MATTHEW 17:1-8

APRIL 26, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard C. Meyer

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            The former Chaplain of the United States Senate, Lloyd John Ogilvie, wrote a book some years ago titled, Falling into Greatness. In it he tells about a long-time friend who called him one day. I cant talk about it over the phone, he said, but I need to see you. Ive fallen into a terrible thing which I cant seem to shake.

            They set a time to go to lunch. Ogilvie wondered into what terrible thing his friend had fallen. The man had once been a staunch Christian, but had drifted away from the church and from the fellowship of other Christians.

            When they sat down for lunch the friend blurted out, Lloyd, Ive become a cynic! Ive become a negative, critical, sarcastic man.

            Ogilvie said,My friend had been jarred by the reality of the kind of person he had become because of an ultimatum his wife had given him. She was not willing to spend the rest of her life with a man who had come to be down on life, people, and even God. Several friends had confronted him about his attitude. Three people had resigned from his company because they said they could not work in the negative atmosphere his attitudes had created. The mans world was falling apart.[2]

            Today we continue our five-week Spring Cleaning sermon series.  Last week we looked at cleaning up our thought life.  Today we turn our attention to polishing our attitude.

            Hows our attitude? Are generally optimistic or pessimistic?  Are we generally cheerful or dour?  Are we generally grumpy or upbeat. Are we generally positive or negative?

            If your attitude is great, then feel free to take out your Kindle or iPad or smart phone and use the next fifteen minutes to catch up with your reading or get to the next level of Angry Birds or Candy Crush. The rest of us, however, will go on a hike with Jesus and his closest three disciples.  Lets get going.  Take out your bibles and turn with me to Matthew 17:1 on page 798 of our pew bible


            Six days later


            By the way, six days were considered the number of days necessary to prepare for a holy event in Israel.  Creation had been prepared in six days.  Moses waited six days on Sinai for the glory of the Lord, and now after a six day period something special is about to happen.


            Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a mountain, by themselves. 


            Note the verbs.  Jesus took and Jesus led them up a mountain by themselves.  In other words, Jesus initiated the hike.  He chose these three to go with him up the mountain.  Just these three.  It may seem elitist to single out only three of the disciples for special treatment, but most of us who work with people know the value of working with a smaller group from time to time. It helps to strengthen the larger group.

            The legendary Sunday School teacher Henrietta Mears, met each Saturday morning in her home for prayer with the officers of the college department at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.  Not the entire college department, but the officers from the college department.  One of the officers would later say, I think these prayer meetings were as important to Dr. Mears fruitful thirty-five year ministry in Hollywood as was her blazingly christocentric teaching of the Scriptures.

            Lets move on.  Verse 2, and I better pick up the pace!


            And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.    


            Im surprised Tide or All or Gain or one of the other laundry detergent companies havent used this event in their advertising.  Instead of something being as white as snow they could advertise clothes becoming as dazzling at Jesus Transfiguration garments. And from a theological standpoint, this is the only time in Jesus earthly ministry, including his resurrection appearances, that his deity is made gloriously clear to his followers.


            Suddenly there appeared to him Moses and Elijah, talking with him.


            Moses the law giver and Elijah the great prophet.  So here we have the Hebrew Scriptures personified, the law and the prophets. 


            Then Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.


            Note how Peter, who often puts his foot in his mouth, wants so badly to say the right thing here. He asks for permission.  If you wish.  He also is careful to put Jesus first.  I will build one for you, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.  Of course, Peters desire to build something borders on the eccentric.  What are Jesus, Moses and Elijah going to do in these booths?


            While he was still speaking,


            This is one of the funniest moments in the gospels.  While he was still speaking with an emphasis on still.  The gospel writers knew that Peter was a talker, and God cuts him off.  God has to interrupt him to get a word or two into the conversation!


            While he was still speaking suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from a cloud a voice said, This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him! When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground, and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, Get up and do not be afraid. And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.


            William Stidger, Americas first evangelist who became a media star, told of a 90-year-old woman named Mrs. Sampson. Mrs. Sampson was frail, feeble, even sickly, but Stidger said that when he was discouraged he always went to visit Mrs. Sampson. She had a radiant spirit that was contagious.

