Call to Worship Leader: God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
People: Let us worship you, O beloved God.
Leader: God said, “Listen!”
People: We want to hear your word anew this day.
Leader: God said, “Do not be afraid.”
People: We lay our worries at your feet.
Leader: And after all this was spoken, God was quiet.
People: Still our souls, quiet our minds, and prepare us to be transformed, holy God.
*Hymn of Praise # 294 I Stand Amazed in the Presence
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) We invite you, the Bright and Morning Star, to shine upon us as we gather to worship. Fill us with the brilliance of your light and wisdom. May it be as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
Psalm response Psalm 2
Our Offering to God Let us walk toward the mountain tops of life as we bring our grateful thanks to God in our offering.
Prayer of Dedication O God, the mystery of your being is never separated from the earthly obligations that you give to us to share what we have with others. Receive our offerings this day. Amen.
*Hymn of Prayer # 252 Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Pastoral Prayer *Prayer of Confession
As we invite your gracious presence among us, Jesus Christ, we know full well how often we flee from you. We have so many ways of avoiding the encounter with you by excuses and delays. Sometimes we even use prayers to blot out your voice, sounding the words in our heads and hearts while pushing you away in case you tell us the truth or ask more of us than we feel able to do. Silent reflection. Forgive us, loving Jesus.
Take our hands and lead us toward your grace. If we refuse to come away with you,
we stay among the crowds of life so that your voice is dimmed and our lives are clouded
with a fog of activity. Forgive us, loving Jesus. Take our hands and lead us
toward your grace. We rush on ahead of you, refusing to wait to listen to your word for us, making our own plans with little reflection, using the good we are doing to justify our relentless activity. Silent reflection. Forgive us, loving Jesus. Take our hands and lead us toward your grace. Remind us of your radiant life, we pray.
*Words of Assurance Stay, stay alone in this moment and encounter God.
Remember the kindness that lies there. Hold on to the mercy that waits for us. We are forgiven. Thanks be to God. *Prayer of Thanksgiving We thank you, O God, that there is always more to you than we have yet seen, Our words can never describe you and our thoughts can never hold you, for you are always more. *Prayer of Intercession Call our lives into the heights and depths of your life, O God. Separate our quick reactions as we try to please you from the wider wisdom of your insights into our life. Give us the courage to pray our humble human prayers as we realize a little of the measure of your holiness. The people pray. Hold us into your divine silences, O God, as we listen to your responses to our prayers. Stay with us on the mountain as we grapple with our fears and doubts. Reach out and wait with us when we grow impatient, and show us the way of justice. Above all, give us faith, that we may more truly follow you wherever you call us to go. For you are our God and we would be your people. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise # 16 O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright
Scripture Reading Matthew 17:1-9
1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As 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.”
Message The Stormy Star
Like the ball of fire that sustains all life on Earth, Jesus is our source of energy and closest connection to the power of the cosmos. No surprise that his face, on the day of Transfiguration,“shone like the sun.”
That’s what astronomers love more than anything else. “Good seeing” means that the Earth’s atmosphere is calm and free of dust, and the sky takes on a dark blue color. Astronomers will climb to the very tops of mountains, well above the cloud deck, in search of a sky clear enough to enable them to capture sharp and stable images of heavenly bodies.
What fascinates a number of astronomers today is the star that sits at the very center of our solar system: the sun.
They study the sun because it is the origin of virtually all the energy that supports life on Earth. It’s the source of our weather, the controller of our climate, and our closest connection to the processes that power the universe.
“The sun is the Rosetta stone of astrophysics,” says scientist Göran Scharmer to National Geographic. “But it’s a stone that we haven’t been able to decrypt entirely.” Although the sun has been burning for 4.6 billion years, it is only in the last two decades that scientists have begun to understand it.
There’s nothing boring about this ball of light. The sun has a halo-like corona around it that is — oddly enough — hundreds or even thousands of times hotter than its surface. One of the mysteries of the sun is an event called “a coronal mass ejection,” in which billions of tons of charged particles escape from the sun’s corona and dump trillions of watts of power into Earth’s upper atmosphere. This can overload power lines, causing massive blackouts, and destroy delicate instruments on satellites in Earth orbit.
Our sun is a Stormy Star.
You might say that Peter, James and John are in search of “good seeing” when they follow Jesus up to the top of a high mountain on the day of the transfiguration. They climb up to an altitude where the sky is a luminous blue, and at the peak Jesus is transfigured before them, and his face shines like the sun (Matthew 17:2). Through the power of God, Jesus undergoes a metamorphosis, a change in form, a transformation — he begins to glow with the glory reserved for heavenly beings. His face shines “like the sun,” says Matthew — sending off a blast of brightness that is positively out of this world. The Transfiguration was a brief glimpse of the true glory of the King (16:27, 28). This was a special revelation of Jesus’ divinity to three of the disciples, and it was God’s divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do.
