Another Sermon Post–from Transfiguration Sunday, the day we usually make a big deal out of Jesus being all shiny and bright. But what if we started looking at glory in a different way…what would glory look like in our every day lives?
Gospel Text: Mark 9:2-9
On the days when I’m feeling especially productive, I make to-do lists on post-it notes and actually cross things off…on days like these, grocery shopping can feel like a breeze. It’s another list, full of stuff I can check off as I drop things into the cart—and a strange feeling of accomplishment rises up inside me.
But then, there are those days when I can’t figure out how to make my hair do what it needs to do, and I can’t pick out an outfit, so I end up changing several times before I have to quit looking in the closet because I’m going to be late. There are days like this when to-do lists and bullet points don’t energize and excite me. They weigh me down. Line by line it starts to make me feel lazy and overwhelmed—and on my worst days it feels like I can’t accomplish anything.
And it’s usually on these days that we’ve run out of toothpaste, and I need to go to Target to pick up some more.
Toothpaste… no big deal, right? Just grab a bottle or tube and be done. But what brand do you want? Colgate. Crest. Aqua fresh. Arm & Hammer. Sensodyne. Toms. Do you want extra whitening, fluoride, tartar control, fresh breath, cavity protection, or something for sensitive teeth? How about spearmint, peppermint, or cinnamon flavoring? Do you want a gel or a paste…or a gel that turns into foam?
Target has an entire isle dedicated to oral hygiene. But when you’re trying to make a decision—even a small one, you become overloaded with information. I’ve read studies that have proven, when given too many choices the brain freezes temporarily, and becomes unable to make an informed decision…
So, toothpaste is just child’s play…Target also has entire isles for toilet paper, deodorant, and cotton swabs… and we haven’t even touched the Gospel reading yet…
In trying to discern a theme, a direction, the “meat & potatoes” of these texts today, I did my usual searches and studies…websites, articles, commentaries, books…blah blah… but I started to get overwhelmed.
There’s a lot to take in with these texts, especially this “transfiguration” thing in Mark. Jesus grabs a few of his closest disciples, and treks up a mountain. Somewhere along this journey it turns into a scene from an old CBS series in the 1990’s—Touched by an Angel. I used to watch that show all the time. The main character—Monica, would be pretending to be a school nurse, or a counselor, or your new neighbor. Then, during your moment of need, she would start glowing with warm yellow light and she did a quick wardrobe change into a white dress… then with her funny accent she would tell you, “My name is Monica, and I’m an angel sent by God here to help you.”
Jesus essentially does the same thing. He changes clothes, starts glowing from the inside-out with bright light, Peter starts trying to say something, and then a big booming voice comes bursting through the clouds. Moses and Elijah also make an appearance, even though they’ve been dead for hundreds of years…but just like that, everything changes back to normal, and Jesus tells them to keep it all a secret until he’s been raised from the dead…
Makes trying to pick out toothpaste a walk in the park…
The only time we ever talk about “Transfiguration” is on this Sunday. And, it’s a huge word—15 letters. If you were playing Scrabble, or Words with friends, you’d get at least 85 points.
So, it’s decision-making time. What is all this about…anyway?
Marks’ gospel—the story he tells about Jesus, centers around the question, “Who is Jesus?” Throughout this short story-book people are constantly asking themselves who this man is and from where his authority comes. After all, he’s been walking around casting out demons, healing the sick, touching people that are unclean, feeding thousands, and he teaches with authority the religious leaders don’t even have. Oh yeah, and he can control the winds and waves of Mother Nature.
Jesus also asks those closest to him, “who do people say I am, and who do you think I am?” We hear familiar, safe responses like…a teacher, a prophet, and we’re ok with those. Then we hear some weird ones… some say Jesus, that you’re Elijah or Moses. But eventually, we congratulate Peter on his insight for recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and the chosen one.
Right before we get to the story of the transfiguration, Jesus is having such a conversation with his disciples, and this is where Peter shows them all up by calling Jesus the Christ. Jesus then goes on to say that he is going to suffer, and be sentenced to death—and that he actually is going to die. Peter corrects him—no Jesus. Didn’t you just hear me? You are the Christ, the Messiah. Messiahs don’t suffer, they don’t die. And they certainly don’t keep their identity a secret. But Jesus says, “No, Peter.” That is not my way.
