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God Breaks Through
February 3, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 17:1-9

Jesus took the Big Three on a retreat to the top of Mt. Tabor. The Big Three, his cabinet, were Peter, James and John, the same three disciples Jesus took with him for a special time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night in which he was betrayed.

On top of Mt. Tabor, there was a moment of glory. Jesus was transfigured. His face shone like the sun. His clothes were a dazzling white. No doubt, the disciples were dumfounded. Suddenly, two spiritual figures appeared-- Moses and Elijah. I’ve often wondered how they were recognized. How did the disciples know they were Moses and Elijah? Were they wearing signs?

When I visited Mt. Tabor, they divided our group and put us into taxis. Our taxi driver was wild and reckless. He took us up at top speed, squealing around the corners, driving close to the edge of the cliffs. He couldn’t speak English, but at every breathtaking curve, he hollered, “Hallelujah!” (which is Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”). By the time we reached the top, we decided we also might see visions!

We call this event the Transfiguration of our Lord, and it is read on the last Sunday before Lent. Lent is the 40-day period (excluding Sundays) leading up to the crucifixion. The Transfiguration inaugurates Lent. Note the contrast—the highs and lows; a glorious Transfiguration on one hand, and the humiliating, painful crucifixion on the other. The Transfiguration, high on a mountain, preceded the long, lonesome journey to death on a cross.

It is significant to recall the context in which the Transfiguration occurred. Six days earlier Jesus and all the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi, the source of the Jordan River. Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the one for whom we have been waiting.” According to Matthew 16.21, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter reacted, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 

While Jesus was talking about and facing his suffering and death, he was transfigured. Highs and lows. When life is tough, God breaks through in moments of glory. The Transfiguration may be difficult for us to comprehend, but don’t discount what God can do. There is more to life than what we perceive. There is more than the explanations offered to us through biology, chemistry, psychology, sociology or politics. There is more going on than our puny, logical, limited minds can perceive, conceive, and explain. The Transfiguration is an event of hope and glory, an event in which God breaks through. In the transfiguration of Jesus, the spirit world broke though into our world.

While in Arizona last month, we worshiped at the church where our son, his wife and daughters are members, the church where I served as interim pastor several years ago. The pastor told us about a young man who had no time for church until the doctor told him he had cancer and would have one to three months to live. Then he came to church. He came to a healing service. He knelt, hands were laid on him, prayers for healing were prayed, and God broke through. The young man was transformed, and God gave him a ministry of reconciliation. He had been estranged from most of his family, but after the experience, he set out to restore the relationships. He was not healed of cancer, but his relationship with his family was healed. God gave him 11 months to live, rather than three. Before he died, he told the pastor, “I am not afraid. I have peace.” When he died, his bed was surrounded by his once estranged family. God broke through. God doesn’t necessarily keep us from trouble, illness, or death, but God helps us deal with what happens. God breaks through in moments of glory.

Three-year old Brian had been trapped beneath the automatic garage door for several minutes when his mother found him dead. A neighbor, who was a doctor, performed CPR. The paramedics continued the treatment while they rushed Brian to the hospital. They revived him and the surgeons began operating. The door had crushed his little sternum right over his heart. They worried about both heart and brain damage. 24 hours later, Brian woke up, reached out to his father, and said, “Daddy, hold me.” He had no permanent neurological or physical damage.

A month later, Brian said to his mother, “Sit down, Mommy. I have something to tell you.” Brian, only three years old, usually spoke in small phrases, so the long sentence surprised his mother. She sat down with him and he began his remarkable story.

“Do you remember when I got stuck under the garage door? Well, it was so heavy and it hurt really bad. I called to you, but you couldn’t hear me. I started to cry, and then the birdies came.”

“The birdies?” his mother asked, puzzled.

“Yes, the birdies made a whooshing sound and they came into the garage. They took care of me.”

“They did?”

“Yes, one of the birdies came and got you. She came to tell you I got stuck under the door.”

