II Peter 1:16-21
“Religion, and the transformed attitudes and behaviors that accompany it, has been irrelevant in our culture for decades.” I wonder if that sounds familiar to anybody? Is somebody thinking to themselves right now, “I read that someplace not too long ago, now where did I see it?” Well, if it rings a bell, you are probably in good company. I know of three places where we all might have seen it. But trying to figure out where it is that we might have seen it, really isn’t part of where I am headed with this sermon this morning. And I know that that’s a lot like asking all of you to try not to imagine what a pink elephant might look like; you just did, didn’t you? My purpose this morning is to try to determine why that statement has become so true in our own lives. And just so that we can focus on what we need to think about this morning, I’ll quote it once again. “Religion, and the transformed attitudes and behaviors that accompany it, has been irrelevant in our culture for decades”.
This, of course, is not a new idea at all. That statement, especially as it relates to the faith of the followers of Jesus, could easily have been inserted into any place in any century, at any time since the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has always been assumed that the earliest followers of Jesus, created, out of whole cloth, the religion that surrounds Jesus. The biggest hurdle of course, for everyone, is the resurrection. In real life, resurrections do not happen. Never have, never will; nothing has ever been documented. And so even from the first century onward, people have believed that the followers of Jesus have created for themselves, as the Apostle Peter indicates, a religion of cleverly devised myths. And because this belief has persisted throughout the centuries, religion, and the transformed attitudes and behaviors that accompany it, has been irrelevant in all cultures and in all times.
So where does that put the handful or so of us who are gathered here this morning, or who may have stumbled upon or searched out this video? Are we also irrelevant in our culture? Are we the snickered at minority? Yes, we are. And let us accept that as reality. Let us admit that the world around us has very little regard or esteem for the beliefs that we share with one another. And I say, let us accept this as reality, because if we do not, or will not accept this as reality, we have nothing left to do but to complain about the way that things are, and complaining accomplishes nothing. We should know this by now. Complaining has never made any headway at all in transforming any attitudes or behaviors in a positive way.
And so we must admit, that in our own time and in our own environment, that religion, and the transformed attitudes and behaviors that accompany it, has been irrelevant in our culture for decades. So having admitted that, where do we go from here? I believe that the Apostle Peter has some sound instruction for us in this matter.
The first thing that we need to do is to make for very sure that we are open to having our own attitudes and behaviors transformed. It is so simple for us to imagine that we have already done this, even though we might be characterized by others as a person who is stubbornly set in their own ways. But transformed attitudes and behaviors do not naturally come to us. And that is also why we must make for very sure that we are believers; because the very honest among us will also admit that it sometimes makes sense to us, that in the end, we fear that we might have fallen prey to some cleverly devised myths. And if that attitude persists, faith will certainly be irrelevant, not only to us, but also it will be evident to every person we encounter in our daily movements. Our friends prefer the word, “hypocrite”.
So what is it that Peter has to say to us that has the power to change all of this? It is the same thing that he said, way back in the first century, to his readers who felt the same way that we feel. Perter said, “…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter is saying, folks, we didn’t make this stuff up. We haven’t faked it, we were there. We saw it with our own eyes, and what we saw was the awesome majesty of Jesus Christ. Peter wants his readers to know this, because he is one of the very few left who saw this. And he, himself, is getting ready to die. He tells us this earlier in this chapter. With death immanent, Peter sense the necessity of getting this stuff written down, especially in the new environment of skepticism in which he finds himself living.
And so Peter begins to write about the Day of Transfiguration. One day, Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, up on to the top of a mountain. And while they were there, Jesus’ appearance was radically and dramatically changed. One can read all about this in Matthew chapter 17. On that mountain, Jesus’ clothes became a dazzling white, and Peter, James and John got a glimpse of the heavenly glory of Jesus. But heavenly glory is beyond the ability of human words to describe. Nothing that we mortals possess is adequate to describe what happened that day. And, to further complicate things, in the midst of all of this heavenly glory, Moses and Elijah, long departed from this planet, also appeared with Jesus on the mountain, seemingly very much alive.
Now a question for us to ponder: of all of the events in Jesus’ life that Peter witnessed, of all of the healings and the miracles that Peter participated in, while he walked this earth with Jesus, what is so special about that day on the top of the mountain? Quite frankly, if we are trying to prove the veracity of faith, that event has a couple things going against it.
First of all, it was a rather private affair. Most of the healings and miracles that Jesus performed were public. And part of the reason that they were public and verifiable, was that people had heard that Jesus was a miracle worker and a healer, and they were following Jesus around in huge crowds. Lots of people, lots of verification. But on the mount of transfiguration there were only three disciples. And just three disciples can easily get their stories straight and make something up, if that is their intent.
Secondly, Peter behaved abominably that day. He made an idiot of himself. Why draw attention a time that is certainly not flattering to you?
I am convinced that Peter’s experience on that mountain was a defining moment in his faith experience. As Peter looked back on that day, he realized that it was the moment when everything came together for him. Standing in that blinding light, and finding himself completely and uncontrollably undone, was when he realized that everything that he knew about Jesus was true. That day, on the mountain, may in fact be the day that he became a believer. And that’s why he can now say, as he writes to his readers, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
I’d like to finish up with Moses and Elijah. They don’t appear in this passage, but they did appear on that holy mountain of which Peter speaks. Moses is the one whom God called to lead his people out of captivity and slavery in Egypt. Moses is the law-giver, he is the savior of the Hebrew Scriptures. And Elijah is a prophet who once struggled with deep doubt, but who found faith and grew to be highly revered by his people. Elijah most famously left this earth in a fiery chariot.
But for Peter, Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, the vast corpus of Peter’s Scriptures. And for him, all of Scripture comes together in Jesus. For Peter, all of recorded history comes together in Jesus. Jesus is the lamp shining in a dark place.
Throughout all of created history, God has been bringing light into the world. From the moment of creation, when God said, “Let there be light,” light has been continuously coming into this world. The light of God’s love and presence lit up the path through all of the desert wanderings and culminated in the glorious majesty of the Promised Land; the land of salvation for God’s people. The prophets, exemplified by Elijah, brought the light of God’s word to a people who were struggling in a darkness that surrounded them because of their sin. The prophets spoke of hope and joy and blessings, but mostly of a loving God who would give this joy and hope and blessing in abundance.
And all of this comes together in Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world, revealed to Peter, James and John in all of his glory on that holy mountain, and revealed to all of us in the pages of our Scriptures.
We do not need to be reminded that we live in a very dark and frightening world. But in that darkness, the light of Jesus shines. Jesus is the lamp that is shining into the dark places of our hearts. Will we allow that light to dawn upon us? Will we allow the Lord Jesus Christ to become so relevant in our lives that we are so transformed that we brightly reflect his glory, that we become the light of the world, that we are the lamp that shines in a dark place?