Sermon: Encountering Jesus
Encountering Jesus
February 23, 2020

For Transfiguration Sunday, I was inspired to offer this evocative Gospel passage as a guided meditation with a short sermon to follow  May these words help you encounter Jesus within.

Guided Meditation for Transfiguration Sunday based on Matthew 17. 1-9

Our scripture passage for this morning, comes from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 17, verses 1-9, The Transfiguration of Jesus.  St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, discovered that using the imagination in guided meditation can be a fruitful way to connect with God. 

By placing ourselves within a Gospel narrative, our consciousness can be open to encountering Jesus in a way that reaches deep within us. In a guided meditation our awareness shifts from the head to the heart. To enable you to place yourself at the scene of the Transfiguration, our Gospel reading this morning will be offered as a guided meditation in the Ignatian tradition.

You are invited  to close your eyes or lower your gaze; to breathe slowly and easily, to watch your breath as it rises and falls, to draw your attention and awareness  into your heart, allowing your heart to gently open; to feel the peace and safety that resides there. Continuing to breathe slowly and easily…

Imagine it is a beautiful afternoon.  You are by a serene body of water, sitting down to rest. You feel the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze, when you see someone approaching you.  Much to your surprise, it is Jesus. In his presence, you feel at ease and open. Jesus invites you to take a walk with him later in the day with a few of his good friends,  Peter, James and his brother John. He wants to show you the view from the top of a nearby mountain. You recognize that this is a rare opportunity, so you say “Yes.” 

The time arrives to make the hike up the mountain.  It is a gorgeous day: clear, blue skies; bright, shining sun; an ideal temperature.  It feels so good to be outside. You meet Jesus at the base of the mountain. After greeting Peter, James, and John, you follow Jesus as he carefully leads you up the mountain, step by step. You feel happy and at peace to be with him and his friends on this wonderful day ascending the mountain.

As you continue to climb, muscles you don’t normally use are making their presence known.  You are breaking out in a sweat. You are becoming more and more excited to see the amazing view.  Reaching the summit, a feeling of exhilaration overtakes you. Looking around, you can see for miles. You are in awe of God’s beautiful creation.  At this moment, you feel the joy of being alive.

Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Jesus.  His face is shining like the sun, 
and his clothes are dazzling white. You have never seen anything like this before.  
Jesus appears transfigured! Transformed!!  You are awestruck.
Before you know it, you see Moses and Elijah talking with him.  You can’t believe it! What is happening? This is amazing! Then Peter says 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.”  Peter seems to want to stay for awhile to enjoy this incredible experience. As do you.

While Peter is still speaking, suddenly the brightest cloud you have ever seen 
overshadows all of you, and from the cloud you hear a voice say 
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Pause)

You, Peter, James, and John all fall to the ground.  Something extraordinary is happening. 

Dwelling deeply in this moment, you let the message resound within…
“This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”

For the next minute allow yourself to simply  be in the presence of the radiant Jesus, listening for any message he may have for you in the silence. If you wish, allow a word or a phrase from his message to become a mantra: “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Pause)

Now only Jesus stands before you. He looks at you with love, touches you, then asks: 
What is it like for you to be present with me? What do you hear me saying to you?

Smiling at you, Jesus says, “Just as I am beloved of God; You, too, are beloved of God. 
You are beloved of God.”

It is time to go back down the mountain, to return to your daily life with a deeper knowledge of who Jesus is and who you are.  Jesus reassures you that whatever happens next will be in God’s hands, no matter how difficult the circumstances. 

As you come down the mountain, Jesus orders you and his friends, 
“Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
You will hold the mountaintop vision in your heart.

You have reached the bottom of the mountain and have finished this encounter with Jesus.  You thank him for the extraordinary experience you shared together and say goodbye. You will treasure this time with Jesus and his friends.  When you return to the valley, you can draw strength from what happened with Jesus on the mountain whenever you need to in the days ahead. When you are ready, please open your eyes. 

