Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Transfiguration)

Text: Mark 9:2-3
Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain, where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus, and his clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone in the world could wash them

In the highs and lows

At some time all of us have those moments where we can only say, “Wow! That is truly spectacular!”  It is a moment when our breath is taken away; our eyes are wide open, our senses tingle with delight, we can hardly believe that this moment is happening, this must be a dream and that moment becomes firmly etched into our memory.

Some of these moments are linked with the past.  When Miriam and I stood on the battlefields of Gallipoli or Europe where Aussies fell in battle and remember all that happened on these spots and we would say to each, “Wow! This is such a special and sacred moment”. 
Some of these moments are connected with the future like holding a newborn baby in your arms and marvelling at this new life and all the possibilities that exist for this tiny person. 
Some of these moments are very much in the present as we gasp a “Wow!” at a beautiful sunset, the amazing beauty of a landscape, the incredible ingenuity of mankind.

When Peter, James and John saw Jesus suddenly change before their very eyes and his clothes became shining white and when they saw Elijah and Moses, two Bible heroes of the past appear with Jesus, this was one of those “Wow” moments.  And who can blame Peter for wanting to hang on to this moment.  Finally he is seeing something of Jesus’ true splendour and majesty and having Elijah and Moses here as well.  “Wow!” Peter says, “It’s really good to be here.  Let me make three tents for each of you and we can continue this wonderful experience”.

Just before this event Jesus had been telling them how he would be put to death by the leaders in Jerusalem and Peter wasn’t backward in coming forward in telling Jesus that this kind of talk was absolutely crazy.  He wanted a triumphant Messiah not a suffering one.  This glorious moment on the mountain is how he imagined the Messiah to be.  As they come down from the mountain the disciples are brought down to earth again with a thump.  They are confronted by an evil spirit that has taken control of a young boy and they see what terrible things this evil does to the boy.  Jesus drives out the evil spirit and once again affirms that he would soon be killed.

Now isn’t that how life goes so often.  We have those wow moments, those moments when everything is going so well and life is so good and within the blink of an eye we plummet from the mountain top and hit the valley floor. It might be just getting back to the humdrum of everyday living after an uplifting time or worse a tragedy or illness or grief that knock you for a six.  It all seems so wrong.  We might say that it isn’t fair, but say what we like, it’s a fact that the wow moments of life are set amongst the very ordinary and sometimes very challenging circumstances of life.  It’s nice to be up on the mountain tops but in reality we are more often down in the valleys.

When you think back on the highs and lows of your life, would you say that you have been more on the mountains or in the valleys?  For me personally, there have been some great moments when Jesus in all his brilliant best filled me with faith and excitement – those faith-enriching times at a retreat or convention or worship time that made me feel on top of the world, invincible, alive, full of faith. 
But it has been in the valleys where I have had to struggle with right and wrong, with failure and success, with doubt and worry, with believing in myself or believing the unfair put downs of others, with dealing with sickness and the why me issues that I have grown the most. These are the things that I haven’t chosen for myself but they are things that have presented the greatest opportunities for growth in the past and I presume also in the future.

Has that been your experience as well?  Has your wrestling with a failure, the unexpected death of a friend, illness or some kind of breakdown in a relationship enabled you to grow in some way?  We don’t ask for these things to come our way, they are simply thrust on us but when they do come they reveal strengths in us that we thought we never had and we grow through the experience.  It’s true that we can only really appreciate life’s highs after God's Spirit helps us claw our way up from the bottom of the valley.  This has been said, “Greatest hardship, once overcome, produces greater strength and conceives the greatest praise for the deliverance that God has supplied”.

Paul in his letter to the Romans puts it this way, We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love.” (5:3-5).

This week we begin Lent, the time of the year when we especially focus on the victory of Christ over sin and death through his gruelling suffering and death on the cross and then his victorious rising from the dead at Easter.  We see Jesus come down from the mountain where he was transfigured in such a way that the disciples saw him as the divine shining so brightly;
he came down from the mountain of glory where he had met with the great prophets of old – Moses and Elijah;
he came down into the valley of suffering and pain and mockery and death. 
It is there in the middle of all this senselessness and cruelty and weakness that we see the man Jesus being given strength to endure all that he had to endure, especially as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As we progress through Lent and we witness again the suffering of our Lord, we hear again that it is in our suffering and hurting and dying that we find the presence of God.  Like Jesus, we may think we are at the end of our tether and there is only darkness ahead, but in the end we are never alone and we are given strength to endure.  We have a suffering Saviour who knows firsthand what we go through and holds our hand when there is no other hand that holds ours.

Jesus is always our inexhaustible strength when our own strength gives way. 
Sure there will be times when we will doubt that he is there. 
There will be times we will wonder what the heck God is doing and why doesn’t he do something to improve our lot in life. 
There will be times when we throw up our hands in despair and cry out that we can’t go on any longer.
It is just at those times when the infinite compassion and never-failing love of Christ will embrace us and strengthen our weary bodies and minds and inspire and motivate us with the knowledge that we are his and that while we are on this planet there is always a purpose in us being here.  We aren’t here just taking up space and using air – we are here because Jesus wants us here and even though our bodies and minds are weak he will provide us the strength that we need to see us to that time when he will walk with us into our heavenly home.

“Over the last ten years our lives have hovered somewhere between tiresome and sheer hell”, said Kay.  “One of our children was born with a congenital heart defect.  Our business collapsed.  We lost our home and soon after getting another one it was burnt down by an arsonist.  I landed what I thought was a dream job until I was assaulted by my boss and the administration tried to keep it quiet.  I had a breakdown and was sick for three years.  Finally I’ve been able to put this behind me by winning a case in court.  Then my husband Tom was helping a friend and sustained permanent injuries”. 

She went on to explain that there were days when she despaired at how life had turned out and thought about how things might have been different. Those listening to her story were feeling her pain and anguish when they were taken by surprise at her next statement. 

She said, “On my worst, crabbiest days I can tell you hundreds of things that I have learnt about my fragile self and other people and especially how God has used all this to teach me things.  I have learnt that I am fallible and weak.  I have learnt who my friends are and how generous they are.  I have learnt to accept their kindness and to accept help from strangers and that not everyone in the world is out to get me.  But best of all, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that when there really is no room left in your heart for hope, it is still there because Jesus is holding it for you and you will rise above it all”.

Can you see that from the bottom of the valley this person has been raised to new heights?  All the old problems are still there, but her complete despair of ever coping has led her to the One who can cope, to the One who gives hope, to the One who lifts us above our circumstances and allows us to say with Paul, “Whether I’m full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little, I am content.  I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

The days after the disciples came down from the mount of transfiguration were going to be difficult ones, days that would test their loyalty and faith.  There may be days ahead that will test us as we walk through the valleys of despair and sadness but as we walk on we need to let the words from the heavens echo in our minds, “This is my dear Son, listen to him”. As we listen to him he changes our sorrows into joy, our despair into hope to the point that he is the only one we can see.  Yes all these things are happening around us and to us but it is only Jesus that we can see and it is Jesus who gives us hope.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th February 2012

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