Transfiguration, Year B, Sunday, February 19, 2012
2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Trinity Lutheran Church, Somerset, PA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the last two hundred years or so, there have been a lot of debates about the miracles and wonder stories and visions of the Bible. Did they actually happen? Did they happen as described? What natural phenomena could explain them? Were they hallucinations? Wishful thinking? Tall tales? Poetic license? If you had a time machine and a video camera, and stood on the banks of the Red Sea as the Israelites crossed, would it look like Cecil B. DeMille’s vision?
Modern society is all about facts. Cold, hard, facts. Things you can prove in a science lab or a court of law. Names, dates, easy answers. This is just as true for people inside the church as outside it. In seminary, one of my professors told a story about teaching a Bible study about Noah’s ark to a class of adults whose most pressing question about the whole story was “what kind of wood was the ark made of?” We treat the Bible as if it were a textbook, full of things to memorize or check off on a list. We get so focused on trying to prove or disprove the facts, that sometimes we forget about the deeper reality they point to. We get so blinded by the surface of things, that we forget to look for the truth inside them.
Peter could tell us a lot about being blinded by the surface of things. It happened to him quite often. Peter was forever missing the point, and today’s story is no exception. Picture this: Jesus, Peter, James, and John, had been travelling around Judea for months, now, on foot. Their clothes were probably in pretty sad shape, with dirt and grime ground in, and I doubt the rest of them was much better. They probably didn’t look as pretty as they do in pictures, and I wouldn’t want to stand downwind of them. But while they’ve been travelling, they’d done and seen some awesome things: Jesus had healed many people, cast out many demons, and taught thousands of people about how God wanted them to live their lives. But not everything was so rosy. Jesus had just begun telling them that he was going to suffer and die, and the disciples—Peter in particular—wanted to nip that idea in the bud.
So Jesus takes a few of his friends up on the mountain, and there something awesome happens. Instead of the tired, grimy, ordinary guy they’re used to seeing, Jesus is transformed into a vision of light. They glimpse, however dimly, that Jesus isn’t just an ordinary teacher, or even an ordinary prophet or miracle-worker. The light of God’s presence shines in him. They’ve been spreading God’s light through their ministry this whole time, and now, for the first time, they can actually see it, whether with their eyes or with their soul. Jesus has said all along that God’s kingdom was near, and now they can see it, however dimly.
As if that’s not enough, Moses and Elijah show up. Now, any good Jew like Peter, James, and John, knew what that meant. Moses gave them God’s Law, and Elijah was the most powerful prophet Israel ever knew. Both died under mysterious circumstances: God took Moses’ body to bury it, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind to heaven. Nobody ever found either body. According to tradition, they were supposed to appear when the Messiah came. So there they were, and there Jesus was, shining with the light of God. Peter has already realized that Jesus is the Messiah. This is all the confirmation he could ever want.
Knowing that Jesus is the Messiah, what does Peter want to do? Stay there on the mountain top, with Moses and Elijah and Jesus shining! Crowds have been coming to them for some time, willing to come great distances to hear Jesus preach or be healed by him. Surely, they’ll come here, too. Then everyone can see what Jesus is. There will be more teaching, more healing, everything they’ve been doing all this time, except better. No more talk of this scary “suffering” thing. Everything will be great.
But that’s not why they’re up there on the mountain. That’s not why they see God’s grace manifest in Jesus, their friend and teacher. Because God’s plan isn’t just “more of the same, only better.” God’s plan is not limited to healing a few lepers, feeding a few crowds, teaching a few people about the kingdom of heaven. God’s plan is bigger than that, more radical. God is going to turn the whole world inside out and right-side up. God is going to heal all the brokenness in the world, all the sickness, all the sinfulness, not just a little here and there but all of it, in every time and every place. And God is going to do it through Jesus’ death on the cross.
Things are always darkest before dawn. In the days to come, after they come down from the mountain, as Jesus goes to Jerusalem to suffer and die, things are going to look awfully grim. There will be high points, but there will also be deep, painful lows, worse than anything Peter can probably imagine at this point. It’s going to get very scary. Because brokenness and sin and death aren’t going to give up their hold on the world easily. The entrenched power-structures of the world that feed off of injustice and evil aren’t going to give up easily. Jesus will have to suffer and die to break their power. And Peter, James, and John will be along to watch every minute of it. No matter what Peter wants, there’s no quick fix, no easy solution. Knowing the right answers will not make what’s coming any easier to endure.
That’s why the disciples need this mountaintop experience. They need to see the light of God, because things are going to get very dark. They need to know that even ordinary things—like the clothes Jesus is wearing, worn and stained from months of travel—can become extraordinary. They need to know that God’s light is within Jesus, shining forth, even when they can’t see it. No matter how dark things get, Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the Son of God and Son of Man. And all the things that Jesus has done before this lead up to his death and resurrection.
Jesus heals people because in the kingdom of God all people will be well and whole. The brokenness of the world that causes illness will be wiped away. Jesus feeds people because in God’s kingdom there is abundance for all. Jesus teaches people to help them live lives worthy of God’s kingdom, lives of grace and mercy and love for God and for all people. And Jesus dies so that God’s abundant life may be given to all. No matter how dark things look, God’s light is more powerful still. Jesus shines on that mountaintop so that Peter and the others can see that.
And so that we can see it, too. Jesus’ death and resurrection broke the power of sin and death, but the ultimate victory will not happen until Christ comes again. In the meantime, there is still plenty of darkness in the world. I’m sure everyone here has experienced that darkness. We have experienced pain, and suffering, illness and injury, grief and fear and doubt. We have experienced sin and brokenness and death. We know that the pain is not the end, that brokenness does not have the final say, that death has lost its sting. And yet, until Christ comes again we must wait to experience the healing and joy that we know is coming. We need the light of Christ to shine in our darkness, to help us see that God is working in the world and in us. We need the light of Christ to remind us that our pain and suffering we experience and see around us are not the ultimate reality. In the end, God’s love and healing win.