The following sermon illustrations can be used in the sermon about the transfiguration.
Gladdening the Valleys Below
God never meant us to live on the mountaintop. I wish the gospel story told you the next Biblical story after the Transfiguration. This next Biblical story is never included in the lectionary series, and I feel badly about that because the next story is the key to the transfiguration story. The disciples and Jesus came off the mountain, and they came right down to the bottom of the valley. They came off the mountain and they came down into the valley and they found a boy who was having epileptic seizures. The mother and father were enormously upset and worried about the desperately sick boy, and the little boy fell into a fire and burned himself. In other words, the disciples came down off that mountaintop right into the problems of real life. Home from a mountaintop vacation and into the real world at home. And the disciples discovered that God is also down in the valley and does not live only or even primarily on the mountaintop.
I like the quotation by Henry Drummond, the Scottish theologian when he said, “God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops. It is not God’s desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. But we don’t live there. We don’t tarry there. The streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to gladden the valleys below.” The streams start in the mountaintops, but they come down to gladden the valleys below.
You and I experience the valleys of life. You and I both know what happens the next day coming down from the mountain. It is the real world and the real life. After Sundays of life, there are always Mondays. You know, the tough ones of life. God is with us there.
Edward F. Markquart, Mountains, Valleys, and Plains
The glory of God comes to us when we are most “fully awake.” A list of the half-dozen or more true geniuses of human history would surely include the name of Blaise Pascal — the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. In his brief 39 years, he made scientific discoveries which are basic to a great amount of our most significant contemporary knowledge.
But with all his ability in logic and all his commitment to tough-minded scholarship, Pascal found the greatest assurance in his experiences of faith. On the evening of Monday, November 23, 1654, he felt the reality of Jesus Christ in such intensity that he wrote:
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.
Not of the Philosophers and Scientists.
Certainty, Certainty, Feeling Joy, Peace.
God of Jesus Christ
He copied on parchment the full witness of his experience and sewed it into the lining of his coat, where it was found by his servant after his death nearly eight years later. For Pascal the greatest reality was not what he discovered in laboratory experiments, but what he found in his communion with God, through Jesus Christ. It was at such a time that he was “fully awake.”
J. Ellsworth Kalas, Sermons on the Gospel Readings, Cycle C, CSS Publishing Company
How Do You Describe Transfigurations
There is a story told about Napoleon during the invasion of Russia. He somehow got separated from his men and was spotted by his enemies, the Russian Cossacks. They chased him through the winding streets. Running for his life Napoleon eventually ducked into a furrier’s shop. Gasping for air and talking at the same time he begged the shopkeeper to save him. The furrier said, “Quick hide under this big pile of furs in the corner.” Then the furrier made the pile even large by throwing more furs atop of Napoleon.
No sooner had he finished when the Russian Cossacks burst into the shop. “Where is he?” they demanded to know. The furrier denied knowing what they were talking about. Despite his protests the Russian Cossacks tore the shop apart trying to find Napoleon. They poked into the pile of furs with their swords but did not find him. The eventually gave up and left the shop.
After some time had past, Napoleon crept out from under the furs, unharmed. Shortly after Napoleon’s personal guards came into the store. Before Napoleon left, the furrier asked, “Excuse me for asking this question of such a great man, but what was it like to be under the furs, knowing that the next moment could surely be your last?
Napoleon became indignant. “How dare you ask such a question of the Emperor Napoleon?” Immediately he ordered his guards to blindfold the furrier and execute him.
The furrier was dragged out of the shop, blindfolded and placed against the wall of the shop. The furrier could see nothing but he could hear the guards shuffling into a line and preparing their rifles. Then he heard Napoleon call out, “Ready!” In that moment a feeling the shopkeeper could not describe welled up with him. Tears poured down his cheeks. “Aim!”
Suddenly the blindfold was stripped from his eyes. Napoleon stood before him. They were face to face and Napoleon said, “Now you know the answer to your question.”
The lesson here is obvious: How can you describe a near death experience? You can’t. It has to be experienced. Jesus’ transfiguration fall in the same category of events which cannot be described. I think that is why Luke says that they kept it to themselves and told no one what they had seen. How do you describe it? It had to be experienced.
Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com. Adapted from a story by Richard Hayes Weyer.
The Historical Significance of Jesus
Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University wrote a remarkable study of the significance of the person and work of Jesus Christ, Jesus Through the Centuries. Dr. Pelikan demonstrates how Jesus has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture. Each age has made Jesus relevant to its own needs. Jesus has furnished each new age with answers to fundamental questions as every generation has had to address new social problems that tested the more fundamental questions of human existence. The world had to take note of Jesus as a rabbi, as the Cosmic Christ, the Ruler of the World, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Son of Man, the True Image of Man, the Great Liberator. In many other ways Jesus furnished the answers and the images that affected society in positive ways.
Dr. Pelikan’s thesis is that Jesus did not and does not belong to the churches and the theologians alone, but that he belongs to the world. None of this is to say that we can make Jesus what we want Jesus to be. Quite the opposite. It is to say that the Christ is adequate for all our needs and that Jesus transcends culture in such a way that he is able to belong to each age and to address the issues of all time. To understand that, we can do no better than to look to the Holy Gospel for today, which celebrates the transfiguration of our Lord. In that momentous event we learn how and why Jesus belongs to the centuries.
Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way to Jesus, CSS Publishing Company
Even the Darkness Can Dazzle
To lead our exodus, Jesus had to die like we do: alone, with no particular glory. Otherwise he would have been an anomaly instead of a messiah, and it would have been hard for us to see what he had in common with the rest of us.
As it was, he died very much like those who died on either side of him, one of them begging to be saved from what was coming, the other asking to be remembered when Jesus got where he was going. Jesus could not do anything for the one who wanted to be spared, but he did a great favor for the other. He told him that the darkness was a dazzling one, with paradise in it for both of them.
I think it was something he learned on the mountain, when light burst through all his seams and showed him what he was made of. It was something he never forgot. If we have been allowed to intrude on that moment, it is because someone thought we might need a dose of glory too, to get us through the night. Some people are lucky enough to witness it for themselves, although like Peter, James and John, very few of them will talk about it later.
What the rest of us have are stories like this one, and the chance to decide for ourselves whether we will believe what they tell us. It is a lot to believe: that God’s lit-up life includes death, that there is no way around it but only through, that even the darkness can dazzle.
Barbara Brown Taylor, “Dazzling Darkness,” article in the Christian Century, February 4-11, 1998, page 1-5
You Can’t Stay on the Mountain Top
A little boy was out in his front yard, throwing a ball up in the air. An elderly passerby asked the boy what he was doing. He replied, “I am playing a game of catch with God. I throw the ball up in the air and he throws it back.”
I am in no position to comment on God’s ability to play ball, but I do know that whatever goes up must come down. There may be exceptions, such as Charlie Brown’s kite! But as a rule, whatever goes up must come down. The process is so predictable that you could refer to it as a scientific law. The same process applies to our religious lives. It is a good thing to “go up” to a great experience with God, but we will become greatly disillusioned if we do not remember that eventually we have to “come down” again.
John Thomas Randolph, The Best Gift, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.