Posted on Feb 11, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
One of the things I don’t like about using lectionary readings is that we often read stories out of order, or begin in the middle of a story, and today is a perfect example of what I mean. Our gospel lesson today begins with the phrase “Six days later…” If you haven’t been reading the whole story from the beginning, you must be asking the question, what happened six days earlier? Well, we will read that story in two weeks, but just to let you know six days before this is when Peter proclaimed Jesus was the Messiah and following that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection, to which Peter denied it and Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan...” (8:31-38).
So, Mark tells us today that six days after Jesus' prediction of his death and resurrection, and his rebuking of Peter, he invites Peter, James, and John to join him on one of his trips up the mountain. Now, as we have heard before, most of the time when Jesus wants to get away, he goes by himself, but here he takes three of the disciples with him and when they arrive at the top something incredible happens. Jesus is transfigured; literally we could translate the Greek to something like, “and Jesus completely matured to his resurrected self.” We might imagine that it was something like watching your 10-year-old child literally change into an adult within an instant. Now if that wasn’t enough of a shock, we are also told that once he was transfigured, Elijah and Moses appeared and they had a conversation with him.
This is one of those stories that is so hard to take literally because we just can’t imagine how such a thing could happen. I mean, how could his clothes just turn so white and how could Jesus physically change in an instant, and, what about Elijah and Moses? How could they come back to life? OK, I could buy the notion that Elijah was there, after all as we read in 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah didn’t experience death, God just took him up to heaven in a chariot of fire. But Moses died. In Deuteronomy 34:5 we are told, “Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD's command.” So how could a dead man be alive?
This story is filled with notions and images that we modern-day people find almost impossible to get our heads around and to believe. But I would like to propose today that spending any more time than this wondering about whether this literally happened or not, and how it happened, is pointless because in doing that, we miss the beauty of this story.
Whatever happened that day, literally or figuratively, the point here is that there is a timeless reality behind the physical details Mark gives us, and his point is this — sometimes God uses extreme and amazing methods to transform us when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. In this story, for just a moment, somehow God transfigured Jesus into his resurrected self to give the disciples an image of what was to come. And when the disciples saw that glimpse of the future, they wanted to stay in that moment, much like you and I want to stay where we are when we are comfortable, or when something is happening that we like. But, staying in the moment is never possible. In fact, as we heard last week, we always have to move on.
The story of the Transfiguration is a story of God offering a glimpse of an incredible future to the disciples, a future in which all of God’s promises come together to be fulfilled. It was everything the disciples had been hoping for, but something strange happened after they saw this incredible transformation. First, God speaks and tells them to listen to Jesus, but then, everything goes back to the way it was. Jesus looks like Jesus did before they went up the mountain. The two heroic prophets are gone and to make matters worse, they have to now go back to reality. They have to go back to a world that is filled with brokenness so that, as we will see, they can to do the work of reconciliation that Jesus has called them to do. And to make matters even worse, Jesus tells them that they aren’t to tell anyone about what they saw.
In essence that is exactly where we are today. We are those disciples who know the promise of a better future. Because we are children of the Resurrection and because we know that salvation has been given to us in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are charged with going down the mountain and back into the broken world to bring healing, hope, and reconciliation for all in need. We don’t get to stay in our warm, comfy spots and ignore the brokenness of this world. We, too, have had our Transfiguration experience. In the waters of our baptisms, each of us has been transformed into one who has been claimed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Today, we are bringing the Season of Epiphany to a close. This has been a season of hearing how God has shared with the world who Jesus really is. Six weeks ago we started with Jesus’ baptism and today we end with Jesus' Transfiguration. In both cases, God speaks publicly and proclaims Jesus as his Son. That same Spirit claimed us in our baptism and claims us today as transformed children of God.
When Peter, James, and John walked down the mountain that day, they did not know what exactly their future would hold. They had received a glimpse of that future, but not the exact road they would have to take to ultimately get there. God did not reveal all the work that lay ahead of them to get to Jesus’ Resurrection. God did not reveal to them the hard work that would still need to be done after the Resurrection, but God shared enough with them that they came to know that whatever the future would hold, they could trust that God would be with them and get them through it. The same is true for us today.
God has revealed to us the beauty of a future for this congregation where everyone is welcome. God has revealed to us the beauty of a congregation that is focused on feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, but now God is calling us to head down the mountain to continue our work and it is scary, because we don’t know what exactly that future holds. What if we fail? What if something goes wrong? What if we move on and things change? Well, first of all, we need to keep in mind, we will fail, things will go wrong, and no matter what, things will change, but the promise we receive today is that God will continue to send His transfiguring Spirit to us so that we will have all we need to bring about the future God has prepared for us. So, even though it is scary and even though we may be filled with terror as were Peter, James, and John, let’s head down the mountain filled with the Spirit into a future that we do not fully know. Let’s allow God to continue to transform us. Amen.