“I Saw the Light”


This is an expanded version of what appears on the “Back Page” of the Fishkill UMC bulletin for 26 February 2017 (Transfiguration Sunday [A]).

One of the thing that I was thinking about was the song “I Saw the Light”.  This is a country-gospel song that was written by Hank Williams (which I think most people didn’t know).

When I began teaching, I knew the subjects that I was teaching (chemistry and other physical sciences) and I was learning how to teach.  But as this was all taking place, I found myself thinking about how my students learned chemistry.

We all learn in different ways and at different rates.  And, as an instructor, I am tasked with helping each student reach that point of understanding; that point we call the “AHA! Moment”.  It is that moment, and we all have had such moments in our own lives, when we understand what we are learning.  This is a major moment in our lives because it takes us past simply “knowing” the right answer to understanding why it is the right answer.

I don’t think that it makes a difference whether we are speaking about secular or sectarian learning.  And while I realize that this moment of understanding is different for each person, our educational process, both secular and sectarian, must be directed towards helping each person reach that moment of enlightenment.

And I realize that achieving this moment requires a great deal of effort, both by the teacher and by the student.  How many times did we get the feeling that Jesus was frustrated by the lack of learning exhibited by the 12.  They were his primary students and yet, time and time again, they didn’t seem to get the point of the lesson.

That is, until the First Easter and the Resurrection.  Then they understood and when the Holy Spirit came to them on that First Pentecost, they became empowered to take the Gospel message into the world.

John Wesley knew what was needed but until that moment that we call Aldersgate, he didn’t quite understand how to achieve what he sought.  The success of the Methodist Revival only began when the Holy Spirit warmed his heart and he understood who Christ truly was.

For Peter, James, and John, that moment was on the Mount with Jesus; for Paul, it was that moment on the road to Damascus.

Each of us has that same moment, that point when we understand that Christ is our Savior.  Each person’s moment of understanding, of seeing the light is unique and we should never try to force our moment on others.  But, we can and must help others find their moment.

Today marks the day that the Disciples began to see the light.  Their lives began to change.  Each of us has that moment; that moment when we realize that Jesus Christ is our personal Savior.  And this gives us the opportunity to begin helping others find their moment.

Transfiguration Sunday or Evolution Weekend?


This was supposed to have been posted on Sunday February 15th, but things sort of got in the way.

On the church liturgical calendar, this Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday. On the secular calendar, this is Evolution Weekend. Before I get into my thoughts about the nature and significance of this day, let me first identify three organizations that focus on the interaction of faith and science (I have put a link to each group on the side of my blog)

  • WesleyNexus
  • BioLogos
  • Clergy Letter project

While the title of this piece suggests that one has to make a choice about what to write about (or perhaps preach), for me, it really isn’t that way. As I hope to lay out before you, both are equally important for me.

Transfiguration Sunday focus on the change that Peter, James, and John saw in Jesus that speaks to the true nature of Jesus as the Messiah and the Christ.

Evolution Weekend focuses on the fact that February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday; it is an event that has taken place for the past ten years or so and looks at the relationship between science and faith (or at least it does for me).

From that viewpoint, these are mutually exclusive events. But I see a common thread in the two events.

In the Scripture readings for this Sunday, Jesus is seen by Peter, James, and John to have been transfigured or transformed, covered with a bright line and seen by the three disciples to be accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Perhaps the meaning of this is to let Peter, James, and John know that Jesus is really the Messiah and things are going to be changing in the next few days.

This moment, first experienced some two thousand years ago by three men, is a moment that we all have in some form or another when we accept Christ as our personal Savior. It is a moment when we truly understand what Jesus did for us two thousand years ago and what He does for us even today.

But I fear that too many people don’t truly understand what this moment means. They fail to take advantage of this opportunity. They lived their lives totally unchanged, continue to believe and live as they did before Christ came into their lives. They may acknowledge that Christ is the Savior but they do not offer the proof. They still see things as they were and not has they might or will be (thinking of the G. B. Shaw quote that Robert Kennedy so often used).

Look at Peter’s initial response to build three monuments; this represented the traditional thinking of the time. Every encounter with God up until that moment is fixed in time and place by some sort of stone monument. This is not what Jesus wants His disciples to do; rather, I think that He wanted them to see their lives in a new way.