A sweet, powerful, reverent feeling filled the room. His mother realized Brian had no concept of death and spirits, so she asked, “What did the birdies look like?”

“They were so beautiful. They were dressed in white. Some of them wore green and white.”

“Did they say anything?”

“Yes, they told me the baby would be all right.”

“The baby?”

“The baby laying on the garage floor. You came out and opened the garage door and ran to the baby. You told the baby to stay and not leave.”

His mother nearly collapsed, for she had indeed gone and knelt beside Brian’s body. Seeing his crushed chest, she had looked around her and whispered, “Don’t leave us, Brian, please stay if you can.” She now realized that his spirit had left his body and was looking down from above on this little lifeless form.

“Then what happened?”

“We went on a trip, far, far away. We flew so fast up in the air. They’re so pretty, Mommy, and there is lots and lots of birdies.”

Brian went on to tell her that the birdies told him he had to come back and tell everyone about the birdies. He said they brought him back to the house and a big fire truck and an ambulance were there. A man was bringing the baby out on a white bed. Birdies told him he had to go with the ambulance, but they would be near him. He said they were so pretty and so peaceful, and he didn’t want to come back. And then the bright light came. He said the light was bright and warm, and he loved the bright light. Someone in the light hugged him and said, “I love you but you have to go back. You have to play baseball, and tell everyone about the birdies.”

God breaks through. There is a spirit world all around us, and when life looks bleak, it sometimes crashes in. Note how Brian described the bright light. Jesus was transfigured by a bright light. I’ve asked my wife, Eleanor, to tell you about a time in her life when God broke through.

“It was a clear mid-afternoon that I was driving up a mountain pass when I stopped for road construction. The last in a line of cars, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw behind and below me a vehicle coming at an incredible speed.

“Oh,” I prayed, “don’t hit me;” and then with my foot on the brake and holding my breath, I waited. As I heard the impact, I saw in the sky in front and above me a colorful display and wondered why there were fireworks in November.

Next, I heard a woman’s voice screaming, “Lady, are you all right?” I looked to see a woman pounding on the passenger side window. The vehicles which had been in the lanes ahead and next to me were gone.

During the weeks and months following, I was exhausted, had difficulty focusing and preparing a meal was impossible. Pain was excruciating.

One evening late in March, Doug looked me and asked, “Are you worried about your health?” I looked at him and said, “I don’t know, I just know I’m not right.”

A bit later, contemplating what was not right, the words “life-force” came to mind, and I realized that mine was gone. I got ready for bed, lay down, then got up, walked into our office where Doug was working and began gathering up several business documents. I said, “If anything should happen to me, you need to know where these are and I’m putting everything in this lower desk drawer.”

I went back to bed and prayed, putting myself in God’s hands. I thanked Him for my life, and recounted the precious experiences of family, events and people that had filled my life. I was grateful. I shut my eyes and did not expect to wake up in the morning.

But I did wake up, and it was not yet morning. It was dark. On the wall opposite our bed, the heavy window drapes were closed, but at the corner juncture of the ceiling and wall, there was a brilliant circle of deep yellow light. I knew immediately what it was and with a sense of quiet peace, I watched as the bright circle of yellow light slowly descended diagonally down toward me. It hovered over my feet and then slowly moved up over me as I felt sensations of warmth and energy. At one point, I excitedly thought, “I’m going to be all right! I’ll get up and start doing this and that”; but then told myself, “No, just wait; let this happen.”

The light moved very slowly through me; leaving a feeling of gentle warmth and vibrancy. It passed through my head, seemed to hover behind me, then came back and moved down through my body more quickly this time until suddenly my right toe touched my left toe and the sensation was so startling that I jerked in alarm. I realized I had not had feeling there for a long time.

The light then was gone and again I had the thought that I should get up and start working, but decided to lie there until Doug awoke so that I could tell him. He asked, “How do you feel now?” “Wonderful.” God is Good.”

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris