Making Meaning – A View from the Mountaintop

The text of the sermon, based on Matthew 17.1-9, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, in the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 19, 2023.


The act of living requires…demands the art of making meaning. Every experience, moment by moment, adds to our personal histories and memories. And in every experience, our perceptions take shape in our perspectives, which give shape to our sense of what is real and true. We, consciously and unconsciously, always are engaged in this task of meaning-making.

For me, most of the time, the meaning I make validates the worldview I already have conceived and constructed. Now, in every new occasion I can’t afford absentmindedly or, worse, apathetically to abandon my perspective. To be and to become someone, I must stand somewhere; not everywhere.

Nevertheless, here’s a problem. A danger. Sometimes, my perspective is less a lens through which I behold the world and myself and more a blindfold; especially when faced with a contrary viewpoint, which I’m tempted to dismiss as nonsense…

That is, until I’m stirred, shaken out of my comfortability, my complacency by something so shockingly “other” that I can’t ignore it. Something so unreal, except for the fact that I experience it, which, therefore, demands that I try to make sense of it.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”[1] Peter answered, “The Messiah.”[2] Peter spoke from his perspective of who the Messiah was – God’s anointed one, being the culturally accepted meaning. And, therefore, what the Messiah would do – save God’s people from oppression, in the immediate moment, from the Roman Empire and restore Israel to the glory of the reign of King David.

Jesus had another destiny. Not to spare the people from suffering. Rather, through his suffering, confronting death-dealing powers and principalities. And showing the way, being the way to abundant life. That spiritual and existential liberty of knowing who one is, God’s child, and to whom one belongs, God the Creator. Would his disciples, looking for another kind of Messiah, continue to follow him?

In three days comes Ash Wednesday. The first day of the season of Lent when we walk with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem; where, on the cross of his crucifixion and death, he will open…kick open the door to abundant life.

Today, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, we read of a mountaintop manifestation. A wholly (completely) holy (“other”) moment when all boundaries between time and space, distance and proximity, life and death, heaven and earth dissolve. Jesus glows in radiated glory. Moses and Elijah, representing God’s Law and prophets, appear. The vox Dei, the voice of God speaks. And in that wonder and terror, all questions resolve. The disciples, stirred, shaken out of the comfort of their commonly held convictions, behold and believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Basking in the brilliant light of that revelation, they would remain. But no! They who follow Jesus must leave the mountaintop.

Coming down the mountain, they are met by a crowd. A man kneels before Jesus begging for the healing of his epileptic son. Jesus cures the boy.[3]

The message, the meaning of the mountaintop is clear. All (the healed boy being our representative) are to be transfigured into the likeness of Jesus. That likeness, in language that makes sense and meaning to me, is of love and justice. And this transfiguration is not to be held by us, kept to ourselves, but rather to be shared with all.

This is the message, the meaning of today. The benefits and blessings we enjoy on this mountaintop of our life in the community of St. Matthew’s are not kept by us, for us. For this is not, we are not a mountaintop shrine. Rather we always are to leave this place and return to the valley of the world of life as we live it.

In whose name? Jesus.

To follow whose way? Jesus.

To say whose words? Jesus.

To do whose work? Jesus.

Therefore, the most important words we will say this day are these: Let us go forth in the name of Christ. Thanks be to God.[4]

© 2023 PRA

Illustration: The Transfiguration (c. 1520), Raphael (1483-1520)

[1] Matthew 16.15

[2] Ibid. 16.16

[3] See Matthew 17.14-18

[4] The Dismissal, The Book of Common Prayer, page 366

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