Our encounter with Christ and its life changing quality need not be like Saul’s encounter on the road to Damascus (though there are many who would say that is the only type of valid encounter). But, however we encounter and acknowledge Christ, we have to understand that our lives change, as Saul’s did when he became Paul. If our lives do not change, the encounter with Christ may prove to be limited in its effect.

Early on in my teaching career, I discovered the work of Jean Piaget and its application to the learning of chemistry. Later I would discover research describing the “AHA Moment”. This moment is that singular moment in one’s life where a seemingly difficult item becomes easily understood. In Piagetian terms, it is that transition from one learning level to the next highest one (in chemistry, often times it is the transition from concrete, fixed thinking to a more abstract thinking process). You go from merely solving problems by rote memorization and application of previous solutions to actually creating new solutions.

For some, this never occurs. They are quite successful in their education experiences but they are lacking when it comes to creating new ideas. I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself but when it becomes the norm (as I fear that it is becoming in society today), then problems will arise. You simply cannot advance the nature of society if all you know are the same old solutions; they will not work with new problems.

For me, science is critical to one’s life simply because it pushes you to understand the world around you. Too many people of faith fear science for that very reason; it pushes people to seek better answers to their questions of faith. And yet, one’s faith cannot grow if it is not challenged.

Similarly, one’s secular life also cannot grow if you are not willing to look beyond the limits of your normal vision, if you are not pushed to (and excuse the cliché) think outside the envelope.

We live in dangerous times and our responses cannot be the traditional responses. There are too many challenges taking place that call on us to push our faith and our thinking skills together beyond the limits others have established.

Jesus began to push the boundaries of ministry outside the Temple walls and He encouraged His disciples and other followers to do the same. Charles Darwin pushed the boundaries of science beyond the traditional thinking mode and challenged people to see the world a little differently.

If we are to be transformed by Christ, our world has to change. And that means that we must see the world differently, through the eyes of Christ and with a better knowledge of what we do see. So that is why I see Transfiguration Sunday and Evolution Weekend as together and not apart.

Notes on Transfiguration Sunday


Here is a compilation of my sermons/messages/posts for Transfiguration Sunday, as well as some thoughts for what I would have said this Sunday.

February 14, 1999 – Year A – Neon (KY) UMC – “A Scout is Reverent” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

March 4, 2000 – Year B – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 25, 2001 – Year C – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – “The Mountain Top”

February 25, 2002 – Year A – Walker Valley (NY) UMC – not on file

March 2, 2003 – Year B – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “That Moment in Time”

February 22, 2004 – Year C – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “Mornings in Whitesburg”

February 6, 2005 – Year A – Tompkins Corners (NY) UMC – “The Mountaintop Experience” – (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday)

February 26, 2006 – Year B – “Let Us Tell The Story”

February 18, 2007 – Year C – Dover Plains (NY) UMC – “Encountering God” (sermon)

February 3, 2008 – Year A – “Transformation Sunday”

February 22, 2009 – Year B – “The View From The Mountaintop”

February 14, 2010 – Year C – “That Transforming Moment”– (This was also Boy Scout Sunday – see Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend – see Evolution Weekend)

March 6, 2011 – Year A – United Methodist Church of the Highlands (NY) – Seeing Through The Clouds

February 19, 2012 – Year B

As I was preparing this list, I got a note that I might be needed at a local church. It was one of those situations where the call would come at the last minute. This has happened twice in my career; once when I was just beginning (see “What Do You Do?”); then a few years ago (see “Hearing God’s Call”). As it turned out, I wasn’t needed this Sunday so I didn’t finish what I was writing.

But had I presented the message, it would have been entitled “A Lasting Monument”. I thought about how Peter wanted to build a stone monument to the moment of Jesus being transfigured and how we have turned so many of churches into empty stone monuments celebrating the past accomplishments of individuals who are long gone and perhaps forgotten. Do you have any knowledge of why your church has the name it does?

I thought about what Paul wrote and how translated into the actions and deeds of today’s churches. And I thought about what we are being asked to do in the United Methodist Church today. What needs to be our response to the “Call to Action”? In part, I think we need to find ways to answer that call and I wanted the “Missional Manifest for the United Methodist Church” that John Meunier and Jay Voorhees created – my link to their efforts is at https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/missional-manifesto-for-the-umc/

And finally I thought about the transition from Elijah to Elisha and how that applies to each one of us in today’s church. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in the play, “A Man For All Seasons.”