It’s almost as if they still don’t understand this Messiah thing, at least the way Jesus talks about it. So, Jesus takes them on a little field trip. He takes them up a mountain, where Moses and Elijah appear. Peter offers to make them shelters. And we usually laugh at Peter at this point… poor guy just can’t catch a break.
But Peter was a Jew, and, like most people during his time, he was anxious to see the Reign of God happen come again during his lifetime. Moses was said to have been buried by God—no one ever found his grave. Elijah was taken up to heaven by a chariot of fire…so he never really died… the Jewish customs believed these two messengers were extremely important—Moses represented the Law and the way of Life of the People, and Elijah was the symbol of the prophets. These two were supposed to be at God’s disposal, ready to be sent back to summon the faithful people of God—to usher the end of the age.
They had festivals throughout the year, just as we do, and one of them was called, “Feast of Booths.” During this time, people set up tents as a memorial, and it was said to be during this feast when Elijah or Moses would return to bring in the new age of God’s peace….
Soooooo….. Jesus is sitting on a mountain glowing with glory with Elijah and Moses—of course Peter’s mind immediately when to this festival, he’s ready for this new age and the reign of God, and he wants to be a part of it. So, he offers to begin the feast and start getting ready…
But alas, the light fades away, Moses and Elijah disappear, and the disciples are left with a plain, human Jesus sitting in front of them.
A plain, human Jesus, that they know, that they’ve known for years—at this point, that they can talk to, that they travel with, follow, respect. This plain, human Jesus who can speak to people with compassion and mercy instead of judgment or reproach. This plain, human Jesus who cares for people who are hungry, who cares for people who are sick. This plain, human Jesus is the same person who was glowing white just a minute before. It was this plain, human Jesus that the voice spoke of—This is my son, marked by my love.
Maybe the transfiguration/transformation happens after all the sparkles and the dazzles… maybe after Moses and Elijah leave, the disciples finally understand this messiah sitting in front of them is not going to come forth with guns blazing, glory shining. This messiah comes quietly.
Maybe the transfiguration is the understanding that the full glory of God isn’t placed on someone, like a crown on a king, or inserted into someone like a dollar in a vending machine—put in the right amount of money, and get out a treat…
Maybe the transfiguration is the realization that the glory of God is already within, waiting to be drawn out.
That’s why the voice says this man; this plain, human Jesus is marked by God’s love. You can’t “see” love. But you can see what love does. You can see how love changes people. You can see that love is more powerful than hate, that mercy trumps judgment, you can see these things.
So yes, the text is correct in saying that Jesus is transfigured before them. He is changed in front of their eyes… but maybe it’s not that Jesus is changing. Maybe the change is coming from within the disciples.
Jesus changes from being the herald of the end times—to a man marked by God’s love, ushering in a new beginning, right now.
Jesus changes from a dazzling robe, bleach white and out of sight—to the dull color of the bread he shared with his friends at a meal, to the life-giving presence of God, that we pray for daily.
Jesus changes from “King of the Mountain” to “shepherd of the valley.” He changes from one so high up that we can’t touch, to one so close he sits with us in the dark and he walks with us through the rain.
So then, this story is in fact about glory. But it also seems to be a story about identity. Who is Jesus? But also, who are we? For are we not also called to live like Jesus… to be like Jesus… to be Christ to a world in need? So what then does this mean, for us?
What if we believed that we are also marked by God’s love—that we didn’t need to wait for a revelation, or a public calling—but that we have already been given one…?
What if we also believed that you and I and every other human had the full glory of God already buried inside of us? That it is not our job to go “Bring Jesus to other people,” but to draw out this presence in each other…?
What if we stopped looking for a transfiguration where Jesus would be made more holy, and glorious, and whiter than snow… but started looking for the glory of God in the simple and forgotten places of our lives?
What would we find…
Would we find glory on Monday mornings when the preschool kids gather here for Chapel?
Would we find glory on Saturday mornings when men and women are given clothes and food and conversation…
Would we find glory with one another when we dig in the dirt to restore the wetlands, or plant a garden?
Where love is, God is there. That’s it. Even if death shows up, we’ll keep singing because glory isn’t just in the mountains. Glory is in the continuing song of life. It is in the sun that shows up after the rain, it is in the rose that blooms in the spring. It is in the life that breaks through the hard ground.
Glory is not just “up, up, and away.” Glory happens down here, because Jesus—plain, human Jesus came down the mountain to walk with us and help us point out glory to one another.