Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
March 5, 2000
II Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9(10-13)
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is a unique metamorphosis from human to divine light to human unseen elsewhere in our Scriptural Story. After preaching for the first time about his death in Mark's Gospel, Jesus along with Peter, James, John climbs into a high and holy mountain. There, before their eyes, Jesus is changed. He is radiant. He is glorious in this transformation embraced by God's pure light! His garments become whiter than white right in front of them. In the midst of his transfiguration two other figures appear - Elijah, the first and greatest prophet and Moses, the law-giver and deliverer of Israel. The three transfigured ones stand in the presence of the three human ones.
The disciples are completed overwhelmed and awestruck. A mysterious cloud overshadows them and a voice comes forth from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him!" Then it ends. There on the mountain, Peter, James, and John are once again alone with Jesus, their teacher and friend.
Everything returns to normal, yet nothing is ever the same again. Behind them are memories of the beautiful days of teaching and healing by the seaside of Galilee, before they stand the valley of the shadow of death which guides them to the challenging days of religious confrontation and cross-bearing hillsides outside the city gates of the metropolis - Jerusalem. But not to lose the moment - here on a mountaintop in a moment of time that they can't reclaim by building little shrines to commemorate the moment, their man Jesus shines as the Messiah Christ, Jesus. The carpenter of Nazareth is revealed as "Son of God," "Christ of Glory," and perhaps most important, one to whom all should Listen! And the question begs itself, "Does it take a moment like this for disciples to really listen to their Master and Teacher?" Do you and I need this transfiguration to really take Jesus seriously?
Throughout Epiphany, the Jesus of Nazareth whom we have begun to know in Mark's Gospel, for all his miraculous powers, is intensely human. He feels pity and anger, hunger, and weariness. But, here in the transfiguration, he shows no emotion, takes no action, and on the mountain speaks no words. Rather he appears in glory as an almost passive object of a metamorphosis that reveals his inner nature to his innermost circle of disciples. Here is pure transcendence, of a sort not found elsewhere in Mark's gospel. (Reference, Mark, Lamar Williamson, Jr., John Knox Press, Atlanta, 1983, pp.157-158). If you will, the holiness of the Messiah shines through the humanness of the man - with a face so afire that it almost blinds Peter, James, and John.
What are we to make of Elijah and Moses beside him? In the transfiguration of Jesus, we are united with two expectations which were and are alive in Judaism: First, the fulfillment of God's law which is embodied by Moses and second, the return of God's Ultimate prophet embodied by Elijah. On the mountain, the presence of the law and the prophets come together to consummate in Jesus the dreams of the past and hopes for the future. Elijah and Moses stand united beside Jesus as a presence declaring, "Go on!" You are on the right path! Go on!
What are we to make of the disciples on the mountaintop? God reveals to them visions of past glory and a window through which they glimpse glory yet to be. But, nevertheless, we know that the future, like the past is not the proper dwelling place of the church or discipleship. It is the present which defines and clarifies God's call for us. And we learn from this story that when we glimpse glory we can't simply build shrines to it or live with a monument mentality. Rather, God calls us like the disciples down from our mountaintop experiences to the valleys of need and to a present which beckons us to use God's shine for others, not to try to bottle it for its resale value.
In The Love of Christ: Spiritual Counsels, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, George Gorree and Jean Barbier, share this story of Mother Teresa on a visit to Melbourne in 1982. At the time 72 years old, Mother Teresa tells this story in her own words:
In Melbourne, I paid a visit to an old man no one knew existed. I saw that his room was in horrible condition and I wanted to clean it up but he stopped me: "I'm all right." I kept quiet, and finally he let me go ahead. In his room was a beautiful lamp covered with dust and I asked "Why don't you light the lamp?" He replied: "For what? Nobody comes to see me and I don't need a lamp." Then I said to him, "Will you light the lamp if the Sisters come to see you?" "Yes," he said, "if I hear a human voice, I will light it." The other day he sent me word, "Tell my friend that the lamp she lit in my life burns constantly." (The Love of Christ, Harper and Row: San Francisco, 1982 Pp. 31-32).
If I hear a human voice, I will light the lamp . . . How many times in your life have you sought to build a shrine or make a gift to recognize the light of God in your life? Yet, ironically, how times has God's light brilliantly broken forth in your life because someone has simply taken the time to be God transfigured - light shining for you?!
In the present, something like the transfiguration happens for us once in a while. And we are called to rejoice in it - to embrace the mystery of God's light in daily transfigurations. We see the glowing face of a father carrying his newborn child around hospital hallways introducing the babe to everyone in the path or a mother holding her daughter to chest leaving court with her newly adopted child of joy! We see a woman at peace picking peas on a midsummer evening in her garden which has worked for her for months to grant her this peace. We see the closed eyes and piercing smile and moving head of a hopeful young artist listening to a symphony of sound in an orchestra hall or another young artist with eyes and mouth open wide standing head back, and eyes up adoring art hung high on museum walls. We see a young girl standing face out to a vast ocean in awe of waves that echo and hit too far out to hurt but still cause her to scamper with glee toward the safety of sand dunes. We see a boy sliding home and laying in a cloud of baseball dirt with the winning run on a Saturday afternoon in July as teammates storm the plate and arms are flailing and feet are lifting joy airborne.
Yes, every once and so often something so touching so incandescent , so alive, so mysterious transfigures the human face that it is almost beyond bearing. And we glimpse the face of God in a human voice, in a magnificent landscape, in a moment of pure joy and we know that we have witnessed once again, in a small but beautiful way the transfiguration of our Christ and our God. Amen.
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