Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.
9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
9:32 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.
9:33 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.
9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
9:36 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.
9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.
9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.
9:39 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.
9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”
9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”
9:42 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.
9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
My grandmother was from Scotland. She came to Canada by way of the Salvation Army. She signed up to be a cook for three years to pay her way. She met and married my grandfather and raised three kids during the depression.
My mother used to tell me that they didn’t know they were poor because everyone was poor. She told me once that the Communist party grew during this time (at least on paper) because a family would be put out of their home – be standing on the street with all their belongings in bags and the Communist party would have them sign a card saying they were a member and then put them up in an apartment, buy them some groceries, and help the man find a job. It wasn’t about ideology, it was about feeding your family and putting a roof over their heads – survival.
Part of those years my grandfather was overseas in the war. Before he came home, my uncle grew to be old enough to go into the service and they met in London. My uncle asked my grandfather if he still smoked and he said yes. Uncle Tom gave him cigarettes he had brought from home. My grandfather asked my uncle if he had started drinking and he said yes so they went to a pub and got to know each other all over again. In the meantime my mother had to have thyroid surgery. Her family doctor went into surgery with her and sat by her head as she had to remain awake and speak when asked to, to make sure they didn’t nick her vocal cords.
Some time after all of this – once the surgery was over, my grandfather and uncle were both home, my grandmother sat down at the kitchen table and had a small nervous breakdown. They carried her out of the house in the same chair she sat in because she couldn’t move – she was catatonic. She recovered and life went on.
I tell you this story because I love old family stories and we all have them. Our stories remind us of who we are, where we come from, and that others have gone through trials and made it through to the other side so we know that we can too. Just as our family stories remind us of who we are, our faith stories remind us of who we are in relationship with God. We see ourselves in the people of the bible, trying to work out how to live as God’s people
Our text today starts with the words “after these sayings”. I want to back up and talk about those sayings because I think they have a lot of bearing on this text.
In Luke 9, Jesus had called the disciples together and given them power and authority to drive out demons and heal the sick and sent them out. Good stuff! Then we have a weird little paragraph about Herod wanting to see this Jesus. Not so good! Then the apostles returned and told Jesus everything they had done and they all withdrew for a little quiet time but people found them and Jesus taught the crowds and healed people and then we have the miraculous feeding of 5000 people, Again – good stuff! and then:
Luke 9:18 tells us
18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Not so good?)
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
So, we have the disciples seeing the miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes, then we see them getting the bad news that their friend and teacher, their Messiah, must suffer and die. They must have been wondering if they had made a terrible mistake. They had given up everything, their jobs, their families, their homes, all to follow Jesus and now He is saying He will die. They had put all their hopes and dreams in this man and now instead of triumph, they see a future in ashes.
According to today’s text, it is only 8 days after this conversation that Peter and John climb the mountain with Jesus. This mountain was Mount Hermon which is a little over 9000 feet tall. There is a ski resort there. I have been to the top of Mount Evans in Colorado which is 14000 feet tall. I went in July. Started the trip in 90 degree weather and finished with coat, hat and mittens and snow. I got out of the van and started to walk around and realized I had forgotten my camera so I ran back to the van to get it. Running at that altitude is a big mistake. I went down the mountain flat on my back on the floor of the van with a terrible headache. They call it altitude sickness.
So here we have Peter and John climbing this mountain with Jesus, probably still reeling from the news that Jesus is going to suffer and die. I don’t know what was going through their minds but I can put myself in their place and imagine what I would be feeling. The lazy part of me would have been wondering at the necessity of climbing 9000 feet to pray. When I wasn’t huffing and puffing and whining about how the temperature is dropping and these sandals do not offer a lot of protection from snow….my mind would have been mulling things over. Surely Jesus was speaking in metaphors. He isn’t really going to die, and what does he mean he will be raised again? Why would he need to die if he is going to come back to life? How is this going to save us all? How much farther is it? Are we there yet??
Now we find them on the mountaintop. Jesus is praying and as He prays, He is changed. The appearance of Jesus face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.
We could talk about how sometimes prayer doesn’t change your situation. We could talk about how sometimes prayer changes YOU. It brings you closer to the One who can sustain you through your circumstance.
But I want to move on with the story!
The disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Two of the most important prophets were there with Jesus and they were talking about the very things Jesus had spoken of with His disciples. The text says the disciples were weighed down with sleep which makes sense as they had just climbed this 9000 foot mountain, but they stayed awake so they got to see something very special! They had a glimpse of glory!
We could talk about the importance of staying awake and paying attention so we don’t miss miracles that happen around us every day, even when we are feeling “world weary”.
But let’s get on with the story!
I love Peter. I identify with him. In my mind he is the person that exasperated Jesus but the very things that are exasperating are also the things Jesus seemed to love about him. He speaks without thinking, but he loves Jesus. He doesn’t always do the right thing but his intention and his heart are good and he shows up! He messes up and falls down but he keeps getting back up and like a child, tries to put his feet in the prints of His savior even though those footprints are far to big for him.
