Disney and the Transfigured Life

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, March 2, 2014.

Reading: Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:3-21

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to speak and live your Word in the world starting today.  Amen.

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It had been six days.[1]

Six days since Jesus had scolded Peter: the rock on which the church would be built.

It had been six days since Peter had tried to correct Jesus.

Six days since Jesus, in a fit of rage, yelled at Peter, “Get behind me Satan.  You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[2]

It had been six days since Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”[3]

Six days since Jesus had said, “All who want to save their lives will lose them.  But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.”[4]

It had been six days since Jesus had assured his disciples that that they would not have to wait to see the coming of God’s Kingdom.  In fact, says Jesus, “I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”[5]

Six days had passed when Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to follow him to the top of a mountain.  As they reached the summit, Jesus’ was transfigured—his face was as bright as the sun on a clear day and his clothes were dazzling white.  And, you remember what happens?  Jesus, Moses, and Elijah enter into deep conversation.  Peter, always over eager to prove himself, tries to hold onto the moment by offering to build three shrines.  A fog falls around them.  God claims Jesus as his beloved Son and instructs the disciples to listen to Jesus.  The disciples cower in fear.  The fog lifts.  Don’t be afraid, says Jesus, and don’t say a word about this to anyone.

I can imagine how difficult this must have been for Peter, James, and John.  The other disciples would have asked what happened while they were away.  This was, quite literally, a “mountaintop experience,” that would defy most people’s imagination.  It was a story that needed to be told.  But, Jesus calls them to silence.  Don’t talk.  Shut up and follow me.

What the disciples would later learn, and what Peter would later confirm after the resurrection in his second pastoral letter (the second reading for today), is that God’s glory is witnessed by and shown through–the divine nature shared by–those who follow Jesus closely.

We all long for mountaintop experiences, but Jesus reminds us that the real experience of God’s glory shines brightest in the valley.  Don’t worry about how you’ll explain what you see or do.  In fact, don’t speak at all, says Jesus.  You’ll just muck it all up.  Instead, follow me closely.  Go where I go.  Do what I do.  Follow me.

It’s in the following the glory manifests.  And where [Peter, James and John] were to follow next, in Matthew’s gospel, was down the mountain to witness Jesus cure a boy horribly wracked by seizures, understood to be a sign of possession by a demon, a demon none of the other disciples had been able to cast out. This is the glory, showing compassion and strength in the face of disease and destruction, setting an “unclean” child (and his family!) free.  “Listen to [Jesus].” [6]

Follow Jesus.  Go where he leads and do what he commands and the glory of God will be made real all around you.

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Chandra, Stella, and I had the opportunity to spend a few days at Disney World this past week with friends.  It’s the first time I’ve been to Disney as an adult and parent.  It was fun seeing my daughter’s eyes come alive as Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Minnie Mouse all made time to see her Monday morning as we ate breakfast at the Crystal Palace.  It was a great experience; and, I was reminded why so many people from all over the world travel to the Florida marshland with all its heat and humidity to eat over-priced food and mingle with over-stuffed animals.  They go—and I will go back—because Disney is a place where the diversity of humanity is not only seen, but welcomed.  It’s a place where all are treated like princes and princesses.  It’s a place where the best of humanity is celebrated.  It’s a place where all your dreams come true.  It is a place where good always triumphs over evil.

Monday afternoon, I was quietly pushing Stella around the Magic Kingdom while she napped.  It was an hour and a half of quiet reflection in the midst of a crowded theme park (an introverts dream!).  I found this relatively quiet path near the Crystal Palace, in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle, where I could walk a loop without having to weave in between an inordinate amount of people.  While walking I had the opportunity to watch a fictional battle between good and evil take place on the steps of Cinderella’s Castle.  Mickey and his friends were dancing when all of the sudden Maleficent, the villain from Sleeping Beauty, appeared from behind a puff of green smoke.  In a moment of triumph she claims Mickey’s Kingdom to be a place where darkness rules and nightmares come true.  In a last ditch effort to save the kingdom, Mickey rallied the crowd, getting all of us to chant: “dreams really do come true.  Dreams really do come true.”  With that statement of belief, goodness overcame evil; and, just as Maleficent was about to disappear, she turned to Mickey and said, “One day the kingdom will stop believing and all will be lost!”

