Life In the Valley Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

The story of the transfiguration is one of those passages that have given the phrase "mountaintop experience" to our language. Peter, James, and John had joined Jesus and escaped from the crowd for some spiritual "R and R" up in the wilderness of (probably) Mount Hermon.

Night had fallen and their eyes were heavy. Suddenly, they awoke with a start. Just yonder they saw Jesus take on something of a supernatural "glow" — his face and clothes "as bright as a flash of lightning" (Luke 9:29). Then Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with the master. Until he had come, these had been the greatest law-giver and the greatest prophet. On the mountaintop, in the presence of the glory, Peter said, "Master, it is good for us to be here" (Luke9:33). Then he wanted to build three shrines to honor these great men. He would just as soon have stayed there. Life is so much better, so much nearer God on the mountaintop. Why ever come down again?

Now, no one could see anything — a fog, a cloud had settled around them — scary. Suddenly, a voice projected from the cloud, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Luke 9:35). As quickly as they had come, the cloud, Moses, and Elijah were gone. The event confirmed for those disciples (if they had any lingering doubts) that this Jesus whom they had come to love and trust was more than a man — he was divine. This was a mountaintop experience if there ever was one! Now Peter really wanted to stay. If at all possible, we want to preserve those mountaintop experiences, even when they scare us a little.

But the account continued. They came down from the mountain, back to life in the valley — in the words of the psalmist, the valley of dark shadows, the valley of the shadow of death. Who can blame Peter for not wanting to return to this?

Peter, James and John could not understand on the mountain that God’s glory was not to be found apart from the suffering world in the valley. Peter wanted to build "booths" to stay on the mountain, to bask in the glory. But the blinding light on the mountaintop was a declaration of the presence of the glory of God in the world. That glory is not something you wait for, hope for, seek for - that glory of God is already present in the midst of a tired, aching world, wherever God’s people do God’s work. The transfiguration is not a vision of the way the world could be, it is a declaration of the way the world already is, when God’s people accept the promise and live out the vision.

Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop and bask in God’s glory. Jesus knew that God’s glory was not on the mountain, but down in the valley where an epileptic boy waited to be healed, the disciples were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom, and Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, was dying. God’s glory was down in the valley where a cross waited on a Friday called Good. This is the glory of God, transfiguring the world.

But Christianity says it is of the very essence of life that we must come down. William Barclay, that wonderful New Testament scholar from Scotland, notes that in religion there must be solitude, but there must not be solitariness. The solitude is necessary, for one must keep contact with God, but if we, in our search for solitude, shut ourselves off from one another, if we shut our ears to the appeal of brothers and sisters for help, if we shut our hearts to the cries and tears of things, then that is not religion. The solitude is not meant to make us solitary. It is meant to make us better able to meet and cope with the demands of everyday life. Jesus understood that — the gospels have him regularly retreating for solitude. Now, he is back with the people.

A father had brought his epileptic son to the disciples, and the disciples had been quite unable to deal with it. Jesus said to bring the boy. One last fierce convulsion gripped him. The boy fell to the ground, the foam still on his mouth, the mouth still open, the eyes still fixed and staring. According to the parallel account in Mark's gospel, there was no movement, no sign of life.

Silently the people in the crowd, pressing around, must have looked over the shoulders of Jesus and the anxious father and saw the boy lying there, stretched motionless on the ground. No one was speaking. At length, one whispered to the person next to him, "He has cured him, but he has killed him! That boy is dead!" The others looked wonderingly down on the lad and at length, speaking openly now, exclaimed, "The boy is dead! He has cured him, but he has killed him!" (Mark 9:26 cf). Then a scribe, recovering his old boldness and arrogance, remarked to one of his fellows, "Yes, he has cured him, but he has killed him. What sort of a cure is that? We could have done that ourselves. We could have knocked the boy on the head and that would have been the end of it. What sort of a physician or prophet is this anyway?" You can see the face of the father as he looked at Jesus, stared down on the prostrate form, the expressionless face of his boy. You can see him turn back to Jesus and hear him say, "Master, you have cast out the evil spirit, but I am afraid my boy is dead. And yet, Master, I think I would rather have him lying there motionless and dead than see him torn anymore by those fearful convulsions." But, of course, the boy was not dead. Mark's gospel says Jesus took him by the hand, lifted him up, and gave him back to his father (Mark 9:27).

He took him by the hand! When Jesus healed the woman who was almost dead with a fever, he took her by the hand. When he healed the blind man, he took him by the hand. When he cleansed the leper, he touched him with his hand. When he restored the daughter of Jairus to her father and mother, he took her by the hand. That was the way Jesus worked —the laying on of hands.

A great preacher of an earlier generation, used to say Jesus' gospel was the gospel of the encouraging, sympathizing, healing hand. It can be your gospel, too. You can preach it in the church from Sunday to Sunday, or you can preach it anywhere you happen to be. Here come those who are lonely. Give them the hand of friendship. Here come those who are doubting. Give them the hand of a good will that they cannot doubt. Here come those who have drunk deeply from the cup of sorrow and pain. Give them the hand of sympathy. Here come those who are weighed down under an unseen burden. Give them the hand of strength. Here come those who are pursued by some dangerous temptation. Give them the hand of fortitude. Here are those who have needs for physical sustenance. Give them the hand of generosity. "Preach the gospel that Christ preached," McCartney says, "the gospel of the hand!"

Mountaintop experiences are wonderful. Still, life is lived in the valley. There are people among us who continue to struggle with their own private demons. Some battle grief and despair. Some struggle to over come addiction. Some battle with gossip and half-truths and lies.  Life in the valley can be tough. But for Peter, James, and John, after that moment on the mountain, the valley would never be the same again.

That day on the mountain, that moment in the close presence of God, changed those men, just as those moments in worship, moments when we feel God especially near, can change you and me. With Peter, James, and John we have glimpsed the future and, with eyes of faith, we have seen a better day.

I understand why Peter wanted to stay on the mountain and live in the moment of glory forever, but it could not be. Life moves on, and the way of Jesus moved on to the cross. Moments of transformation are not to be held on to, but are to change you to live on in a different way, even after the light is gone. The question in every transfiguration, every conversion, every burst of enthusiasm, is: does it change us and enable us to live better the lives to which we are called? Believing is only the beginning.

The transfiguration of Jesus is not an oasis, a temporary resting place in the gospels.  Faith is the transfiguration in us, our lives and our actions, when we behold the glory of God.   Praise God from whom all blessings flow!  AMEN