To See Only Jesus
Let us pray:
O Lord, you move and work in ways that are beyond human understanding. Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind and the mantle of leadership is passed to Elisha. The eyes and hearts of some are veiled and they are unable to see the light of the gospel. Like Peter, James, and John we gather here to see you, hear you, and adore you. Quiet our minds and still our hearts that the only person we see this morning is the person of Jesus. In his name we pray. Amen.
Every summer, many of us within this congregation enjoy the opportunity to travel up the road to North Carolina and enjoy the cool mountain air of Montreat, a major conference center that I often refer to as the Jerusalem for Presbyterians in the south. It is in the glorious sanctuary of Montreat that we read and relax, sing and pray, rock hop along creek beds and climb beautiful mountain trails.
Mountains were special to Jesus, too. In the gospel of Luke, it is recorded that Jesus frequently found places in the mountains where he would rest and pray to God, by himself. In the gospel of Matthew, it is said that great crowds followed Jesus from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. And when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain, sat down with his disciples and shared what is now known as the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said, “for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
In our lesson, we read where Jesus led Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain, by themselves, and it was at the top in seclusion from the world that Peter, James and John encountered the light of the gospel and the glory of Jesus Christ. As the disciples find themselves at the top, they experience three remarkable life-changing revelations. They see Jesus transfigured, encounter Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus, and hear the heavenly voice extending a blessing and command, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” When the air clears, the disciples see only Jesus.
There is good reason why Jesus led Peter, James and John to the top of an undisclosed mountain. There is confirmation by way of revelation that Jesus is God’s beloved Son and his voice should command human attention. But there is more. Jesus made the effort to separate his friends from the many distractions of the world. In this setting, the disciples are able to spend time with Jesus – alone – and focus on every word in addition to adoring him as the center of their lives. And as Jesus was transfigured, these three men were also transformed and changed. This experience provided them in the words of Paul the grace to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, so they would be able to discern the will of God and know what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
It is my pastoral perspective that the temptation of distraction is multiplying every day and getting the best of us. Distractions lead us away from Christ. They do not lead us to Christ. We are over-committed and manipulated by hectic, runaway schedules. We are the busiest people in the world, so busy we don’t know how to slow down much less stop. The distractions that surround us have a negative influence on our most important relationships: family, friends, and God. Distractions obliterate the holy invitation to be led by Christ to the quiet and solitary places where we can rest, pray, ponder, and adore the transfigured One. And if we do not find ourselves in the company of Jesus, in all likelihood we will find it impossible to be transformed into his likeness.
I do not say this to point my finger at anyone in particular other than maybe myself. I want to be known as a Christian, a faithful follower of Jesus, but I do admit the events and demands of every day make it somewhat difficult to find that quiet and private place where one can commune with the best friend we will ever know, the person we know as Jesus. The story of the transfiguration, a story often skipped over, ignored, sometimes forgotten, has more value than we give it credit for. Without time alone with Christ, faith, hope and love can ebb away and before we know it, we can be upright and functional, but we can also be soul-less or as Thomas Merton said, we find ourselves to be spiritually dull.
This past week the family of ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller learned that their daughter was no longer alive. Like many others, I took the opportunity to read a letter written to her mother and father in the spring of 2014 that was smuggled out of camp. Held captive and hopeful of release but not knowing what the final outcome would be, Kayla shared the following words, “I remember mom always telling me that all in all, in the end, the only one you have is really God. I have come to a place where in every sense of the word I have surrendered myself to our Creator because literally there is no one else. I have been shown in darkness, light + and have learned that even in prison, one can be free.”
Offering her time, talent and energy helping Syrian refugees through the work of “Doctors without Borders,” Kayla had been whisked away and hidden for months. Able to only write a few sentences at a time Mueller added, “Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love. I have found God in my suffering.”
A great tragedy of the human condition is to have no sense of direction or sense of purpose in life, to live only for oneself disregarding the needs of others, to have no spiritual understanding or depth. The ultimate tragedy is to be blind to the light of the gospel, or as Paul puts it, the glory of Jesus Christ. It was the light of the gospel and the glory of Jesus Christ that captured the heart of Kayla Mueller and motivated her to help the suffering and disenfranchised, and it was in her own suffering that the love of Christ was made known to others.
It seems to me that Kayla Mueller understood the theology of Paul, “May we not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as his servants.” God did a special work in Peter, James and John. God did a special work in Kayla Mueller. And God is doing a special work in us. May we allow ourselves to be led by Christ to the quiet and private places where we can listen and adore, pray and muse, and according to the faithful and remarkable witness of a young saint of the Christian faith, may we surrender to our Creator: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; may we be engaged and involved in finding solutions to the problems of the world; and may those around us see our love for Jesus Christ. Amen.