"Those Life-Transforming Moments"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 1, 2009

2 Kings 2:1-12-12; Mark 9:2-9

    A number of us have had moments in our lives when what seemed impossible happened.  We remember very recently the heroic pilot who landed his aircraft in the Hudson River in New York and everyone on the aircraft walked away.  None of them thought they would.  Was that episode life-transforming for the survivors?  They will have to wait and see.           

     Some of us may recall the group of firefighters that remained trapped in the last trade tower before it collapsed.  All of them heard and felt the rushing wind indicating that the building was coming down on them.  They crouched in an area in one of the lower floor stairwells as the building collapsed around them.  All of them survived to tell their story to the world on one of those programs like 60-Minutes

     Do such moments help survivors believe that their lives were spared by some unseen force for some reason they may not understand at the moment?  Perhaps some of them were that self-reflective.  Some will believe that it was the skills of the pilot that saved them.  Others will attribute their survival to luck, believing that their time had not yet come.           

     Lois, Steve and I recently had a very unique experience.  We had just arrived at our vacation destination.  The stars were bright in that cloudless Arizona sky.  The place where we stay is a home located at the western base of the Superstition Mountain Range.  We had unloaded our luggage and were standing at the front door.  All of a sudden there was high drama.  The key to the house was still in Bowie because I had failed to pack it.           

     Cell-phones can become the most remarkable creation during such moments.  A call went to the owners of the house who now live in Potomac, Maryland.  They called the cell-phone of the couple that had the spare key; a couple that now lives in Missouri. That couple called us.  They told us that they happened to be in town that week and had just left a Valentine’s Day party in our area.  During that gathering, they gave the key to the couple that had invited friends into their home.  That couple lived five minutes away from where we were standing.  In twenty minutes they arrived and gave us their key.  I do not want to speculate about how many variables had to be perfectly aligned to make that event unfold as it did.           

     While these three events defy explanation and appear miraculous, are they life changing?  In this morning’s lesson, Peter, James and John experienced what was literally out of this world.  Readers of the Gospels cannot find anything that even remotely approaches this event.  Each of them believed that they were seeing apparitions of Elijah and Moses talking to Jesus.  Jesus never confirmed or denied the identity of the spirit beings that had materialized.           

     As if this was not frightening enough, next a cloud descended on them.  Out of that cloud a voice was heard identifying Jesus as God’s chosen.  The voice told the disciples that they would be well advised to listen to him.  Other Gospels indicate that hearing these words caused the three disciples to hurl themselves on the ground and hide their faces in total terror. (Matt. 17:6)           

     Peter blurted out, “Master, what a great moment this is for us.  Let us build three memorials of this event, one for you, Elijah and Moses.”  Curiously, Jesus responded by telling them not to tell anyone about what they had just witnessed.  With all the unparalleled excitement created by that moment, did this experience change the disciples’ lives?  The answer is no!  It did not.           

     How do we know that their lives were not changed?  Even though the disciples had seen Jesus heal people countless times, watched as he confounded the best experts on the laws and traditions of Israel and had been listening to his teachings for three years – none of those experiences made them poster children that had mastered Jesus’ many timeless lessons.           

     There are numerous examples that suggest that they had not internalized much of what the Master taught. During their last supper together, the disciples began to argue with each other about who among them was the greatest disciple.  (Luke 22:24f)   There was the time when Jesus said to Peter, “When the rooster crows tonight, you will have already told people three times that you do not know me.” (Luke 22:34)  We have the incident where Peter came to the garden to pray-not only carrying a weapon he also used it. (John 18:10)   Finally, we find his faithful friends and disciples fleeing for their lives after Jesus was arrested. (Luke 14:50)           

     There may have come a time in our lives when we thought, “If only I knew for sure that what I believe is real and true.  I wish God’s presence would become so real to me personally that I would never doubt my faith again regardless of what I am experiencing.”

     Here is the point of my message this morning – no matter how remarkable any experience is of God’s presence, it will not make us immune to our fears, to our use of poor judgment or to making hasty responses to life’s challenges. Even after the burning bush experience, Moses was not convinced that God could empower him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  (Exodus 3:11)           

     When we read all three Gospel accounts of our lesson for today, we notice that among the four people that experienced this event, only Jesus remained unfazed by what happened.  Why was that?  Only he had found the pearl of great price.  Only he had discovered the treasure in the field.  Only Jesus knew for certain the power of the Kingdom that is available to all of us.  All Jesus could do during his ministry was point to what he had found.  He had to trust God that those who listened to him would eventually understand and follow. 

     What Jesus knew with complete certainty is there for all of us regardless of what we think, believe or do.  However, we have to have enough understanding to trust the supportive presence of what we cannot see.  Even with all their failures, Jesus told his disciples that the time would come when he would be with them in paradise just as he had told the thief that hung next to him on a cross. (Matt. 26:29)  

     As we enter Lent, never forget what Jesus promised.  No matter what we are experiencing, he promised to remain with us, to be our cheerleader and our advocate until the end of time.  (Matt. 28:20)  He came here to make visible God’s love for each of us.  If you want to live a life that exudes confidence in God’s love, make this understanding the cornerstone of your faith.


     Loving, generous and always present God, we often come together for worship unaware of what to expect.  It is a challenge to let go of the distracting influences that pass through our minds and emotions.  Too often we underestimate the power and the role of fear in our lives.  We may even suggest to ourselves that our worship experience lacks relevancy for the numerous days when our lives are filled with over-stimulation.  We long for experiences that transform how we interpret life’s events.  Help us to remember that without physical death we would not experience the joy of being spirit beings.  Without experiencing people who are unkind to us, we would not have the opportunity to forgive.  Without hardships and challenges, we would become like fair-weather sea captains.  Cause us to remember that the more we trust in your guidance, the more surprises we will experience.  Amen.


     O God, there is so much about life that we have come to celebrate this morning.  We look eagerly for the winds of inspiration that give flight to our spirits and for the stream of divine energy that no one can see that surrounds us and inspires our confidence that all of life’s complications will eventually work out.

     We thank you for faith that enables us to take risks that have the ability to broaden our horizons.  Thank you for the course corrections that call us away from the places where we know we should not be.  Help us to remember that in spite of how challenging life appears sometimes, we are never without choices that are inspired by your presence.  Work with us, O God, so that the potential that dwells within us might continue its evolution of body, mind and spirit.

     As each of us feels loved and nurtured by you and one another, may we never grow weary of being the greatest sales force on the face of the earth for what the indwelling of your spirit within us looks like.  Bless us today with the desire to become reflective about the quality of our lives as we continue our journey into Lent.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples how to pray each time they say . . .