making meaning – a view from the mountaintop

epiphany-1-22-17 the text of the sermon, based on Matthew 17.1-9 and 2 Peter 1.16-21, that I had prepared to preach with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 26, 2017.

However, as happens on occasion, in the moment, something else occurred, truly, stirred within me, leading me to preach a similar, though extemporaneous, thus, unscripted message. As the words that came to me were not recorded, with apologies to my dear readers, the following sermon text is all I have to share!


Living requires, demands the art of making meaning. In every encounter, every experience, moment by moment, we add to our ever-increasing trove of memories, our constantly-evolving personal histories. With our physical senses, we hear, see, smell, taste, and touch and with our intuitions, perceive above and beneath, around and through all things; our observations taking shape in our opinions, our perceptions in our points of view. All of it giving shape to our sense of what is real and true.

We always, often unconsciously, are making meaning. Without this constant labor of life (of love!) our existence may seem to be, and perhaps can be nothing else than a random series of unrelated events; the only connection being that we are the ones living through them.

Now, I confess that most of the time when I reflect on my experience the meaning I make tends to validate the worldview I already have conceived and constructed. True, in every moment I can’t afford absentmindedly or, worse, apathetically to abandon my standpoint. In order to continue to be and to become someone, I must stand somewhere; not everywhere. The problem, the danger is that sometimes my perspective can harden, holding, locking me in place, blinding me to new discoveries, constraining me from considering contrary viewpoints. That is, until I am stirred, shaken out of the comfortability, the complacency of my outlook by something so astoundingly “other” I can’t ignore it. Something so unreal that it demands I try to make sense of it.

Jesus, at a crucial moment in his ministry, asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”[1] Peter answered, “The Messiah.”[2] I suspect Peter spoke out of his understanding of who the Messiah was, God’s anointed one, and his understanding of what the Messiah would do, save Israel from Roman oppression and restore the nation to the prominence of the time of King David.

Jesus had another destiny. He would not spare the people from suffering. Rather through his suffering he would show another way to live. In God’s Name, confronting the secular and religious powers and principalities, he would die, and then, be raised from death, demonstrating that abundant, eternal life with God is real and true and to be shared with all. Would his disciples, expecting, wanting another kind of Messiah, a-this-world-liberating-from-all-suffering-saving-Messiah continue to follow him? If not, what would it take to convince them?

This coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent, when we, with Jesus, will begin again his journey to Jerusalem where he, facing the cross of his crucifixion, demonstrates this new way of life of surrender and sacrifice for a cause greater than self. Will we continue to follow him? If not, what would it take to convince us?


Today, this Last Sunday after the Epiphany, we read of a great revelation. A wholly, completely, and holy, “other” moment when the boundaries between time and space, heaven and earth, temporality and eternity dissolve. When a triple confirmation of Jesus’ identity is given. He glows in effulgent – radiated, not reflected glory. Moses and Elijah, the chief representatives of the Law and the prophets, appear as witnesses to the truth of Jesus. The vox Deus speaks. In this astonishing and terrifying moment, all questions resolve. The disciples are called, wrenched out of the comfort of their commonly held convictions. They behold and believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Basking in the brilliant light of that revelation, they want to remain. But, no! They who follow Jesus must come down from the mountain.

Jesus commands they tell no one. Perhaps in fear they would be considered mad, babbling nonsense or, more truly, in the awareness that there are times when words fail. How does one, how can one describe the ineffable? Later, Peter tried, remembering and reflecting on his experience of being “eyewitnesses of (Jesus’) majesty”…(and hearing) this voice (of God) come from heaven, while we were with (Jesus) on the holy mountain.”

Coming down the mountain, Jesus continues to show his disciples his new way. They are met by a crowd. A man kneels before Jesus begging for the healing of his epileptic son. Jesus cures the boy.[3]


The meaning of the mountaintop, where on a clear day, we can see forever, is clear. The transfiguration of Jesus is to be encountered and experienced by all. And the disciples of Jesus, then and now, thus we, with the words of our lips and the works of our lives, are to share with all this transfiguring revelation – that abundant, eternal life with God is real and true. Let us, we who behold and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, follow him and do that.


Photograph: me preaching at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, January 2017, by Pontheolla Mack Abernathy


The Transfiguration (La transfiguration) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum

The possessed boy at the foot of Mount Tabor (Le possédé au pied du Thabor) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum


[1] Matthew 16.15, my emphases

[2] Matthew 16.16

[3] See Matthew 17.14-18

2 thoughts on “making meaning – a view from the mountaintop

  1. Thanks Paul!!

    What a treat for your parishioners to have an extemporaneous sermon!! That said, I can really relate to “making meaning”. For most of my life (that I’m conscious of anyway), I’ve tried to make meaning of most everything that has happened in my life. When I go to a beach and look at the seashells, I try to figure out how each of them were made. Every National Park I go to I relish in each and every moment of nature. On any type of outing with family and friends I relish in every minute – the food, the conversation, the great memories.

    When I see my family and friends, as we are enjoying our fellowship, I see a little bit of Jesus in each of them in the care, compassion and love they show to me and to each other. All of those things have great meaning to me. Some of my encounters change the way I’ve previously viewed or perceived a person or thing.

    In all the things and people I take meaning from, I hope to live the life that I am supposed to live – the life that Jesus would want me to live. Like you, I’ll continue to work on these reflections as we move into Lent this week. I look forward to continuing to follow Jesus!

    Much love!


    Liked by 1 person

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