- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

The following are excerpts from a sermon delivered yesterday by the Rev. Martha Phillips at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. We have finished the cycle of readings that focus on Jesus’ ministry.

During His time here on Earth, the Pharisees and other religious leaders followed Him around, at first looking to discredit Him, and then, as their anger turned to hatred, they sought to kill Him. Jesus is now beginning to prepare His disciples for His coming Crucifixion and death.

Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain. On the mountaintop, He was transfigured before them. The Greek term for this is metamorphosis. Jesus changed before their very eyes. The appearance of His face changed, and His clothes changed to a dazzling white, as bright as the sun. Two men from long ago appeared, Moses and Elijah. Jesus is talking to them.

What the disciples saw was a reminder of the past and a glimpse ahead to what it would be like when all the things that Jesus came to do were fulfilled.

Now Peter, always the outspoken one, immediately wants to build three tents, one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. He wants to hold on to his mountaintop experience. Why wouldn’t he, or anyone else, want to? Mountaintop experiences are glorious. These glimpses we have of Jesus are given to us, in the midst of our daily lives, so that we might realize that there is something beyond this life. Someday there will be a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more pain or sorrow. But in the meantime, life goes on.

For Jesus and His disciples, the next day was a return to business as usual. They came upon a boy racked with seizures. Jesus healed the boy by casting out the demon. No matter how many times Jesus performed miracles, there were many who did not believe.

What a letdown. Hearing this story for the first time, one might expect that after the transfiguration, everything would be different. It would be, if the reason that Jesus Christ came was to have His own spiritual experience.

But the model and example Jesus gave was not for Him. Jesus came for others. Being a follower of Jesus means living for others. It means moving through the spiritual mountaintop experiences and reaching out to others. It means going back down into the valley to be with the ordinary people, doing the ordinary things of life.

Spirituality has become a commodity today. You can buy it in a self-help book or in a weekend-encounter workshop. Spirituality has become trivialized. The kind of spirituality that God gives is a call to a way of life. We have mountaintop experiences to be sure, but most of life should be lived in prayer and service to others.

God wanted Peter, James and John to have the mountaintop experience to carry them through the dark days of his arrest, trial, Crucifixion and death. Your mountaintop experience can do that for you, too. The person who has never had a mountaintop experience is to be pitied because to ascend the mountain is to be in the presence of God. It is one of those joyful experiences, like seeing a newborn baby for the first time or falling in love.

The only kind of mountaintop experience worth having is one that leads us down from the mountain of exultation into the valley of service. The most valid proof of an authentic encounter with God is always a changed life.

A mountaintop experience ought to get the glare of the world out of our eyes so we can see the world as God sees it. You and I are to be the incarnation of the risen Christ in service to the world.

To have a mountaintop experience is to be transfigured into a new creature for Christ and to move on down the mountain into the valley where our work is to begin. As we move toward Easter, we will live under the cloud of the coming Crucifixion but also in anticipation of the Resurrection. Every cloud brings with it the possibility of a mountaintop experience.

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