Lectionary Year B
March 5, 2000
Mark 9:2-9

Step VI: Contemporary Address


(BH) C. ADDRESS

High Mountain, STRANGE LIGHT


Well, here we have a familiar story. Jesus takes three of his disciples-Peter, James and John-and goes up to a “high mountain”. A HIGH MOUTAIN… Now this is not so unusual. After all, Jesus is a HOLY MAN and holy men LIKE mountains, don’t they? Especially in Jewish tradition.

Mountains are places to teach. After all, we remember some of Jesus’ greatest teachings as the SERMON ON THE MOUNT…He teaches from a high place, gives a teaching sermon from the Mount….

And mountains are secure places of sanctuary. Safe places to hide. When Elijah the prophet is fleeing from the rage of Jezebel he flees to “Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God” as told in 2 Kings 19:8.

And mountains are places to encounter God.

Not only did Elijah take sanctuary, he encountered God on His mountain too. While he was hiding there in a cave, God commands him to “Go out and stand on the mountain before God, for the Lord is about to pass by…” (verse 11).

Moses met God on a mountain not once but twice. On Mount Horeb he encountered the presence of God in the bush that burned, but was not consumed. There he learned God’s name…I AM THAT I AM…TELL THEM I AM SENT YOU…” (Exodus 3:1ff). He meets God again on Mount Sinai, there receiving the LAW, the 10 Commandments, written by the finger of God himself….(Exodus 31:18)…

You see, high mountains were familiar places in Jewish tradition, familiar to our three disciples. Mountains and holy men go together like lox and bagels… they hold a central place in Jewish religious tradition… a proud place in the rich heritage of God’s people meeting with God…[PAUSE]…

In fact, Mark may be having a little fun with us in his choice of vocabulary. In verse 2 it says that Jesus “led them up a high mountain” but the Greek word here can also mean “PROUD” … a proud mountain… perhaps these three disciples were being led up a high mountain, and they were proud of that, proud of the familiar place which mountains occupied in Jewish tradition. Mountains were familiar to them. All the Great Holy men of their tradition went to mountains… and now they were going to get to go, too!

Hey, guess what?! Jesus is gonna take us to the mountain! Just like in the old stories of Elijah and Moses! Wow! We know all of those old, familiar stories! And now WE (proud mannerisms…) are gonna get to go! JUST LIKE IN THE STORIES OF OLD….[pause]…

But they forgot something… mountains may have been familiar places to Peter, James and John… but they were safe only if they stayed in the old stories… they are comfortable only if they stay in the idealized memories of the Torah scrolls of Moses, the writings about the prophets, as long as they remain securely in the past…[PAUSE]…

But the reality is something very different… mountains will not stay safely tucked away in bedtime stories and old books:

Mountains are also places of awe, of mystery, of STRANGENESS. Anyone who has ever watched thunderstorms move over the top has felt that… the strangeness of it all…. The cloud covering the mountain top but also lit up by the streaks of lightening flashing through the storm… I’ve seen this in Rocky Mountain National Park… watched the thunderheads light up the tops of the peaks with a strange and eerie light… I think that the late John Denver had the right of it when he sang: “Colorado Rocky Mountain high… and I’ve seen it raining (rain and?) fire in the sky…” …{PAUSE}… like the very presence of God himself on the top of the high mountain, a mountain bathed in the STRANGE LIGHT OF GOD’S PRESENCE…[PAUSE]…

Perhaps they forgot that, these three who followed Jesus up the high mountain that day-forgot that those who would come to high holy ground had better take off their shoes, forgot that the mountains in their stories may be familiar, but the reality of the high place can be strange, like the sight of a mountain top covered with a thunderstorm …but you see, they were about to have a close encounter of the HOLY kind…[PAUSE]…

Suddenly, right before their very eyes Jesus is shining white. A white so bright that no one on earth could duplicate. A dazzling, glistening white. Matthew’s Gospel even says that he “shone like the sun” (Mat. 17:2). A light that makes the familiar Jesus-the Rabbi and teacher-- STRANGE. …[PAUSE]…

Our Bible says that he was ‘TRANSFIGURED’…. Transfigured… the Greek word here is actually the word metamorphosized… he was changed, transformed, metamorphosized, transfigured into this STRANGER IN A STRANGE LIGHT. THE STRANGE LIGHT OF CHANGE, THE STRANGE LIGHT OF METAMORPHOSIS, THE STRANGE LIGHT OF TRANSFIGURATION…

The high place, the high mountain, so familiar to our three disciples from their stories is now a place of STRANGENESS… HIGH MOUNTAIN, STRANGE LIGHT…[PAUSE]…

And if that wasn’t bizarre enough, suddenly Jesus is talking to other Holy Men… MOSES AND ELIJAH: those other Holy Men who once again are encountering God on a Mountain Top, speaking with Jesus just as plain as day.

