Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 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.” 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!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 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.”
A Methodist minister shares the following story:
A man was sitting on an airplane waiting to take off. His seat number was 14D. The woman next to him sat in 14E. No two seat mates could have been more different. From her dress you could tell she was far from sophisticated. His finely pressed suit and shining shoes reflected affluence and sophistication. From her talk you could tell she was a simple country woman. He sat there beside her with his briefcase and laptop. She was surrounded by sacks and bundles.
It was obvious she had never been on a plane before. “I don’t do this much,” she grinned. “Do you?” He nodded a yes. And she said, “Oh, that must be a lot of fun.” He groaned. It was going to be a long flight.
She volunteered that she was going to Dallas to see her son. She filled in all the blanks – the boy had the flu, he had a black Lab, the dog’s name was Wilbur. As the plane climbed, she looked out the window. “Oooooh – look at the trees; they look just like peat moss.” People turned around in their seats and stared. The man next to her wanted to crawl under the seat.
The flight attendant came by asking what they’d like to drink. He glanced up from his laptop and said, “A Coke.” His seatmate asked a second time about all the choices. When her drink came she said she didn’t know that apple juice came in cans, but it was delicious. And when the sandwich came by she said, too loudly: “Why, there’s even mayonnaise in here!” This went on the whole flight. The little woman missed nothing.
The man in front of them was discussing a business trip to Japan. The guy behind them kept ordering two beers at a time. The woman to his other side had important-looking papers stacked all around her. And he typed away on his laptop. It occurred to him that the only person on the whole plane enjoying the trip was the woman sitting next to him.
When the plane finally landed, she turned and said: “Now, wasn’t that a fun trip?” And as he watched her head down the aisle and leave the plane, it hit him. What was it that she had that he didn’t have? What was it that she knew that he didn’t know? Why had she enjoyed the whole trip from beginning to end while he was miserable?
In our scripture passage for this Sunday, Jesus takes three disciples – Peter, James and John – and they go to a mountaintop, away from everyone else. And there on the mountain, something happens. We’re not sure what occurred, but it’s called The Transfiguration, meaning “change” or “metamorphosis.” Jesus begins to radiate light. Then the prophets Moses and Elijah appear. The disciples are overwhelmed by this display, and not knowing quite what to do, offer to build shrines to each of these figures. And as they do so, a voice from heaven declares: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” The disciples fall to the ground in fear. Jesus tells them not to be afraid. Then the vision fades. Moses and Elijah are gone, and Jesus and the three disciples descend the mountain.
In the last verse of the passage, Jesus calls this experience a “vision.” It’s also been called a visitation from God. Whatever it’s called, the disciples were profoundly affected. They had seen Jesus radiating light. They had heard the Lord’s voice. They had experienced God on the mountaintop.
So what does The Transfiguration have to do with the man and woman on the airplane?
First, I think there are times when we need to get away. I don’t mean necessarily going on vacation, or even on an intentional retreat. I’m saying that we need to disengage ourselves from our busyness, at any time. We need to stop, look and listen. In a twist on a common phrase, we need to be told, “Don’t just do something – sit there.” The man on the plane missed the journey because his life was caught up in distractions, in busyness. The woman on the plane focused on the moment. Jesus took his disciples with him to that mountaintop. He took them away from the crowds and from the activity of the day. He took them to a quiet place. He took them to the mountaintop so that they could see more clearly. So that they could understand more fully who he was. He wanted them to see God.
Second, I think we need to open our eyes. The woman on the plane had eyes that were wide open. She was full of wonder. The man missed so much. At the top of the mountain, the disciples’ eyes were opened. And they saw Jesus as they’d never seen him before.
We all need some transfiguring experiences, when we see things as we’ve never seen them before. They are instances of what we as a congregation celebrate as “God-sightings.” We experience those God-sightings – the ones we share aloud, or write on a piece of paper in our pews – we experience those God-sightings when we pay attention. Because when we pay attention, everything changes. Our perspective changes. Our eyes are opened. We’re able to view the big picture by living in a particular moment. Don’t just do something, sit there, with your eyes wide open.
That’s what happened to the disciples on the mountaintop. Their perspective was entirely changed. The Transfiguration scripture passage says that after it was all over – after the dazzling light and the voice of the Lord — the disciples saw only Jesus. After the glory and radiance, the vision of the prophets, the visitation from God – the disciples saw only Jesus.
Then they walked back down the mountain with him. Back down to the valley. Back to real life.
None of us can stay on the mountaintops of life. Reality intrudes. We do have to return to the valleys in our lives. We lose a job. We get depressed. We have a wreck. We don’t even want to get out of bed.
But when we’ve had true God-sightings, we have a different perspective. When we’ve known transfiguration, we remember.
The disciples remembered what they had seen and heard. The Transfiguration could be called an “ultimate God-sighting.” They remembered God saying “This is my beloved…listen to him.” And they would carry that recollection and those words with them. They’d been touched and they’d been changed. Coming back down from the mountain, back to life among the crowds, back to reality, they had a different perspective. In the days ahead, they would walk together, moving ever closer to Jesus’ suffering and death. And their memories would remain with them.
There’s the old saying, “What goes up, must come down.” The disciples couldn’t stay on the mountaintop. Jesus, Peter, James, John – and you and I – have to live in our day-to-day, sometimes great and sometimes not so great world. Our lives can be tough and difficult. Our lives can be overwhelming and full of busyness. But we remember that the mountain top is there.
Amidst our busyness and our distractions, we can still see God. We know that there IS a place of peace and communion with God. We’re reminded of that communion in every God-sighting we experience: from the joyful music of worship to the faces of our children as we all gather around this table. We just have to pay attention. Focus on the moment. Open your eyes, look for God, and you will see.
So stop, look and listen. Don’t just do something, sit there. Sit there, and remember. Remember the story of the woman on the plane. Remember the disciples on the mountain. And remember our Lord Jesus Christ, as you eat this bread and drink of this cup. Amen.