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"Hey, Siri, What's the Meaning of Life?"



28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36, NRSV)

Have you ever spoken to Siri or Alexa? They are virtual assistants that respond to human speech. Apple brought us Siri and Amazon gave us Alexa. Google, on the other hand, calls its virtual assistant, Assistant, which I call a lack of imagination. Siri, Alexa, and Assistant all connect to smart speakers and smart phones. They respond to human voices by answering questions or following commands. You can ask any of them to play a song, check the weather, set an alarm, or get directions. These virtual assistants also work with smart devices to turn on the lights, open the garage, lock the house, or turn on the air conditioner, which is all very cool (pun intended) but what of life’s bigger questions. I read of a minister who asked Siri about the meaning of life ( I’m taking it a step further this morning. I spoke with Siri and she’s going to tell us the meaning of life. I hope she doesn’t get embarrassed talking in front of an audience! To wake her up you simply say, “Hey Siri.”

Me: Hey Siri, what’s the meaning of life?

Siri: All evidence to date suggests it's chocolate.

Me: Hey Siri, what’s the meaning of life?

Siri: I don't know, but I think there's an app for that.

Me: Hey Siri, what’s the meaning of life?

Siri: I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.

Me: Hey Siri, what’s the meaning of life?

Siri: Asking questions like these.

And then Siri gave what I consider a good answer and good advice.

Me: Hey Siri, what’s the meaning of life?

Siri: Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then. Get some walking in. And try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

Me: Thanks Siri. Next Sunday she might give the whole sermon!

It’s a universal question asked in various ways for millennia, what is the meaning of life? Throughout human history, people have searched for the meaning of life in nature, in art, in science, in philosophy, and for our purposes this morning, in theology. Today’s scripture lesson focuses on an event in the life of Jesus called the Transfiguration. This story tells us something important about the meaning of life.

Here’s the story. Jesus asks his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John to go up on a mountain with him to pray. The text reports that Jesus did the praying while the disciples, one by one, did the sleeping. This exact scenario happens again in the Garden of Gethsemane on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Jesus prays. Peter, James, and John sleep. We will circle back to that story during Holy Week.

For now, we return to the mountaintop. While the disciples snoozed it happened. As Jesus prayed, his face and clothes began glowing, shining with an almost blinding intensity. Suddenly Moses, the chief lawgiver and Elijah, the chief prophet, both long dead, appear in their heavenly glory. These two heroes of Israel talk with Jesus about his upcoming death in Jerusalem and all that it would mean.

When the disciples awake, they see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah having their heart to heart talk all the while radiating a glorious light. Before the two heavenly visitors leave, Peter says to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s set up three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” At this point, Luke inserts an editorial comment writing, “Peter did not know what he was talking about.” An understatement to be sure. Why did Peter want to build shelters for these three religious leaders up on the mountain? It could be that Peter thought the final age had come and Moses and Elijah would remain to lead Israel into a glorious new day. It could also be that Peter was so moved by the experience that he simply wants to hang on to it for as long as possible. Whatever Peter’s motivation, his idea went nowhere as the very next moment a cloud surrounds Jesus and the three disciples. Then a heavenly voice is heard saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” In the blink of an eye, the cloud disappears and then silence. Peter, James, and John stand alone with Jesus, too dumbfounded for words. What words could sum up this experience of the Holy? I imagine they stood there lost in their own fear and amazement, their minds replaying the events that took place before their very eyes. Instead of telling everyone about this intense spiritual experience, Peter, James, and John told no one, at least not until after Easter.

What was the purpose of this mountaintop experience for Jesus? Maybe he needed encouragement and reassurance to face the hate and violence that was to come. Maybe he needed advice from Moses and Elijah, heroes of the faith, who had already completed life’s journey. Maybe he needed to remember the spiritual high of his baptism when that very same voice from heaven spoke words nearly identical to those he heard on the mountain. In the dark hours to come, Jesus must have found comfort remembering God’s words, “This is my beloved Son.” And maybe the disciples needed to hear it too lest they forget when things began falling apart.

In anxious anticipation of the suffering that lay ahead, Jesus could have followed Peter’s advice and chosen to stay on the mountain reveling in the glory of his transfiguration. But he and his disciples came down the next day. Immediately a crowd met them and a desperate man approached the three disciples. The man thought his son was possessed by a demon that sent him into terrible convulsions. Bear in mind that these people lived in a pre-scientific age and what the father called a demon sounds to modern ears like epilepsy. The man took his son to the disciples and begged for help but they were unable to help the boy.

At this point, Jesus intervened and healed the child. Then he pulls the disciples aside to remind them that eventually he will be handed over to his enemies. In other words, “Come on guys, I’m not going to be with you forever. Get your act together.” In the very next passage we see that their act was far from together because the petty disciples start arguing over which one of them was the greatest. It’s no wonder that Jesus shook his head and asked himself how long he had to put up with such nonsense.

Jesus had just experienced one of the spiritual highlights of his life with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop. And now he is in the valley, surrounded by people who just don’t get it. Surely he worried over what would happen to these numbskulls once he was gone. Were they capable of carrying on his mission of love and mercy? Even on the mountaintop, Peter didn’t get it. If these guys didn’t get it on the mountain of spiritual enlightenment, it’s no wonder they were hopeless in the valley of everyday life.

These two stories back to back tell us something about the meaning of life. Life is a series of ups and downs, mountains and valleys. We all have mountaintop moments of great joy—falling in love, having a baby, getting our dream job, taking the trip of a lifetime. Spiritually speaking, there are mountaintops when, for a moment, we get it. We see the big picture. We understand that God has always been with us and that we will spend eternity with God. Mountaintop experiences offer great elation and deep satisfaction. Such moments make life worth living. We need to savor them and give thanks for them. However, we cannot build a cabin and stay on the mountain any more than Peter could. Why? Because there is work to be done in the valley. Jesus and the disciples left the mountain for the valley and immediately encountered the man and his son who needed help.

We need both types of experiences to make life worth living. We need awe, transcendence, and beauty. We need music, art, and the glories of nature. We need the inspiration of the mountain to do our work in the valley. If on the mountain, we connect with something or someone bigger than ourselves, in the valley, we connect with something or someone beyond ourselves. In the valley we meet people who need our help, our time, our attention. People who need someone to listen and people who need a friend. Children who need a mentor and an older couple who needs meals on wheels. My Scoutmaster, Mr. Lawhon, would tell us to leave an area better than we found it. After we rolled our sleeping bags and packed away our tents, Mr. Lawhon told us to police the area. We stood in a line shoulder to shoulder slowly walking throughout the campsite picking up a Pop-Tart wrapper left by a previous camper, retrieving a coat hanger used to cook a hotdog weeks before, or finding a wallet lost the night before.

It is in the balance of mountains and valleys that we find meaning in life--communing with God and connecting with others. Spiritual highs and determined resolve to leave life better than we found it. Realizing that life is a gift and love is the point. Love God. Love others. Love ourselves. And don’t forget, Siri suggests a little chocolate for the journey. AMEN.

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only

March 3, 2019

The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)


God of all wisdom and love, who chose to create the world and who chose to reach out to us through the person of Jesus, we pause to acknowledge your wonder and your wisdom. Before we knew you, you knew us. While at times we forget you, you never forget us. When we wander far from your purpose, you remain ever near. Remind us that the small choices we make every day lead us little by little down one path or another. Give us wisdom to make good choices for our loved ones, for those in need, and for ourselves.

To you, O God, be all glory and honor. AMEN.

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