Sermon: A Mountain Top Experience

A Mountain Top Experience
Mark 9:2-9
February 11, 2018
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

In today’s gospel text, the Apostles Peter, James and John had the most amazing mountain top experience; Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes. As a result, it forever defined who they were, and they were never the same.

When we truly experience the Lord in our hearts, it can be like a mountain top experience which will keep us going as we face those valleys of life that come our way. My text is Mark 9:2-9.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

On Monday Feb 19, I will be taking a 9 day sabbatical trip to the Holy Land with Bishop Devadhar and other clergy. While Janet and I have been there before, it seems to have a magnetic effect on me, and I will return once again. Janet prefers to stay home this time.

On a previous trip our tour visited the 1900 foot Mt Tabor, which was the scene of the Transfiguration. I vividly remember our tour bus slowly winding its way around the mountain. Once we got to top, we could see the bluish/green Sea of Galilee, the long windy Jordan River, thousands of olive trees that dotted the landscape. The same view that Jesus saw.

And it was here on this very mountain, our Lord’s appearance changed. His face shone like the brightness of the noonday sun. His clothes reflected the brilliance of the white light. Also present were two other celestial visitors: Moses, who represented the Old Testament law, and Elijah, who represented the prophets.

Even today, as we live in this postmodern and secular world filled with skepticism, the story of the Transfiguration is one that confirms my belief in the Lord Jesus.

The Transfiguration is like a movie entitled “Life after Life.” None of us will ever have an encounter exactly like this, but the next best thing is to experience the Lord in our hearts and see him through the eyes of faith.

Like I mentioned before, the promise of heaven gets us through the valleys. On Friday, February 2, Merilee Thomas died, and it is the promise of heaven and eternal life that is keeps her husband Harry hopeful that he will see his wife once again. Those who have gone through medical issues and suffering, those hard times will be a distant memory once we reach the other side.

One of the well-known painters of the French Impressionist School was a man named August Renoir. As his health began to fail, Renoir was housebound for the final ten years of his life. His good friend and fellow artist, Henry Matisse, would visit daily. Although Renoir was almost crippled with painful arthritis, he continued to paint. His friend saw the struggle said, “August, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” With Renoir’s eyes fixed on the canvass, he said, “The beauty remains, the pain passes.”

Renoir’s statement reminds me of the scripture passage, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard the wonderful things God has prepared for his children.”

In the Transfiguration, we are assured there is much more in the beyond waiting for us. But to keep that hope fresh, we need that mountain top experience of Christ fresh in our hearts. Periodically read about it so that our spiritual lives do not become stagnant. With the Transfiguration as a reality in our lives, our perspective changes; the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.

The Serendipity Bible has a series of questions that I would like us to consider:

  1. When was your most recent mountain top experience? A. Years ago. B. Quite recently. C. Right now. D. It hasn’t happened yet.
  2. What helps you feel close to God? A. Nature. B. Music. C. Being Alone With Christ. D. Real Christian Fellowship. E. The Lord’s Supper. F. Remembering His Love for Me.
  3. How do you feel when you are on top? A. Like being awed. B. Like the other shoe is about to drop. C. Like nothing else matters. D. Like conquering the World. E. Like staying forever.
  4. How would you describe your relationship with God now? A. On a mountain top. B. Down off the mountain. C. In the valley. D. In a quandary. E. In the desert. F. In the mid climb.

In my life I have had what I would call spiritual mountain top experiences, but today I still need those times of worship in order to feel refreshed and renewed.

Let me close. Using a movie term, the Transfiguration is a sneak preview of better things to come. In the meantime, let us keep our spiritual lives refreshed. As we enter the other side, we will be ready for the good things that God has prepared for us.

Sermon: Listening to the Voice

Listening to the Voice
Matthew 17:1-9
RUMC 26 February 2017

At the height of his fame, while on one of his world travels, Mark Twain met a shrewd and ruthless businessman from Boston. The proud businessman boasted that nobody ever got in his way.  Then he said to Mr. Twain, “Before I die, I plan on making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Once there, I am going to climb Mount Sinai.  And when I up there I am going to read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top of my voice!”  Unimpressed, Mr. Twain said, “I’ve got a better idea.  Stay in Boston and keep the commandments.”  Now Mr. Twain wasn’t exactly what we would call a devout believer, but he was on to something.

