Ukraine and Transfiguration

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is Transfiguration Sunday. This is the mountaintop of mountaintop spiritual experiences. Moses’ face shines with the reflection of God’s glory. Jesus is transfigured, his inner divine nature flowing into his outward appearance. Even Elijah makes an appearance as arguably the three greatest figures of scripture stand in the glory of God on that mountaintop.
It’s a great place to end Epiphany. From Christmas til today, we have been in the season of celebrating the Light of Christ breaking into the world, shattering the darkness. From Christmas til today we have been rejoicing with the saints both from ages past and ages yet to come. From Manger to Mountain Top, we have been working toward this most excellent of moments in scripture.
Jesus, the one whom angels had sung of and shepherds had worshipped is now all grown up… and once more his glory is shown for all the world to see. Or, at least, for three of his disciples.
It's an important moment for Peter, James, and John; these three disciples have the privilege of being with Jesus as the glory of God is exposed on that peak.
And what’s more… that mountain top is a real place that scholars think they have located. Unlike the shadows of the ark whose hunt continues decade after decade or even Mount Sinai where Moses received the 10 commandments whose location has now been lost over the centuries, scholars have narrowed the mountain of the transfiguration down to just two places. Mount Tabor, a mountain in Galilee not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth… and Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in the area… just north of Galilee.
To this day there are people who take pilgrimages up those mountains every year so that they can have their own mountaintop experience and touch that divine moment from 2,000 years ago.
Peter, James, and John
I’ve always been a bit in awe of Peter, James, and John. I mean, after all Jesus picked them to go up the mountainside with him. I realize that Peter is the one whom the church will be founded upon… and James and John, the Sons of Thunder, also become extraordinarily important in the church after Christ’s death. They’ll be instrumental in spreading the good news of the Resurrection. For the longest time I always assumed that Jesus brought them with because they were the exceptional disciples… they were the disciples he trusted most… that he knew he could depend on… that he expected that they would indeed fulfill their call after he was gone. I assumed Jesus picked them because they were the cream of the crop.
But what if they weren’t? Really, as we look at the gospels we see three disciples that Jesus chastises more than any of the others. Who were they? Well… you guessed it: Peter, James and John. They were constantly bickering over who was the greatest… which one of them deserved the place at Christ’s right hand when he came into power… which one of them would hold the lordship over the others… which one was most devoted… most gifted… most able to be Christ’s favored one. And they were so confident in themselves that they would even try to correct Jesus. We all know too well the story of Jesus turning on Peter and telling him “Get behind me Satan!”
I think these three disciples were brought along not because they had earned themselves a field trip for good behavior. I think they were chosen… because they needed extra help. This was the no-disciple-left-behind program that Jesus was initiating.
I’ve really come to appreciate this about Jesus. As Peter, James and John struggled over and over… Jesus doesn’t fire them and select new disciples. No. Instead, he works with them. He cares for them. He encourages them and helps them on their way. He offers them opportunities to grow and stretch… to prepare for a future that they were as of yet unaware of.
And I think that’s part of the point about mountain top experiences. Those moments in our faith lives when we find ourselves deeply moved and inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit…. those moments are gifts to grow and to stretch us to prepare us for a future that we are as of yet unaware of. Those are moments offered to us that we can look back upon and find strength and encouragement in. Not that we always get things right after the mountain top experience… I mean, the disciples started bickering again on the way back down after all that. And yet… even though they kept failing and falling short… Jesus still carried them along… still loved them… still died for them.
Tired Disciples
The truth about Peter, James, and John is that they weren’t superhero disciples. In fact, by the time they get to the mountain top… they have already had a pretty long and exhausting journey. They’re worn out. Scripture even tells us that they are weary and almost fall asleep.
And around the next corner of the journey, things will get even tougher. Before long, the path will take them toward Jerusalem. And while they’re in Jerusalem, Jesus will break bread with them… offer them so more teachings about caring for their neighbor and loving one another… and then he will invite them to a garden that they might stay awake and be watchful while he prays.
But these same disciples who managed to stay awake on the moment of glory on the mountain top will instead find sleep coming to them in the Garden of Gethsemane. Over and over Jesus will call on them to stay vigilant… and yet they fall asleep again and again. And then… the guards come. Jesus is arrested. He’s put on trial. And he’s crucified. And these three disciples along with most of the others will go into hiding for fear of their lives.
