The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 2/6/05
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

A man had 50 yard line tickets for the Super Bowl. As he sits down, a man comes down and asked the man if anyone is sitting in the seat next to him. "No", he said, "the seat is empty."

"This is incredible," said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the world, and not use it?"

Somberly, the man says, "Well...the seat actually belongs to me. I was supposed to come here with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first Super Bowl we have not been together since we got married in 1967."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. That's terrible. But couldn't you find someone else...friend or relative or even a neighbor to take the seat?"

The man shakes his head, "No. They're all at her funeral."(1)

Super Bowl Sunday. Always a big deal in this nation. Transfiguration Sunday too. Probably less of a deal to most folks than the Super Bowl. Not to Peter, James, and John, I'd bet. The day had started off ordinary enough - Jesus and his three closest friends go up on a high mountain. Nothing unusual. Jesus often went off from the crowds to pray and rest. Nothing particularly mind-boggling about that.

But from here on, the boggling begins in earnest. No sooner do they arrive than Jesus is suddenly "transfigured." He "glowed." As the text has it, "His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light." Wow! And if that is not mind-boggling enough, two of faith's most honored dead guys suddenly appear by Jesus' side. Moses, the great law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet par excellence - the Law and the Prophets - paying respect to Jesus, in whom both are brought together. This is both literally and figuratively a "mountain-top experience." No wonder Peter, James, and John are terrified.

Of course, a little terror never stopped Peter from speaking up; for lack of any other ideas, he suggests erecting three shelters to commemorate the event! Joan Chittester writes, "I think what he had in mind was a chancery, a seminary and a college. Peter, in other words, was opting for a religion of temples, institutions and shrines. Peter was opting for a religion that transcends the world, but the scripture reads that before he could even finish speaking, God interrupted and said, 'Listen.'"(2) Big-time boggle! It was so extra ordinary that when it was all over, and Jesus and Peter and James and John were headed back down the mountain, Jesus told them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen." That made sense. Who would have believed it anyway? But the three of them believed it. They had been there, and those moments on that mountain would forever mark their lives and change the way they looked at everything. Certain mind-boggling moments have a way of doing that.

What boggles your mind? Could be any number of things on a day like today. Want to go to the Super Bowl? Ticket prices for Super Bowl I in 1967 were between $6 and $12. This year a ticket lists for $500, if you can get one. There were stories in the paper early in the week of people mortgaging their homes to go to the game. That boggles my mind. Lots of people will see it without being there - some 145-million people watched last year - nine of the top ten most watched TV shows of all time have been Super Bowls. More parties are held on Super Bowl Sunday than New Years Eve. People eat more food on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day but Thanksgiving.(3)

And that fact, of course, is a reminder of S-O-U-P-E-R Bowl, the wonderful effort begun almost accidentally with a prayer offered in 1988 by Brad Smith, then a seminary intern at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C.: "Lord, as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without even a bowl of soup to eat." Two years later, the Souper Bowl of Caring began with 22 congregations from seven denominations participating. Last year almost 13,000 congregations (including ours) generated $4.3-million for hunger ministries and charities as young people stood at the exits of their sanctuaries collecting $1.00 donations from parishioners. Each youth group gets to choose which charity to support; here in Warren, our Souper Bowl money this year will go to the Sharing Place, whose federal funding has been reduced this year. The government says it wants to expand partnerships with faith-based organizations, but then, when no one is looking, it reduces the money. Go figure. Meanwhile, the national goal for the Souper Bowl of Caring this year is $5-million, less than the cost of two 30-second commercials during tonight's broadcast. That is a mind-boggler all by itself.

Back to our gospel lesson. Jesus, Peter, James, and John head back down the mountain, away from the mystical, down to where they find real people with real needs. Real religion is not about building temples and keeping shrines. Real religion is about healing hurts, helping the helpless, giving voice to the voiceless and remembering the forgotten who are down in the valley, even those valleys of darkest shadows.

Sam Shoemaker, one of the great preachers in the first half of the last century, confessed that during his seminary days, as he studied and reflected on God and creation, that he found it difficult to imagine how the Lord could even THINK about these little specks of life called human beings. How could God have time for us when there was so much more to demand the divine attention? Shoemaker explained his thoughts to one of his professors, an eminently wise man. "Mr. Shoemaker," he said, "your problem is that your God is too small. God takes care of the sun, the moon, and the stars with just a word. Now, God has all the time in the world just for you and me." Mind boggling.

What boggles your mind? Shining faces? Glowing garments? Super Bowl excesses? Perhaps. And perhaps one thing more. A simple invitation to a meal. The boggling comes when we realize just who it is who has invited us. We who so often think of ourselves as not much more than a grain among the sands of time are invited to the table of the one who created all the sand. It does not compute. But then, it does not HAVE to. We can simply accept the invitation by faith.

That does not mean we ignore the fact that we do not understand it all. We admit it, and come anyway...just as we do in so many areas of our lives. We do not understand how brown cows eat green grass and give white milk, but we still pour it on our cereal. We do not understand a mother's love or a father's patience, but we count on them and cherish them. We do not understand how pain can help us grow, but we know that it does. Yes, there is much we do not understand, much that boggles the mind, and this is just one more thing. Come. The Lord of all the universe is waiting for you. You. You.


1. Thanks to my friend Bill Carter for the reminder of this old evergreen.

2. Joan Chittester, "The Role of Religion in Today's Society, 11/24/91, via internet


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