In our Christian journey we need more than religious belief; to back up our faith we need to obey the teachings of the Lord, to do the things the Lord would have us to do. This coincides with today’s scripture passage about the Transfiguration, when the voice of God said, “This is my Son the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”

Below is today’s reading from Matthew 17:1-9.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This is the Word of God.

The transfiguration was the most significant event between Christ’s birth and resurrection. It was a pivotal moment in history, a time when human nature met God.  It was a meeting of the temporal and the eternal with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.  And what the disciples saw had to be written down so that people of all ages could believe.

When traveling to Israel today, one of the places the tour busses stop is Mt. Tabor, the sight of the Transfiguration. From the top of this mountain, one can see the bluish, oval Sea of Galilee, the long windy Jordan River and the tiny villages that dot the landscape.  It is almost identical to the view that Jesus and his disciples had.

It was on that mountain where Jesus’ appearance changed. His face shone like the brightness of the sun, and his clothes radiated the brilliance of white light.  It was the Transfiguration; the moment, Jesus was in full union with God.  Two of Israel’s greatest historical figures, Moses and Elijah, joined Jesus on the mountain.  Their presence witnessed the promise of the future resurrection of the dead.  Yet there was more:  The voice of the Father, confirmed that Jesus was the true representative of God, and that we should listened to Him.

Let’s face it the voice, the vision, and the appearance of white were important because the disciples needed confirmation of who Jesus truly was. Everywhere they went they heard the constant drum beat of the Pharisees, scribes and the priests who said that Jesus was not the Son of God, but a false prophet.

Even today, all of us need confirmation of who Jesus really is. There are many voices who say that Jesus is nothing more than a good man, or a good teacher.  Others say he was an inspirational leader who provided us with an example of love.  But the transfiguration goes above and beyond, and to me makes a convincing argument that Jesus was the Son of God and that we need to listen to him.

Another way we can look at the transfiguration is like this. What Matthew had written down was like a movie trailer of a film that has not been released yet, a sneak preview of things to come.

When we read those words, “Listen to Him,” it involves faith and obedience.  They go together, and we cannot have one without the other.

This past week, I read an interesting article on the Internet. It is called:  Top 10 Things that Frustrate Doctors about their Patients. #1.  Patients who are late for their appointments:  We understand what that means.  #2. Patients who do not follow orders:  These are the ones who do not faithfully take their medication, who cheat on diets, who continue to smoke, who become lackadaisical in regards to follow up visits or fail to follow treatment protocols.

I see some similarities with response #2 of that medical study and our Christian walk. Do we completely follow the commands of the Lord or are we like some patients in the survey who pick and choose?

I think we would do well, if we would let the words of Christ become part of our body, soul and spirit. The voice of the Father is not just for ordained ministers and local pastors, but for all of us.

  • Obedience is when we seek God with our whole hearts.
  • It is when we find ways to let the Word of God dwell in us richly.
  • It is when we say yes to whatever God asks of us.
  • It is when we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

In the movie, The Karate Kid, young Daniel had been bullied and was beaten up by some nasty characters; so he asked a man named Mister Miagi to teach him some karate.  Mr. Miagi agreed under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods.  Daniel showed up the next day eager to learn.  To his chagrin, Mister Miagi had him paint a fence.  Miagi demonstrated the precise motion for the job; up and down, up and down.  Daniel took days to finish the job.  Next, Miagi had him scrub the deck using a prescribed stroke.  Again the job took days.  Daniel wondered, “What does this have to do with karate,” but he said nothing.  Next Miagi told Daniel to wash and wax three weather beaten cars and again prescribed the motion.  Finally Daniel reached his limit of frustration.  He told Mr. Miagi, “I thought you were going to teach me karate, but all you have done is have me do your unwanted chores!”  Daniel had broken Miagi’s one condition and the old man’s face pulsed with anger.  Mr. Miagi said “I have been teaching you karate, defend yourself.”  Mr. Miagi trusted his arm at Daniel, who instinctively defended himself with a wrist block and with the same arm motion used in one of his chores.  Miagi unleashed a vicious kick, and again Daniel averted the blow with a circle block, a motion used in his chores.  After Daniel successfully defended himself from several more blows, Miagi walked away which left Daniel to discover what the master had known all along; skill comes from repeating the correct, but seemingly mundane actions.

Obedience to Christ is similar to what Mr. Miagi had taught Daniel. We may not totally understand all that is happening, but if we trust and obey in all circumstances, we will be better off because of it.

Speaking of trust and obey, let me close with the words of the first verse of this great hymn.
“When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word. What a glory he sheds on our way.
While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus is to trust and obey.”

