Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Liminal space seems like prime territory for holy transformations.
Disorientation, an unfamiliar location, limited vision and perhaps even fatigue from the climb up that mountain all break down our normal perceptions and obliviousness enough to open us to the voice of God and the instructions that come with it. Moses is enveloped in the cloud, away from his routine and community for 40 days and nights. Peter, James and John are led up that high mountain by themselves, the writer of Matthew tells us. Mark adds the adjective “apart” as if to emphasize the isolation and out-of-the-ordinariness of this hike. Something big, other worldly, pivotal is about to happen and in order to perceive it, even partially, ordinary human beings need to be jolted out of their comfort and, in Luke’s account, remain awake.
Where is Jesus leading us, apart and away from our normal places and tasks, in order that we might see his transfigured, divine identity and listen to him? Maybe it is not a physical climb up an actual mountain, but perhaps a metaphorical clearing of mental space where we could be intentionally open to the Word of the Lord to us. What liminal, uncomfortable, unfamiliar territory are we being called to traverse in order to hear the voice of God, recognize the presence of the Son of Man and reorient our lives to better reflect God’s instructions from the law and the prophets and the Messiah?
The irony of our current cultural climate is that it would not take much movement to make us extraordinarily uncomfortable. The highest mountain we may have to climb is the mountain of fear, anger and distrust in our midst. I confess that there are times I turn off the radio rather than listen to the voice of someone on the other side of the political divide from me. My visceral reaction is that strong. I recognize the ridiculousness of this response and yet cannot overcome it. Additionally, my inability to stomach the discomfort of being called out for my privilege or blind spots prevents me from listening to Jesus Christ, too. I all but put my fingers in my ears and yell, “But I am a good person!” I am like an ideological Goldilocks; I don’t want to be challenged on either side of my “just right” comfort zone. Further, I want to be with people who affirm my assessments of what “just right” is. We reside in like-minded enclaves on the hillside rather than follow Jesus together up that mountain in order to upend our assumptions and hear the voice of God.
What if we disciples of Jesus, in small groups, went where Jesus told us to go, apart, by ourselves, and remained awake enough, open enough, alert enough, uncomfortable enough, to be overwhelmed with the power of God, laid bare by God’s word, rightly terrified by God’s glory in the face of our failings and misunderstandings about who Jesus is and who God is and who others are and who we are? Could our assumptions be transfigured right along with Jesus? Our impulses to fix and build and take charge and remain unchanged be corrected by Christ? Our understanding of the world and the law and the prophets and Jesus be exploded and reconfigured?
If we don’t find ourselves flattened by the glory and presence and power and voice of the Most High God from time to time, perhaps we need to look around and see if we are following Jesus up the mountain or if instead we are hunkered down in the valleys of our own contentment. And while Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light, his call is not to comfort, but rather to redemption and reconciliation by way of the cross.
I believe Jesus is calling us to follow him up the treacherous mountains that divide us and keep us from following God’s will and listening to God’s beloved Son. These mountains have different terrain in different places. For some congregations the mountain to be climbed in order to be enveloped in the cloud of God’s costly grace may be right in the sanctuary or around the session table. For others of us, the mountain to be hiked is in our neighborhoods where only a few can afford decent housing and not every child has access to a good education. For all of us, there is a daunting climb that must be made if we are ever going to hear and heed Jesus’ commandment to love one another, to pray for our enemies, to forgive as we have been forgiven. The temptation to remain where we are or to hunker down apart when we reach the summit is almost irresistibly strong. Liminal space is unsettling. The voice of God is frightening. Witnessing transfiguration and submitting to the transformation of us it requires would be paralyzing if it weren’t for the touch and assurance and presence of Jesus Christ — not only on top of the mountain, but all along the way and even through the valley of the shadow of death.
No matter the mountain, its terrain, scope, height or hazards, Jesus is our guide. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, with whom God is well pleased, will instruct us and never abandon us. We have been given not only the gift of the law and the prophets for our instruction, but the Word made flesh, the Messiah, the One who not only tells us what God wants for creation, but shows us and makes it possible.
Do not be afraid. Follow Jesus up whatever mountain he leads you to climb. Know the challenge and discomfort will be disorienting and confusing, but that soon you will be surrounded by the presence of God. Allow the power of God to knock you off your feet so that Jesus can help you up again. Listen to him and then head back down in order to share with others the upending glory, goodness and belovedness you not only witnessed, but experience every single day.
- Have you ever been overwhelmed by God’s presence? Heard God’s voice? What happened and what did you do as a result?
- What are the mountains that Jesus may be leading you to climb in order to better hear God’s instructions?
- Compare the accounts of the Transfiguration in Luke and Mark with Matthew’s account. What similarities and difference do you notice? What do you think is the significance of the differences?
- Why do you think Peter wants to build booths on the mountain and why do you think Jesus tells him not to do so? How are we distracted from the present moment rather than engaged in what is happening?
- How do we practice listening to Jesus? How do we know we have heard Jesus rightly?
- When have you gone somewhere apart with other disciples to seek to draw closer to God? Why is leaving our ordinary places and spaces helpful in discerning God’s word and will?
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