            One day he asked this 90-year-old woman, What is the secret of your power? What keeps you happy, contented and cheerful through your sickness?

            She answered with a line from a poem, I had an hour of glory on a windswept hill.

            I suspect thats what happened Peter, James and John had on the Mount of Transfiguration. They experienced an hour of glory on a windswept hill. Sometimes we refer to special events in our life as a mountaintop experience. Many of us have had such experiences, a time when God seemed very close. It may have been on an actual mountain. It may have been by a seaside. It may even have happened in a worship service.

            Peter wanted to build three shelters and stay on that mountain. Who wouldnt? It couldnt get any better than this. Let me tell you, every year when Trudy and I go to Hawaii and we are going again next month I dont want to come back. I want to stay there.  Of course, our money would run out rather quickly if we stayed there, but its tempting, and unfortunately some of us want to say right where we are even though its nothing like Hawaii or that mountaintop.  In fact, its a terrible place to be, but for some reason we dont want to leave it.

            Some of us are like Lucy in an old Peanuts comic strip. Lucy announces, Boy, do I feel crabby.

            Linus tries to help her feel better. He fixes her a sandwich. As he gives her the sandwich, he asks, Now, is there anything else I can get you? Is there anything I havent thought of?

            Lucy replies, Yes, theres one thing that you havent thought of. I dont wanna feel better!

            Do we know anyone like that? They have a miserable attitude and that is just the way they like it!

            A number of ago, a woman named Linda was vacationing with a friend in Canada. Linda was not having a good time. She struggled with the language barrier in Quebec, she couldnt make sense of the money, the weather was cold, and she felt out of place. Lindas friend, noticing her discomfort, suggested she look to their travel guide for advice. On one page of the travel guide, Lindas friend had underlined these words, When you travel, expect things to be different. And if things are not to your liking - change your liking!

            Since that vacation many years ago, Linda has found those words to be a helpful guide in many situations. Any time she needs an attitude adjustment, she reminds herself of that phrase, If things are not to your liking - change your liking!

            Before we wrap up this morning, let me offer some steps we might take in changing our liking, in changing our attitude.  First, identify what we need to change. For me, I usually test this with my wife. I have a place where I need an adjustment.  First, I need to be more positive and optimistic.  Trudy, my wife, is an optimist.  She just believes things will turn out OK, and she is very surprised if they dont.  Me, Im believe most things will go south, and when they dont Im surprised.  Sometimes my doom and gloom outlook gets under her skin.

            Second, picture what a change in attitude will bring to our life.  John Mitchell, and English clergy person, put it this way.  He said, Our attitude toward life determines lifes attitude toward us. We need to picture what a change in attitude could bring to our lives. Will changing our attitude mean a happier family or social life? Will a change in our attitude mean a more successful career or business?

            Third, we need to find a role model. We all need to know that what were trying to accomplish can in fact be achieved. We need to find someone who has the kind of attitude that we want to have, and let his or her life give us inspiration and encouragement towards becoming a better person.

            Then fourth, and finally, let go of fear. Joe Garagiola was a former major league catcher and a TV personality and a great story-teller, and Garagiola told a story about Baseball Hall of Famer, Stan Musial. Musial came to the plate in a critical game. The opposing pitcher in the game was young and nervous. Garagiola was catching, and he called for a fastball to be pitched to Musial. The pitcher shook his head. He didnt want to throw that pitch. Joe signaled for a curve, and again the pitcher shook him off. Then he signaled for a change-up. Still the pitcher hesitated.

            Garagiola went out to the mound to talk to his young pitcher. He said, Ive called every pitch in the book; what do you want to throw?

            Nothing, was the pitchers reply. I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can.

            Well, who can blame him? Musial was a legendary hitter. And thats the way many of us are living. Holding on as long as we can to attitudes that no longer serve us well. Why? Because were afraid to let go, to try something new. Listen. Jesus is here today and he is saying to us, what he was saying to Peter, James and John on that mountaintop, Stand up.  Get going. Dont be afraid.

            Lets listen to his voice. This day can be the beginning of a new adventure.  Amen.

[1] Adapted from a sermon by King Duncan titled A New Attitude.

[2] Lloyd John Ogilvie, Falling into Greatness (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), pp. 15-16.