The Transfiguration: On the Mountain & In the Valley 


Next Sunday Before Lent
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains just outside Calgary, Canada. The majestic Rockies provided the backdrop to my childhood: great winter skiing holidays, summer hikes, days out in Banff. The Rockies have been a constant presence throughout my life when I picture home.

My father once wisely said, ‘the Rockies never look the same twice.’ This is very true. Some days they appear very close on the horizon, other days much further away depending on the light and time of year, some days they are covered in cloud or fog and not visible at all.

In the OT and NT readings this morning, ‘mountains feature significantly. The mountain was already highly symbolic in the Old Testament. There is Mt. Sinai, where the Commandments are given; Mt. Horeb, possibly another name for Sinai, as the site of the Burning Bush; and Mt. Moriah where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. It was on a mountain where God revealed himself to Elijah. For Jesus, the mountaintop is the site of various important events: the mountain of the temptation; the mountain of his great preaching; the mountain of his prayer; the mountain of the Transfiguration; the mountain of his agony; the mountain of the Cross; and finally, the mountain of the risen Lord. ‘(Fr Kvetoslav Krejci, Transfiguration, 23/2/20)

These stories of Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, John and James are likely familiar ones, but I hope that we will not see them the same way twice.

On this last Sunday before Lent, I think it is significant that we are reminded of the greatness, holiness and completeness of Jesus before we descend into the austerity, solemnity of the Lenten season. As we hear again the Transfiguration story, we need to remember the importance of it as it reveals Christ’s divine nature, confirms his Sonship, foreshadows his death, secures his place in the stream of Israel’s history, exalts him above the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), and prefigures his Resurrection. This might seem quite dense and hard to understand – that’s okay!

It is important that as Christians we understand Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and his authority which also comes from God. If we don’t – then all we are is a social club with inconvenient meeting times.

The Transfiguration would have been an amazing sight I am sure! It was clear that by Peter’s response that the disciples were overwhelmed; Luke helpfully records that ‘Peter did not know what he said.’ They were frightened, bewildered by what they were seeing on the mountain.

It is only after time and reflection that Peter begins to understand what he saw that day. There is hope for the rest of us! Peter believed what he saw, in his second letter he tells his readers that they didn’t make anything up. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses to the power and coming of Jesus; they heard the voice of God on the mountain.

Any meeting with God on the mountain is a changing experience. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain in God’s presence. Whenever Moses spent time in God’s presence, people were afraid to look at him after as he is described as glowing. There is something about those mountain-top experiences, in the presence of God, that carries on down the mountain and people are changed.

Coming from a more charismatic background, talk of ‘mountain-top experiences with God’ are quite normal. Those divine encounters with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit that are overwhelming, leaving one changed and knowing something more and deeper about themselves and of God.

Most of the sermons and explanations that I’ve heard about the Transfiguration of Christ end here. In both Exodus and Luke everyone comes off the mountain, the show is over and it’s time to go home. Some would theorize that this should make us hoard those mountain-top experiences because we all have to come down at some point and get back into ‘real life.’

Leaving the Transfiguration at this point also raises some difficult questions about God: is he just a showman, dazzling for the few, the select? What about the others who don’t get a personal invitation to the mountain? The other nine disciples were waiting at the bottom.

This is where I got a second and wider look at this story. The Transfiguration of Christ is told in three of the Gospels; the lectionary lets you choose your own ending though. At the end of the passage in Matthew, Jesus tells them to keep silent as they come down the mountain. As Jesus and the disciples came back into the crowd they are confronted by a desperate father with an epileptic son. Back to real life indeed.

Debie Thomas, an American essayist, writes about the Transfiguration: ‘Yes, Jesus revealed his majesty on a mountaintop.  Yes, it is essential for us to contemplate that amazing epiphany and consider what it reveals about Jesus’s identity.  But here’s what I’d like to know: how does glory on the mountaintop speak to agony in the valley?  What does it mean that the two experiences – fullness and emptiness, ecstasy and despair, light and shadow — share a landscape in this famous Gospel narrative? Aren’t there two beloved sons in this story?’  The glory, the revelation, the holiness and greatness of Jesus on the mountain-top needs to work in the valleys too. The heavens opened for the disciples on the mountain, but in the valley just below there is a scene of heartbreak and suffering as the other nine disciples are helpless as this second beloved son is not healed (at least not yet).

This tells us something about how the world works; our mountains and valleys are often much closer together than we might think. One person’s pain does not cancel out another person’s joy.

Maybe this morning some of us are feeling close to God and all is well with the world and a few pews over someone else is aching with the pain of God’s absence? Here’s the challenge for the Christian life, for a church congregation: Can we hold in faithful tension the mountains and valleys we all experience, denying neither and embracing both?

Jesus did heal the little boy and the valley of that suffering turned to a mountain top of excitement and relief. Let’s not forget the suffering that came first; it was very real and needs honest witness. The faith the father needed to call out to Jesus was forged in the valley of pain and helplessness in the demon possession of his only child.

