The Message, February 19, 2023: "Overshadowed. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed!" Matthew 17:1-9

The Message, February 19, 2023: "Overshadowed. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed!" Matthew 17:1-9

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
February 19, 2023


“Overshadowed. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed!”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Matthew 17:1-9

            I am not an avid hiker. Neither am I one who would be confused with a mountain climber. However, there have been a few very special moments when I have been able to ascend to the summit of a handful of mountains. (Small mountains.)

            I have taken youth groups on trips during which we climbed to a ledge in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire that gave us a lovely view of the valley and across to Mount Cranmore. We also climbed to the top of the fire tower overlooking Allagash Lake.

            I have stood atop ski slopes and took in the vista before I carefully descended upon the slippery boards attached to my feet.

            One memorable moment was when I was on the leadership team of a youth conference in Estes Park, Colorado. I got off of the bus and was surrounded by the Rocky Mountain National Park and literally stood there with my mouth hanging open. “Wow. Wow! Wow!!” was all I could say. A couple of days later I climbed one of the trails and was astonished to see a cactus next to me while I gazed across the way at a glacier!

            Of course, the most memorable moments were when I was in Israel. I stood on top of Masada and looked down upon the Dead Sea. I stood on Har Megiddo and looked over the Jezreel Valley. I stood upon the Mount of Olives and looked across at the Temple Mount. I stood on a hillside that might have been the location of the Sermon on the Mount.

            I love mountain top moments. I love the special feeling that I get when I can take in so much of God’s grandeur. I love the perspective that one gets above the trees. Whenever I was with the youth, I wanted them to have an appreciation for the majesty and the beauty of Creation. Standing there it is easy to feel close to God.

            All of those feelings were elevated when I was in Israel. In each moment I thought that I could very well have been walking upon ground that Jesus walked upon. Each stone, each rocky path may have been touched by him. I walked slowly and tried to soak it all in.

            In the passage that we read this morning, Jesus and the disciples were not on a sight-seeing tour. They were probably not on that mountain top to take in the vista. Or so we assume. Because the reality is that we do not know much about this event.

            The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event that has confused and confounded scholars, teachers and interpreters for generations. There is no consensus regarding where it happened. There is no consensus about what happened or why it happened. There are those that speculate that this is a misplaced resurrection account. Of course, this is perfectly understandable because none of the Gospel accounts really give us much information. Much of it is left to speculation.

            So … what do we think might have been going on?

            Jesus and the disciples had been in and around Capernaum. While they were there, Jesus had asked them who the people said that he was. They answered him, and then Jesus countered with, “But, who do you say that I am?” It was then that Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

            Also, during their time in Capernaum, Jesus informed the disciples that they were making the journey to Jerusalem, and he told them what was going to happen to him once they got there. Jesus told them that he would suffer and die. Naturally, that was shocking and horrifying news. The disciples rejected the idea that that was Jesus’ fate.

            And as we heard this morning, six days later, Jesus, Peter, James and John ascended to a certain mountain top. Mount Hermon was the most likely location being that it was fourteen miles from Capernaum, but we just do not know. And the reality is that is just does not matter which mountain peak it was.

            As Jesus prepared for this final trip to Jerusalem, and the fate that awaited him, he likely went up to the mountain top to pray. We know that he often withdrew to disserted places to pray throughout his life. But this was not an ordinary occurrence. Something extraordinary happened. In fact, extraordinary cannot adequately capture just how far beyond ordinary this event truly was!

            It is hard for us to begin to comprehend what happened. It is so far beyond anything that we have experienced in our own lives.

            Let us begin with our assumption … Jesus went up to the mountain top to pray. We know that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Was he troubled by the same doubts and insecurities? Was he troubled about his journey to Jerusalem? Was he checking in with God to determine if that truly was God’s will for him? Did he ask God if he was making the correct decision? Was he wondering if he was following God’s will? Or was he following his own? Was he wondering if the disciples were ready to carry on the mission without him? Did they need more time?

