Matthew 17:1-9

Wonderfully Scared

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Matthew 17:1-9

Wonderfully Scared

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today I want to talk with you about how we can allow ourselves to be ambushed. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The story I am about to tell you is true. It concerns Larry Walters, a thirty-three year-old truck driver who lives in California. It seems that one day Larry is sitting in his backyard, wishing he could fly.

There is nothing unusual about this. For as long as he can remember, he has wanted to fly. But somehow he’s never had the time or the money or the opportunity to learn. Even hang gliding is out: there’s no place suitable for it near his home.

So Larry spends many afternoons just sitting in his backyard in his ordinary old lawn chair — the kind with the webbing and the rivets, the kind many of us have in our backyards.

This one particular day, however, Larry decides to do something about his desire to fly. He hooks forty-five surplus weather balloons onto his lawn chair. He puts on a parachute, attaches a six pack of beer to the chair, sets a CB radio on his lap, ties a paper bag full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to his leg, and slings a BB gun over his shoulder. (The gun is to pop the balloons when he wants to come down.)

Larry then sits back and prepares for lift-off. He expects to rise a couple hundred feet above his neighborhood. Instead, he ascends eleven thousand feet right through the approach corridor to Los Angeles International Airport!

When asked by the press why he did it, Larry answers, “Well, you can’t just sit there.” When asked if he was scared during his flight, he replies, “Yes . . . . wonderfully so.” [Robert Fulgham, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (New York: Villard Books, 1988), p. 139.]

Peter would have said the same thing if someone asked him how he felt seeing Jesus transfigured. He would have said yes, he was scared, wonderfully so!

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The episode starts out in a way that’s ordinary enough. Jesus invites his closest disciples to join him for a hike in the mountains. It is to be a time for relaxation, a chance to see the view from the summit.

Once they make it to the mountaintop, Jesus talks with them about the significance of his ministry. He speaks about how God’s purpose is revealed through the long and tumultuous history of Israel. He explores with them the majesty of the Law, the magnificence of the Prophets.

The conversation begins to feel to Peter almost like a dream. He experiences Jesus as honored by great figures from the past. The person of Jesus communicates to him something beyond words and language, an illumination that comes from another world.

Peter senses the entire scene as wrapped up and protected within the glory of God. Although gripped by a sublime and holy fear, still Peter wants to remain in this place forever.

Larry Walters goes up in his lawn chair as planned, yet travels further than he ever expected. Peter climbs the mountain as he intended, but arrives at a startling destination. He sees the door at the end of time cracked open just a little.

He gazes on the glorious consummation of all things in Jesus. Even a brief moment looking into that future proves to be a scary experience for Peter. It leaves him awestruck, stuttering. It’s also a wonderful experience. Peter wants to prolong and preserve it.

Only a few days before, Jesus had announced that soon he would suffer and die and be raised again. Peter had resisted this prophecy. Now he is privileged to see past his friend’s impending death. He sees past his own doubts and unfaithfulness. He sees beyond all this to a reality far greater: to a beauty and truth and goodness that are steadfast, immovable.

There on the mountaintop, Peter is privileged to glimpse the glorious conclusion of the story of Jesus, and to see there the conclusion of his own and all other stories.

Never again will Peter view life as he did before. Never again will he view death as he did before. He will not forget the reality he saw, the future bright with glory. The experience fills him with fear–and gives him hope. He is wonderfully scared!

Larry Walters, aloft in his lawn chair with weather balloons all around, is ambushed. His flight takes him higher and further than he ever expected.

Peter also is ambushed. He intended simply to climb a mountain. But his climb takes him someplace else: to the doorstep of eternity.

How about us? Can we allow ourselves to be ambushed? Will we remain rooted to the ground, or will we take a few steps in the right direction, and permit ourselves to be swept away? We can be taken to some unexpected place, a place where we can gaze beyond our unfaithfulness, beyond our doubts, to a beauty, truth, and goodness that is steadfast, immovable.

There we will glimpse something of the conclusion of our stories and all stories. We will never again view life and death in quite the same way. We will find new gladness and unexpected courage.

In just a few days, Lent will begin. Each of us should plan now how we will observe this season rich with possibilities.

We can put down in writing our commitments about such practices as daily prayer, Bible reading, helping people in need, and living a life that is simple and attentive. Each of us can decide to “do something for Lent,” and put it down in writing–something we’re able to do, yet something that also challenges us.

Yet we must remember that these practices, though important, are only the equivalent of Larry Walters strapping weather balloons to his lawn chair. They are only the equivalent of Peter climbing up the mountain. They simply show that we do not want to stay where we are.

They show that we’re waiting to be ambushed, that we’re willing to be taken to the doorstep of eternity, that we want to be wonderfully scared by the God who prepares such good things for us as surpass our understanding.

I have spoken these words to you in the name of the God of startling balloon flights, mountaintop epiphanies, and every kind of holy surprise: the blessed and always mysterious Trinity.

— Copyright 2002, the Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.