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

We do not need monuments of stone that stand in quiet remembrance of something that happened a long, long time ago. Nor do we need monuments that are in memory of someone no one knows or who did something that no one can recall. What we need people who will continue to do God’s work and spread the message that Christ gave to us. That will be the best and most lasting monument.

“Seeing Through the Clouds”


I was at the United Methodist Church of the Highlands (341 Main Street, Highland Falls, NY 10928) yesterday (6 March 2011), Transfiguration Sunday.  The Scriptures for Sunday were Exodus 24: 12 – 18, 2 Peter 1: 16 – 21, and Matthew 17: 1 – 9.

Their service starts at 11 am and you are welcome to be a part of the worship.

Notes added on 12 November 2013 – To get from Newburgh to Highland Falls requires driving over Storm King Mountain.  As I recall, on this Sunday, the cloud cover that morning was rather low and you entered the clouds as you drove up the north slope and then back through the clouds as you came down on the south slope.  It made for a very interesting drive and relationship to the Old Testament reading that morning.

I have also removed the link to my publications list; if you are interested in seeing this list, please contact me.

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There is a new phrase floating around these days called “cloud computing.” Essentially, it is a way for two members of a family to share pictures or videos or some other file through the Internet. It is a great idea, except for one thing; it is not a new idea.

Sharing files was one of the primary reasons that the Internet was invented back in the late 1980s. And the sharing of files so that two individuals in different locations can work on the file at the same time has been a part of most office computer networks since the invention of the local area network. What “cloud computing” does is to expand the range of the collaboration. But again, that is nothing new, at least as far as I know.

Back in 1991, Marcin Paprzycki and I co-authored a series of manuscripts that focused on the use of computer networks in the classroom. We foresaw a number of situations that are in place today. And after the publication of one of our papers, George Duckett contacted us about a possible collaborative research project. Now, some people will say that this is no big deal; collaborative research projects are part and parcel of academic life. The only thing about this project was that George was at the University of Tasmania in Australia, Marcin was at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas, and I was at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The only contact that the three of us had was through e-mail communication on a regular basis. I was fortunate to meet George when he came to the United States in 1995 but Marcin never met him in person. In addition to the research papers generated by the project, what was, I believe, the first paper to outline what was needed for an on-line collaborative project was also published. Some aspects of what we wrote are no longer applicable but I believe the general ideas expressed are still valid. (A list of the papers that Marcin, George and I wrote from 1991 to 1995 can be found on “Publications of Tony Mitchell”; if you are interested in a copy, drop me a note. The outline for doing research on the Internet is still available – “Research Methods Using Computer Networks”, with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett, The Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, 2(4), August 1994.)

Now, what do you ask does all this have to do with a church? Well, there are a number of churches who see “cloud computing” and what one can do with it as their, excuse me for an obvious pun, salvation. There are a number of churches who have been recording their Sunday morning worship services and sending the tapes around to the home-bound members and that is good. Some have even video taped the service and sent copies of the video. With “cloud computing”, it is possible for any church with a minimal cost to broadcast on the Internet, extending the range of the church from the local community to the whole world. There is the possibility of interactive communication, of people in one place conversing in real time with people in another. This will open new avenues for the church, such as an on-line church (which some are trying to develop right now).

But at some point we have to realize that the church is still in the “people” business. I have said on numerous occasions before but it bears repeating. Technology is nice; after all, I used a laptop computer to prepare and print this sermon; I will post it to my blog so that others can read it later in the day. But it always comes down to the people.

It does not matter how many people you reach on-line. For one thing there are certain aspects of the church, baptism and communion, that I truly feel cannot be done on-line; they must be done in person. It doesn’t matter if you make either an audio or video recording of the service and take it to the home-bound if you don’t spend time with the people when you take the recording.

It may be nice to do church in “the cloud” but I would much rather be there as well.

Of course, Moses spent forty days in the cloud with God but he was alone and all the Israelites saw was something that looked like a raging fire (to borrow a phrase from The Message’s translation of the Old Testament reading for today). And while Moses was on the mountain with God, he could not see what was happening to the people at the foot of the mountain.

