Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transfiguration B

Mark 9:2–9

 

CALLED TO TRANSFIGURE THE WORLD

 

O God, you revealed your Son to all people by the shining light of a star. We pray that you bless the people of St. Andrew with your gracious presence. May your love be our inspiration, your wisdom our guide, your truth our light, and your presence our benediction; through Christ our Lord. AMEN.

 

For Peter, James, and John, it was a mountaintop experience to top all mountaintop experiences. Jesus—the master, the messiah— was transfigured before them in all his glory. We are told that “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” And there appeared with him Moses, the supreme lawgiver of Israel, and Elijah, the first and greatest of prophets. Peter wanted to savor the experience, saying 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.”

 

I have had my share of mountaintop experiences. As a teenager, I climbed to the top of Mt. Hood three times. My dad was the director of Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Oregon. As part of staff training each summer, he and the counselors would climb Mt. Hood. I was thrilled to get to go along. We would start from Timberline Lodge at 1:00am so that we could get up and down the mountain before the sun began melting the snow and the threat of falling rocks increased. We arrived at the summit about dawn. It was clear all three times I went up, so the view from on high was magnificent— we could see for hundreds of miles. Celebrating communion on the mountaintop was part of the experience.

 

Every summer for decades I have hiked up Mount Tumalo in Central Oregon. It is far less strenuous than climbing Mt. Hood— it takes only about an hour. Nonetheless, the view from the summit is stunning. One can see Bachelor Butte, Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and the Deschutes River Valley. Like Peter, I’ve wanted to linger on the mountaintop.

 

As glorious as these mountaintop experiences have been, none of them can compare to the transfiguration of Jesus. The transfiguration was, as I have said, a mountaintop experience to top all mountaintop experiences. But it quickly became clear that Peter, James, and John did not grasp the full significance of their vision of the transfigured Jesus. After Peter expressed his desire to hang on to the experience and stay on the mountain, Mark tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying.

 

That was when the divine voice was heard from the cloud, the same voice that spoke similar words on the occasion of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Startled, the disciples looked around and saw only Jesus. The implication was clear: Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets; he fully reveals God’s will; they were to listen to him. To listen to Jesus was to do whatever he told them to do. From the biblical perspective if one hears God’s word and does not do it, then one has not heard the word.

 

It was not an option for them to remain on the mountain and bask in Jesus’ glory. The point of their vision of the transfiguration was to follow Jesus down the mountain and work with him to fulfill his mission. In Julie Aageson’s reflection on “Vision” in her new book Holy Ground, she affirms that “with invitations and admonishments, Jesus . . . illustrated again and again what it means to be God’s partners in a vision to transfigure the world.” The transfiguration can be understood as God’s call to partner with Jesus in transfiguring the world.

 

What does partnering with Jesus to transfigure the world entail? In the passage immediately preceding the account of the transfiguration, Jesus makes his first passion prediction to the disciples. When Jesus had asked Peter, “But who do you say that I am?”— Peter had gotten it right, “You are the Messiah.” But when Jesus then began to teach them “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed”— Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter wanted no part of a suffering Messiah. Jesus in turn, in the presence of the disciples, rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then he called the crowd together with his disciples and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Jesus could not be more explicit: the way disciples of Jesus participate in transfiguring a troubled world is by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following him.

 

Jesus draws a contrast between an old, self-centered way of life that ultimately degrades and destroys our world and a new way of life that participates in the transfiguration of the world. Sacrifice characterizes this new way of life— that is, giving our lives for others. In the end everyone sacrifices their life for someone or something. The question is: For whom or for what are we being called to sacrifice? A sacrificial way of life does not preclude caring for ourselves. Attending to our own basic needs enables us to care for others.

 

As followers of Jesus in our time and place, we are being called to deny ourselves and take up our political cross. In Mark 10:35-45 Jesus distinguishes between the way tyrannical rulers exercise political authority and the way political authority is exercised in the kingdom of God. James and John wanted to sit on the right hand and left hand of Jesus when he came into his glory. They envisioned Jesus rising to political power with them as his chiefs of staff. The other disciples were disgusted with James and John for trying to get one up on them. Jesus called them all together and said, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The way rule is exercised in the kingdom of God directly challenges the strongman style of rule. In our time Vladimir Putin of Russia and Kim Jong-un of North Korea are probably the most notorious strongman rulers. Our President has also shown such strongman tendencies. The latest sign is his desire to have a massive military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Followers of Jesus are called to take up our political crosses and resist any form of tyrannical rule.

 

As followers of Jesus in our time and place, we are being called to deny ourselves and take up our economic crosses. Clearly Jesus had a special place in his heart for the poor, the hungry, and all those in economic distress. He himself grew up in a humble environment, where it was not easy to make ends meet. Jesus also warned of the dangers of getting too attached to our wealth. In Mark 10 we read that a rich man approached Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man had truly tried to obey all the commandments— he was a good man. But we are told that Jesus looked at him, loved him, and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man went away grieving— he was too attached to his wealth. He was not ready to take up his economic cross.

 

We too struggle in our culture with our attachment to our wealth and our consumptive way of life. What else can explain the unbelievable number of people in our nation who are hungry or homeless or living in poverty or lacking adequate health care? We desperately need our society to be transfigured by people willing to take up their economic crosses and share with those in need.

 

As followers of Jesus in our time and place, we need to deny ourselves and take up our social crosses. The level of animosity toward people who are viewed as different is toxic— whether we are talking about immigrants, people belonging to other races, those of various sexual orientations or gender identities, or members of other religions. There seems to be a human propensity to define people who are different than us as, in effect, second class citizens. Jesus had a knack for getting under the skin of the authorities, because he hung out with the wrong people— people who did not measure up socially. Those who take up their social crosses will end up hanging out with some people whose social status has been compromised. Those who take up their social crosses will resist defining any person as a second class citizen.

 

Finally, as followers of Jesus in our time and place, we need to deny ourselves and take up our ecological crosses. Taking up an ecological cross was not a pressing issue in the time of Jesus. But we are called to follow Jesus today. Our Earth home has been ecologically compromised. It needs to be ecologically transfigured bigtime. In an ecological age the new way of life the followers of Jesus are called to entails giving our lives for our fellow humans and creatures, especially for the most vulnerable among us. We need to sacrifice our consumptive way of life— which in a sense is what our Lenten carbon fast is all about. We need to sacrifice the spirit of domination that infects our minds. We need to learn to delight, as God does, in our Earth home and all its inhabitants.

 

If there was ever a time to listen to Jesus, to give up our life-diminishing ways for life-enhancing ways, to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Jesus, this is it. Be assured that those who listen to Jesus and take up their political, economic, social, and ecological crosses will participate in God’s transfiguration of our troubled world.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.