Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9
Good morning. My sermon title was inspired by the movie Field of Dreams. I would guess that most of you saw this movie, but in case you didn’t, or in case you’ve forgotten it, the premise is that a farmer in Iowa, who’s played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice out of nowhere. The voice tells him, “Build it and they will come.” He decides that he has to tear out his corn field and build a baseball field.
Everyone thinks he’s crazy, but Costner builds the field anyhow. The outfield wall is the rest of Costner’s corn field. After the field is built, some long-dead baseball players walk out of the cornstalks and onto the field, and then they play baseball. When they’re done playing, one of the players, Shoeless Joe Jackson, turns to Costner and asks, “Is this heaven?” To which Costner replies, “No, it’s Iowa.”
This morning’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew has the same dreamlike quality as the movie Field of Dreams, except our story is set on a mountain. Peter, James, and John go up a mountain with Jesus. They see Jesus transfigured; they see Moses and Elijah; they want to build three dwelling places so they can remain in the moment. Then they hear the voice of God saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
If you were raised in the church, this is a familiar story. In the liturgical calendar, it marks the end of the season of Epiphany. In fact, it’s the final epiphany—Peter, James, and John, the disciples who are closest to Jesus, now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus is the Son of God. They saw all the healings, they heard all of Jesus’ sermons, but now they know. And they’re scared!
This is a major turning point in the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, and it happens on a mountain. The location is important. In the ancient Near East, and in many other cultures, too, mountains were considered thin places—places where there was less separation between the human and the divine; places that were distant from the noise and distractions of society.
It’s not an accident that Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to meet God and receive the Ten Commandments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus preaches his first sermon on a mountain. In fact, Matthew sets the scene of the Sermon on the Mount so that Jesus appears to be like Moses. So, mountains are important.
The story of the Transfiguration also marks the turning of the season from Epiphany to Lent. And the story of Lent uses the images of mountains as bookends. At the beginning of the transition, we see the image of Jesus transformed into a radiant white, bathed in God’s glory. Then, at the end of Lent, we see the broken Jesus, nailed to a cross, atop a hill called Calvary.
The first image, Jesus transfigured, is how the disciples want to see Jesus; it’s probably how they want to remember him, too. The second image, the suffering Christ is not what any of them, or any of us, want to see. Yet both pictures, both images are true! It’s no wonder the disciples want to remain in that moment of glory and light. They’re afraid of what they’re going to have to do when they come down from the mountain; they’re afraid of telling the story. It’s quite a responsibility. Jesus gives them a short reprieve: they’re not to tell anyone until Jesus dies and is raised from the dead.
I think we’re so much like the disciples. We’re also afraid to tell the story of Jesus and we want to dwell in the parts of the story we like. We want to remain in the glory and the light. We don’t want to come down from the mountain. When we’re up there, beholding Jesus in all his glory, we don’t have to deal with all of the people who find this story confusing or hard to believe. On the mountain, everything seems to make sense.
It seems like nothing makes sense anymore. We live in the era of I-just-can’t-even. You know what I’m talking about, right? Sometimes dealing with other people seems like too much work. The rules are constantly changing. It feels like we’re living in junior high. We want to stay on the mountain.
When I was a kid, I played a lot of video games. Don’t judge! The Atari Video Computer System was released when I was in first grade. By the time I was in fourth grade, every kid in my neighborhood had one. Don’t get me wrong, I also played sports and rode bikes with my friends. My childhood wasn’t all video games, all the time. But, by the time I was in middle school and junior high, my mountaintop was the video arcade at the mall.