At this point, our three disciples must have been beside themselves. MOSES AND ELIJAH? WHAT ARE THEY DOING HERE? THEY are supposed to be safely in the TORAH scrolls, confined to the Bible… tucked away in the familiar stories of the past… this is just TOO STRANGE. THESE GUYS AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, NOW, WITH THIS STRANGE JESUS BATHED IN STRANGE LIGHT….[PAUSE]…

It must have been getting mighty uncomfortable for our three disciples about this time. All the proud traditions, all the stories of the past, all of the safety of their preconceived notions about mountains…all now made SO STRANGE, SO VERY STRANGE, by the strange light of this transfiguration, this metamorphisis, this transformation…[PAUSE]…

The stories are no longer safe… Moses and Elijah are HERE… the safe, familiar stories of the holy men and their mountains are suddenly strange bought alive in a new way…. Strange and fearful… nothing will ever be the same for them… all touched by this STRANGE LIGHT, transfiguring, transforming, and illuminating even Jesus himself,. The very WORD MADE FLESH…[PAUSE]…

But that is the power of God, you see. God does not leave well enough alone. The darkness was comfortable in its darkness. But God said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT” and the universe was transfigured, transformed, illuminated, yes, made strange.

Those who seek a real experience with God, those who seek a deeper encounter with the Lord, those who would go up the mountain, may find that illuminating light beyond the familiar. For God has a way of transfiguring and transforming the familiar. Those who truly go to the mountain are made strange. The familiar takes on strange new meaning. WHERE DOES GOD TRANSFORM THE FAMILIAR FOR YOU? Where is the everyday occurrence in your religious life made new and different for you? WHERE DOES THE STRANGE LIGHT OF THE TRANSFIGURATION TOUCH YOU?

Maybe in Bible study. I have watched our Sunday school class as they have wrestled - truly wrestled - with the meaning of the Beatitudes and the difficult things Jesus said from the Sermon on the Mount. Watched as old, familiar words of Scripture take on new, strange meanings…. As the stories come alive out of the dusty pages of the past. THE TRANSFORMING LIGHT MAKES THE FAMILIAR BIBLE STORIES STRANGE, AND IN THAT STRANGENESS, WE FIND NEW MEANING ….[PAUSE]…

Maybe in the Sacraments. For so many today the Sacraments have lost their mystery, lost their transformative power. Baptisms happen so seldom that we put the Font to the side, taking it out only on special occasions. That is why I asked the Worship Committee to leave it here. Leave it at the front of the church in a direct line with the TABLE. To remind us of our own Baptisms, when Jesus was present through the Holy Spirit.

Or the Eucharist. The Lord’s Supper. For many it has become only an empty ritual. Something we do once a month that makes the church service potentially longer. But having little meaning. BUT THINK OF IT. When we share the Cup and the Loaf, CHRIST HIMSELF IS TRULY PRESENT, ACTUALLY WITH US IN THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The transfiguring power of the Holy Spirit making strange the otherwise common act of sharing a meal.. The bread and wine remain bread and wine, true enough, but Christ himself is present through the Holy Spirit. When we are transformed by that presence, this cup, this loaf will make us one with that very Christ made strange on the mount of transfiguration….

Maybe in the church itself? For many today the church is a place of comfort and familiarity. But it can also be a place of complacency. Where we have always done things the same way. But when the strange light of the transfiguration touches the church all kinds of new possibilities open up. New things. Different things. New possibilities, new hymns, new prayers… new and exciting things….

If we stop and think about it, the church is a strange place. The church is a strange place. In a world that says “IF I CAN’T TOUCH IT, TASTE IT OR SEE IT, IT DOES NOT EXIST… If it doesn’t trade on the Big Board, what use is it?” The church, when it is touched by the strange light of the transfiguration, says “We walk by faith, not by sight”.

