humiliated. So the Gunmen inevitability react like they did. What separates Christianity from Islam is that Christianity is a religion of weakness rather than strength. Christianity grew through martyrdom rather than warfare. The whole central premise of Christianity is that God became weak. God entered into our sinful flesh. God suffered humiliation upon a cross to bring us salvation.
What Peter, James, and John were reminded on the mountain about the Transfiguration is that we as Christians are never defining God in the present, rather we are always looking ahead. We’re always looking towards Easter. We are always looking towards the Resurrection. Amen
 Let the record show that the Gospel text for this sermon is Mark’s account of the Transfiguration found in Mark 9:2-9.
 Matthew 14:22-33
 Matthew 14:13-21
 Mark 9:3
 Exodus 3
 2 Kings 1:1-18
 Matthew 17:14-20
 Genesis 1:3
 John 1