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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2013
The Gospel: Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
Sermon: "There's More"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, 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.
[On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
I can still see them in my memory; the amazing paintings of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in Rome. To say that they were breathtaking would be an understatement. I’d seen pictures of them of course; especially Michelangelo’s Last Judgment on the front wall and the Creation of Adam on the ceiling. But to actually stand before them and see them first hand was nearly overpowering. I still remember the scholarly lecture about the subdued hues and subtle nuances of color in the paintings, and the varied theories of how the great master had achieved them.
Now, if you’ve seen them yourself in the past, say, twenty years, you just might be wondering what I’m talking about when I mention subdued hues and so forth. You see, I saw them before they were restored to original condition. Before that everyone thought that the subtle coloring was intentional. They didn’t realize that the subdued nature of the colors was actually caused by centuries of soot collecting on them from burning candles. Michelangelo’s original colors are anything but subtle. Restored and rediscovered, they are bright-brilliant with light, and dazzlingly beautiful.
One professor, who went to see the restored glory of these paintings, recently wrote of his experience. He and his wife waited for hours in line for a glimpse. At a distance the paintings did not look all that impressive, he said. People chatted in line, and joked about a paint-by-numbers replica of Michelangelo’s work for their own ceilings. When they drew closer, however, they became overwhelmed. The paintings seemed to engulf them. Everyone became quiet. Necks ached with the effort to keep looking up. Now they were seeing the paintings as Michelangelo intended for them to be seen. The impact was unforgettable. It was a moment of revealed glory.
Our Gospel lesson this morning, from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, tells us of another moment of revealed glory; the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration has something powerful to reveal to us today; it reveals the startling truth that there’s more: there’s more to this world; there’s more to life; there’s more to living than we have ever guessed. So let’s look at these “mores,” and let’s start with this:
There’s more to this world. There is more to reality than what we can hear, see, touch, taste or smell. This experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was no ordinary mountaintop experience. It was not simply a matter of Peter, James and John being moved by the beauty of creation as we sometimes are on a retreat, or a vacation, though we cherish such experiences.
This world is so beautiful, so intricate. It overwhelms our senses to contemplate the glory of creation. However, the Mount of Transfiguration says to us that when we take the sum total of every beautiful and wonderful thing that we have ever experienced through our five senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, when we add up every good feeling we have ever had about friends, family, health and hope, when we include everything this world has to offer us for happiness, joy and peace, there is still more. There is a reality that our scientific instruments cannot measure, our best philosophical minds cannot fathom, our most sophisticated technology cannot reach. It is the realm of the Spirit. Jesus was suddenly enveloped in the dazzling brightness of God’s own glory. His countenance was altered as his face shone like the sun. The voice of God was heard and the disciples fell to the ground in awe. It is the reality of the living God. There is more to this world than what our senses can normally detect. This is the first “more” our Scripture tells us.
And here is the second, there is more to life than this life. There is more awaiting us at life’s end than death. What sad, meaningless lives so many people live. We can hear it in the rhetoric of debate that goes on about the great issues of our time. Rarely is the question raised about ultimate values, or eternal consequences. Why? Because most people live in the fear that life really does end at the grave. But consider this: there, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples see Jesus with Elijah and Moses. How long had Elijah and Moses been dead: Many hundreds of years in the one case, and nearly a thousand in the other? No matter. In god’s presence there is no measure of time. “God is God of the living,” Jesus proclaimed. There is more to life than death.
An eleven year old boy named Landon stood in front of his Mom one day and said, “I wish I could write a letter to Luke.” The mother could see the tears her son was trying not to shed. Nine months before, Landon’s friend Luke had died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. Landon’s grief was deep, unreachable. His mother longed to ease his pain, though she could do nothing except hold him as he wept. Maybe, she thought, writing a letter was a good idea. She handed Landon paper and colored pencils. “Tell Luke how much you miss him and how much you love him. Tell him you haven’t forgotten him.”
Landon wrote the letter; a long one. The completed paper was a work of art. He wrote each line in a different color and carefully drew an elaborate border around the edge. It was a love letter…a message from earth to heaven.
Landon folded the paper carefully, and together with his Mom asked God to give Luke its message. But it wasn’t enough. “What I really want to do is tie my letter to a balloon,” said Landon. “I know it can’t really get to heaven, but…” He left the sentence unfinished. His mother drove him to a party supply store. There, Landon chose a neon pink helium balloon to carry his letter. Then they drove up a steep butte at the edge of town. It was peaceful on top, offering an endless view of high desert and mountains. A gentle breeze was blowing, and when Landon released the balloon, it instantly danced away from his fingers. They watched it silently. Up, up, up! It climbed quickly as if it knew the importance of the mission.
“I wish something would happen so I could know God got the letter,” Landon said. His mother too wished something would happen, but her practical side spoke, assuring Landon that God would give Luke the message regardless of what happened to the balloon. “I know, but I still wish I could see something…” Landon said. The sky was covered with thick, heavy clouds that day, and the balloon grew smaller and smaller as they watched. Then suddenly, just as the balloon was leaving their vision, an opening appeared in the clouds. The balloon sailed through. They stood there speechless. “Did you see that, Mom?” Landon whispered reverently. “God got my balloon.”
As they drove back down the butte, Landon’s mother knew the message indeed had been delivered. She felt at least part of what Peter, James and John must have felt as the cloud enveloped them on the Mount. There is more to this world than our senses can detect. And there is more to life than this life.
And one more thing: there’s more to Living this life. There is more to Christian living than going to the mountaintop. Look at our text again, “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain…” On the next day, Jesus and these three disciples were down from the mountain ministering to the needs of people. Followers of Jesus who believe that there is more to this world and to life, do not sit twiddling their thumbs and idly reveling in those great truths. We are called to seek out others and minister to them in Jesus’ name.
After many years of service, a missionary in what is called the Fly River region of New Guinea, returned home. A friend asked, “Tell me what you found at your station in New Guinea.”
“Found?” said the Missionary, “I found something that looked more hopeless than if I had been sent into the jungle to a lot of tigers. What I mean is that those people were morally primitive. They behaved toward each other as beasts would. If a mother birthed a colic baby, or a baby with a birth mark she would throw it into the ditch and let it die. If a man saw his father break his leg, he would leave him by the path to die. If one man was offended by another, he would kill and eat him. They knew no compassion, and no grace.”
“So,” the friend asked, “what did you do? Did you preach to them?” “Preach! No! I lived!” the missionary replied. “When I saw a forsaken baby crying, I took it in and fed and raised it. When I saw a man with a broken leg, I mended it. When I saw people in distress, I took them in and took care of them. I met with the hunter to settle accounts for the hunted.” I lived that way. And when people began to come to me and ask, ‘What does this mean? What are you doing this for?’ Then I had my chance and I preached the Gospel.”
“Were you at all successful?” asked the friend. “When I left,” said the missionary, “I left a church with a congregation that lived on as I had lived.”
That’s the true test of every mountaintop experience. Does it motivate us to reach out to others? Does it motivate us to reach out even to those we would not have considered before? The Transfiguration tells us that there is more to living this life for those who love Jesus.
There is so much more to this world, to life, and to living this life. Live for Jesus. Let your life and your world be transfigured by his presence.