For the nine disciples left at the bottom on the mountain too, there were left alone as their three leaders, Peter, James and John had gone off with Jesus. They were also surrounded by some of their strongest negative influences – the teachers of the law. Where did their confidence go? Where does ours go in those moments?

The view from the mountain top is arguable better than the view from the valley floor. Yet the power of God in the Transfiguration is the same power that healed the little boy in the valley. As a church family, our mountains and valleys often lie right beside each other; the challenge is to hold the tension in love and faith.

We cannot afford to lose or have our view of God dimmed by our circumstances. As we stand at the gateway of Lent and come to Communion once again, let’s seek our eyes to be opened to God and to each other, be dazzled by the power of God regardless of where we find ourselves this morning.

Consider the Lilies…

2nd Sunday Before Lent
Genesis 1:1-2:3
Romans 8:18-25
Matthew 6:25-34


Consider the Lilies of the Field (or Don’t Wee Before the Water Comes)

I wonder if any of you here this morning are worriers? I am not a natural worrier – if I am going to worry about something, it tends to be after the event has passed.

How many of you worry about things that don’t ever happen? I think a lot of people tend to worry about things that won’t ever happen! Couldn’t possibly happen! But it might – so worry about it!

This lovely piece of scripture is part of the wider Sermon on the Mount. It is clear that worry was of great concern to people 2000 years ago as it is today. It is likely that we worry about similar things too, Jesus is speaking to the practical needs of food, drink, clothing and housing. Very real issues to an impoverished crowd. Very real issues to many people today.  

Jesus is trying to give his listeners some perspective on their worries, give them a bigger picture of life. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? We are of value to God – more than the birds are and he looks after them. Can you add any hours to your life by worrying?

Believing in our great value to God frees us from much worry. I’m not sure many things compare to the challenge of ceasing to worry. Maybe one reason why it is hard to stop worrying is because we have so many prime opportunities to practice it! Yet we will never overcome worry by eliminating reasons to worry.

One of my Grandmothers was of German descent and she had a saying that loosely and more politely translated from low-German to English was: ‘don’t wee before the water comes.’ What she meant is that we are not to get anxious before there is something to get anxious about.

Jesus would tell us that when these situations arise, and they will, we are to go to him. Jesus sums up the futility of worry in verses 25 & 26 – we can’t add a minute to our life by worrying. Simply put, worry is useless. Even when we seem to worry about ‘important things’; even when we worry in the name of love it will accomplish absolutely nothing. When will we learn to turn our worry effort into prayer?

It would be irresponsible of me to ignore the Genesis reading this morning! Whatever we make of the Genesis account of creation, we are given a view of God that is huge, the creator of everything who made something out of nothing, brought order to chaos, called things into being and they were. God saw that everything he did was good. The big things like the wind and water, light and darkness, sea and sky right down to the seeds to birds to the things that creep along the ground. God took his time to do all these things.

This is a God of the details who created and provides for us.   

The story of Genesis is the origin story of humankind and gives us a place to root our identities. We come from a good God who created a good world and a beloved humanity. (Debie Thomas – June 15,2014: The Best of All Beginnings). Before there was evil, there was goodness. 

Seven times in the creation story we are told we come from a God who sees. God steps back from his work and he looks, he notices each tiny piece. We also come from a God who creates new things. On each of the six days in creation, God made something new. He still does now, today! We wake up every day and there are new things in the world. The snowdrops and daffodils, the tiny buds on the trees. Nothings goes unnoticed. God’s mercies are new every morning!

God is also big enough to take on our worries, our cares. Cast your cares on him.   

As Christians we need to continually learn and re-learn to trust in the providence of God. Jesus uses the birds of the air and the lilies of the field as an example. Birds and lilies can’t provide for themselves – birds neither sow nor reap we are old. Lilies can’t toil nor spin but are beautifully made. We are of more value to God than these.

Finally, we come from a God who rests. We live in a busy, chaotic world. What are we busy doing exactly? We are commanded to stop and rest. God did so can we! The Sabbath is the only thing that is holy in the creation story – it is the only day that God blessed.

When we are tempted to wee before the water comes, we are reminded again this morning to look towards God, not the world, and to trust in his goodness and seek his righteousness. We cannot do this through worry but by spending time with the Father who loves us and feeds and clothes us with all we need.

We come from the best of beginnings, from a glorious Creator with a loving heart who is ready to give us rest and take care of our anxieties.

Salt & Light: Made to be Given Away


 3rd Sunday Before Lent   

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 112:1-10  

1 Corinthians 2:1-16   

Matthew 5:13-20

Christmas is finally over and so is Epiphany and we have this little gap in the calendar as we begin to turn toward Lent. In these weeks, we look at some of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. So far, according to Matthew, Jesus has been born, baptised and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus begins to preach, calls the first disciples, begins to heal the sick in public. People are starting to follow him as large crowds are gathering at the end of chapter 4. The news of Him is spreading!

