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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Listen to Jesus

Jesus’ transfiguration shows us the glory of God in the body of Christ.  We are part of this – both as disciples who are commanded to listen to Jesus, and as the baptized body of Christ, the Church.  When God speaks to the disciples, “listen!” God is speaking to we who are becoming disciples.  When God declares love for Christ’s body, God is also declaring love for you and I and the body of Christ, the Church.  When have you listened to Jesus, and when have you heard God declare love for you?  The light of God’s glory shines through Christ in transfiguration and on the cross; it shines through us, too. 

Vicar Erik Doughty, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, year B; text: Mark 9:2-10

What a story we read today!  Jesus goes up a mountain, two important people in the history of Israel appear and chat with him, the disciples babble in terror, the voice of God claims Jesus as God’s beloved son and then instructs, “Listen to him.”  Then it all ends, they wander down the mountain. And, if I may add one verse, then the disciples obediently don’t mention it to anyone and they don’t even appear to discuss the fact that they just saw Moses and Elijah, but instead they start discussing among themselves, “So – what does ‘rising from the dead’ mean?”

We should note that this is AFTER the disciples have seen Jesus do one or two amazing things.  Such as:
healing diseases
telling the powers of chaos – the wind and waves of a storm – to stop (and they did stop)
casting out demons
raising a little girl from the dead
giving the disciples themselves the authority to cast out demons
feeding five thousand and then again feeding four thousand
and so on.

Peter, for his part, has already confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.  (Peter has had trouble thinking the Messiah is going to suffer and die, instead of maybe kicking out the Romans or whatever his expectations were.)

So it’s at this point that Jesus goes up the mountain, this mountain at the cusp of our Lenten season.  Lent will end with Jesus on another mountain called Calvary or Golgotha, we know.   On this mountain, with Peter, James, and John watching, Jesus’ clothes glisten like the light which goes into, through, and off an ice rink lit up at night in the park; like lightning, or glitter, or a disco ball, only more so.  Whiter than white, “it-hurts-to-look-at-it” white.  Whiter than my polyester alb will ever be in this world (which is not saying much, I know).  Jesus’ clothes shine with the divine light of God, the shine that was on Moses’ face after he received the law; and possibly the shine of the chariots of fire that took Elijah into heaven.  Visually we have God saying, TAKE NOTE: WHEN YOU SEE JESUS, YOU SEE GOD’S GLORY!

Then for good measure, in case the disciples didn’t figure it out, the Voice of God says THIS IS MY BELOVED SON; LISTEN TO HIM!

(That is the same sort of thing God said just to Jesus at his baptism, but now God’s making it known in public.  We will hear the final version of this phrase during Holy Week, when the centurion who witnesses Jesus’ death says, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”)

So where we are at today in the life of Jesus and in the church year is a pivot point; a cusp between the spreading light of Epiphany and the dark-purple, ash-dusted penitential, introspective, catechetical season of Lent, which ends with the Christ-light, the glory of God, extinguished, the smoking wick on the rough cross, all on the mountain of Calvary nicknamed “the Skull.”  That’s what Jesus sees ahead even as he walks up this mountain to show forth the Glory of God – that glory will show next in darkness and death, Christ dead for us, a glory which looks like defeat but in which death itself is defeated.

So, what of today’s text for us?

We can rejoice that we are present twice in this text:  we see in ourselves the terrified, babbling disciples, for one thing.  We are the people who say one day, “You, Lord, are the Christ,” then protest at the next opportunity that we don’t want Jesus to die.  We are the people who have a fantastic experience of God’s presence and want to freeze that moment in time, to stay there in happy-terrified awe.

We are pretty reliably and predictably fools when in the presence of God.  (My seminary classmate Michael, a pastor in Fort Collins, noted that he wished HE had a narrator who would follow him around and, whenever he said something foolish, would say, “He did not know what he was saying.”)  One bit of good news there is that, when we do put our foot in our mouth or do something idiotic here at church– at least we know we’ve all been there.  Even the disciples themselves had that experience.  And we can forgive one another, and often we can laugh about it and move on.

As I said, there’s another place we are present in this text:  in Christ.  It matters that we, the Church, are baptized into the body of Christ.  We are not fully human and fully divine, but we, in some mysterious way, lay claim to Christ’s body.  We, in some faithful way, ARE Christ’s body:  The body that gets transfigured.  The body God declares love for.  And yes, the body that is crucified, dies, and is raised.  Somehow you and I participate in that by virtue of our baptism, and by virtue of Holy Communion.

Do I know how it all works?  No.  And I would be a fool to try to explain it!  But it matters that the Church – you and I and all others baptized into Christ, over all the centuries – are the body of Christ.

This transfiguration of Christ – we’re affected.  God loves you and me!  God shines through us.  And this is at the same time that the presence of God – and the command to listen to Jesus – makes us both want to stay forever AND to run away to where it seems more comfortable, more dim.

I invite you to consider what it means for God’s light to shine out from you.  I invite you to consider what is the place you feel comfortably out of God’s light.  I invite you to consider what you hear when God is speaking.  When did God last declare God’s love for you?  To what journey are you being called as we head toward that other mountain, Golgotha, over the next 40 days of Lent?

Let us listen to Jesus, who loves, who teaches still, who feeds thousands of thousands, who dies and rises from the dead for foolish disciples, for you and me; Jesus who, right after this liturgy ends, leads us down the mountain to serve and love all people, as he and we begin to walk toward Calvary’s cross.

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