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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Face to Face with the Unexpected

Luke 9:28-36

New Revised Standard Version

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The fifth-grade boy was inquisitive, hardworking, and liked to learn. He always spent time reading and doing research before doing a project. For example, before he built his soap box derby car for his Cub Scout annual race, he read about design, aerodynamics, gravity, and weight. He didn’t win but was proud of what he learned.

When it was time for the fifth-grade science fair, the boy wanted to do his project by himself. He read and researched about light before he began. He wrapped a shoebox with construction paper, decorated the outside, glued a triangular prism inside, mounted a small flashlight, and cut a slit to look in. Finished!

On the day of the fair, he took his project to the cafeteria. There was an array of sophisticated looking projects and displays. It was obvious to everyone that most students had help with their science projects. The boy’s project was simple, but it demonstrated the beauty of light. Those who looked through the slit saw a miniature rainbow inside.

He didn’t win but learned a lot about light. He knew that the blue-ribbon color on another display appeared that color because it reflected a certain wavelength of light in the visual spectrum. In dim light, you couldn’t tell the color of the ribbon. The boy knew, though, that his rainbow in a box was more spectacular if you understood how we see colors.

When we look around us, we see how light is reflected, refracted, and absorbed by distinct colors. For instance, white reflects light – a white car tends to be cooler than a darker one. A prism, like the one in the boy’s box, refracts (separates the colors into individual bands) light. A black car tends to be hotter because black (and other dark colors) absorb light.

God created light first. Without light, the rest of creation would not have had definition or vibrancy. Without light, the land, vegetation, animals, and human beings would not have been visible.

We see only a tiny fraction of all light spectrums. We think we see, with the limited visible light, all that exists. We don’t. We are missing much more than we know.

The experience of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, who ascended the mountain with Jesus was the same. They thought they could see all there was to see. Until they saw the change in Jesus’ appearance. The light they saw surrounding Jesus transcended the visible spectrum. It didn’t change his form or shape, but it changed the disciples’ perception. The brilliance of Jesus’ appearance opened their eyes to see! They were given the gift of seeing Jesus as God does. The glorious picture of Jesus of dazzling white light reflected the luminousness of God. This experience gave the disciples a different picture of Jesus. They knew the human Jesus. Now they saw God in him. Peter affirms this when he calls Jesus “the Messiah of God.”

Jesus opened their eyes to not only see him but to see and recognize Moses and Elijah. They would not have known who the two men standing with Jesus were otherwise. There weren’t pictures or descriptions of their physical appearance. They would have known, however, that these were the only two men who had experienced God’s presence in person. Moses had seen God’s back while hidden in a cleft of a rock on Mt. Sinai. Elijah stood at the entrance to a cave while God spoke to him.

The account from Exodus tells us that Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments with no idea that his skin was shining. The Israelites were afraid to go near him. After he taught them what God had told him, he put on a veil so the people would feel comfortable approaching him.

Moses wasn’t shining because he saw God. He was shining because God saw him! In the same way, God sees us, not through the limited visible spectrum we see, but through the shimmering expanse of the glorious spectrum of light.

When we look at one another, we see light as it is reflected and absorbed by our bodies. But we can’t see beyond the surface with our eyes alone. God made us to do more than show an outward appearance. God made us to shine the light we have received when God looks at us.

Consider experiences when light has jumped out at you like the break of dawn. The brightness, the beauty, the intensity, and the colors that grabbed your attention. You might have looked in a telescope and seen the stars and planets shining in the dark expanse of the sky or a lantern providing light on a dark night. Maybe it was a neon sign that flashed its bright lights or seeing the Aurora Borealis.

A memorable time that light jumped out at me was at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. The torch was brought into the stadium by a runner. It was noticeable but not overly so since it was small. The torch was passed from runner to runner. The final one took the torch and light the Olympic flame – a cauldron that, we raised into the night sky, could be seen for miles. It was like a spectacular eruption of light from a volcano. A beacon of dreams fulfilled by athletes, international cooperation, and competitive spirit. For the athletes, this was a mountain top experience.

The disciples on the mountain top with Jesus saw a luminosity and brilliance unlike anything they had seen before. For them, it was a life-changing moment – one they wanted to hold on to. They wanted to stay in the presence of this light. So, Peter suggested they build dwellings for the three men so they would stay there on the mountain. He wanted to preserve that special moment.

However, they couldn’t stop time or live in the radiance of the moment. The disciples and Jesus had to hike back down the mountain. Back to daily life with its challenges, joys, heartaches, and hopes. Back to the disciples who hadn’t seen and wouldn’t understand.

You may have had your own mountain top experience. On a retreat where you experienced God in an unusual way. During a special worship service where you encountered God in a new way. In God’s creation, walking in the woods or mountains or along the shore. In these times, you sense the presence of God in a very authentic way. Like the disciples, you want to stay there experiencing the glory of the moment, breathing the springlike fresh air of.

The danger of one of these experiences is that they are rare. So rare that we may fail to learn from them and take into real life what we have seen and experienced. We want to make one of these times the norm so we may withdraw as much as possible from the day-to-day challenges that fill much of life. We are searching for the next “shining light” moment.

Over time the luminosity of our mountain top experience fades. We utter an inhospitable word, mistreat a neighbor, or hoard a resource. Each time we do one of these things (or others like them) a layer of grime is added over the radiance of the mountain top. More layers are added from opportunities missed and when our eyes and thoughts focus on shiny stuff that we hope will suffice.

God sees our shine through the layers of grime. God knows us, knows what is hidden, and knows our true selves. God sees our possibilities not the limitations of the grime.

The gift of transfigured eyes like the one the disciples received on the mountain is that we learn to see as God sees. We nurture that gift when we commit to following Jesus down the mountain away from the glory of the transfiguration. When we return to the everyday light of life. As we continue to follow Jesus, to live as a disciple through worship, prayer, and reading scripture, we continue to grow, learn, and seek to know more.

Each step forward in faith scrapes away a bit of the grime. Sometimes it takes a good scrubbing to remove a layer – times when God pushes us ahead faster than we would like. As the layers of grime are cleaned away, God’s light shine through us more, allowing others to see the radiance that comes from being in God’s presence, from God seeing the real you.

As we grow in faith, we can see more of the colors of the rainbow that are reflected through the prism of God’s glory in our lives and onto the lives of others.


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