Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 22, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Sermon: "Turning Points"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" - not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Last Sunday after the Epiphany - February 22, 2004
Alfred Nobel had a turning point in his life. His brother had died and a reporter thought it was Alfred and wrote his obituary. Imagine his surprise when he woke up the next morning and read his own obituary in the paper. What was even more surprising was what he read. To the world he was known as the dynamite king. He was the creator of this great explosive which was used in war and construction. The article concentrated mostly on its military application. As a result of reading this article Nobel decided to use some part of his fortune to create the Nobel Peace Prize. This prize is awarded to those who work endlessly for peace among all peoples. Reading the obituary was Nobel's turning point.
A young man was working on a farm. He was asked to go to a revival by the farm owner. He declined but the farmer was persistent. The young man asked if he could drive the farmer's truck if he went with the group. The farmer agreed and the young man had an incredible experience at the revival. The young man's name was Billy Graham. Until that day he had no intention of becoming an evangelist. Driving the truck that night was the beginning of a turning point for him.
What turning points do we see in our lives? We make decisions about our jobs. We make decisions about our health. We make decisions about getting married and how we will deal with our children. We even made a decision about coming to church this morning. Each of these decisions can mark turning point in our lives. Some of these turning points can mean slight changes while others could mean more substantial change will occur in our lives.
This morning we see an incredible event for the Jesus and the disciples. Jesus takes the disciples up onto the mountain and he is transfigured before them. His clothes become dazzling white. His face changes. Moses and Elijah appear. The disciples had been sleeping but they awake. They are terrified.
This moment is a definitive turning point for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus' ministry has been to preach, to teach and to heal throughout Galilee. He has also gathered his disciples and chosen twelve as his closest followers. Jesus goes onto the mountain to pray. Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah. After this event Jesus will turn his face towards Jerusalem. He moves toward the famous city of God. This city has been the heart of the religious life of the Hebrew people for a long time. Great worship occurs within these walls. People make pilgrimages to worship and offer sacrifice to the God of all creation. At the same time, Jerusalem is the city that has persecuted the prophets of old. Jesus knows he must go there. He turns towards Jerusalem. To the cross, to the fulfillment of God's plan.
The disciples also have a definitive moment with God. As they watch all these events on the mountain with Jesus, they hear a voice. The voice of God comes from the cloud and tells them who Jesus is and what they should do. They are told that Jesus is God's chosen Son. The voice says for them to listen to him. Yet, we know that they do not. After they come down from the mountain Jesus tells them he is going to Jerusalem to be crucified and they do not understand. Shortly after they set out the disciples argue over who is the greatest and who will be Jesus' second. They have not obeyed the voice from the cloud. They are not listening to what Jesus tells them. They do not understand. They hear the words, but they do not open their hearts. They have had this incredible spiritual experience preparing them for what is to come. How do they respond? They continue with their own agenda because they do not understand. They also do not want to hear words about suffering and death. The turning point could be richer for them if they would only listen and try to understand.
I have already mentioned turning points in our lives. These times included marriage and children and jobs. What turning points exist in our spiritual lives? What points of spiritual awareness have we experienced? Perhaps we have had moments when we have felt God's presence particularly near. The moment was one of great comfort and peace. Perhaps we have had moments when we have been faced with a choice? We have to decide how we will respond. A person asks for money because they are hungry and we have to choose how we will respond. Perhaps we have attended a church service or conference that was particularly meaningful and we came away more aware of the presence of God than ever before? These moments might all be called mountain top experiences. The name derives from this event in the scriptures.
Mountain top experiences are important in our lives. They teach us. They encourage us. They comfort us. They bring us a sense of peace and joy. They also challenge us. The disciples came away from their experience with a better understanding of Jesus' identity. They also knew God was present with them in a special way. They had a moment when the veil between heaven and earth was particularly thin.
However, they were also challenged. They were challenged to listen to Jesus. They were challenged to follow Jesus. They were challenged to walk in faith. We have already learned they did not listen very well. They definitely did not understand. They did follow Jesus. They did walk in faith. They knew the direction, but they did not understand the ending. Unlike the disciples we know the ending. We know that ultimately it was very, very good.
Perhaps that is the message of our own mountain top experiences? We do not understand fully. We do not know every step of the journey. We do know two important things. First, Jesus will be with us every step of the way. As he led the disciples to Jerusalem, to the cross, and to the resurrection, Jesus will lead us. Jesus will guide us and help us if we only step out in faith and follow. Secondly, we know the ending. We don't know how it will occur. We know it will be greater than we can possibly imagine. We know that God's love will rule the day. We know that eternal life awaits for all. While the path may sometimes be rocky, we know God is with us and rules the day with love. We have Good News for us the travelers on the road.
Of course, traveling the road with Jesus is a challenge. We don't know exactly where we will go or what we will do. If we stay the course, if we are willing to let God lead, then we will see marvelous things. We will experience more times when the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. We will see the glory of God revealed and humanity surrounded by the love of God. All we are asked to do is say yes to the call and listen. And God told the disciples, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Amen