Saturday, February 02, 2008


Matthew 17:1-9

All of us have had experiences that have helped define our identity. It might not be a Damascus Road kind of thing, but something has happened that has changed the way we look at ourselves. These experiences change who we are as a person. And when we look back on them, even years later, we can remember the day vividly, because we were enraptured by it.

Some events are historical and public – Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and 9-11 define eras and people. Even if we weren't directly affected by the event, the event still affects who and what we are. Then there are the more personal events – a marriage, a birth, a divorce, a death, that catch us up in the moment and transform us in some way. If we’re willing to listen, we may hear God’s voice in the moment.
Four events stand out as having marked my life with God's transforming grace. The first date is July 9, 1983. On that day Cheryl walked down the aisle in her white lace wedding dress and joined with me in marriage. I was truly enraptured that day by her beauty, and I was changed in that moment. The second date is June 9, 1985. On a Sunday evening hands were laid on me, ordaining me to the ministry and giving me a direction for my life work. Then came April 3, 1990, the day Brett was born. Up to the very moment that he was born, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be a parent. But from the moment they handed him to me, I was so enthralled that a sense of confidence replaced the fear I had felt. The final date is June 15, 1991. On that day I received my Ph.D., the culmination of years of study.

These events mark me as a husband, a father, a pastor, and as a scholar. They are in their own way marks of God’s grace that have made me who I am as a person. I could have added other events, but these four stand out as symbols of the person I am today.

Sometimes we call life changing events mountain top experiences. We’ve all had them, and perhaps in sharing four of mine, I have stirred your memories as well.
The metaphor of the mountain top experience has deep roots in human experience. There’s something almost mysterious about standing on the top of a mountain. Ancient peoples often went to the mountains to be near the gods, because they believed that heaven sat above the earth, and so if you climbed the mountain you would be closer to them. And if the mountains aren’t near by, then why not build one. The ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the pyramids of Egypt, Mexico, and Central America served as artificial mountains. That’s the point, of course, of the story of the Tower of Babel. This is a story about our human longing to draw close to God on our own terms.

Both Moses and Jesus go to the mountain and in doing so are transformed. Their identities and their callings are transformed because of this encounter with God. Moses becomes the Law Giver and Jesus becomes the Redeemer.


A. In Prayer and Worship

We read about Moses and Jesus and their life-changing experiences. They find their purpose on the mountain. But then the question is: What about me? What about my life? Is a mountain top experience in the offing for me?

I mentioned four events that marked my life. These are mountain top experiences, which we’ve all probably had. As important as these are, I’d like for us to think for a moment about the ongoing experiences, the ones that happen after we come down from the mountain. Notice that Jesus doesn’t have Peter put up tents for him or Moses or Elijah. They didn’t stay on the mountain, because they had things to do. I’d like to suggest two places where we experience transformation along the way, after we come down the mountain.

One is worship and prayer. It could be corporate worship or maybe it’s a moment away from the crowd, maybe during a retreat, when the Spirit overwhelms us and our faces shine with the glory of the Lord. What happens during these moments of spiritual awakening is that we’re empowered to serve. And the moment and manner of this experience will be different for each of us.

B. Service

If worship and prayer is one place along the journey in which the Spirit of God marks our lives anew, another place is service. Going to the mountain is often a difficult journey and once we’re there it’s hard to go back down. We’d just as soon stay and bask in the glory of the Lord. But the fact is, we do have to return to the valley.

Sometimes when we get to the bottom there are difficult situations that need our attention. Moses came down from the mountain and found his people in rebellion. Jesus returned to find his disciples had botched a healing. But the point is, having experienced the presence of God in worship, we’re ready to experience God’s Spirit in the midst of service to others.

It could be any of a number of things. It could be serving a meal to the homeless, painting over graffiti, tutoring a child, or driving an older person to the doctor. It might be changing a bed pan or advocating for peace. The reality is, these activities can be places of transformation. They’re not as contemplative as our time alone with God on the mountain, but they too provide an opportunity to experience the presence of God. Indeed, that’s the point of Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Even in the little things, like washing dishes and baking a cake, we can experience the transforming presence of God. But our doing is rooted in our being in the presence of God, while in prayer and in worship. It’s kind of a circle – worship, service, worship, and so on!

So, let’s go to the mountain top and experience the enrapturing presence of God in contemplative prayer and worship, and then let’s return to the valleys, refreshed, empowered, and transfigured by that encounter to serve.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Transfiguration Sunday
February 2, 2008

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