Sermon from Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.

It may surprise some of you to know that I am somewhat of a TV aficionado. Others, who have spent a bit more time with me, this may not come as too much of a surprise. One of my favorite shows on TV right now is a show called Breaking Bad. I won’t go in to the plot a whole lot because that might land me on the list of the long-winded preachers here at Our Savior’s – and that’s something I’ll hold off on for now. But one of the things I love about Breaking Bad is that a lot of the episodes begin with a very suspenseful opening that doesn’t quite make sense in the narrative of the show. But then we find out that the beginning is actually the end of the episode and a new scene starts “4 days earlier” and helps us to fill in the rest of the story. Have you seen TV shows that do this? If you watched Jack Bauer and followed along with the show 24 you know what this is like as well. Countless movies and television shows have done this. But this method of storytelling has roots far back in the halls of storytelling. We see it in today’s gospel from the book of Mark.

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus takes James, John, and Peter up the mountain where Jesus is lifted up and begins to shine brighter than anything they’d ever seen. Then Moses and Elijah – two great figures from the Hebrew Bible, join him. Peter then says that this is a good place for them to be and wants to build a dwelling place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Immediately a cloud overshadowed them and God’s voice breaks through this scene with a phrase that echoes the proclamation from Christ’s baptism, “This is my son, the beloved.” This is a phrase that is repeated only a few times in Mark’s gospel, but each time it is significant. The first was at the baptism, this is the second, and the third will come from the lips of the Roman centurion immediately after Christ’s death on a different kind of mountain.

So what does all of this mean? To answer that question, we should dig deeper into Peter’s words. Many scholars think that this particular part of the text took place during the Festival of Booths. This is a feast that celebrates the dwelling of God. Jews would build small booths where they would live for 7 days as a reminder that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Peter wants to stay in this place with them and build a dwelling for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter gets it. He recognizes that this is the kingdom of God breaking through. He recognizes that this is something that isn’t of this time or place. And so he wants to live here. I think a lot of times we want to do the same thing.

When I was young, maybe 2 or 3 years old, my parents bought me a little plastic console that had a steering wheel and a stick shift and – what all young children need at that time in their lives – a fully functional horn. I would sit behind that wheel and steer and shift and honk. In a way, I liked it so much because it was like seeing into my future. I loved being behind that wheel because I saw my mom and dad to that a lot and driving was just what grown-ups did. I wanted to stay there. But I couldn’t. I was still a 3-year old.

Just like I couldn’t stay behind that wheel forever, Peter can’t stay in that dwelling place of God forever either. They have to go back down the mountain. And I actually think that this is the great miracle of the Transfiguration story. A lot of people look at the Transfigured Jesus in dazzling white with Moses and Elijah and see that as the most awe-inspiring part of the story. But, for me, it’s what comes after. The gospel of this story is that Jesus comes down the mountain. He’s glowing and dazzling in all of his glory, but he gives that up to come down the mountain with the rest of the disciples and, indeed, the rest of the world. So many times we think our responsibility is to climb the mountain to be more like Jesus. We think that we, somehow, can rise to his level.

But our faith story isn’t a story of us going up, but of God coming down.

As we move into the season of Lent, we’ll find out just how far down this story goes. The Transfiguration is our mountain of light that begins the journey to the mountain of darkness. And the mountain of darkness really is an uncomfortable place to be. If we know the rest of Peter’s story, this can be an interesting contrast to the Transfiguration. Here, he insists on staying in the light, and when darkness rears its ugly head, Peter denies Christ. He gets scared. And if we’re quite honest, in our times of darkness, we get scared too.

But this is the miracle of the Transfiguration. We talk about this story as we begin Lent knowing that while we may be moving through a dark place in our lives, we are assured and reminded that Jesus is already there. Jesus is not afraid of what is difficult in our lives. Jesus will not reject us on account of our failings or insecurities. Jesus’ descent down the mountain reminds us that we don’t have to hide the hard parts of our lives from the God we have seen revealed in Jesus.

Today we are living in the in-between. We are living into that time where the future of God’s glory is not yet upon us. We know that day is coming, but is not yet here. We must come down the mountain and walk with each other in our darkness. We have seen the future and we know it glows with the light of God’s mercy and grace. The glory of it all is that Jesus comes down the mountain to walk with us in our valleys. He walks with us on our path of suffering, he walks with us all the way through the intense suffering of the cross and into the tomb where there is no body. So our job now is to be that light for all who walk in darkness. We know that the future is firmly in the hands of the One who comes down the mountain to dwell with us. So we work for justice and peace in this time and place to bring about an age where all are honored, dignified, and included in God’s Kingdom that has no end. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

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