The Gospel text assigned for today is the second half of a pair that occurs in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matt, Mark and Luke). The first part is the transfiguration, when Peter, James and John are taken up the mountain and see Jesus transfigured in glory. The second part is this story of arguments, crowds, fathers, sons and evil. It is a story of the confusion that reigns here on the plain, here at the bottom of the mount. And since they are always juxtaposed the text invites us to ponder, what is the difference between the mountaintop experience and life down below. The big difference is the role of faith. The mountaintop is not about faith, because you see. You might have trouble comprehending what you see. Integrating what you see might be tough. But you don’t have to have faith in it. Life on the plain is about faith. This sermon ponders that difference and the meaning of a prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief”, and prayer in general (“This kind only comes out by prayer”) in the life of faith lived here on the plain.
There are so many things in life that we just don’t know. And so much of our problems aren’t what we don’t know, but what we think we know that isn’t so. Discerning the truth is tough. Sometimes truth comes in rough packages. Sometimes it is so mixed up with other things that separating it out is impossible. Welcome to life at the bottom of the mountain. Welcome to life under the cross. The transfiguration, if we believe the older and wiser Peter from 2nd Peter (the epistle lesson), was a proof of something else – the Word of God. If we are trying to figure out the way from false ways based only on our abilities we might as well quit. As Dante would say “in the middle of my years I came to rest in a dark woods and the true way was lost.” Or as Galadriel would give to Frodo “a light in a dark place”. The Transfiguration with its voice “listen to him” vouches for the firm foundation of the Word. Here, in Christ alone, is our light. And it is not a light meant only for the mountaintop. It is a light that is meant to be used at the base. The light in a dark place.
Worship Note: I wish I could have left in the choir, but the recording just didn’t work. (When the men have the strongest line, they get blocked from the main mic. I really need to get the loft mic’d better.) What I did leave in was our opening hymn. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. I believe I’ve extolled this hymn before. It is a modern hymn both in its text and the tune, and it is one that deserves to claim its place in the hymnody of the church. It captures poetically the main themes of the the Transfiguration. Glory’s brilliance, yet the move to go down. The surety of revelation, yet the preeminence of faith. The need for our transfiguration passing through the dark place with only the light of Christ.