He could not see or sense their panic as the days passed and he did not return. He could not see them begging with Aaron and the other elders to create the golden calf so that they would have tangible evidence of a god.

We all know what happened when Moses and Joshua came back down from the mountain and discovered the unfaithfulness of the people. So we will leave that for another day and jump forward to the Gospel reading when Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain top.

We aren’t told if the mountain was shrouded in clouds as was the case when Moses climbed to the top. But we do know that Peter, filled with the excitement of the moment, wanted to build a monument to mark this moment and place. But who would have seen this monument? How would the people have gotten to it?

If this mountain were shrouded in clouds, the people would not have seen it and the fact that it was on the mountaintop meant that it wasn’t easily accessible. That’s not what a church is supposed to be. A church is supposed to be visible and accessible, available for all the people of the community, not just a select few.

What Jesus did and does today is call us by our own name. He has removed the clouds of mystery that surround our lives and keep us from seeing God. Each one of us has a unique and different relationship with Jesus and it is this fact that we each individually have this in common that brings us together every Sunday. We are reminded that I cannot answer your call when Jesus calls you by your name. Nor can you answer when Jesus calls me. But because we are a collective group of individuals who are joined by a similar experience we can help each other. (I want to thank John Meunier for his thoughts on this relationship – “What you can’t do for me”)

And that is what prompted Peter to write his words. He was there that day; he saw the Light that was Christ but instead of keeping it secret or private, he chose to share it with others. As was written, “Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.”

The clouds have rolled away and the sun shines brightly. And we have been challenged to tell others what we have seen and what has happened. Some may choose to use new technologies and this will allow many to know about Christ for the first time. But many more others will come to know who Christ is and what He means by what each one of us does. Peter, James, and John were told not to speak of what they saw on the mountain that day some two thousand years ago because the time wasn’t right. But the time is right today for each of us to go forth in the world and let the people know who Christ is and what He means for each one of us.

“The Mountaintop Experience”


This is the message that I presented at Tompkins Corners UMC for Transfiguration Sunday, 6 February 2005.  

The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 24: 12 – 18, 2 Peter 1: 16 – 21, and Matthew 17: 1 – 9.

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I have probably said it before but it is worth repeating. Opening the church in the morning and seeing the sunlight peak over the hills is a very warming experience, not unlike the experience I had waking up in southeastern Kentucky. But then again, hills and mountains have always been a part of my life.

From the time I was two, living in the Philippines and having Mount Pinatubo in our backyard at Clark Air Force Base to our days in Colorado with the Rockies and Missouri with Ozarks, there have always been hills and mountains. And coming from the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky to the broad expanse of the Hudson Valley, not unlike the eastern slopes of those same Appalachian Mountains continued that trend.

Even living in Memphis, I encountered mountains, though not geological mountains. Rather, as a senior graduating from a Memphis area high school in 1968, my classmates and I, along with the entire city and surrounding area, saw Martin Luther King come to the aid of the sanitation workers and their strike for equality and fairness in working conditions. It was a struggle that went barely noticed outside the city limits of Memphis.

It was in Memphis that spring that Dr. King said those rather prophetic words, "I have been to the mountaintop and I have seen the Promised Land." He concluded that thought by noting that he may not be able to finish the journey. The next day, he was shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis. Whether or not I was aware of why Dr. King had come to Memphis then, that event changed my life as it did just about everyone else living in Memphis and Shelby County back then. No longer would the struggles of any worker to gain a living wage and respectability be confined to one place or one time; rather, such struggles would be the struggles of all when one who fought for equality was shot down for his efforts.

Dr. King’s reference to seeing the Promised Land from the mountaintop was a reference to God’s promise to Moses that he, Moses, would see the Promised Land before he died. (Deuteronomy 34: 1 – 8) Because of the transgressions of the Israelites when they first came to the Promised Land, the original families that had left Egypt for the Exodus were prohibited from entering the Promised Land. Even though he did no wrong, Moses was not allowed to enter either.

But this was not Moses’ first mountaintop experience. The first time Moses went to the mountaintop was described in today’s Old Testament reading. And like all mountaintop experiences, it was a life-changing event.