Chapter 5 is the beginning The Sermon on the Mount. We are told that Jesus is sitting on the mountainside with the disciples and the crowds.

Create a mental picture of this scene.

Is it a hot day? What does the ground feel like? What does Jesus look like to you? His voice sound like? What is the mood of the crowd?  Jesus has just given The Beatitudes to the crowd – blessed are the poor in spirit, the mournful, the weak, the merciful…

These words have a corporate feel to them like they are addressed to groups of people. The address changes in verse 11 and Jesus’ message becomes much more personal: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you’. This carries on to verse 13, ‘You are the salt, You are the light’. It feels as though Jesus is speaking directly to individuals in that crowd. And he is speaking to us now.

Notice it Jesus says, ‘you are the salt and you are the light.’ Not you will be the salt and the light. You are the salt and light. No guess work here! We are the salt and light to the people around us. Even if we don’t feel like it!

What does it mean to be salt? Salt is essential to life. Our bodies need a certain amount of it to function properly. Salt is also one of our basic human tastes. Salt also creates thirst; you know this if you eat salty snacks!

Salt needs to be balanced though. Too little and things can be tasteless. Too little in our bodies can lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shock, coma and death. It’s a big deal!

Too much salt and foods are made inedible. In the body, salt makes it hold on to water which in turn raises blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.    

Salt needs balance!  

Salt is one of the oldest seasonings and is an important method of food preservation – it prevents decay and corruption. This is what Jesus is calling the disciples and the crowd to be. One writer put it like this ‘Disciples, if they are true to their calling, make the earth a purer and more palatable place. But they can do so only as long as they preserve their distinctive character: un-salty salt has no more value.’

In this passage Jesus is calling the Jewish people of his day to be the people they were called by God to be. People who were poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and the persecuted. This can, of course, be applied to us Christians too.

When we refer to someone as being ‘a salt of the earth’ guy or woman, we mean those people who are kind, down to the earth. These people get things done, do the right thing in any and all situations.

Jesus’ used the analogy of salt to challenge to those listening to his teachings. God had called his chosen Jewish people to be the salt of the earth; but they were behaving like everyone else, with power politics, factional squabbles and militant revolutions. The Jewish people were his chosen salt, but they were losing their distinctive taste. Jesus is saying the same to us – how are we to prevent decay in the world around us if we lose our saltiness? If we become un-salty then we can have no influence on the world.

I think we lose our saltiness when we buy into what the world tells us we need to buy, look like or be like. We lose our saltiness when we become petty, easily insulted or slighted by others, withhold forgiveness and judge others by standards we ourselves could never meet. You have a new Vicar starting soon! Is St John’s going to be the right kind of salty?  

Light, like salt, affects its environment in a distinctive way. A disciple who is visibly different from other people will influence them. You are the light of the world! We have to be careful with the language of ‘good works’ here. It is not to show off or attract attention to one’s self – but rather to point to God who inspired the works. By showing the works, the disciple will give light to all.

Can you think of anyone that you know who is visibly different because of their faith?

To be a light to people – we don’t have to do big things! There is no excuse to not be a light to those around us. Paying attention to people, chatting with the cashier in the grocery store, saying hello, smiling. Easy stuff!

There are some people that can light up a room when they walk into it. Do you know anyone like that? What is it about them that can do that? In reference to the Beatitudes – those who are merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who take abuse for standing up for what is right. They are the lights.

Jesus is the ultimate light of the world – and if we believe in him – them we need to reflect that light. Being salt and light is challenging – I know it is. There is a warning about becoming un-salty salt. There is also a warning about hiding our light literally ‘under the bed’. We are of no more use to the world if we hide our light than one who has lost their distinctiveness.

In Isaiah, God is asking people share bread with the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked and not to hide from their families. Then their light would break forth like the dawn, healing would spring up quickly. God’s people have been asked to care for others, at their own expense, for centuries. It is not any different today.

If we are to take the words and teaching of Jesus seriously, we need to do the same. We are blessed when we give. It doesn’t always feel nice or good. That is not what God is asking for in our giving. It is going to be a sacrifice.

At the end of Isaiah, he tells the people, ‘if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places.

This is what giving does, what being salt and light gets us – God’s guiding, satisfaction of your needs in parched places, bones made strong, you will become a watered garden.

It is by being salt and light that Jesus will fulfil the law of God on earth. The scribes and Pharisees did teach a way of faithful to God and had a way of behaving in accordance to God’s covenant with Israel. Through Jesus, God’s kingdom is breaking in. This kingdom goes way beyond anything the scribes and Pharisees ever dreamed of. They thought it was about behaving through the law.

It is not about primarily about changing behaviour but about changing the heart and the mind itself. Jesus brought this into reality in his own person. He is the salt of the earth. He is the light of the world – becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship God the father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

That’s why these sayings now apply to all of us who follow Jesus and draw on his life as the source of our own.

How and where can we be salt and light in the world today?