James, John, and Peter must have been quite star-struck on the Mount of Transfiguration as they watched these three heroes of the faith talk together.
Moses, who had survived a death sentence, who had confronted an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave, who had told Pharaoh to let God’s people go, who had called forth the plagues and led an often ungrateful people through the harsh wilderness. Moses who met God on Mount Horeb and received the ten commandments. Moses is on the mountain.
And Elijah, who had also survived a death sentence, also confronted a king—and queen, who fed the widow and raised her son, who took on the prophets of Baal. Elijah who also met God on Mount Horeb, not in the earthquake or the whirlwind or the fire, but in the still small voice. Elijah is on the mountain.
And Jesus, who also confronted powerful leaders; who also fed the hungry and healed the sick; who also led confused people through a type of wilderness; who also confronted false gods. Jesus who also comes to a mountain to pray. Jesus who will also, in his own way, survive a death sentence. Jesus is on the mountain.
All three of these men were called to do difficult things for God. And, God came to each of them in some pretty astounding ways in the midst of their hard work and struggle.
Moses had the burning bush, and the miracles before Pharaoh, and the water from the rock, and manna from heaven, and the voice on Mt. Horeb.
Elijah had the ravens bringing him food, and the replenishing oil and flour, and the fire from heaven, and the chariot of fire, and the voice on Mt. Horeb.
Jesus had the baptismal blessing, and the angels in the wilderness, and the multiplying food, and the miraculous healings, and the voice on the mountain.
God had called these men to hard tasks, yes. But God also provided the encouragement they needed to carry out their calls. God provided physical and spiritual nourishment to them at their times of need so that they could, ultimately, carry out the difficult tasks God had entrusted to them.
And that is a comforting thought, right? To know that if God calls you to some difficult task, God will walk with you, God will provide for you so that you can accomplish that task. If God call you to feed the hungry, heal the sick, speak truth to power, fight oppressive systems . . . if God calls you to do these hard things, God will be with you as you do it. You will be allowed to hear God’s voice and experience God’s encouragement.
I’m afraid, though, that we might have it backwards. In which case the story is not quite so comforting.
What if it’s not that those who are called to a hard task get to hear the voice of God?
What if it is that any of us foolish enough to listen for God’s voice will be called to a hard task?
If Moses had seen that burning bush and walked in the opposite direction, he would never have had to confront Pharaoh.
If Elijah, even though his name means “my God is Yahweh,” had just decided that his God was not Yahweh, he could have been a regular person instead of a prophet.
If Jesus had spent less time in prayer listening to God and more time listening to Peter and others who wanted him to be a victorious hero, he could have avoided the cross.
Was God present with these men because they were called to do hard things? Or were they called to do hard things because they paid attention to God’s presence?
When we seek God’s voice—in scripture, in prayer, in worship—do we realize how risky that is? When we head up the mountain, are we ready for the light and the vision and the voice that may call us to the dangerous, difficult work of the Kingdom?
This post is adapted from a sermon preached on February 7, 2016.
You can find a call to worship for Transfiguration Sunday here.