When you go to the mountaintop, things change. It is clear that when Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus to the mountaintop they were not prepared for what happened there. Despite their initial thoughts that Jesus was the true Messiah, they were not entirely sure that He was. The experience of seeing Jesus along with Moses and Elijah, and then hearing God proclaim that Jesus was His son clarified who Jesus was then, now, and forever. For the three disciples, it was a life-changing experience. Their lives after coming down from then mountaintop would never be the same as they were before they went up. It certainly was the case for Moses.

Moses came down from the mountaintop aglow from having been in the presence of God for those forty days. He also came down with the Ten Commandments, the basis for the covenant between God and man. Life for Moses and the Israelites would never be the same as it was before he went up the mountain.

Maybe that is why Peter wanted to build the memorial on that spot. He wanted to hold on to that moment in time for as long as possible. But the problem with seeing life on the mountaintop is that it is not the life one lives at the bottom of the mountain. That is probably why Jesus would not allow them to proceed in that regard.

You can see very far from the mountaintop but you cannot tell what it is that you are looking at. You can see literally for miles beyond the horizon. In the days before Interstate highways, it was not uncommon to see barns painted with advertisements to go to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN, where you could see seven states. Of course, you needed a reasonably decent sense of geography to know which states you were seeing since there were no signs to tell you what states you were seeing.

As the Old Testament reading tells us, the mountain was shrouded in clouds, so Moses would not have been able to see the tribes of Israel encamped at the base of the mountain. Where I lived in Kentucky, you could probably see New York but you could not see much detail. In fact, you could see the streets of Whitesburg from the top of Pine Mountain but you could not see the people walking on the streets and you could barely see the cars as they rolled by.

You may achieve great understanding through a mountaintop experience; that certainly was the case for Moses, Peter, James and John. But you cannot put that experience to work until you come down from the top.

The transfiguration comes at a critical point in Jesus’ life, a point of major transition as He shifts from an active ministry among the people towards the journey to Jerusalem and his death and resurrection, to that point in time where human and divine will intersect. Knowing how hard it would be for His disciples to understand what is to take place in the coming days, Jesus takes His three closest disciples and heads up the mountain.

There they come into the presence of God, and their hearts and souls are opened to see what their eyes can barely believe. Their friend and teacher, the very human Jesus, is transfigured before them. The appearance of His face changes. His clothes become dazzling white. They sense the presence of Moses and Elijah. And they are afraid. But God perceives their fear and responds by speaking to them. God wants them to begin to understand how this Jesus, fully human, is also fully divine.

Matthew’s story of the transfiguration shows us the true reality of Christ, the light of the world. Its aim is to help us see beyond Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean, and see Him radically transformed into the Son of God, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Only then will we begin to take in the foreshadowing of his resurrection and future glory.

Illuminated by this new light, we can at last comprehend Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. We see past the gate of the visible to the mystery of the invisible. This knowledge will change forever how we live, how we face death and how we begin to see beyond the grave. And that will change everything.

Yet, even today, these are very hard times in which to see clearly. A murky human-made smog of dreams deferred, of violence, confusion and fear stings our eyes and blurs even what is closest to us. Where God would bring light, we linger in the darkness of ignorance and fear.

Peter, in his second letter, speaks to that fear, "You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (Adapted from "Heart of the matter" by Patricia Farris, "Living the Word" – Christian Century, January 25, 2005)

On the mountaintop, the sun shines brightly and if the valleys below are shrouded in clouds, this sunlight can almost blind you. But when the valleys are shrouded in clouds, it is dark and gloomy below. And sooner or later, you must leave the mountaintop and go into the valley. When that mountaintop experience is the opening of your soul to allow Christ to come in, you are given the light to illuminate the darkness and drive away the gloom that comes with the darkness.

The light that comes from God as Jesus Christ allows us to see beyond the limits of our own experience. Through this light, God gives us hope and shows us possibilities for meaningful action and participation; through this light we can see purpose and the future.2

As we look forward in time to the coming days, we see the beginning of Lent and that journey of preparation for Easter Sunday and the celebration of life. But that journey begins with a mountaintop experience. Is today the day that Christ will come into your heart and soul? Is today the day that you have your mountaintop experience?


“A Scout Is Reverent”


This was the message that I presented at the Neon UMC (Neon, KY) on Transfiguration Sunday, 14 February 1999.  This was also Boy Scout Sunday.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Exodus 24: 12 – 18, 2 Peter 1: 16 – 21, and Matthew 17: 1 – 9.

