Sunday message: A brilliant moment

Transfiguration Sunday – February 23, 2020


Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

When brilliant moments dazzle us we are left speechless. Then, after a few moments, something might start happening in our minds. We want to explain the brilliance away. It’s just not possible that something as great as this could have happened.

There are those times when we too, have an experience that takes us away from the regular and the mundane. As a young teenager, I remember going to the mountains called the Drakensberg in South Africa, close to land-locked Lesotho.

Our cross-country running coach took us to go and camp below the majestic “Amphitheatre” which was extremely awe-inspiring. Then we would put our backpacks filled with food and tightly wound-up sleeping bags on our backs and start the trek up to the top of the mountain, called Mont-aux-Source where the Tugela River has its origin.

There was a chain-ladder to climb when we got close to the top. Gazing from that mountain, you would be able to see way, way into the distance until the haziness swallowed up your view.

Mountains just do have an attraction. No matter the height, people love tackling the challenge of climbing to the summit.

Some see Mount Everest in the Himalayas as the ultimate mountain to conquer, others, Kilimanjaro, and then there are the Andes, the Rockies and the Alps. They are all awe-inspiring in their way.

Each of these, my own in the Drakensberg in South Africa, as well as all the others in the world, deliver some form of ‘brilliant moment’,

but not the same intensity as the one Peter, James and John experienced with Jesus when Moses and Elijah also appeared from way back in history.

If twenty centuries, 2000 years, pass by, such a brilliant moment could become nothing other than a “transfiguration” that feels like it was just part of what was supposed to happen to Jesus. It seems like Jesus was just going through the motions, or was He?

Wait a minute, can it just be explained away as just another event? More than that, do we have any idea what was happening at that moment of brilliance on the mountain? It is a moment surrounded by mystery.

I have a hunch that there is much more meaning in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain than meets the eye.

In his daily devotional, N.T. Wright suggests that the reader imagine themselves that they are treading the path up along the mountain with Jesus and his three disciples. Therefore, I wonder what it would be like imagining myself being on the road up that mountain. [i] By the way, there doesn’t seem to be complete evidence as to exactly which mountain it was in Israel. Various scholars and traditions claim various locations.

Still, I try imagining myself being part of this party walking up that path. There are five of us. It’s Jesus taking the lead with Peter joining Him, James and John are following right behind them and I’m with them. These past days and weeks have been quite bewildering. Just recently Jesus had asked his disciples who they think the Son of Man is. They aren’t quite sure, perhaps He is John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or Elijah who had returned from disappearing up into heaven or one of the prophets. Then Peter makes the faith statement, “You are the anointed one, the Son of the living God.” Peter declares that Jesus is the one who will make the kingdom of God a reality on earth as in heaven. I’m just wondering what this will look like.

Everything is so new as we walk up this mountain. Back home there were many of my friends saying that this Jesus isn’t the one that is to come. He’s not a military leader or warrior king on a white horse that will change things by force to be God’s kingdom, nor is He a strict teacher that is making sure people obey God’s commandments. But then, Jesus was saying that God’s love matters a lot. This was in the middle of Jesus doing miracles of healing people. This seemed to me to be quite liberating and exciting while Jesus is around. Holiness doesn’t seem to be so constricting and gloomy.

Still, as we walk up the mountain, it does feel like something special is happening, as it usually goes when one ascends a mountain. The vistas are beautiful. We walk and walk, we are becoming out of breath and little is being said. And then, all out of the blue something is happening. What? This can’t be true. My eyes are deceiving me. This must be the light tricking me. Wow, this is a new kind of light, it’s coming from Jesus Himself. Jesus is shining brighter and brighter. Brighter than anything I’ve ever seen before. Then it appears that Jesus is talking to two other men. From what I can hear, it becomes clear that these two are Moses and Elijah. Moses who wrote down the ten commandments on two tablets also on a mountain, and Elijah the prophet who encountered God on a mountain. Strange that these stories are flowing together. Am I just imagining it? Then Peter speaks. Peter blurts out, in a bedazzled state, that this is so wonderful, let’s build tents or booths. Then this can last forever. I think so too, this is a great idea! This is heaven on earth. Heaven and earth are coming together at last. We’ve always been longing for this. Jesus is indeed the Messiah, God’s anointed one.

This is when it all happens. There is the Voice. People had heard the voice speaking when Jesus was being baptized by John. Now this same voice comes again, “This is my Son, my Beloved; I am delighted in Him. You must listen to Him.” This couldn’t be my imagination, we all heard it. It’s feeling as if my legs are swaying and I’m hanging mid-air. This is terrifying. And then everything is over, only Jesus is left and we head down the mountain. Jesus tells us not to say anything about this to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Friends, this Transfiguration Sunday we’re looking at the mysterious and mystical. All of this is unexplainable. What can it be?

This all happens on a mountain, as did Moses’ experience happen on Mount Sinai and Elijah’s on a mountaintop with the prophets of Baal. Mountains are so often places of radical things happening. My question is: as with Jesus’ transfiguration, do such transformations happen readily in my own life? Do they happen here at Dayspring? Or do we want to explain it away? Does God want to encounter us in new and refreshing ways? Does God want to transform us as a congregation once again? I wonder whether God wants to inspire us. Transformation in our lives brings us to new places and new changes in the future.

There are those very special, brilliant moments that have a lasting effect on us. They might be rare, but they can change and transform us radically. Are we open to this, accepting that we have no way of explaining it all? Amen

[i] Wright, N.T, 2011; Lent for everyone, Matthew, Year A – A daily devotional


Copyright 2020 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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