“Its Still Happening Today”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
February 10, 2018: Transfiguration
2 Kings 2:1-12 & Mark 9:2-9
My brother and sister-in-law took their two children to Disney World right before Christmas last year. They shared their pictures in real time and each picture brought with it a flood of memories for me. My family had the great fortune of being able to go to Disney World several times when I was a child. The first time we went as a family was in 1996 when Disney was celebrating its 25th anniversary. I’ll never forget that visit to Disney because Cinderella’s castle was transformed into an 18-story birthday cake. The next time we went was at Christmas in 2002, just a few months before I graduated from high school. That trip was even better than the first not only because my brother and I were old enough to do things on our own, but because of Magical Moments Pins.
Magical Moments Pins were released during a year-long celebration of Walt Disney’s 100th birthday. There were about 80 different designs that you could purchase at every store and kiosk. Magical Moments Pins were special because they would light up and vibrate when you came near certain attractions or interacted with special characters. At night, the pins would flash and vibrate in sync with the light show parades. Sometimes, the pins would flash for no reason at all and if you could find a cast member before it stopped flashing, you would win a prize or get to skip a line or have a character give you an autograph. Of course I had to have them. My parents indulged me and I collected about 50 of those pins during the trip. I wore them as badges of honor wherever we went, and I was proud to be the kid that lit up nearly from head to toe whenever something special happened.
However, when it was time to go home, the Magical Moments Pins stopped working. I noticed it first on the bus ride to the airport, then as we were waiting in line for our plane tickets, then again as we sat by the gate waiting to board the plane. As soon as we left Disney property, those Magical Moments Pins stopped working. That’s the attraction of places like Disney and other theme parks, I guess; they’ve taken reality and turned it into something better, something more beautiful, something more fun than you might experience elsewhere. They have made reality hyperreal and interactive in a whole new way, so much so that when you get back to every day life, you yearn and ache to go back to that special place. Just a few miles from the Disney resort, the pins were no more. You can imagine how my folks felt after having dug into my college fund to buy those things. I’m sure you can also imagine how I felt; I was heartbroken. The Magical Moments Pins hung lifelessly on a lanyard on the doorknob of my bedroom closet for a few years until they were put out at a yard sale during college.
Today we are celebrating the transfiguration of Jesus, the moment in Christ’s ministry when his glory was revealed. Transfiguration means to take something and elevate it, turn it into something better, something more beautiful, make it shine. It all starts when Peter, James, and John go on a journey with Jesus up to the top of a mountain. We might imagine that there was some small talk going on, about the teaching and preaching and healing Jesus had done. Once they reach the top of the mountain, though, the real magic happened: they are swept up in a mystical vision. Jesus is transformed right in front of them: his face shines like the sun and his clothes glow with a brilliant white light. And two of his great spiritual ancestors appear beside him—Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets. Unlike the healings and exorcisms we’ve been hearing about the past few weeks, this is a miracle that happens directly to Jesus, like his baptism and resurrection. And just like his baptism and resurrection, there is a voice that booms from heaven to confirm, once again, that Jesus is the beloved Son of God.
Think about how you might react to something like this. Your teacher and friend suddenly begins to shine like a lightbulb and two ancient heroes show up. One option would be to the heck out of there, and in fact, these disciples were terrified, looking for the nearest exit. But once they got over their initial shock, and started to realize what they were seeing, they didn’t want to leave. There they were, standing in childlike wonder, just taking it all in. This is one of those experiences that we might have once or twice in a lifetime, if at all. It is one of those moments where the Creator of The Universe let’s you have just a little peak behind the curtain. Peter says, “Oh man, it is good to be here. Let’s stay here. We can just pitch some tents. I don’t want to back down there; everything is perfect, so magical up here. It’s the happiest place on earth!”
I get it, and I’m sure you do too. For several months after our last trip to Disney, I wanted to go back so that my Magical Moments Pins could come to life again. I wanted to live full-time in the experience they created. After you’ve experienced ecstasy of any sort, it is a total let-down to go back to the mundane, hum-drum of everyday life.