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A Scout is Reverent – the twelfth point of the Scout Law.

He is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties and respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.

Today is a very special day for me. For it was on this Sunday, Scout Sunday, in 1965 that I joined the First Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado, and became a Christian. Later that spring, I completed the work for my God and Country medal.

And while I may not have realized back then, it was the process of getting the award, the training I went through, and what I learned that has kept me alive during the times I was in the wilderness of my early years. And like Peter was to be the rock upon which Christ would build the church,

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will note overcome it. (Matthew 16: 17 – 18)

So would the church be the foundation upon which I could build the foundation for my life.

But it was not the training and what I learned so many years ago that made me a Christian; it was that I knew in my heart that Christ was my own Savior and that he came to save me from my sins that made me a Christian.

As the writer C. S. Lewis expressed it,

… Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of a map. But the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you or I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion – all about feeling God in nature, and so on – is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map. (From The Joyful Christian by C. S. Lewis)

What Lewis is saying is that without the real experience of God in one’s life, it is impossible to turn book learning into real Christianity. We might feel that we are Christians because we have studied the Bible and know about Christ. But until you experience Christ as your own personal Savior, all that training and study are no more than what Peter called the “cleverly invented stories”.

John and Charles Wesley spent all of their college studying and preparing for a life in the ministry. They came here to America in 1736 convinced that they knew what it took to be servant of Christ. Yet two years later when they returned to England, they felt that for all that they had done, they were failures in their missionary work. Though they understood that there was no peace in life without Christ, neither brother felt that they had truly found such a peace. That peace came only after they trusted Christ with their lives. As Wesley was to write later, describing what we have come to know as the Aldersgate moment,

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation. And an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and save me from the law of sin and death.

But it is also impossible to have a real experience with God unless you understand what Christianity is all about. Lewis pointed out that there were those in his time who sought a religion of God without the church; who claimed to feel God’s presence in the world around them. I am not sure of the date when Lewis wrote that (sometime after World War I, I think) but it is still true today. We hear many people say, “I don’t need to come to church because I see God around me all the time.” It is true that God is a part of our everyday lives, but unless we understand why Christ was sent for our salvation God cannot be a true part of our lives.

The evangelist Philip can tell you about the need to understand why Christ saved us.

But as for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, "Go over to the road that runs from Jerusalem through the Gaza Desert, arriving around noon." So he did, and who should be coming down the road but the Treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the Queen. He had gone to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, and was now returning in his chariot, reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the chariot."

Philip ran over and heard what he was reading and asked, "Do you understand it?"

"Of course not!" the man replied. "How can I when there is no one to instruct me?" And he begged Philip to come up into the chariot and sit with him.

The passage of Scripture he had been reading from was this:

"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before the shearers, so he opened not his mouth; in his humiliation, justice was denied him; and who can express the wickedness of the people of his generation? For his life is taken from the earth."

The eunuch asked Philip, "Was Isaiah talking about himself or someone else?"

So Philip began with this same Scripture and then used many others to tell him about Jesus. (Acts 8: 26 – 35)

What this passage for Acts tells is what Peter also pointed out in the Epistle reading for today, that the words that we read are nothing unless we are open to the presence of the Holy Spirit as well.

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love’ with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the scared mountain.

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

That is still true today. What we know about Christ only comes true when the Holy Spirit is present in our lives. For without the Holy Spirit the words that we write are just words, without true meaning, but we must be able to write the words that explain what the Holy Spirit is about. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that gives a meaning to our lives, as Peter wrote, “ a light shining in a dark place.”

This day is about discovering God in our lives, about letting the Holy Spirit be a part of our lives.. There may be times when we might think that God is not here, that he has left us alone in the wilderness. As C. S. Lewis wrote on another occasion

…in order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind. We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake. (From Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis)

We might think that God has forgotten us but we have to remember that, as Lewis wrote, God is here and we only have to look for him.

Even while wandering through the wilderness during the Exodus, the Israelites knew that their God was never far away. As noted in Exodus 13: 21 – 22

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 fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13: 21 – 22)

And God was there in the cloud, the fire, and smoke when He renewed the covenant with Moses that He had first established with Abraham. When the three disciples saw Moses and the prophet Elijah standing next to Christ on that mountaintop, it was to show them that the old covenant, promised to Abraham and renewed by Moses with the Ten Commandments, was to be renewed and begun anew with Jesus.

