Sermon Notes for February 11, 2018Read Psalm 97:1-9 and Mark 9:2-10..
We as a culture are obsessed with transformations. Headlines abound of people who turned their life around or lost a shocking amount of weight or rebuilt their lives after tragedy. We love hearing stories about how much someone can change and what an impact it made on their lives.
But we are usually not fans of changing ourselves. We may look at a story about someone who drastically changed their life and envy the end result, but we so rarely want to do what they did. When we are comfortable with our lives, when we are used to them, we so rarely want to change. It usually takes something to shake us out of our comfort zone to get us to change at all.
But this morning is Transfiguration Sunday, which is a fancy way of saying that it is Transformation Sunday. It is a day of transformation, of change, for Jesus, for the disciples and for the life of the church.
Think about it from the perspective of the disciples. These friends of Jesus have spent years following him around, listening to his teachings, and witnessing his miracles. By the time Jesus invites them to the mountaintop, they have perfectly good reason to believe they know their Master. They know him as a teacher, a storyteller, a healer, and a traveling companion. His face, his manners, and his mission, are all familiar to them. Familiar, endearing, and safe.
But then, on the mountain, the unimaginable happens. Before their very eyes, Jesus changes, becoming at once both fully himself and fully unrecognizable. And suddenly, Jesus's stunned disciples find themselves standing upon a threshold. The teacher they thought they knew is suddenly more, suddenly Other. And the path he's walking, towards Jerusalem and death, is suddenly far grimmer than they could ever have imagined.
They lose the comfort, the safety and the familiarity of the live they have known in one moment. No wonder Peter wants to delay going down the mountain! Because that's the thing about life. Change is inevitable. No matter how much we love how things are right now, they will change. Children grow up. Families move. Jobs come and go. People pass away. Nothing can stay the same.
Change will happen. Just by living our lives in this chaotic world, we are constantly changing who we are. You will change, like it or not. The only choice you have is how you will handle that change. Will you spend all of your time looking back at how much better it used to be? Or will you move forward and see what is good about your life now?
In this huge change for the disciples, one phase of their life with Jesus is ending. What will it look like to begin another? They have journeyed with Jesus the minister, the rabbi, the healer. And now they are faced with a change and the only choice they have is how they are going to respond. Because Jesus will head to Jerusalem no matter what they do. Will they now journey with him towards the cross? Or will they insist, as Peter briefly does in his fear and confusion, on remaining exactly where they are, sedentary and safe?
I wonder if Peter's real sense of call didn't happened here, when the voice interrupts all his plots and plans and announces that this Jesus is none other than God's beloved Son and so the most important thing Peter can do is simply listen to him. In that moment everything for Peter, I suspect, was still, and clear, and made sense.
But of course it didn't last. Peter needs to be pulled up off the ground, perhaps wondering if anything had actually happened or whether he had imagined it all. And then on the way down the mountain Jesus will again intimate of his impending death and destiny. Peter will struggle to listen, to follow, to be faithful. At times Peter will fail. And Jesus will reach out, raise him up again, and send him forth. I have a hunch that each time Peter fell down and got up again, he would look back on this day and recall those words, "Just listen to him!"
That's what I mean by saying that this is the moment when Peter's transfiguration begins, when he fails, falls, and is lifted up again and realizes that above and beyond everything else, he is called to listen to Jesus. This pattern, I think, shapes the life of every Christian. We, too, of course, try our best, sometimes succeeding and sometimes coming up short. We, too, have moments of insight and moments of denial. We, too, fall down in fear and are raised up again to go forth in confidence. We too, are called to listen, called to discern God's way in the world, called to partner with God and in this way be transformed.
On Transfiguration Sunday, we come to the end of another liturgical season. Having seen the light of Epiphany, we prepare now for the long shadows of Lent. I don't know what thresholds we'll encounter in the wilderness. I don't know how God might invite us to change, to grow, to cross over. And I don't know what losses and sorrows those crossings will include. But if this week's stories bear witness to something true about the life of faith, then we can trust in the One who invites us to cross over. We can trust that resurrection awaits us on the other side.
Lent calls us to rediscover our spirituality, to be, to quit our frantic babbling, and to pay attention. We are invited to consider who we are as dust apart from whose we are in our baptism, God's precious children, forgiven, loved, held, and only from that identity, gifted and called and sent to do God's work in the world. If we don't get the "being" part, then the doing will only be chaotic, frustrated attempts at self-justification or else grounded in fear and devoid of any joy. If all your doing seems madness and pointless, learn again to behold the mystery, to enter a quiet place of awe. There will be more than ample opportunity and compulsion for living out our call to discipleship, to taking up the cross.
The trick, as in most things, is balance. Knowing when to "do" and when and how to just "be." Learning to take our calling and our work seriously, but not too seriously! To let go of our needs to control, to listen for the voice of God so that our actions aren't merely the proverbial running around like a chicken with its head cut off but, instead, are true acts of discipleship that flow from a being that is formed in the awe and wonder of God's gracious love for us.
On any given Sunday, many of us are surrounded by visions of God's glory. We worship in resplendent sanctuaries adorned with breathtaking stained glass windows and shining candlesticks. We glorify God in the highest, singing hymns of resounding triumph and praise. These aren't bad things. We need to have the moments on the mountaintop. The trouble comes when we separate between the visually pleasing world of glory and the extremely challenging and chaotic world of service. The danger is that we might get lost on the mountaintop, and forget our way down.
Fred Craddock states, "There is value in referring to this story as one about Jesus' mountaintop experience, which is followed by his return to the valley where he ministered to human need. To such a presentation we can add recitations of mountaintop experiences we have known, followed by exhortations to return to the valley ready to serve. The connections can not only be clear but also encouraging and challenging."
We do tend to get lost up there, I think. There are times when the distance between Sunday and Monday seems to be about a million miles, and the path from the mountaintop to the dark valley is very difficult to find. Yet, we follow a Savior who leads us down and out: down from the mountaintop, out of the clouds, and into the valley to meet those who are in need.
As we move between the extraordinary accounts of Transfiguration in today's readings and the ordinary events of seeing in our own lives, we tend to see them as two very different things. Either we are on the dramatic mountain top in all its glory, or we are down in the "real world." But we do not need to separate the two. We can remember, with Peter, that the light of God is not so hidden that we cannot seek it in ordinary life. The Logos lives, enlivens, infuses, illuminates even the ordinary.
That, I think, is the real moment of transfiguration. It's the moment in which all those people around us, wherever we may be, become beautiful, and precious, and lovely in our sight. If we follow Jesus long enough through the valleys of this world, those around us will become transfigured. The real transfiguration happens not on the top of a mountain, but down in the valleys, out in the painful places of the world. Let us pray this morning that as Jesus goes on ahead of us, we would have the vision, the courage, and the faith to follow him wherever he leads us. Then we might see the glory – and the greatness – of God.