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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“There’s Jesus!”

Matthew 17:1-9

New Revised Standard Updated Version

17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The movie Hook is a story of Peter Pan. The main character, Peter Banning, has forgotten that he is Peter Pan. He is so into his life with his wife and two children and his important work as a business executive in. Peter is always on the phone (something none of us can relate to I’m sure!). In fact he is on the phone and doing business so much that he misses the activities of his children to the point that in one scene he sends his assistant to video tape his son’s baseball game so he can watch it later.

Captain Hook has never forgotten that Peter Pan defeated him so he decides he wants to engage Peter in another battle, so he kidnaps Peter Banning’s children. Peter and his wife, Mara, are pulling their hair out trying to figure out what happened until Tinkerbell appears on the scene. Tinkerbell takes Peter back to Neverland much to his dismay.

As the story continues, Tinkerbell brings Peter to the camp of the Lost Boys, where he had lived. The hope is that the Lost Boys so he can become the Peter Pan he once was. He has no clue who he once was and he is now amongst a group of ruffians he doesn’t know, Peter has no desire to become someone he doesn’t remember. They have no desire to follow him either. Rather, they follow Ruffio, the one who took over when Peter left Neverland.

In one scene Ruffio draws a line in the sand and tells the Lost Boys to make a choice. Are they going to follow an old man wearing glasses or are they going to follow him, the one who holds the sword of the Pan. They look at each other and all of them cross the line to Ruffio except one, a little boy called Pockets. Pockets looks at Peter, studies his face. Peter gets down on his knees trying to figure out what this boy is looking at. Pockets then opens Peters eyes, moves his face around, pulls at his hair to figure out who this man really was. Finally he stretches out Peter’s face so it looks younger and then Pockets looks into Peter’s eyes and says, “There you are Peter.”

We are often unaware of the visions we see in front of us. We see them from our own perspective as they have been distorted and changed over time. One reason is that our physical vision is limited. Not just because we may be nearsighted or farsighted. It is also because of our brain’s selective interpretation of what we perceive. Our own lifestyle and experience impact how images are seen by us and what our brain interprets them to be.

What we perceive varies for each person. A few examples: we can be so quick to think we see everything in front of us that we miss the fact that we have repeated the same word next to each other in a sentence (unless you have spellcheck that lets you know about the error) or we glance at a string of numbers not noticing that one is missing in the sequence. You may have looked at an optical illusion, a drawing where you look at it and have to decide whether it is depicting a young woman or an old one. People see the picture differently based on their own experience.

If we really look, like Pockets did when he peered into Peter’s eyes while the other Lost Boys crossed over the line to follow Ruffio, we see something different.

We also see with our spiritual vision. This can be as unreliable at times as our physical vision. One example drawn from Matthew involves Peter. In the section of the gospel just before the passage I read, Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God – a revelation from God - and then proceeds to rebuke Jesus when Jesus tells the disciples about the suffering he will undergo. Later, Peter declares his unending loyalty to Jesus, then proceeds to deny three times that he even knows the man.

We are prone to doing the same things. We may happily receive the accolades but avoid the chastisement. We tune out the negatives. Others of us tune out the positive and only hear the negative. We may be thrilled at victories and glories (even with a silent yes and indiscreet fist pump) while avoiding the necessary challenges that come our way.

Selective sight isn’t not new. We see what our eyes or our heart wants to see. Think of how much we miss if we close our eyes to the revelation before us. We might miss welcomed blessings and needed corrections,

The story of the transfiguration reminds us that when God comes near it changes everything. We might not think of the change that results because we are focused on the change for Peter and the disciples, stepping aside from what God’s presence does for us.

Think of the Jesus the disciples had seen prior to this experience on the mountain top. Their view of Jesus was one of a wise teacher and miracles worker, one who prayed a lot, was a courageous leader, and was unafraid to be a truth-teller to the powerful. The Jesus they saw at the Transfiguration was one who carried the same divine word that was spoken to the great prophet Elijah and the great leader Moses as he stood with them on that sacred mountain top, the place they had encountered the Living God themselves. The place where heaven and earth have met in the presence of these select few many times in the past. Now Jesus stands in that same place with them.