The Transfiguration of Christ served to help the three disciples know that what they felt in their hearts was true, that Christ was the Son of God. Through our reading, we know that Christ is truly the Son of God but we often don’t understand it because the Holy Spirit is not a part of us.

It is that way for us. The presence of Christ in our lives is a transfiguring moment for us. It is that moment when the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and changes our lives.

Peter Jenkins wrote a series of books depicting his journey across America and his own personal journey. As he passed through North Carolina, he came to understand why he had begun the walk. But it was not until later, in Mobile, when he attended a revival, that he felt the presence of God in his soul. As he wrote,

I was going to die. The deepest corners of my being were lit with thousand-watt light bulbs. It was as if God himself were looking into my soul, through all my excuses, my dark secrets. All of me was exposed in God’s searchlight.

When the question ended its roaring echo, I decided for the first time to admit I needed God. This must be the God I had been searching for, and the same One they worshiped back in Murphy (NC) at Mount Zion. (A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins)

Just as John Wesley knew that he could trust in the Lord, Peter Jenkins came to the understanding that Jesus Christ had died for him. With that understanding Peter accepted Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior. That same understanding allowed him to appreciate how the Holy Spirit could guide him through life.

In the dark in downtown Mobile as I walked home, I felt the smile on my face and the glow of heaven around me. My soul had been like a wavering compass needle, but now it finally pointed to true north. I had found my lifetime direction. (A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins)

Just as Peter Jenkins felt the smile on his face and the glow of heaven in his heart and John Wesley felt his heart warmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, so to we can know the meaning of Christ in our life.

What is your first memory of Christ in your life? Do you remember when it was, like Wesley, that you knew that you could trust Him? If there ever was one thing that I want you to take away from this service today, it is the memory of when you first came to know Jesus as your Savior, for that day is very much what we read about in the scriptures today.

And if you are not sure if Christ is a part of your life, then the invitation is made to open your heart and allow Him to enter into in, transforming your life and allow a light to shine in the darkness.


That Moment In Time


This is the message I presented on Transfiguration Sunday, 2 March 2003, at Tompkins Corners UMC. The Scriptures were 2 Kings 2:1 – 12, 2 Corinthians 4:3 – 6, and Mark 9: 2 – 9.

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Our lives can easily be seen as a journey. It is a journey that for some takes them to faraway places while others stay within reasonable distance of where they were born and grew up. But no matter whether your journey through life has involved great distances and various settings, it is a journey that has passed through time.

Each of our own journeys is marked by certain moments in time. Some of these are private moments, shared with those close to us. Others are public moments that allow us to be part of the world around us. Others are internal, that only we know and choose to share when we desire.

We mark our journey through life with private moments in times such as our own birth or the birth of our children and grandchildren, our marriage and the marriages of our children. Our yearly journey through time is marked by that singular day, though as we grow older the celebrations often grow more somber and less announced. We all remember the approach to our 16th birthday when we knew the independence that it would mark. Somehow, as parents, we view the 16th birthday of our children will a little less celebration and much more trepidation.

Public moments in time are those moments when others come to know who we are and what we are. You cannot make such moments in time happen but the moments in time that do happen will define who you are. Those who try to force time to march to their own tune often find their efforts futile.

In 1857, John Brown led a raid on the armory at Harpers’ Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia) with the intent of inciting the slaves of northern Virginia to rebel against their owners. But the raid was a failure and though some in the anti-slavery movements of the time may have considered him a martyr, it is hard to see how. John Brown chose to use violence as a means of fighting violence. No matter if one feels that their actions are correct, when you use the same methods as those whom you oppose, you are more likely to fail. John Brown’s actions did not solve anything, if anything they hastened inevitable conflict between the North and the South and brought more bloodshed to that period in time when blood was being spilled; in fact, in one of those interesting sidelights to history, the first casualty in the John Brown’s raid was a freed black.