No sunspots or solar flares or coronal mass ejections could surprise the disciples any more than this. They know that a glowing human face is a radically rare event, and it makes them think of the spiritual superstar Moses, whose face was radiant after an especially close encounter with God (Exodus 34:29-35). Like astronomers who struggle to unlock the secrets of the sun, the disciples realize that they are now in a realm that is “surpassingly unusual.”
But the fiery brilliance of Jesus’ face is only the beginning. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear in a heavenly constellation, talking with Jesus. The disciples are star-struck, and they see that the ministry of Jesus is now far more than a first-century Galilean phenomenon — it is, instead, a continuation and culmination of all the mighty acts of God throughout history. Moses and Elijah are sacred supernovas, bright lights that have worked amazing miracles, promoted God’s covenant and law, and even faced rejection by people before being vindicated by God, and because of these qualities they are in the same orbit as Jesus. The three form a kind of divine Dream Team — one that can radiate the awesome power of God to the world. Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Moses represents the law, or the old covenant. He wrote the Pentateuch, and he predicted the coming of a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Elijah represents the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5, 6). Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus confirmed Jesus’ messianic mission: to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets. Just as God’s voice in the cloud over Mount Sinai gave authority to his law (Exodus 19:9), God’s voice at the Transfiguration gave authority to Jesus’ words.
Good seeing. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. ////
“Lord, it is good for us to be here,” whispers Peter, after adjusting to the brightness before him; “if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v. 4).
Now you might think that this is an exceedingly stupid suggestion for Peter to make. But think again. Peter is actually showing good spiritual sense here, because he knows that a “dwelling” — also called a “tabernacle” — is the best possible place to keep the fiery cloud that marks the presence of God himself. Peter is not talking about building three shacks on the mountaintop — he wants to construct three holy tabernacles to house the divine glory that is glowing before him.
His offer is not ridiculous. It’s respectable.
Peter wanted to build three shrines for these three great men to show how the Festival of Shelters was fulfilled in the coming of God’s Kingdom. Peter had the right idea about Christ, but his timing was wrong. Peter wanted to act, but this was a time for worship and adoration. He wanted to memorialize the moment, but he was supposed to learn and move on.
Jesus is more than just a great leader, a good example, a good influence, or a great prophet. He is the Son of God. When you understand this profound truth, the only adequate response is worship. When you have a correct understanding of Christ, you will obey him.
But before Peter can even pop open his toolbox, a bright cloud overshadows them, and a voice from the cloud booms, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (v. 5).
In a day of supernatural surprises, this final appearance absolutely blows the disciples away. It hits them with the intensity of a solar flare, an explosion above the sun’s surface that roars to tens of millions of degrees and throws off a surge of powerful radiation. Solar flares are nothing to scoff at, since they can interrupt communications, disable satellites, and — theoretically — kill a space-walking astronaut.
So the disciples fall to the ground, overcome with fear. God has appeared in power and glory and spoken directly to them, repeating the words that he spoke at the baptism of Jesus (3:17). The only addition is God’s clear command to listen — listen to Jesus! Any doubt the disciples may have had about Jesus is instantly erased. They know that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. /////
Then Jesus, the Stormy Star who has blazed before them in majesty and power and glory, reaches out and offers them a surprisingly tender touch. “Get up and do not be afraid,” he says to them, and when they look up they see no one but Jesus himself, alone.
On their way down the mountain, Jesus orders them to tell no one about the vision until after he has been raised from the dead — after he has suffered and died and been raised on the third day (vv. 7-9). Clearly, some major storms still lie ahead for the one who is the Beloved Son of God.
The day of transfiguration was clearly a day of good seeing. The disciples were like astronomers on the rim of an ancient volcano, half a mile above the cloud deck, pointing their high-tech instruments straight at a brilliant disk of fire in the sky. And like modern scientists, the disciples were getting an unobstructed view of the source of our energy, a clear look at the closest connection we have to the power of the universe. As the apostle Paul says to the Colossians, Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created ... all things have been created through him and for him” (1:15-16). Like the sun that blazes in the sky, Jesus is the heavenly being who is the source of all life and light on earth.
But this mountaintop story is about more than just the glory of Jesus Christ. It would be wrong to picture Jesus as a serene and untouchable ball of divine power, one that floats through the sky above all the trials and troubles and temptations of this world. Jesus is, very clearly, a Stormy Star — one that has to deal with heartbreak and agony, struggle and suffering, floggings and mockings and an agonizing death on a cross. The very same face that shines like the sun today is the face that is kissed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:49), and is spit upon and slapped by the scribes and the elders who cry out for his death (26:66-68). Such abuses and agonies are difficult for us to comprehend, and even tougher for us to accept — but they were all anticipated by Jesus on the day of transfiguration. /////
Source of our energy. // Connection to power. // Heartbreak and agony, struggle and suffering. // Somehow these contradictory pieces all come together in Jesus, the one who is our Stormy Star.