Peter is excited! He says this is awesome! Let’s build some cabins – one each for you, Moses, and Elijah. Now, he was not being selfish and he was being practical. He didn’t say he would build a shelter for himself – Just for Jesus and the prophets. They were exposed at a high elevation. They would need shelter! But as usual with Peter, his words were not the appropriate response.
Suddenly they were covered by a cloud. They are on top of a mountain, in the cold and now it’s dark. They can’t see anything. In my imagination, they are afraid to move. What if you fell on some rocks? Or off a cliff? It’s a long way down and this is before cell phones, before 911, before much of anything in the way of medical care. Jesus has recently told them he has to die and now they are seeing things that are completely out of the ordinary! Personally I think they handled it pretty calmly, all things considered! No wonder they were terrified!
We could talk about how important it is to trust Jesus even when you can’t see your next step… But I want to go on with the story!
Next they hear a voice come out of the cloud saying this is My Son, My Chosen, listen to Him!” The same words God had spoken at Jesus baptism with an addition. “Listen to Him” And then Jesus was alone. The prophets were gone.
We could talk about how these words showed that Peter wanting to build three dwellings was an incorrect response because the prophets are not on the same level as Jesus. They are gone now and God is doing a new thing and the most important thing is to listen to Jesus.
But I want to move on because we are nearly to the end of this particular faith story!
They told no one what they had seen. Who would have believed them if they had? But they have been on the mountain top. They have seen the prophets of old, and they have heard the voice of God. When you think about it, no wonder Peter wanted to stick around. Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? Something happens that gives you such peace and joy and you just wish it would last! But if life was nothing but a mountaintop experience, then we would not need God. We would not appreciate the spiritual high because we would not have the low to compare it to and a faith that is never tested is not a very strong faith.
Now they climbed back down from this mountain and when they got to the bottom there was a crowd waiting.
We could talk about why were they just waiting at the bottom of the mountain? If they really wanted to see Jesus why didn’t they put in a little effort – climb up to find him?
But I want to finish this story so we can all go home!
A man comes out of the crowd asking Jesus to look at his son who has a demon. Now just recently, Jesus had given the disciples power and authority to heal and minister. The man had asked them to help his son but they could not and Jesus has some pretty harsh words! You faithless and perverse generation! How long must I be with you? Then he rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the child and gave him back to his father.
I’m tempted to think critical of the disciples but maybe this little weird addition after the mountaintop experience is here to remind us that all of us individuals or corporately as the church, have times when we are so close to heaven that we can almost touch the fingers of God and how often does that happen and then it seems like moments later, someone is complaining about the music or the bulletin or how church is too hot or too cold and did you see what she wore to church last Sunday??
We come down from the mountain and unclean spirits are waiting at the bottom, nipping at our heels or our hearts. Day to day life descends like a cloud on our heads.
And that is why we need these faith stories. These old stories that remind of of who we are and whose we are and that even those who walked on earth with Jesus and heard the very voice of God in the cloud, still had feet of clay and stumbled and backslid and didn’t always understand just like us. So like Peter we keep keeping on anyway, we fall down and get back up, say inappropriate things, don’t love the way we should, repent and keep listening for Jesus.
In the days that followed, there would be troubles. Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing Him, Jesus was beaten and suffered. I imagine the disciples in hiding, frightened, worried not knowing if they were to be next and was this the end? And then someone would start talking about being on the mountaintop. And how Jesus was greater than the prophets of old and that God himself spoke and said Jesus was His chosen son. And as they told and retold the story, their faith was made stronger. That is what our faith stories do for us!
When we read through these events we see a kind of pattern. Something good happens, something bad happens, something good, something bad. The good and bad are constantly held in tension and isn’t that the way our lives go? Especially our spiritual lives! The moments we feel strongest in our faith, something happens to test it! But we know how this story ends! Jesus dies, but he is raised again. God keeps His promises and we will experience death just as Jesus did but because Jesus was raised so too will we go on to eternal life. The veil isn’t needed anymore! Jesus ripped it away and as long as we listen to HIM, through the Holy Spirit, we can have understanding, we can hold to our faith, and we can learn to see each other as God sees us!
I want to leave you with a quote from Robert Benson:
“That in the end, my sin will never outweigh God’s love. That the Prodigal can never outrun the Father. That I am not measured by the good I do but by the grace I accept. That being lost is a prerequisite to being found. That living a life of faith is not lived in the light, it is discovered in the dark. That not being a saint here on earth will not necessarily keep you from being in that number when the march begins. “
Let us pray
Father we want to see your glory. We want to stay with you on the mountaintop often without actually having to climb the mountain. We forget that your glory lives in the ways we show your love to others. We want to be better listeners and to understand so that we can know your will for us and then because we understand, to do your will. We forget that if we want to know what the Father is doing, we have to listen to your Son. We long for the day when the cloud is gone and we not only hear your voice but see your face and know you fully and understand the depth of your love for each and every one of us as we are fully known by you. Amen