Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Now that I am 65, and still not contemplating retirement, I have discovered that there are advantages and disadvantages to getting older. Getting older is when everything hurts, and what ever doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work.  Well, that’s not quite true for me.  I know that two Advil in the morning can take care of my pains for the day.  Getting older is when the gleam in your eyes is from the sun hitting your bifocals.  I am still seeing fine, as long as the room lights are turned up bright.  And getting older is when your children begin to look middle aged.  Mine are only in their 30’s, so I am feeling as young as I can -even if my barber offered me a senior citizen’s discount, on Thursday only, and the waitresses at Perkins keep inviting me to look at the 55 plus senior menu. Of course, there is one advantage to age.  You can look back at the past objectively and honestly, knowing that it has led you to the present.

The Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  So, along life’s way, we need to stop at the vantage points to see where we have been, and where we are going. And regardless of your age, at those vantage points, you have to ask yourself does God expect something more from you and your life?  That is what I would like us to explore this Transfiguration Sunday.

According to Christian tradition, Jesus’ transfiguration took place at Mount Tabor. It is a unique mountain located 11 miles west of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and is completely detached from the surrounding mountain ranges. The mountain itself, which looks like a half sphere, is shaped almost like a child has drawn it with a compass. Rising abruptly from a relatively flat plain and reaching a height of 1,886 feet, it dominates the horizon from almost any direction. Its location and height gave Jesus and disciples standing atop Mount Tabor a strategic vantage point for looking back on where they had been and forward to where they were going.

Regardless of their age, many people today assume that the mountaintop is their destination.  The certainly disciples certainly thought so. That is what their eyes were trained to see.  That is not what insight and scripture, however, should tell you. Yes, looking down from the mountaintop, you may be exhilarated and refreshed, but do not be mistaken. The story of Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that mountaintops are not the goal nor destination of a faithful life. Mountaintop experiences are meant to make you into something for the next stage of your journey which may be much more demanding, challenging and perhaps painful.

As he stood atop that lonely mountaintop with his three disciples, Peter, James and John, he could have turned his back on the world.  Indeed, he could have gone on alone and ascended into heaven. But that’s not how the story unfolds. Jesus’ mountaintop experience was more than a mountain top experience. It was a turning point for him and his disciples. From that time on, Jesus’ identity would be unquestionable and his march to his death unstoppable.  From the mountain of his glory, and its unparalleled vistas, he would descend back into the struggles of the valley.  But before he descended, he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white.  The ancient prophets Moses and Elijah stood on either side speaking with Jesus. Not knowing what to say, Peter said, “It is good to be here. Let us build three dwellings. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Suddenly, a cloud overshadowed them, and the three disciples were terrified, and from the cloud came a voice, “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him!” And when the disciples looked around the saw no with them any more, but only Jesus.”

What did Peter, James and John learn from that experience? That is after all the reason that the story occurs every year.  It is not to remind you and me that were all getting older and that another Lent is upon us.  35 sermons on the transfiguration has taught me that much. Nor is it to remind you that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

No, my friends, I believe that the real message of this story is that God is offering you a glimpse of the bigger picture of life in order to prepare you to go back into the valleys.  For that is where his heart is. We were not created to remain on the mountain tops; where the air is pure and the view is stunning.  In the most difficult times of life, you may wish that Jesus would take you away to a high mountain to be by yourselves, apart from your pains and sorrows.  Yes, it would be so good to be there, and just look down upon life’s trials and tribulations.  But God won’t let you stay there.  He has created you for the valleys. And he wants you to learn to see from the mountaintops vistas how to survive and thrive in the valleys by listening to Jesus.

In the liturgies of many Protestant and Reformed churches, there is a prayer read before the reading of scripture, often by the whole congregation called the Prayer of Illumination. It is a prayer that calls for the Holy Spirit to help the faithful listen to Jesus. Our dear friends Debby and Remi Pizarro recite this prayer every Sunday in Arizona as they prepare to hear God’s Word.   “Spirit of God, speak once again through Words of Scripture that our listening ears may hear Your voice. Help us to place Your Word in our minds, treasure it in our hearts, choose it with our wills, and live it through our bodies.”

The beauty of the Transfiguration is that God is a offering us all a glimpse of the bigger to picture to teach us and all his disciples that he has a much grander plan than any one person can possibly carry out or do alone. Peter would remember that moment on Mount Tabor the rest of his life, and it would sustain him in his most difficult hours.  Biblical scholar and Anglican Bishop, NT Wright underscored this in his own writing on the transfiguration. “Each of us is called to do what the heavenly voice said: Listen to Jesus, because he is God’s beloved son.  And as we learn to listen, even if sometimes we get scared and say all the wrong things, we may find that glory creeps up on us unawares, strengthening us, as it did the disciples, for the road ahead.”

When our sons Vitali and Alexei were young, and they were fast asleep, I would stare at them in their beds knowing that I was at that moment a perfect father.  Of course, that’s not how it felt during the day. But when I allowed myself the time upon my mountain top at night to reflect on God’s grander scheme and larger picture and where we had been, I knew that I could begin again the next day.  I was reminded by God’s gentle prodding to listen to Jesus for it was during the waking hours that they needed me.  It was there in the valley that I could make all the difference.  Even now as am growing even older, and so are they, I know that do not need me on the mountain top, they need me in the deep valleys of life.

That is true for your friends and family as well.  They don’t need you on a pillar or a mountain top, they need you to walk with them in the valleys.   It may be messy business.  But the story of God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ isn’t about his perfect pilgrimage on earth.  It is the story of Jesus coming down, descending all the way down into our brokenness, fear, disappointment, loss and the tragedy of death on the cross. Poignantly and joyfully, but it doesn’t end there.  Christ  through his resurrection, offers us the hope they he will lift you and all those who you love from the bleakest valley.  That is the good news you are invited to share to transform the lives of those you love.

My friends, at 65 I may be growing older, but I am also growing more confident. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  With the assurance of Jesus, the Son of God, you can see God’s bigger picture and trust he will be walk beside you through life’s darkest valleys.  Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.