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.