Transfiguration of our Lord (B)
February 11, 2018
“When Reality Touches the Divine”
Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Today the sermon is based on the Gospel text taken from Mark chapter 9.
My dear friends,
What is the most amazing thing you have ever experienced? The Grand Canyon maybe? The pyramids of Egypt perhaps. Paris at night as seen from the Eiffel Tower? Well..not for me because I haven’t seen any of those places; never been there. I have seen some neat stuff, but I think the most impressive thing I have seen and experienced was so because of the enormity of the moment. It was November 2, 2013 and I was in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, NE. Nebraska was playing Northwestern and had just won the game on a final-play-desperation pass into the end zone. 91,000 were celebrating in unison and it was a moment in life I’ll never forget.
Today’s Gospel lesson takes place…we don’t know. There are several options as to which mountain the transfiguration took place on, but we don’t know for sure which one. Jesus takes the “inner circle” – Peter, James, and John – up onto this unnamed mountain and he is “transfigured” before them. What does this mean? In Greek, the word means “to change in form,” or in this case, “given a new, exalted appearance.” The English word “metamorphosis” comes from that same Greek word. Right there before their eyes, the divine Jesus touches the reality of Peter, James, and John. At first, they are too stunned to speak. Then, just like in “Star Trek,” Moses and Elijah appear – “beamed in” – there with the transfigured Jesus. Whoa! Mark doesn’t tell us what they said, but who they are is what is important. In Jewish thought, Moses embodied the Law with all of its promises and its curses. Moses had foreshadowed that a greater prophet, a greater leader, would arise. Jesus is that fulfillment. Then there is Elijah. Elijah, in addition to embodying the prophets, was the forerunner of the Messiah, and his presence provides the same announcement as Moses’ presence: Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and Savior of the world. The divine was touching the reality of Peter, James, and John.
Hey…Peter, James, and John are still here. That’s right. After much stammering I am sure, Peter finally speaks up: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Oooh…nice try Peter. His offer to build tents shows a good but misguided heart. To be sure, tents had a special place in the hearts of the people going all the way back to the book of Exodus and the Tent of Meeting where God’s divine presence would meet the reality of the people. These divine men do not need a place to stay and Peter doesn’t yet realize that. Mark provides the reason why Peter said what he said” “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified” (9:6). Seems about right. The divine is right there in the face of their reality, but the inner circle still doesn’t get it.
And then…oh boy. Just when you thought the event couldn’t become any more divine, a cloud overshadows them. Clouds in the Bible are a “BIG deal.” The divine glory of God is associated with the presence of clouds touching people’s realities. A cloud kept the Israelites safe during the Exodus from Egypt. A cloud enveloped Mount Sinai as the 10 Commandments were given (Exodus 19). Divine clouds were a significant presence at both the Tent of Meeting and the Tabernacle. A cloud – God’s divine presence – isn’t all that happens. A voice booms from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Wow. Talk about the divine touching reality. God the Father repeats the announcement made at Jesus’ Baptism. And then, as quick as it happened, it was over. “And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only” (9:8).
Jesus’ divine nature burst into the reality of those three disciples, and one cannot help but imagine that, having witnessed THAT, they would be ready for anything and everything. But they have NO CLUE as to what they have just seen or what to do with that divine encounter. Later in Mark chapter 9, the disciples will argue about which one of them is the greatest (9:34). In chapter 10, James and John will pull Jesus aside and ask to be given the prime leadership spots in Jesus’ coming kingdom (10:37). Really? And Peter…well, we all know what Peter will do after the Garden of Gethsemane.
Too often, when we think about our own faith, we like to envision ourselves like the three disciples up on that mountain basking in Jesus’ glory. But, when push comes to shove, we are a bit more like the disciples back down in the valley where the shadow of death constantly looms making poor choices and providing sub-standard witness to the world. We want the part of faith that promise wealth and happiness and glory, but conveniently forget that Scripture calls for self-sacrifice, suffering, and bearing one’s cross.
When our reality touches the divine we can either understand and react or misunderstand and fail to react. Yes, ‘Tis good Lord, to be here, but we cannot stay here anymore than those three disciples could stay on the mountaintop with Jesus. Jesus could not stay, for He comes down from that mountain and now begins the journey to Jerusalem where the divine will truly touch reality throughout that week in the palms and the Passover and the path that leads to Calvary’s cross. But these events – the passion of our Lord – happen for the forgiveness of sins that we all so badly need and the salvation of our souls for life everlasting. That week in Jerusalem the people experienced something truly amazing – the divine plan of God – and almost all of them didn’t realize it.
Some things never change. The divine touches our lives each and every day, and many times we miss it or refuse to acknowledge it. Our lives are lived out there – the world – with its imperfections, indecisions, evils and issues. And when the crisis arise and pain and loneliness are no longer bearable, when the future is too uncertain, when the pull of the addiction is too great, we can either give up or we can rise up being bolstered in the knowledge that the divine has touched our realities. It touched you in the water of your Baptism. It touches you today in bread and wine, body and blood. It touches your heart through spoken and sung words that encourage you even after you leave this place today so that you can live a Godly life, thrive in the midst of trouble, and be confident as you face the challenges of life with sins forgiven and souls set free.
What is the most impressive thing you have ever seen? How about when the reality of your life touches the divine, as it does again here today in the enormity of this moment as God comes to you in Word and Sacrament, and in doing so you have a life that reflects the eternal life you have in Christ Jesus? Now THAT’S impressive.