Ukraine If you’ve been watching the news at all over the last few days… you have likely seen clips of others who have gone into hiding for fear of their lives. I think of the mothers and children escaping out of Ukraine as they flee to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Over 150,000 have already fled… and the Pentagon estimated a few days ago that as many as 1 to 5 million women and children will try to escape across the border before all of this over. Others are not running… others are hiding in Subways and bomb shelters built during the cold war… built to protect them from us and now, instead, they are seeking cover from soldiers that just over 30 years ago were their countrymen.
Meanwhile, the world is tense with the fear of a third world war. Here we are… trying to come out of Covid-19 and we find ourselves on the brink of a new threat. From last Sunday to this Sunday it feels as though we have been pulled back 70 years to the beginning of the Cold War all over again. I find myself worrying that our children will grow up with the same fear of nuclear warfare that my parents experienced as did many of you.
A mother in the Ukraine was being interviewed about how she has been talking with her young child about the air raid sirens. When the sirens begin to wail, she tells him its turtle time. And they get down on their bellies with their “shells” facing up into the air, they put their hands over their heads, and open their mouths to help their bodies deal with concussive blasts. Turtle time. Meanwhile, other citizens of Kiev are watching youtube videos to learn how to fire their newly acquired AK47s and how to create Molotov cocktails so that they can do what they can to fight off invading forces that have been launched with a supposed religious mandate from God. A mandate, I’ll add, that the Russian Orthodox Church had denied. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has called for peace… and yet Putin persists.
This is not the world that I hoped we would be living in in this year of 2022. And yet, here we are.
And yet as we are here, we see both the very worst and the very best in humanity. While there is weariness aplenty from these past several years of Covid and then fear from the horrors of these last few days… we are seeing moments that are nothing less than powerful. Inspired.
Men are escorting their families to the border and then turning back to defend their home and to defend those left behind. No, they don’t have a choice. But still, the fervor of many is profound.
President Zelensky willingly stays with his people in Kiev despite the threats against his life. The former president, Petro Poroshenko donned battle gear as well and, when asked if he was willing to die in the coming days… he said that it is a terrible thing to think of… but that if one chooses to stay in Kiev that one must make peace with that tragic possibility… and that he has. The former president went on to say that there is fear… significant fear… but one must rise above the fear.
Mountain Top Experiences
Rising above the fear. Powerful words… and perhaps something that we might take for ourselves as we think of our own calling in life. There is a parallel to this moment in Ukraine and our scriptures. While Ukraine is being called by their political leaders to rise above the fear that Russia is trying to incite, it should not be lost on us that the first words that the fear-filled disciples heard from Christ as they bunkered down in hiding from the Roman machine of war in the wake of their messiah’s death… it should not be lost on us that the first words that they hear from their risen savior is Do not be afraid.
As they face the fear of death, Jesus provides his sequestered disciples a mountain top experience to rise above the fear. And in the midst of our weariness and fear, Christ provides us mountain top experiences of faith that help us to rise above the moment. Not through our own strength… but through the knowledge that we can rely on the strength and faithfulness of Christ. That we might know that even as we fall short on the way back down the mountain, that Christ’s open defiance against sin, death, and the devil persists.
Today, God invites us to see the brilliance on the mountain top. God invites us into a glimpse of the divine that we might have confidence in the promise for tomorrow. I wish that we could stay in these mountain top experiences… but we do go back down into the valleys.
And yet, even as we descend, we can hold onto the glow of God’s defiance against that which would destroy God’s children. For as Christ walks beside us towards our final breath, he turns back to fight that which would consume us. In the Last Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus was kissing his beloved disciples goodbye as he prepared himself to go all in. He threw himself back into the battle with death not to kill but to bring life. He threw himself back into the struggle that we face with sin not that he might take vengeance but that he could provide hope. Christ went to the cross so that we could find life beyond the border of this life.
Christ takes on death itself so that we might have life.
And as we stand at the checkpoint between this life and the next… Christ makes open the gates.
And as we pass through the gates away from the sting of death... God takes us in as refugees. But more than just accepting us and setting up tents… God takes us in and makes us full citizens of the Kingdom of God. Heirs of the promise. Children of the Most High. God takes us, the weary travelers struggling up and down the mountain… and bestows upon us the full benefit of life within the Kingdom of Heaven.
Take heart. Perk up. Rise above the fear. Trust in the one who calls us from this life and makes our way into the next possible. For whatever might be thrown our way… we can rely on and trust in the promise of the Savior who turns toward the fight… who goes to the cross… so that we might live.
God be with us on the mountain top. God be with us in the valley. May Christ lead the way through it all. Amen.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more