            In the midst of his prayer, Jesus was transfigured. He glowed with pure, white light; his face shone like the sun. And then he was joined by none other than Moses and Elijah! We do not hear the content of their conversation. We can assume that they were not talking about the weather or about the pitching staff for the Nazareth Red Sox. Moses … the great law-giver, and Elijah … the great prophet met Jesus there on that mountain top. If Jesus had been troubled by the path that was before him, Moses and Elijah could reassure him. They could speak to his concerns. They could encourage him. “Go forth. Go with God.”

            Jesus was joined in that spectacular moment by Moses and Elijah. They, like Jesus, were both rejected by the people but vindicated by God. Both advocates of the covenant community. Both of whom were transcendent figures in the lives of the Hebrew people. They may have had some understanding of what troubled Jesus’ heart.

            Like the disciples, we can only look at the scene with our mouths hanging open. We can never know the content of their conversation. Obviously, we were not meant to know. We are content to simply bask in the glow and the glory. And again, our human words are inadequate because the event gets even MORE extra ordinary!

            A luminous cloud descended upon them. Clouds atop Mount Hermon were nothing new. That happened all the time. But this was a LUMINOUS cloud! The luminous cloud again defies description. It is something of divine wonder! It was and had been the very Presence of the Glory of God. It was the Shekinah. It was that which hovered over Mount Sinai when Moses received the Law. It was that which led the people to freedom in the Exodus.

            And then a Voice from the cloud spoke: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

            The same Voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism spoke in that moment, and offered the same message. “This is my Son, the Beloved.”

            And Peter said, “I knew it!! I told you so!!”

            Actually, as we heard, he did NOT say that. They did not say anything. They fell to the ground terrified! Overwhelmed with awe!!

            Since we are here, let us consider what this whole thing must have been like for the disciples. Of course, as I contemplate this I can never even wrap my head around what it must have been like to travel around with Jesus in the first place. I am filled with awe, and amazement, and wonder, and if I am honest … just a bit of jealousy. To simply be in the presence of Jesus would be beyond anything that I can imagine or articulate.

            But they had that incredible experience. And this happened. I suppose that if you walk around with Jesus you expect the unexpected to happen. But this?! Wow. WOW!!! Jesus, Moses and Elijah!! Together on that mountain top!! And then the luminous cloud! They had heard about that holy cloud. They knew what it meant to their people and their history and their heritage. And there it was … descending upon them!

            What an absolutely indescribable event!! Peter did not know what to do. He offered to build three booths, three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We can imagine impetuous Peter feeling the need to do something … anything. “Jesus! I will build three shelters so we can live up here forever!”

            But then the Cloud spoke!! “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” They dropped to the ground terrified.

            As we sit here this morning, we are to do what they were to do … take it in. Be still. Linger in … dwell in … the Presence of God. Do not DO anything. Just be still. Contemplate the words of the psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

            There may be confusion and uncertainty regarding what happened that day on that mountain top. But there are times when we need to suspend our need to know. We need to accept that there are times when we cannot dissect the details and determine the facts. There is one thing of which we can be certain. This is a story about the awesomeness of God. This is a story of the power, glory and beauty of God. It is a story about being overwhelmed by the very Presence of God. Just in case we need to be reminded, just in case God sometimes gets lost in the midst of the ordinary busyness and clutter of our days, this is a reminder.

            The Spirit and Glory of God that hovered above the chaos of Creation …
            The Spirit and Glory of God that led the people to freedom …
            The Spirit and Glory of God that spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai …
            The Spirit and Glory of God that descended upon Jesus when he was baptized …
            The Spirit and Glory of God that alighted upon the people during Pentecost …

            … is the same Spirit that fills this room this morning. It is the same Spirit that moves among us and through us. It is the same Spirit that animates us, and blesses us, comforts us, calls us and inspires us. It is the same Spirit that leads us and speaks to us today and every day.

            And as we heard, that Spirit … That Voice … spoke to us that day. The Voice gave us one word of instruction. That Divine Voice said, “Listen to him!”

            Listen to him when you are troubled.
            Listen to him when you are lost.
            Listen to him when you are uncertain.
            Listen to him and learn how to live.
            Listen to him and learn who to love.
            Listen to him. He offers you peace.
            Listen to him. He offers you everlasting joy.
            This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.


Congregational Church