The link between these shattered fragments is found in verse 7, when Jesus touches the disciples and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Suddenly the greatest power in the universe is concentrated into a touch. The image of the invisible God is seen in the face of a caring man. The source of all light and life on earth is revealed to be Jesus of Nazareth, the one who walks with us down the mountain, and stays with us through all our hardships, reminding us that God is with us, always with us, and that he will never let us go.
Get up and do not be afraid. That’s what the mightiest power in the universe says to us when we feel frustrated by failure, ransacked by bad relationships, battered by betrayal, soiled by sin, and depressed by mental, physical or spiritual deterioration. “Get up,” says Jesus. “I am offering you light and new life.” The marvelous promise of the resurrection is that there is always new life to be found on the other side of suffering and death. “Do not be afraid,” counsels Jesus. “I am going to walk with you, and assure you of the presence of God in your life.” The greatest guarantee of Christ’s companionship is that nothing in all creation — no pain or crying, suffering or dying — can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
So keep looking up. Jesus is our light and our life, our “bright morning star,” the one that can lead us and guide us (Revelation 22:16).
Even through a storm.
Sources: Boring, M. Eugene. “The Gospel of Matthew.” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995, 363. Suplee, Curt. “The Sun: Living with a stormy star.” National Geographic, July 2004.
*Hymn of Response # 210 Here, O My Lord, I See Thee
Hymn # 50 Let Us, with a Joyful Mind
*Sending forth The good news of God’s love is not just a message for the mountaintop. It is a glorious charge and a holy calling. As we leave this house of worship, may we be transfigured ourselves, radiant, refreshed for God’s mission. Let us depart with fervent hope and renewed energy. Let our lives be witnesses to the gospel; let God’s Spirit emanate from each of us!
Animating Illustrations In Tucson, Arizona, there are light regulations that limit the amount of street light at night so as not to interfere with the “good seeing” of the telescope nearby.
As the story [Passionella] begins, you see a very frumpy woman with a nasally voice, singing and dancing with her chimney-sweeping broom. Her nose is stuffed up, her hair is a mess, and she looks to the chimneys that she cleans as a safe haven — a place of comfort.
Now what this pitiful woman really wants in life is to be a movie star. She sings about it, she dances the way that she thinks a movie star would dance. It’s pretty bad. But, alas, each and every night when she is finished with her work, she simply goes home, and in a darkened room watches other movie stars on TV, dreaming of what it would be like to be one of them.
One night, as she sits in her bathrobe with her hair in pin curls, her television does something strange. It begins to glow! And emanating from the glowing screen comes a deep and powerful voice telling her that she is about to undergo a change. Her wish is going to come true — she is going to be a movie star!
As the music plays a very short introduction, the character runs off stage and is transformed ....
Voila! The frumpy chimney sweep was transformed into a movie star. She couldn’t believe what she looked like, or how she felt! It was amazing! For the rest of the story, she saw herself in a different light, she saw herself as a glamorous movie star. And that is how everyone else saw her as well.
She is treated differently; she is popular instead of rejected. People flock around her instead of run from her. They want to be like her instead of laugh at her. Because they are seeing her in a different light, they are able to believe what they could not before.
—Cynthia Bacon, “A different light,” March 2, 2003, Heritage Congregational Church Web Site, Heritagemadison.org.
Life can deliver some rough blows. However, we do not have the luxury of staying “down,” we must get up, straighten up and wise up for our own sakes and for the sake of our children ....
“Get up, and do not be afraid” (Matthew 17:7). After a marriage or relationship ends, the first emotion to hit us is usually fear. Fear can actually paralyze us and hinder us from moving forward with our lives. If we are imprisoned by fear, we won’t take the risks that will propel us to our future blessings. God hasn’t given us this spirit, but he has equipped us with love, power and a strong, sound mind. So, don’t let fear keep you down. Get up and don’t be afraid!
—Teri Worten, “Get up, single mom,” Christian-mommies Web Site, Christian-mommies.com. Retrieved August 13, 2004.
Hold up a picture of your family of origin, and ask the children if they can tell that you are a part of that particular family. Ask them to point out some of the family resemblances that link you to your father, mother, brothers or sisters. Then find out if any of them have ever been to a family reunion, and have seen a lot of people who share their own characteristics: hair color, eye color, nose shape, etc. Tell the children that the story of Jesus on the mountaintop is a kind of a family reunion — it is where the disciples saw very clearly that Jesus was the Son of God. Point out that the face of Jesus “shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2), which only happens to people who are very close to God. Let them know that Moses and Elijah came for a visit — two people who were part of God’s family in the Old Testament (v. 3). Stress that God himself said, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” which proved to everybody that Jesus was the one and only Son of God (v. 5). Let the children know that we do not see Jesus like this very often, just as we do not attend family reunions very often. But tell them that this gathering on the mountaintop was very special and important, because it reminds us that Jesus is the Son of God, and that we can all join God’s family by believing in him.