But there are times when the moment is decided by other events. When Rosa Parks got on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the cold December 1st in 1955, she had no intention of becoming a landmark in time, a moment to remember for years to come. It had been a long day of work and she was tired, so she sat down. But she sat down in the front of the bus, an act that, according to the laws of Montgomery at that time, was illegal for her to do. Rosa Parks was black and the laws of the time required that she go to the back of the bus. It made no difference if there were empty seats in the front or there were no empty seats in the back, the law required that she go to the back of the bus.

But she was tired, so she sat down and shortly thereafter was arrested. Her arrest led to the boycott of the Montgomery bus lines by the blacks of Montgomery (who represented the majority of the riders on the bus system at that time). This boycott was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., a young preacher, fresh from seminary and new to Montgomery. This single incident is marked as the watershed event in the struggle for civil and human rights and brought Dr. King to the forefront of black leadership. It was the beginning of Dr. King’s work to bring equality to all and led him to Memphis in 1968 where he helped the sanitation works in their efforts to earn a living wage. That is where, of course, Dr. King’s journey through life ended, killed by an assassin on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

The reading from the Old Testament today also represents a moment in time, a passage from the old to the new. Elijah had been the Israel’s major prophet but his time had come and his journey was ended. The reward for his journey was a trip to heaven, one of such spectacular nature that it is memorialized by its early position in the 2nd Book of Kings. Now it is someone else’s turn. For Elisha, Elijah’s student, this is a moment of uncertainty. Elisha repeats three times that he will stay with Elijah no matter what happens, even though Elijah cautions him to stay where he is.

But at that moment when Elijah departs, Elisha wants an assurance that he will receive a double portion of the ministry’s gifts. When a father died, the principal heir received a double portion of his father’s goods (remember the trick Jacob played on Isaac in order to be the principal heir). Elisha wanted this principle to apply to spiritual goods as well as material goods. There were a number of people who could be the spiritual heir to Elijah’s ministry.

If Elisha were to be the true heir and follow Elijah’s model of life and mission, he was going to need the God-given spiritual gifts that Elijah possessed. It was not out of pride that Elisha wanted a double share of that ministry but rather out of a sense that he could not meet the goals of the ministry alone. History shows that Elisha accomplished twice as many miracles as did Elijah and one can assume that his request was granted

Paul writes about the gifts that God has given to him, gifts similar to those that Elisha wanted and received. Paul acknowledged on many occasions that it was God’s mercy and not his own ability that directed his ministry and provided the impetus for its success. But he points out that the basis for his success is not often seen by all. In a discourse before the passage from 2nd Corinthians for today, Paul defends his preaching as the preaching of the truth and not self-promotion. He, as he writes in verse 5, is not preaching for his own sake or proclaiming his ministry but rather the ministry of Jesus Christ and the salvation that it brings.

There is that one moment in time that is unique to each one of us, one that is internal and only shared with others when we chose to do so, either by our words or our deeds. And that is the time that we like Peter, James and John, meet Jesus, not as a figure in a historical sense but rather as the Christ, our Savior. It may not come on a mountaintop as it did for the three disciples, it might not come with thunder and lightning as Elisha’s encounter did but it will come. And when it does it will change our lives. Paul speaks of the light of understanding, that moment when the Gospel is revealed to each one of us individually. It changes our lives, it changes the path that we are walking, and it changes the way we see life itself.

And despite what others may say, it is our moment in time alone. Though others will come to know Jesus in the same manner, the way in which they arrive at that moment in time is unique to their lives. There is no way that others can tell you how it will happen but you can tell others that it did happen. Jesus did not want the three to discuss what happened that day on the mountaintop because it was not the time nor the place. But when he died and rose from the grave, then it was the time.

For each of us there is that same moment in time. That time when we come to know who Christ is and what he means for us. Paul himself knew that Christ was the light that would lead him out of the darkness. It is the same for us. In a world of darkness and turmoil, where it is easier to be self-centered than it is to share, where war and violence seem to be the answer, Christ is the light that shines the brightest.

Some have come to Christ and know the peace and strength found through Him. It was the strength that Paul used when the days of his mission work seemed futile and hopeless. Others are still looking for the light, a way out of the darkness.

This is that moment in time when the light is found and shines out of the darkness. This is that moment in time when Christ speaks to you individually and says to you, “Peace I bring to you.” And for those, who have heard the message of peace, it is that moment in time, as it was for Elisha, that the ministry begins.

Our life is a journey, marked with moments in time. What moment in time does today represent for you?