February 23, 2023
Have you ever had a day where everything went right? One of those days when you felt on top of the world, there was an extra bounce in your step or a little extra pep in your attitude? Hopefully we’ve all had a moment, a day like that. Maybe your wedding, or the day the person you asked out said “yes,” or when you finished a really well-done home improvement project or piece of art, or when you made the absolute right decision for your life and really turned the corner on your own wholeness. When we have those moments, those days that glow with goodness and happiness, those are mountaintop experiences. They’re these great times we always cherish, momentary highs in the ordinariness of life. And some of us get blessed to have more mountaintops than others, but it doesn’t seem to take away from how wonderful they are when we experience them.
Peter, James, and John got a unique opportunity to have a mountaintop experience. I can imagine they must have felt something special was happening when they were the only ones that got to go with Jesus up the mountain that evening, but they couldn’t have expected what was waiting. Like nothing they’d ever seen before—Jesus suddenly glowed like the sun, his clothes dazzling white, with two people standing beside him who turned out to be the two most important figures in Jewish history—Moses and Elijah. It must have felt like they’d gotten an exclusive peek at heaven itself.
It’s really no surprise that Peter wanted to preserve the moment. He wanted to set up shop there on the mountain, make dwelling places so they’d never have to leave. If he could, he was going to make this moment last forever! And wouldn’t we all? That’s the most essential part of any mountaintop experience—you don’t want it to end. You want to hold onto that joy. But it does have to end. Peter, James, and John did have to go back down the mountain. Back to the ordinary world below.
And normally, that’s where I go when I read this story of the transfiguration. It’s a solid piece of advice that fits not just the story but also our lived experiences—you can’t stay on the mountaintop. You have to go back to the mission in the world. At best, the vision of Jesus transfigured is supposed to sustain us in the hard times and the challenges we face as we work toward the kingdom in this broken world. But what about another way of seeing it?
Every year growing up, my mom and her family watched The Wizard of Oz when it came on television. And I remember watching it growing up too, but y’all remember the scene where Dorothy has brought the broomstick back to the wizard so she can go home? The wizard is busying himself with excuses when Toto runs off to the side and pulls a curtain back, where a quirky little man is pulling levers and twisting knobs, and the wizard booms “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
It turns out the might and magic of Oz the Great and Powerful is nothing more than a special effects lightshow. How many things have we experienced where, when the curtain gets pulled back, it’s a disappointing reminder that magic just isn’t there; just ordinary people?
And it got me to thinking, isn’t pulling back the curtain exactly what happened on the mountain that day so long ago? God pulled back the curtain of what the disciples thought was reality, the ordinary Jesus on an ordinary mountain, to reveal—very suddenly—a dazzling figure of the cosmic Christ, clothed in robes more radiant than the sun, speaking to the long-dead heroes of the Jewish people. Suddenly heaven was breaking into earth. God pulled back the curtain, and instead of a stuttering old showman pulling knobs and levers, it was the shocking reality that the universe is absolutely soaked in the presence of God.
And if that’s what’s really behind the curtain of reality, then that means the fullness of God isn’t just found in those mountaintop experiences. The curtain’s been pulled back and rather than less magic we find that there’s more magic in the world than we could possibly imagine! We don’t just find God in the sunset, or in a baby’s laugh, or in a miraculous surgery, or in those mountaintop experiences. We find the fullness of God in those tremendously ordinary moments—on the commute, in the library, at the gym, in math class, putting together a puzzle, or shoveling the sidewalk. By pulling back the curtain, God gives us a chance to look for God’s activity in the most unexpected of places, at the most unexpected of times. God’s whole presence, God’s whole transfigured radiant presence, is everywhere!
So when Peter offered to build dwelling places—booths—for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, God’s own voice intervened to tell him how he could build them. “This is my beloved son--listen to him.” And that’s how we can carry the truth of what we saw behind the curtain back down the mountain! We carry that mountaintop experience down by remembering what we’ve seen on the mountain, what we saw behind the curtain.
We make room for Jesus to dwell permanently with us by listening to what he says, and doing it. We build dwelling places for the transfigured Jesus when we send relief aid to the victims of the earthquake in Syria and Turkey. We build dwelling places for the revelation on the mountaintop when we volunteer at the food shelf or sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief. We build dwelling places when we pitch in and build up our ballfield ministry, or serve a meal at SOS, or visit the homebound of our congregation, or dedicate ourselves to pray for those on our prayer list. We build those dwelling places when we hear Jesus’s words of what the kingdom of God looks like, and we do it in his name. And we listen because we know that in the transfiguration, Jesus showed us what the world is really like—soaked in God’s presence.
The transfiguration wasn’t just some odd incident on a mountain long ago, but a moment when God pulled back the curtain on reality for us to see how the world really looks. And because we know that reality, because we’ve got the good news of what’s really up with the world, how it really works, we can live our lives like that’s what reality is. We can imagine boldly what God is calling us as a congregation to do for the sake of the world. We can dream big—really, really big—at the wonders God is calling us all to take part in with God’s mission on earth. We can take our mountaintop experience, our closest encounter with God, and remember that it’s just a glimpse of what the world is really like down below. May that sustain us was we listen to Jesus and do what he says.
Thanks be to God. Amen.