Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Last Sunday after Epiphany


As a story, the story of the Transfiguration from Mark is a good one.
There is symmetry.
There is a mystery.
There is tradition!
There is confusion
and terror
and loss
and excitement
and love.
And some extra special supernatural miracles.
Everything you need for a good story.

On one side of the scene, 
we have Peter, James, and John.

We all know Peter, James, and John.
Peter, the classic tragic mess up clown,
who always puts his foot into his mouth
at just the wrong moment.
But who, in the end,
becomes the foundation of the church.
James and John, the sons of Zeebedee,
whose mother comes to Jesus
because they, and she,
wants them to be the highest ranking officials 
after Jesus,
one on his right and one on his left.
Three men whose humanity 
was very well known.

On the other side of the scene,
we have Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
Which is interesting.
The story sets them up as the prophets they are.
Jesus robed in dazzling white, 
the Son of God,
present in the midst of humanity.
With two of the greatest figure heads of Jewish tradition.
The man who lead the people of Israel to freedom
and spoke to God so much his face shone
and who wrote down the Ten Commandments,
and the man who stood up to King Ahab and his wife Jezebel
and called the people of Israel back to God
and got whisked away in a fiery chariot.

Who were also men with backgrounds.
You remember that time Moses killed a guy?
You remember when Elijah ran away from Israel?

Humanity at its finest was represented at the top of that mountain that day.

What a blessing and a comfort!
God shows God's-self to lowly human beings
Who mess up 
God still maintains relationships with all these men
And no matter how much we mess up
God will still want to be in relationship with us. 

Three lost human beings.
Three fully alive-in-God beings.
Three and three.
Six: a perfect number.
But then there are another three present as well.

We have the boys, Peter, James, and John,
we have the prophets, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus,
and then we have God, always present as the Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Anytime God shows up
there is mystery.
In this story, 
Jesus is transfigured 
in ways we don't understand.
Moses and Elijah show up
for reasons we don't understand.
And God is present in a cloud
in ways we don't understand.

Every time I read this story I have to wonder,
was Jesus consulting with Moses and Elijah,
like some kind of side line coach
or encouragement committee?
Was the point of going up the mountain
that Jesus needed the reminder 
about who he was 
or that Peter, James, and John 
needed the experience?

I imagine its some of both. 
Who doesn't need reminding sometimes of God's love?
In his jaunt as a human being,
I am sure Jesus felt moments of needing to be reminded of who he was and whose he was.
Just as much as Peter, James, and John
needed to be told
that Jesus is God's son,
Beloved,
and to listen to him.

God obviously knew Peter, James, and John.
He told them to listen to him,
which they aren't very good at all the time.

Perhaps because of the number of funerals we have been through lately,
the number of community members who have passed away,
I sense loss in this story.
There is some sense of loss in this passage,
Never again will Peter, James, and John
think of Jesus in the same way.
Never again will Peter, James, and John
know Jesus as anything other than God's son.
Never again will they be able to say that they have not
seen Moses or Elijah.

Part of the reason Peter suggested,
(I can totally see James or John, flinching when Peter speaks,
saying softly afterwards, yes, you said that out loud,) 
that they build three dwelling places up on top of the mountain
is so that they can stay there,
suspended in that moment.
A great mountain top experience.
A high point in their lives.

If you've ever had a mountain top experience
you know how wonderful it can be
you know how awesome it can be to be up there
where the air is clear
and things make sense.
Except of course, in this story,
where the air is full of a cloud of God
totally changing the story.

But never again will they get to experience this transfiguring moment.
I think part of their terror is a sense of loss.
Have you ever been in a magically awesome moment in your life and suddenly felt it turn bittersweet
because you know that it will never happen again?

There are so many moments in our lives we will never get back.
So many people we won't meet again on this earth.
It can be so saddening to remember that.
But it does lend some perspective.
What is the most important aspect of life then?
What can I enjoy in this moment, that though I will never return,
I can remember?

I'm sure the boys, Peter, James, and John,
remembered this moment for years to come
I'm sure they talked about it among themselves
perhaps not directly afterwards,
but later, after...
you remember when we went up that mountain
did you see Moses and Elijah too?
Remember how the cloud felt?
And that voice... God's voice...
the presence of love
surrounding us.

While the boys listened to Jesus as best they could,
obviously the boys failed to listen to Jesus in at least one way.

Any story which ends 
with being told to keep the story a secret
is a good story.
Its the best possible way to make sure
everyone is going to know the story.
Say, sh! Its a secret!
Jesus tells them on the way back down that they are to tell
no one.
Which, since we have the written story,
thousands of years later,
they obviously failed to do.
Whoops.

But, I mean, could you keep that story to yourself?

Ah, perhaps you have.
Have you ever told this story to someone else?
I suggest,
Give it a whirl.
Not right here of course,
but this week. 
Find someone who maybe hasn't heard it in a long time
or someone who maybe has never heard this story.
Don't read them the story
Tell them it in your own words.

Tell them about going up a mountain,
seeing Jesus for who he really is
tell them about the classic foot in the mouth response
and hearing God's voice
and knowing God's love.

The reason we share this story every year, 
in slightly different tellings from the different gospel stories, 
every year we share the story of the Transfiguration
because it changed the course of how the disciples understood Jesus
which changed how they talked about Jesus
which changed who heard the story about Jesus
which changed the gospels stories as they were written
which has affected people throughout centuries!

The Transfiguration.
Dazzling white clothes.
Loud overwhelming voices.
Clouds of mystery.
What a story!
Another planted seed.
One story.
One little seed.
And now we have a yearly tradition.
For longer than I've been alive.
All from sharing a story
about Jesus.

Amen.