Transfiguration Sunday February 26-27, 2022
“Great Experiences With God” Luke 9:28-36
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I know folks who have had the most amazing experiences with God. He did stuff for them that would raise the hair on your forearms, or cause you to hyperventilate, or get the pupils of your eyes to dilate. Have you ever had such an experience?
One guy that told me of such an experience with God was one of my members – John. John told me of an experience when he was watching himself being operated on. You know “out of body experience” stuff. He watched from a great distance. He heard the medical team fear that he was dying. From way above the operating room, almost into heaven, I suppose, he was walking toward a bright light. He told me of the peace that he had and the serenity of the situation. He had no fear. He wasn’t scared. But then the doctors were able to rescue John and the next thing he knew he was waking up in a hospital room. Bummer.
John told me this when I met with him when he was going to face another operation. God had given him an experience that gave him confidence that when he died, and didn’t come back, that all was going to be fine.
Some folks have the most amazing experiences with God. Maybe you have one. John, before telling me about this experience, almost apologized saying, “Pastor, you’re going to think that I’m crazy.” When another gentleman, Paul, told me a similar account of seeing the gates into heaven, he began with the words, “Pastor, you’re not going to believe this…” But I did. God does that for some people.
This is called “Transfiguration Sunday”, the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the season we call Lent. We could begin the telling of this account with the words, “You’re not going to believe this…” “You’re going to think I’m crazy…” But here goes – Jesus had taken Peter, James and John, three of His disciples to a mountain for a time of prayer. As Jesus was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. Peter, James and John awoke and saw the glory of Jesus and the two men standing with him. Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them and a voice came from that cloud. It said, He said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to him.” And then in an instant, Moses and Elijah were gone, the cloud disappeared and the only one they saw was Jesus. (See Luke 9:28-36) If you had been there that would have caught your attention.
Oh, to have such an experience!! And Peter really liked it. Remember, he wanted to stay there. He was going to construct a place for Moses, Elijah and Jesus to stay. I don’t blame him. When God does something that takes your breath away, when He does the most powerful thing you can imagine, when He does something that you can’t explain other than use the words, “It was a miracle”, we don’t want that moment to end.
This had to remind them of what God did in the Old Testament when He showed Himself as a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud during the day, to protect the Israelites from their enemy, the pursuing Egyptians. Exodus 13 tells us, “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of light, so they could travel; by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of light by night left its place in front of the people.” (Verses 21-22)
Everyone has to have an experience with God. But sometimes it isn’t so dramatic. But it’s real and it’s powerful and life is never the same again. Marilyn and I went to see my Mom and Dad three weeks ago. 75 degrees in Phoenix. A week of snow and ice and freezing temperatures in Denver. I think I’m going to go back. During that visit I learned something about the day I was born that I had never knew before. Back then, my Dad wasn’t allowed into the delivery room. Husbands were quarantined to the waiting room. Our family doctor, Dr. Murphy, the doctor who delivered me on that Saturday, February 9, came out to my Dad, and the first words he said to him were, “What a mess!” He didn’t say, “Congratulations, you’ve got a nice, healthy son.” No – “What a mess!” Some of the things on my nose, lips and pallet didn’t come out just right. I was a mess.
The Life Center of Littleton – the church just a few blocks from here, at Datura and Littleton Boulevard, which is a daughter ministry of Mission Hills – has a sign telling about who they are and what they do. The sign says – Life Center of Littleton. Real. Messy. Life.
I know I’m a mess. Maybe you know you’re a mess too. Not just physically. Not just in our body. But in our soul. Having a great experience with God means that God does something about that. Real. Messy. Life.
One writer when describing us as the people of God says, “We are here, not because we are smarter than unbelievers (because we’re not!), not because we are better people (because we’re not!), but rather because the veil has been lifted from our eyes by a gracious God. We can see. Sight is not an achievement, but a gift. We call it grace.”
Every-once-in-a-while the experience that God provided was jaw-dropping stuff – like the glowing Jesus, the clothes that were as bright as the sun. It showed who He was – God in the flesh – true deity that no one can look at. Every-once-in-a-while the voice of God thundered from heaven. At His Transfiguration, and before that, at His Baptism, God said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.” But how we experience God now is normally a little more subdued. But we still must have a great experience with Him.
You will experience God only in the face of Jesus. You will experience God only in the work of Jesus. Transfiguration and transformation are similar words. In John 14 a disciple of Jesus, Philip, has a request of Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus looked at Philip and responded, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:8-10)
In just a few days we begin our yearly journey from the Mount of Transfiguration to the hill of crucifixion. Both tell us how we experience God and how God reveals Himself to us. Our God reveals Himself to us in Jesus. If you want to experience the fullness of God you must experience Jesus who would go to the cross to transform your life by His suffering, forgiveness and love. St. Paul has a wonderful word about this when he wrote to the Colossians, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3) In Jesus we see God’s full love and full salvation and victory.
On that day was Jesus showed His deity to Peter, James and John and to Moses and Elijah, they all had an experience with God that took their breath away. Everyone, you and me, have to come face to face with God, but it isn’t always so dramatic. In the Old Testament book of Kings Elijah is told, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” So, Elijah did, and this is what happened next, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah’”? (I Kings 19:11-13)
Great experiences with God come in the gentle whisper of His Word. They come in our baptismal waters. They come at the table of Holy Communion. They come when you know that God has not forgotten you and your needs. Experiencing God comes when you trust Him completely.
When my friend, John, told me of his experience of seeing heaven it was the peace, the calm, the serenity that he remembered. He had a great experience with God and so do we. Amen!!