The Transfiguration changed the view of Jesus for the three disciples, Peter, James, and John, who were there. They discovered that Jesus might be more than they than they had previously thought. Not only did the experience change their view, it transformed them. They now saw Jesus in a completely different way and helped them understand themselves a little bit more in the light of Jesus’ glory.

The Transfiguration reminds us that we, too, are changed in the presence of God. We read the words spoken from the cloud where God says, “Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus. Don’t just watch Jesus, hear him teach, see the miracles, or read the stories of his life on earth. Listen to him. Listen with your ears. Listen with your mind. Listen with your heart. Listen to what Jesus is saying, experience how he is touching you, and hear what he is encouraging you and telling you to do.

Listen with your entire being to what you are able to see of God’s revelation and listen to the revelation you are unable or unwilling to grasp. For you see, revelation is always before us, but we often turn our eyes away from it because we don’t want to see it. At times we aren’t able to see because we are in a hurry. We don’t notice the number missing in the sequence or don’t see that there is both a young woman and an old woman in the same picture.

You might have looked at a hidden picture page in a Highlights magazine with a child (or remember doing them yourself), trying to find the items listed such as a banana and a rake. It is amazing how younger eyes can find the items so much faster than those of us with older eyes who have gained experience and whose view has been altered by our expectations of what we should see. While you are analyzing the picture to see if there is really a paintbrush in the tree trunk, the child points out not only the paintbrush, but all the other items on the list.

We see what we want to see. Peter sees what he wants to see to a point. He wants to see Jesus as someone important, as someone who will help him learn and get closer to God. What he sees on that mountain are three men bathed in light: Jesus along with Moses and Elijah. The vision of Jesus with these pillars of the Jewish faith that confirms for Peter that Jesus is one of the divine just as the other two now are. Jesus stands with the great prophet on one side and the great Lawgiver, the Word, on the other.

Some would say Peter responds with confusion when he offers to build the three dwellings, one for each of the men in front of his eyes. Others would say that Peter was aware, had a sense of understanding, that he was in the presence of the sacred. That his feet stood on holy ground. Peter’s desire to build this dwellings was to create holding places for the holy, in the same way the Temple in Jerusalem was thought to be the place to find the Holy God. Peter doesn’t want to let go of what he hears and sees. He is aware that what he is experiencing is life changing so he wants to hold on to it. If the holy is captured in these dwellings, he can come back and experience it again.

In the same way, many have had what is referred to as a mountain-top experience. A time when the presence of God is close at hand. A feeling that you want to hold on to, and then you have to go back home. The desire in your mind and heart is to return to that place to experience that same closeness to God.

Peter may want to be able to do the same. He wants to return to the sacred ground where he experienced the holy, the closeness of God. God encourages us to look for the holy around us, to find that sacred ground or look down and realize that every place we stand is sacred ground because Jesus is there.

God tells us to listen. To listen to the stories we read in the Bible. To listen to God’s words. Not only are we to hear with our ears as we hear the words read or read to ourselves, but to engage in spiritual listening. Listen with our hearts. Listen with our very souls. We are to establish belief within ourselves that what we hear matters and transforms us. Of course it isn’t enough to sit listening, believing, and basking in the glow of our experience.

Transformed people are people who take action, who go out into the world as changed people bringing what they have experienced to others. Transformed people continue to listen to Jesus. They are those who do more than throw out platitudes, tell the needy that they hope they receive help. Transformed people take time to sit down and listen, asking the one they sit with to talk about what is happening in their life at that time. These people ask if they can get a homeless person a hot meal or a warm blanket or simply to know that they are loved by another.

Listen to Jesus. Listening to Jesus changes our lives. Listening to Jesus challenges us. Listening to Jesus brings blessings greater than we could ever imagine.

We are transformed by being in the presence of the holy, the Living Christ. Listen to him and be changed.


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