This gospel lesson from Luke 9 tells about a summit meeting....a summit meeting, the likes of which are rarely covered on the front page of the daily newspaper.
A summit meeting is a big deal! A summit meeting gets lots of continuous press coverage. CNN broadcasts non-stop when a summit meeting is taking place.
That’s because a summit meeting is a "meeting at the top"...a coming-together of presidents and prime ministers, dictators and kings to consider weighty matters that will influence the course of human history.
Summit meetings are world-turning events: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta kinds of meetings....Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David kinds of meetings.
When a summit meeting takes place...we expect decisions to be announced, we anticipate agreements reached, we look for the world somehow never to be quite the same again.
The summit meeting that is going on here on the Mountain of Transfiguration involves two of the Old Testament’s biggest movers and shakers.
First there is Moses, who was no stranger to summit meetings. Having had his "Burning Bush" Summit....having met mighty Pharaoh of Egypt for a number of summit meetings....Moses went on to the biggest summit meeting of his life, when he met with God, face to face, on Mount Sinai. Moses represented the whole people of Israel at the "Giving of the Law" summit on Mount Sinai.
The Old Testament tells us that when Moses met with God for forty days and forty nights his face started to shine with the brilliance of God’s own splendor. It was as if some of God’s own luster had rubbed off on, been absorbed by Moses....so much so that his people couldn’t even bear to look him in the eye.
Good old Moses became “glow-in-the-dark” Moses. He could function as his own night light! So bright had Moses’s face become that he had to resort to wearing a veil just so he could resume normal conversation with his fellows.
Moses’ shining face reminds us powerfully that he, perhaps more than any other figure in the Old Testament, was accustomed to having direct conversation with God....
.....and that’s why Moses shows up again, in another summit meeting, in this gospel lesson from Luke 9.
But Moses is not alone here. He is joined by Elijah...a veteran of several other Old Testament "summit meetings."
If Moses had been old Israel’s greatest law-giver and leader, Elijah was Israel’s greatest prophet. Elijah socked it to 450 prophets of Baal at the Mount Carmel Summit. In a later summit meeting on Mount Horeb, Elijah heard God speak--not in wind or earthquake or fire--but in a still small voice.
Here in Luke 9, Moses reappears on the scene...as does Elijah....along with three ex-fisherman. The five of them gaze upon yet Another in their midst...Another whose garments are dazzling white and whose face is changed so that it reflects the very glory of God.
As Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John stare dumbfounded at the transfigured Christ, they hear a word from the cloud that enfolds them on the Mountain of Transfiguration: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Now there was a word, the likes of which Moses and Elijah...in all their summit meetings--had never heard spoken to them!
The Transfiguration Summit Meeting...is the one that singles out, locates, identifies, focuses our attention on God's Numero Uno, God’s "one and only." It is Jesus and him alone whose Word is worth hearing.
"This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
Listen to him...listen to Jesus...but about what?
What was the topic of conversation there at the Transfiguration Summit Meeting? Luke tells us in v. 31: "(Moses, Elijah and Jesus) appeared in glory and were speaking of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem."
The topic of conversation at the Transfiguration Summit was Jesus' impending departure...the departure that would transpire at the final summit of Jesus' life and ministry...the Jerusalem Summit, or more specifically, the Mt. Calvary Summit.
The Mt. Calvary summit would take place not on a lofty mountain-top like all the others...but on a lowly dump heap...in the middle of the city garbage pile, where public executions Roman-style took place. The vantage point Jesus would have there would be--not from a towering precipice--but from a splintery Cross.
The Word the voice on the Transfiguration Mountain spoke of...is the Word of the Cross...the Cross where Jesus changed the world forever, the Cross where Jesus led his own exodus out of bondage--our bondage to sin, death and the power of the devil. At the Cross Jesus liberated us from our slavery and led us into the freedom of the Promised Land where there is space for all.
When we soak up texts like this one...when we hear again the stories of God's "Summit Meetings" at places like Mt. Sinai, Mt. Horeb, Mt. Carmel and Mt. Calvary...we wish that we too might stand face to face with God on our own Transfiguration Mountain.
Wouldn’t it be great, if you and I could have such a summit meeting with God?
If that’s how you sometimes feel, I have good news for you. You’re at a summit meeting right now!
God still schedules summit meetings with us...summit meetings that are central to our lives of faith.
A summit meeting goes on right here in this very place at least once every seven days.
A summit meeting takes place here every week...whenever God pulls back the veil and is revealed among you in water and Word and bread and wine.
Because Jesus traveled from his summit meeting on the Transfiguration Mountain to Jerusalem, to the climactic summit meeting on Mt. Calvary for you and for me...we can continue to have summit meetings with God...where the benefits of the Mt. Calvary Summit grasp us, transfigure us and send us back to the plains of our lives where hurt is real, where pain is present, where challenges await, where mission and ministry beckon.
A summit meeting takes place right here every week...wherever and whenever we gather together to be met by God in syllables, in water, in food, and in each other.
Have you ever thought of weekly worship that way?
Whether we bring babies or new adult believers to the baptismal font....we don’t merely observe a quaint “christening” ceremony. We meet God. At the Baptismal Summit Meeting, God’s face shines upon us in a way that changes us forever. From that day forward, our faces shine like Moses’ face--with the glory of God who has taken up residence within us.
When we receive the bread and the wine...we aren’t simply “going through the motions” of some rote ritual. We meet God. At the Holy Communion Summit Meeting....God stoops down to meet us where we’re at, absorbs into himself all our sin and waywardness, draws so close to us that he gets right down under our very skin. God comes in simple food, to live inside of us.
When we open our ears to listen to God’s word being proclaimed....we don’t merely hear an interesting little talk or pick up some nifty advice. We meet God. In the Sermon Summit, God grabs us by the ears, pours his promises into us, reminds us of who we are, what we’re called to do, and where we’re heading.
Here’s where it happens. Every seven days. In worship: God has a summit meeting with us. God turns our world around. God announces his decision for us. God rubs off some of his glory upon us. God transfigures and transforms us so that we’ll never be the same old persons again.
And part of that transfiguration and transformation that we undergo has to do with God’s work in our world. God changes us from people content to keep good news to themselves into persons who know in the core of our being that good news simply has to be shared. We have friends, relatives, neighbors who need to hear, need to be grasped by the great story of Jesus and his love. Their faces may be dull and listless because they lack the hope, lack the confidence, lack the sense of purpose that God in Jesus Christ bestows on us every time we meet here for the weekly worship summit. God wants to make their faces glow with his own saving light!
Why keep coming here? Why dare to believe that this hour of worship is our summit meeting with God?
Because we take away so much, so very much from each and every encounter we have here with God and with one another.
We take God. God in us, God with us, God working out his purposes through us.
Lawrence Robert Wohlrabe was born in Mankato, MN. He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul. Luther Seminary awarded him a Doctor of Ministry degree with distinction.
Ordained in 1981, he served parishes in Willmar, MN; St. James, MN; and Moorhead, MN. He was also on the staff of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and the SW MN Synod ELCA, Redwood Falls, MN. Larry was elected bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod on June 10, 2007. He was re-elected bishop of the synod, to a second 6-year term on June 7, 2013.
Larry's wife, Joy, has worked many years as a hospital and hospice social worker. They have two young adult children, Erik and Kristen (married to Aaron) and two grandchildren, Olivia and Micah. Note: the views expressed here are Bishop Wohlrabe's views--not those of the NW MN Synod.