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A message for the week starting on Sunday 19 February 2023

Lectionary Week: Transfiguration
Prescribed Texts: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2 or Psalm 99, 2 Peter 1:16-21 and Matthew 17:1-9

Focus Text: Matthew: 17:1-9

God of both the mountain tops and the valleys

We celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord this week as the season of Epiphany, the season in which we celebrate the ongoing revelation of God, comes to an end. We witnessed God’s revelation in Jesus’ baptism, Jesus revealed God’s preference for the poor by calling lowly regarded fishermen as disciples and in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed a God who provides all that is needed as well as a God who challenges us to live lives of service to the vulnerable, oppressed and outcast.

After Jesus performs miracles and predicts His own death, Jesus leads just three of His disciples, Peter, James and John, to a “high mountain.” This is where the Transfiguration takes place in which his appearance was radiantly transformed. The transfiguration of Jesus Christ was a powerful demonstration of His divine nature and manifestation of His glory – a literal mountaintop experience. 

Mountaintop experiences are scattered throughout the Bible. A familiar one is Moses and the Israelites’ experience at Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus. On the top of Mount Sinai, Moses encountered God. There, Moses received instruction from God, as well as the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments.  Moses was then commanded to go down the mountain and share his God-encounter with others. But he was confronted with the anticlimax of the Israelites who started to worship a self-crafted golden calf. 

Safe to say, Moses would have preferred to stay on top of the mountain, where the pressures and worries of real-life, as well as the eventual disappointments of the people whom he was called to lead, lay thousands of meters below. I think we all would prefer our mountaintop experiences to last as long as possible.

As did Jesus’ disciples. Here on the top of a high mountain, Peter, James and John witness something amazing. They experience God in a direct, powerful and very clear way. On the top of the mountain, finding himself in the awesome presence of God, Peter’s inclination was to build a building – a closed-off structure that would literally and figuratively allow him to preserve his experience of God in a familiar and easily-accessible form. 

However, God was not pleased with Peter’s efforts to take Jesus captive. God cuts off Peter’s request with a clear command to listen to Jesus. Peter had missed the point. Jesus had no intention of staying on the mountain. He had work to do, and so did Peter. Jesus’ presence would not be exclusively tied to the mountaintop experience, He would also be found in the valleys.

When we encounter God in powerful ways, we, like Peter, try to capture the wonder of the moment and preserve it forever. There is a word that describes our desire to seal up God into a pretty and convenient little box for easy access. This word is “religion.” 

Religion is a well-intended structure meant to preserve and revisit a mountaintop God experience, however, we must realize that God is living, active, on the move. God is there for our mountaintop experiences but subsequently moves from there into the valleys of suffering and pain where God’s presence is most needed. Our call is to follow God down from the mountain and into service.

We worship a living God who will not be contained in one place. God will not be contained in one theology. God will not be contained in one’s religious practices. Our challenge is to experience God’s awesome presence out in the world as we serve those whose lives are anything but beautiful mountaintop vistas.

Jesus had no plans to stay on the mountain. From the top of the mountain, he had His eyes firmly affixed on Jerusalem and the cross awaiting him. This mountaintop experience will be followed by a very real and very painful valley. And yet, Jesus has one more thing to say, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Jesus’ words of hope and promise, loudly reverberate in every direction, penetrating every valley and dark place. “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Those who witnessed the transfiguration bore witness to it to the other disciples and to countless millions down through the centuries, so should we.

To think about: How does my mountain top experiences translate into serving the kingdom of God?

Written By: Rev Sean Esterhuizen, Minister in Diaconal Service, Diaconia. And chairperson of CABSA Board and Churches, Channels of Hope Facilitator and Trainer.