When you get a glimpse of the cosmos, as Peter, James, and John did on that mountain, it is hard to let go. Seeing something transfigured, something so beautiful—even if its the artificial perfection of an amusement park—it’s hard to go back and face the imperfection of the outside world. This was the case for me with some silly trinkets, but it goes much deeper than that. When we are transported by a film or a piece of theatre or a concert, it is hard to reenter the harsh reality of the world after. After witnessing the birth of a child it is hard to face the 24-hour news cycle that is so focused on and consumed with death. When we’ve seen the hope and joy of a baptism it is hard to go back into a world that is, at least, indifferent to the things of faith. For all the high points of our lives, there is a double portion of the day-in and day-out, boring, 9-5, card punch monotony. I second Peter’s motion; it is good for us to be in those magical moments, so let’s set up camp and stay there forever.
We learn, however, from the Scripture today that staying on the mountain forever is not an option; at least it is not an option if we are really followers of Jesus. Jesus and his companions make their way back down the mountain and almost as soon as they reach the bottom, Jesus heals a boy who is possessed with an evil spirit. The mountaintop may be glorious and bright and magical, but there is too much work to be done to stay up there forever. So maybe instead of lamenting that we have to come back down, that the magic eventually has to stop, that the pins stopped flashing, maybe we need to rethink our understanding of transfiguration. Instead of transfiguration being this singular moment way up there on that isolated mountain, what if it is taking place all over, every day, in this time and place? What if the light of Jesus is still shining in our world just as much as it did back then? What if God is still speaking to the beloved—to you and me—right now? What if transfiguration is still happening today and we just have to have the courage to see and experience it?
My friends, Jesus came to earth to carry out a mission of salvation—to save our souls from the depths of hell. But he also came to earth so that God could be part of the very monotony of life. Jesus came to earth so that God could walk among us. Jesus came to earth so that God could know what it was like to be sleepy and hungry and cranky and bored. Jesus came to earth so that these little moments of glory might punctuate our regular and ordinary lives. God is not just interested in those moment in life when we step back and say, “Hey, we need to stay here, let’s pitch some tents.” God loves those moments, let there be no mistake. But God is also interested in the moments that are routine and unremarkable, and those that are sometimes ugly and painful. We don’t worship and serve a God who picks and choses who to love and what about us to love; we worship and serve a God who lavishes on us, always and forever, an unbreakable love that says, “You are my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” This God, the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, takes every moment we are alive and every breath we take and turns it, transfigures it, into something amazing and beautiful and truly holy.
Transfiguration—its still happening today and it shines everywhere. It is shining in this sanctuary today as we lay our differences aside for a moment to worship God. It is shining in your home and in your car; it shines at the gym, in prison and in a hospital, and on some far off continent. God’s transfiguration is happening at all times and everywhere because God has chosen to enter into our lives and change them. So instead of trudging up the mountain, trying to blaze our own path to some sort of transfiguration of our own, let’s begin to train our ears and eyes to see and hear it all around.
We have don’t have to have a perfect world or a perfect life or a perfect faith to experience it—all these years later, I realize that I didn’t need those Magical Moments Pins in order to remember all the magic I experienced with my family on that trip. You don’t have to buy some ticket. You don’t have to make some long road trip or fight the crowds. It doesn’t just exist within the confines of some artificial place. It is everywhere. It is in the middle of the messiness, the suffering, and the pain. It is there when we hear God’s words and delight in how much God delights in us. It is there when we forgive each other just as we have been forgiven. It is there when we accept one another for the person God created each of us to be—unique, beautiful, and holy. It is there when we eat meals together and study the Scriptures together and clean toilets together—actually, it doesn’t matter what we are doing as long as we are doing it together. It is there when we welcome children as Jesus did and care for our elders as God calls for us to do. It is there when we stop, just for a moment, and give thanks for the breath that fills our lungs. It is there when we realize that the light of Jesus shines and no darkness will ever overcome it.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the transfiguration of Christ is not an end, but a beginning—a beginning in which we can see and experience our own transfigurations each and every day. Its still happening today and our call and challenge is to see it, bask in the glory and light, then spread that glory and light into every nook and cranny of our lives. We are on the mountaintop today, surrounded by the light and love of God. And, indeed, it is good for us to be here. Amen.