Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
This Sunday brings us to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The word “transfigured” is not part of our regular vocabulary. The Greek word is “metamorpho” and it means to change into another form. It also means to change the outside to match the inside. Jesus was God in human form and the transfiguration was a very special experience when some of the disciples glimpsed Jesus’ Godly glory. Jesus actually glowed, radiating light before the disciples on the mountaintop. Peter was so touched he exclaimed “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Just imagine how incredible it would be to stand on a mountaintop face to face with Jesus and hearing the voice of God. Not only is what occurred significant, the location adds an important element because mountains or high places were understood by the ancients as places where the human could touch the divine. This story is celebrated because of the promise it holds for all of us to be able to glimpse God.
I sometimes think to myself that it would make my job a whole lot easier if God would communicate with me as directly and impressively as he communicated with those disciples in the revelation on the mountaintop. Honestly, I can’t say for certain that I’ve had any radiant Jesus moments and I am not completely sure that I’ve ever heard God’s voice. That may surprise you since I am a minister, but my encounters with God have always seemed more subtle, leaving me wondering if it was really God or possibly just my imagination. Some experiences I feel more certain about than others, but as a person of faith, I have my doubts and I know many of you do too. In the absence of shining faces and dazzling clothing, how do we know with certainty that we have indeed encountered the presence of the Divine?
We don’t. That is why we need each other. We could drive ourselves crazy wondering all alone and talking ourselves out of our spiritual experiences. When we are part of a community of faith we can rely on others to help lift us up when our doubts are overpowering our faith. In Confirmation class we have been struggling with this very issue. Every year, I have the joy and privilege of teaching Confirmation and in class many students share their questions and concerns about faith. Some of them don’t trust that they have actually experienced God in their lives or in the world. We share our stories of faith as a way of offering guidance and hope to each other. We illuminate glimpses of God for one another, and today I would like to share some of their stories with you. Here are a few anonymous excerpts.
One student wrote: “In November, when we went on the Confirmation retreat to Covenant Harbor and did the ropes course, I was really afraid that I would not be able to make it up the tall climbing tower. I kept pushing through and trying to have faith that I could make it up until I got to the top. Then I had to trust that the line would not snap when I went down the zip line. I believe
faith is asking for help when you need it and trusting in God because God has made us stronger than we realize.”
Another student shared this story: “My grandma died in December. Winter is my favorite season and we hadn’t gotten any snow yet when she passed away. The morning after her death I woke up and it was snowing. It seems like God was sending a message. He was trying to lift my spirits and tell me it was going to be ok.”
Another wrote: “One of my first memories as a little kid was a big plastic tub in my preschool classroom. Every few weeks I would come to the classroom to find the tub filled with something new like colorful pieces of rice or water and boats. I believe that although the tub in my preschool class was a small detail of my childhood, it describes how God is always filling my life with something new to explore or figure out, and I can take that as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person and in my faith.”
And lastly: “I believe that there is somebody leading us through life. This somebody, God, does not make decisions for us, nor does he want to. He is just there to guide us, and listen. I believe that God, above all, is there for us even when nobody else is. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing God in day to day life and I feel like I must be missing signs.”
For many people the sense that they are missing signs, that there are too many unanswered questions, makes their doubt so strong that they want to give up on faith altogether. It is my prayer that none of you give up on God. God will never give up on you. Faith is not easy but that makes it even more precious. Maybe in the end what matters most is not the answers to the questions, but rather the experience of questing.
This week I was listening to the radio and Miley Cyrus’ song “The Climb” came on. I don’t want to offend any of you who really like Miley, but I am not a fan of hers. Normally I would just change the channel, but instead I really listened to the song. It stuck in my head and I went home and looked into it a little more. I found out that the song was written by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe in 2008, and they wrote it about their struggles in the music industry, trying to follow their passion and all the while facing obstacles again and again. Alexander describes the original song as more spiritual than the version that Miley Cyrus made famous. The original talked more about faith and strength gained through prayer.
Here are some of the lyrics: Every step I’m taking/Every move I make feels /Lost with no direction/My faith is shaking/But I gotta keep trying/Gotta keep my head held high/There’s always gonna be another mountain/I’m always gonna wanna make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/It’s the climb.
This song of perseverance captures the hope that I pray each and every one of you will experience. In life there will be a lot that tests your faith and makes you want to give up. There will be times when you feel lost and shaken. There will be days when it is an effort to endure. There may even be times when you have to lose your faith altogether in order to find it. It may be corny when the song says “Keep the faith. It’s all about the climb.” but it’s a good lesson. Like I love to say, faith isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. It is not a journey you will ever take alone because even when you feel lost, you are not. God has you in his sights still, and you have this community of faith to help you up when you feel like you’re falling. Try to enjoy the journey. Sometimes you will find inspiration for your faith in the most unlikely of places, like a cheesy pop song. You never know how God is going to speak to you or where God is going to shine through in your life. Live each moment fully and you will eventually find yourself face to face with the divine. Amen.