"Recognizing A Close Encounter"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - February 3, 2008

Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9

     This morning our Gospel lesson deals with the well-known story that unfolded when Jesus and his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James and John, were on a mountaintop.   Presumably the four were taking a break from their ministry.  Not long after they completed their climb, a series of paranormal events took place. 

     First, the three disciples noticed that Jesus began to change in his appearance.  His face became bright.  His clothes radiated with light.  The disciples then saw what appeared to be the images of Moses and Elijah.  Jesus and the two visitors began conversing.  When their encounter ended, Peter was the first to speak after the two apparitions disappeared.  He wanted to build three shelters for them.   

     While Jesus was telling Peter that there was no need to build anything, a second experience occurred.  A shimmering cloud descended on them and they heard a voice that exclaimed, “This is my son.  Listen to him.”  Immediately, the disciples were terrified and threw themselves face down on the ground.  In reassuring tones Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. Get up!”   

     Whatever this experience represented to the disciples, Jesus remained in control of his responses.  There was nothing about this experience that startled him. The disciples also appeared to be fine as long as the two apparitions assumed a form they thought they recognized.  However, when something occurred that was beyond their understanding, they were overwhelmed by fear.   

     When we withdraw from the pace of life in order to seek God’s guidance, what do we honestly expect to happen?   Do we want God to remove what is troubling us?   Do we want God to answer all the problems on our test, something we may have prayed for during our week of final exams?  How would we react, if the form of God's response came as it did to the disciples, “This is my son.  Pay attention to him.”?  God's intention was not to frighten the three disciples, but such a direct response was nevertheless very terrifying.  God was giving guidance B “Pay attention to my son!”  

     Guidance often comes in the form of the unexpected, the unanticipated, or the farthest thing we might imagine. Just as it happened to the disciples, life's experiences can be frightening. That sudden pink slip at the office, for example, when we believed our job performance had been exemplary, the wife or husband that is killed in a car accident or our discovery that we have cancer.  The uncertainty accompanying any of these life-changing events alters all our priorities.  Everything that used to dominate or distract our thinking is quickly pushed to the margins. 

     The sequence of events on that mountain is interesting.  God said, “This is my son, listen to him.”  After the disciples heard those words coming from the cloud and dove to the ground as though seeking cover -- Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.  Get up!”    

It was my sophomore year at college when my roommate received a telephone call from his high school girlfriend.  She had met another guy and to her credit, rather than send him a Dear John letter, she wanted to tell Bob herself.  All three of us had attended Bladensburg High School together so I knew them both very well.  Bob was devastated.  

     Did God have other plans for Bob?   Was this a form of divine intervention that Bob's pain would not allow him to recognize?   Jesus never taught that God micro manages human life.  These events simply happen in life.  Yet frequently when we look back on our lives and we see how neatly every phase fits together, we can easily assume that a master architect was at work.  Yet, suppose we draw such conclusions because of the meaning we assigned to each event.  God wired us to create our lives from how we choose to perceive. 

     God provides guidance but not the kind that we associate with our making correct choices. God knows that life has a way of working out when we stop clinging to our hope that nothing will ever change.  God’s words to the disciples were, “This is my son.  Pay attention to what he teaches.”  Then the first words they heard from Jesus were:   “Do not be afraid.  Get up!” 

     The weeks that followed were dark times for Bob.  We did a lot of talking.  He vented his hurt and anger, but he did not stop living because of this painful episode.  He did not invest his every waking moment in nursing his sense of betrayal.  After a period of mourning, he let go of his memory of her and moved on.    

     Today, Bob is the CEO of a major foundation.  He married a college classmate of ours who was and is a remarkably loving woman.  Bob even has access to Bill and Melinda Gates who sent him a check for nine million dollars last year for the foundation.   

     When we experience circumstances that create enormous uncertainty, the secure ground all around us is broken into pieces.  Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid.  Get up!”  When we do, life goes on even though it may track in a direction other than the one we initially chose.      

     Remember, God who created the lotus flower to grow out of the mud of the Nile River has equally equipped us to grow through the mud of any experience.   No experience is a show-stopper.  The only aspect of life that can end our drama is when we leave the stage at death.  Even then life does not stop; we merely transition from one form into another. 

     What comes up for us during every emotionally disturbing chapter of our lives can be an invitation to hear again Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid. Get up!”  God would not have allowed us to incarnate into these limited forms without also giving us a bundle of assets to bring to every experience.  The more we trust Jesus words, the more we will realize that life is an adventure rather than a chore. 

     Life is a wondrous, mysterious unfolding of our potential, not a series of experiences that were designed to frighten us.  If we listen to that “still, small voice” we just might hear God saying,  “I knew you had it within you to soar to great heights even when the winds appeared severe.  After all, I designed you.” 

     We need to recognize that what comes up for us just may be our close encounter with God.  We need to trust Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid.  Get up!”  We cannot establish our life's curriculum, but we can face what comes up for us with confidence that God has equipped us with everything we need to understand that we are angels in the flesh.   Perhaps all we need to do is access those assets while trusting that God will take care of the details that right now we cannot see.  Our trust is always rewarded when we do. 


     We thank you, God, for creating us with the potential to leave our world a better place because we have lived.  Yet we wonder that if you visited us, would you conform to the image we have of you?  Would you be a whispering voice or an eye-opening miraculous healing?We do not know.  You might come as one who angers us so we would develop patience.  You might come in a form of temptation, so by resisting our character might expand.  You might come in the form of an unanswered prayer, a need from a friend or a spouse who is testing our resolve to stay married.  Enable us to discern that every aspect of life has the ability to give us gifts that enable our spirits to mature.  Help us to recognize you with our spirits and not our neediness, emotions or intellect.  Amen.


     With humble and grateful hearts, O God, we have come into our church to celebrate life's adventure and for the remarkable role that you play within each of us.  We have learned that we can extend our love through a vast number of venues -- a paintbrush and canvass, our choice of words, our smiles, our healing touch, our patient listening skills, our confidence in and support of each other and our willingness to take risks.

     Thank you for our confidence to step into the rapid waters of life, knowing that we no longer need to fear the sounds of all that rushes by us or the pull of the currents. Thank you for teaching us how to release to you the outcome of our pending surgical procedure, business decision, or of life's seemingly endless chain of uncertainties.  When our fear is gone, what a great ride the experience of life is!

     Help us to move beyond the thoughts of what should be so we can think of how best to serve, how best to make a difference and how best to redefine our discipleship so that our lives represent your presence and not some image of what righteousness looks like.

     As we approach a very early Lenten season, inspire us to play big, to wear more smiles, to experience more laughter and to spread more joy, as we breathe new life into all our relationships. We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to say when we prayed . . .