There is a deep, spiritual truth in Maleficent’s words.  When Christians stop believing—or using language from 2 Peter, when our faith stops growing—all is lost, the work of God ceases and God’s Kingdom is destroyed.  When we stop believing that God’s glory really is shining all around us, that God’s Kingdom will surely come on earth as it is in heaven, that we can share in God’s “divine nature” (love)–when we stop believing, evil wins the day and all is lost.

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We all have a tendency to want to hold on to our “mountaintop” or Disney experiences.  It’s why Peter wanted to make three shrines to commemorate Jesus’ transfiguration.  It’s why some of us insist on singing 200 year old hymns or use outdated liturgy.  It’s why we buy Mickey ears to wear home.  These things remind us of the experience.  The danger is that hanging on to those things can cement the experience rather than allowing God’s Spirit to continue to work and shine in all its glory in new ways (ways we perhaps never expected).

The beauty of the Gospel is that Disney, mountaintop experiences were never meant to be confined to a specific time or place.  They are not static.

Experiences of grace, peace, and love—places where God’s glory shines brightly, where the best dreams for humanity come true, times when we share in the divine nature—are not meant to be isolated, exceptional events.  As we follow Jesus, the Christ, those experiences become far from the exception, they become the norm bringing light in a dark world.  As we follow Jesus evermore closely—and stop running our mouths—we’ll find that God’s Kingdom will truly come, God’s glory will be manifest all around us.

Perhaps the reason so many people go to Disney—and, perhaps, the reason so few people go to church—is that Disney gives people a better reason to believe.  And that shouldn’t be.

Friends, we have a lot of work to do.  Borrowing some of Peter’s word,

We must make every effort to add moral excellence to our faith; and to moral excellence, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, endurance; and to endurance, godliness; and to godliness, affection for others; and to affection for others, love. If all these are ours and they are growing in us, they’ll keep us from becoming inactive and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

They’ll keep the Kingdom a present reality.

Follow Christ.  Go where he leads.  Do what he commands.  Grow evermore in your love for God and neighbor.  Do these things and the glory of God will manifest itself all around, God’s Kingdom will surely come and people will once again find a reason to believe in the one true and living God.


[1] It had been six day in Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel of Mark confirms that six days had passed (see Mark 9:2); however, the Gospel of Luke records that it had been “about eight days”(see Luke 9:28).  I don’t think that there’s any significance to the difference; however, it is important to know that this is one of those places where the Gospels agree in the overall message and story, but disagree in the minute details.  I think we 21st century Christians can learn a lot from this (and, perhaps, other) “differences” in the Gospel witnesses.  Can Christians not learn to agree on the overall message and stop bickering about the minutiae of our faith?  There are times when I think we Christians should simply agree to disagree and keep working together so that we might see the fulfillment of God’s glory on earth as it is in heaven.  It doesn’t really matter whether it was 6 or about 8 days.  It doesn’t really matter whether the earth was created in 7 or a gazillion days.  What matters is that God created and that Peter, James and John saw the glory of God shine through Jesus.  The world needs that same glory, God’s glory, to shine through us so that a dark world might come to see, follow, and share the light!

[2] Matthew 16:23, Common English Bible.

[3] Matthew 16:24,Common English Bible.

[4] Matthew 16:25, Common English Bible.

[5] Matthew 16:28, Common English Bible.

[6] “Preaching: Transfiguration Sunday (March 2, 2014),” GBOD.org<http://www.gbod.org/lead-your-church/lectionary-planning-helps/transfiguration-sunday2> Accessed March 1, 2014.

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