God the Father said in the cloud, “This is my son, the beloved, Listen to him.” May we do that in all of our lives.

Sermon: The Transfiguration of Jesus

The Transfiguration of Jesus
Luke 9:28-36
RUMC 7 Feb 2015

Transformations are big business.  It seems that on cable television transformation shows, where a team of experts goes in and transforms an old house into a modern marvel of beauty, are quite popular.  The same can be said for plastic surgeons, dentists, cosmetologists, hairdressers, and fashion designers who will transform an average looking individual into movie star quality.  Even Good Housekeeping magazine has devoted January 2016 as the Makeover Issue with ways to help us look younger and do what it takes to brighten up every room in the house.

Laying that aside, in today’s scripture text, we have the amazing account of Jesus’ transfiguration.  This was not a cosmetic make over, but the real thing.  The lesson we can take with us is that as God performed this wonderful miracle for his son, Christ can do an invisible miracle for us– transform our hearts.  And this transfiguration in our souls is a sign of the good things to come in the next life.

My text is Luke 9:28-36. 

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.
This is the word of God.   Thanks be to God.

Jesus’ transformation or transfiguration was an incredible, religious, mystical experience for three of the Apostles; suddenly, before their very eyes, Jesus changed from a regular human being into the glorified Son of God.  They saw for the first time, beneath his ordinary humanity, the very presence, the very holiness, the very glory of God.  As eye witnesses of our Lord’s majesty, it was a revelation and mystery which could neither be neither explained nor refuted.

The word transfigure comes from the Greek metamorphis.  Meta=change.  Morphis=form.  It is a term that we use to describe the process of becoming transformed from one state to another.  For example in nature:

  • A caterpillar that spins a cocoon will become a butterfly.
  • A cow that eats grass will produce white milk.
  • Black carbon found deep in the earth’s crust, when pressed down under the weight of the rocks and heated by intense temperatures becomes a diamond.
  • Sand or some foreign substance that becomes imbedded in an oyster emerges to become a pearl.
  • A tadpole through its progression becomes a frog

These are some of the transformations of nature that we can see.  There is a transformation in the spiritual realm when God makes alive the souls of his children; then those individuals fully trust in Jesus our Savior and Lord.

Christian author and minister, Tony Campolo once shared this story about a drunk named Joe who was miraculously converted at a homeless mission.  Prior to his spiritual transformation, Joe was a hopeless alcoholic.  But God had a different plan.  During a Christian service at the mission, Joe made a profession of faith.  As a result of his decision to follow Christ, Joe was given strength from the Holy Spirit to resist alcohol.  In his discipleship he had become compassionate and was a regular volunteer at the mission.

No task was too lowly for Joe.  He cleaned up the vomit of alcoholics and scrubbed toilets.  He assisted men who were too drunk to find their bunks and always maintained a smile.  One night at another mission service, an appeal was made for others to give their hearts to Christ.  One alcoholic came forward and prayed, “O God, make me like Joe.  Please make me like Joe” and repeated this over and over.  Finally the director of the mission said “I think it would be better if you prayed, ‘Make me like Jesus’.”  But the man looked up and asked, “Is he like Joe?”

My question is this: If a person didn’t know anything about Jesus, would they want the faith that we have?

For me, my spiritual transformation really hit home when I invited Christ into my heart.  A short time later, my thoughts and attitudes began to change; God had become real in my heart.  And this has stayed with me all these years.

Antonio Stradivarius was a poor Italian violin maker who lived from 1644 to 1737.  To date there are 512 of his violins in existence and they are each worth over several million dollars.  The reason they are so valuable is because of the rich and resonating sound that they produce.  What is more surprising is that these instruments were not made from treasured pieces of wood, but from discarded lumber found in a nearby harbor.  Stradivarius took those waterlogged pieces of wood to his shop where he cleaned them up and made precious violins.

Just as that poor violin maker transformed discarded wood into treasures, God desires to transform each one of us into the treasured image of his Son.

Let me bring this to a close:  The transfiguration of Jesus is like a sneak preview of what it will be like in the future.  And it is a promise that Christ will get us through the valleys.  For those who have lost loved ones; we will see them again; for those who suffer, the pain and the problems of grief, they will go away.

The transfiguration also gives meaning to the importance to what we do as United Methodists in the special projects and the outreach that we do.  It keeps us sharp and maintains that transformative edge in our lives.