Sermon: Encountering Jesus

This week I’ve been thinking alot about what we as people of faith, as people who are on a spiritual journey, have to draw on when we get news we don’t want to hear or something so awful happens that we are emotionally decimated.  When we feel afraid or uncertain about the future, what can give us strength, confidence and courage?

In the Gospel of Matthew, the story of the Transfiguration is set between two critical moments for Jesus and his followers, moments when he is giving them news they do not want to hear or accept. 

Six days before Jesus and his friends walk up the mountain, he has told them that he must go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering and be killed.  Then he adds something that must have been very confusing, saying that on the third day he will be raised. He also tells them “If any want to become my followers, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me.” 

Not exactly a cheery message or one his disciples wanted to hear. 

Shortly after coming down the mountain, Jesus reiterates the bad news:  “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him” and he repeats again, “and on the third day he will be raised.” The Gospel writer adds “And they were greatly distressed.”

Though it should not come as a surprise to mature adults that suffering and death are inevitable parts of life, it often does – especially when it happens to us or those we love. 

When faced with the news you don’t want to hear or the experience you don’t want to have, what can you draw on for spiritual strength? When your world is rocked, what can help you move through the experience with grace?

The Transfiguration of Jesus is nothing short of an epiphany for his closest disciples and for us; It is a window into the truth of who Jesus is and the truth of who we are, beloved of God. 

And the epiphanies we have, those powerful times when we see or experience God speaking directly to us or being fully present with us can serve as spiritual lifelines, as inspiration to draw on when we are faced with something we don’t want to hear or are trying to navigate the turbulent waters that come in every life. 

By recalling those times when we have felt closest to God, we may be able to traverse the challenging times with greater confidence in who we really are, God’s beloved. It doesn’t mean we still won’t feel worried, angry, or distressed.  It’s only natural that we have these feelings. We are wired to be distressed by bad news. But our distressed thoughts and feelings don’t have to be the whole story. By remembering our connection to God, we can allow ourselves to feel all of our emotions, trusting that God holds us as we do so.  Over time, as our emotions are given the space they need, our perspective can begin to shift and we can begin to get a sense of God’s presence with us.

Frequently as a Hospice chaplain, I listened as people who were given the worst news of their lives – that they were dying – expressed their fears. I discovered that people’s fears varied widely.  Some people fear what the dying process will be like; others fear what the afterlife might be like; and still others fear how loved ones will cope after they are gone. Some people fear all of these things. And these are just a few of the numerous real fears people have.  

More often than not, simply giving people permission and a safe place to express their fears enables them to begin working through them. In some cases, though, what is additionally helpful is to look back over a person’s life to those moments when God felt especially close  in mountain top experiences of awe and wonder and in valley experiences of heart-break and tragedy. Often this can renew a person’s trust in God. Remembering how God has helped you get through tough times in the past, can sometimes inspire confidence in God’s help in the present. 

In our fast paced world, there is a temptation to experience an epiphany and move on to the next thing – without allowing its meaning to be rooted deeply within us.  Our challenge is to find a way to slow down enough, to treasure our epiphanies, to allow them to really become a part of us, so that when challenges inevitably come our way we are less likely to doubt ourselves or God.  We need to be people who reflect on our experience. We can do this in a variety of ways – through journaling or conversations with a spiritual director or spiritual companions, by creating a meaningful piece of artwork, or even writing a Facebook post. Giving ourselves space and time to reflect on God’s presence in our lives can help build our spiritual muscles.

The experience we had in the guided meditation is just one way for you to go to the mountain top with Jesus.  Where are those sacred places that you feel closest to God? When is the last time you visited? What are ways you have of being with Jesus on the mountain through daily spiritual practice so that you will have courage and vitality to follow him into the valley? 

As Lent approaches and we soon begin our walk with Jesus into the wilderness, may you remember deep within what it is like to be with him on the mountaintop and may you make a point to go to those places you feel closest to God, to see God’s radiance and know yourself as beloved. Amen. 

Benediction 

Wherever you go in the week ahead,
Remember, you are beloved of God.
Walk with the One whose light will guide you
And whose love will always be with you,
Jesus, who shows us the way.  Amen.