Today’s story is known as the Transfiguration. It is traditional to read this text the Sunday before Lent begins – which is this Wednesday. The importance of this story falling before Lent is to give us a glimpse of Jesus’ ‘glory’ before we enter the season of Lent which can be called 40 days on ‘the way to the cross’.
All this is Christian TRADITION but many people today feel disconnected from the details of Christian traditions. And, in our uncertainty, we’ve let others define our traditions and even our beliefs. So we come to this rather strange story at a disadvantage.
- We aren’t sure whether to read it and move quickly on to a story that clearly has more application for our lives.
- Or we could try to explain the phenomenon experienced by the disciples in order to make sense of it in their lives.
- Or we can look for some hidden meaning in the little details and minutia and leave it at that.
OR, my preference; step back and open our eyes to the big picture.
You know that I like to look at both the context and the ‘Big’ picture when interpreting biblical stories for our lives. And this unusual vision gives us one of the biggest pictures in the whole gospel of Mark; and for Jesus’ story in ALL the gospels. The transfiguration is about visibility.
I make the case that as incredible as this story seems, with visions of long-dead humans and dazzling white clothing – it is no harder to believe than me telling you that - I have been invisible!
Now, before I tell you the story of when I was invisible, I have to apologize to all the JR Highs in the congregation. This is not meant to insult you. I was once a Jr Hi, were and we DO understand the challenges you face. So please forgive me in advance.
I have always wanted the power to become invisible. When I was in Jr Hi, I remember thinking that if I could have a superpower, it would be invisibility. I wanted to be like a fly on the wall – without the danger of getting swatted.But I was REALLY surprised when I found out I WAS invisible – and it all happened when I went to Warrenton Junior High School where our children attended.
I had to go in for a teacher conference and unfortunately I arrived at the end of the day as people were exiting to the buses. I attempted to thread my way against the flood of students and CRASH, one guy walked straight into me! He shook his head, picked up his book-bag and looked around to see what he had run into but since he couldn’t see anything, he ran to catch up with his friends.
That’s when I first suspected that I was invisible. – at least to jr high students.
As You may guess, I continued to struggle to get inside the school. - I kept my eyes open and avoided most direct collisions by side-stepping at critical moments. It was truly amazing. I actually stood and tried to make eye-contact with a few students just to confirm my suspicions; with no luck - because I was invisible.It seems that almost everyone over 30 is invisible to jr high.
It’s not just a past phenomenon either. I’ve tested it again and again.
I work out at the Thomas Jefferson Community Ctr. (with some of my friends here today) The fitness facility shares space with the school’s gym – so there are many ‘seniors’ (like me) and other people over 30, walking around the track at the same time students have gym class in their half of the gym. The Center uses half of the gym, but we share the track and can see each other’s activity –
That is - we, adults, can see them, but it is obvious that this arrangement works because the Jr high students CAN’T see us.
You really have to be careful when you are walking the track and a ball gets loose. When you realize that the student running for the ball can’t see you, you learn to be careful. Invisibility has some disadvantages too… (Thank heavens they (I should say WE) humans don’t stay like this forever!)
Thinking back on these near collisions due to MY invisibility, I decided that today’s story of dazzling VISibility isn’t so unbelievable after all!
It is obvious that the disciples saw something on the mountain that even they had trouble believing.
They saw Jesus become ‘transfigured’ and his clothes turn dazzling white. The word used is metamorpho from which we get the word, metamorphosis. It indicates a change.
They also saw a vision – of two ancient figures. Now we assume that even without ‘breaking news’ video, they somehow knew who these two old men were standing next to Jesus.
When we open our eyes to the big picture, we realize it is important to the disciples and Mark’s readers for Elijah to show up, because Jewish tradition said that Elijah had to come before the Messiah. (Elijah and John the Baptist are also tied together but that’s another day’s sermon.)
Moses is important for a whole host of reasons related to the law and his pivotal role as the Key leader of all Hebrew history.
But the real bright revelation here is that Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of the BIG picture – so they can recognize who Jesus really is… BUT- they can’t see it- the big picture that is - not quite yet anyway.
The disciples have their eyes focused on human things. They have tied their hopes for fame and fortune to Jesus’ coattails. In spite of his warnings about what will come, they see Jesus as their superhero, with all kinds of super powers.
They have seen him heal incurable disease
They’ve seen him feed thousands with only a little bit of bread
They’ve even seen him walk on water
Today’s Dazzling clothes and a vision of prophets – well it just CONFIRMS their excitement & super-hero ideas. And Peter wants to make it permanent. He immediately makes a suggestion for a building program.
The poor disciples SEE, but don’t see. Thankfully, (like jr hi) they don’t stay this way forever. Their eyes WILL be opened and they will make sense of this vision – but it takes time.
The Transfiguration occurs exactly half way into Jesus’ time on earth. Finding it at the very center of Mark’s story (not the beginning nor the end) indicates that even Jesus needed time for transformation.
(But) From here on in the big picture, life is different. He ‘sets his face to Jerusalem’ that’s the way the gospel phrases it. From here on, Jesus’ focus is clear –to him at least, but for his followers – their transformation will take more time; more time spent – with Jesus.
We shouldn’t be surprised that OUR limited vision also needs more time spent with Jesus.
It takes time for transformation. Jesus’ whole life led up to this point. His “change” is what will carry him thru the trial to come.
We too can be changed, because Transformation IS the Christian way of life.
Christ’s life shows that the:
- sick can be transformed with healing
- the captive is transformed when released
- even the dead can be raised (& if that’s not transformation, what is?)
No matter how blind you are, Christ’s transformation can help you see. No matter what you think is blocking your vision, or what huge weight is holding you back, the way through it is transformation. . .
Transformation is why we come to church.
We hear it in our stories and we sing it in our songs. It is part of our practices and our prayers. It undergirds our care for each other and our service to the world. EVERYTHING we do is because we BELIEVE IN TRANSFORMATION! We believe PEOPLE can be transformed with Christ in their life and we believe thru Christ – the WORLD can be transformed too.
As good as transformation sounds, it’s not for everybody – it is offered to everyone-- don’t get me wrong.
Transformation IS available to all, but not everyone wants it.
In order to be transformed you have to leave your old self behind. There is no cheap grace.
St. Augustine said, “what it costs is what you have.”[i]
The disciples left behind their lives as fishermen, farmers & tax collectors to follow Jesus. Soon they will have to leave their visions of worldly glory and superhero-fame (too) and face the cross.
We have to leave behind our limited vision and our ideas of how things should be in order to take on Christ’s priorities. We have to LET transformation happen. (Just the way every child eventually leaves self-absorption behind and grows up.)
Transformation fills us with a different kind of super-power- - - the “power of divine love.” When our eyes are opened to Love’s vision, we find a “powerful, assertive love that does not dominate and defeat evil so much as challenge, expose, and seek to transform it. It is such love that is truly redemptive. It is THIS LOVE that can transform the world.”[ii]
I guess it’s the super-power of SUPER LOVE.
Today we close our eyes to worldly distractions for a little while. We take in the atmosphere of the sanctuary & the sound of the organ. We take on the remembering that comes with this table, and these elements... It is a way of opening our eyes. Here we can return to the mountaintop again and remember what we saw that first changed us.
Today we can have transformation. We can experience the dazzling vision of the Jesus’ Way that seems so 'in-visible' when we are distracted by other priorities.
Today, in our remembering and renewal at the table, Christ becomes visible again – - - in us.