IF THE CHURCH GOES TO THE MOUNTAIN WITH JESUS, THEN ALL OF OUR LIVES ARE MADE STRANGE… EVEN THE MOST FAMILIAR AREAS OF THE BIBLE, THE SACRAMENTS, THE CHURCH ITSELF, all take on new meanings. ALL ARE TOUCHED BY THE STRANGE LIGHT OF THE TRANSFIGURATION. IF WE GO TO THE MOUNTAIN…

If we go to the Mountain with the Master, then all facets of our lives become touched, transformed, transfigured, metamorphosized…OPENED TO NEW POSSIBILITES EVEN AS THEY ARE CHANGED BEFORE OUR EYES, touched by the transforming power of God. …[PAUSE]…[PAUSE]…

But the problem is, we don’t like that. We WANT the familiar. The comfortable. The complacent. We WANT the routine so that we are not bothered by the STRANGE. We want Moses and Elijah and YES, even JESUS to stay in the BIBLE where they belong…. We don’t want the characters active in our lives…we want the comfort of the way we have always done it….[PAUSE]…

Even Peter. He is afraid of change. He is afraid of the transforming light of the transfiguration. He wants to make the strange comfortable. So he suggests that they build a three tents there on the mountain. That is what historically happens when a strange encounter with God happens, people build tents or places of worship…they try to force the STRANGE into a STRUCTURE. To go back to the way that it has always been done…but you see, it is too late… you can’t go back…[PAUSE]…

A few years ago I made a study trip to Greece and Turkey… following in the footsteps of St. Paul. Well, when the study trip ended, I wanted to go on to Rome and finish the journey that Paul had started. So a classmate of mine and I went on to Italy together. She had grown up in Italy, her dad was attached to the US Embassy in Italy through the Navy. And we visited her home town of Lago Patria, where she had grown up. All the way there she told me of how she looked forward to seeing this place and that place… the house she grew up in, the places she had pizza as a kid…

When we got there, the buildings were all there, her old house, the restaurants: but it was not the same. She saw it through different eyes, with a different spirit…. And that night as we shared a meal together I could see that my young friend had come to experience the hard words of THOMAS WOLF “YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN” (repeat)…[PAUSE]… Her life had been touched by the strange, transforming, transfiguring hand of time…and there was no going back to the way it was before…[PAUSE]…

Just as there was no going back for Peter. He tries hard to make the strange familiar--the bright lights, the appearance of Moses and Elijah… he tries hard to force all of this into the structure of a booth or tent… he is so disconcerted by the change, by the strangeness of it all.

And you would think that Jesus would recognize this “PASTORAL MOMENT”. Reach out to Peter, comfort him, try to make it all better. Maybe try to help him make it all more comfortable again. But he does not. Jesus does not answer him…does not try to restore Peter’s comfort, does not try to make him more comfortable… I WONDER WHY?

Could it be that Jesus, the Rabbi, the teacher, knows that SPIRITUAL GROWTH, like transition from childhood to adulthood, that SPIRITUAL GROWTH cannot happen without CHANGE. THAT change is often uncomfortable, even painful. “NO PAIN, NO GAIN” WE SAY ON THE ATHLETIC FIELD. Spiritual growth-like all real growth-is often a difficult transformation, a bright light which leaves us feeling strange and new.

And in that light we are transformed too. But it is not an easy road. Not for the disciples. Not for us. For the comfortable is made strange. BUT ONLY IF WE BELIEVE IT. Only if the comfortable, familiar stories locked away in the Torah Scrolls, the Prophets, in the Bible are allowed to be made strange by the transforming light of Christ. Do we just leave this story… comfortable and familiar, in the pages of the Book? OR WILL WE LET IT TOUCH US… CHANGE US…TRANSFORM US? …[PAUSE]…

These three disciples went up the proud, high mountain. They thought that they could stay comfortable in the familiar places, in the old stories of Moses and Elijah. But when one seeks to have an encounter with THE HOLY, then one must beware… beware of the STRANGE LIGHT, the strange light on the High mountain. For if it touches you… YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME… you will be transformed…changed…. And nothing will ever be the same again…. MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL WITH HIS TRANSFORMING LIGHT…Amen

(??) A. AUDIENCE

A small Hispanic church of ca. 70 members, south Texas, basically poor and/or with deep memories of poverty, all age groups, slowly starting to grow after years of static existence, marked essentially by faithfulness after many years of frustrations.

(??) B. GOALS

Transfiguration Sunday as occasion for celebration of Lord's Supper and for probing: what is its meaning on the eve of Lent? "Metamorphosis" of Jesus on the way to the cross for us? Our taking up of the cross?

(??) C. ADDRESS

Title: "A Glimpse into Glory"

Outline:

Intro. - This isn't what I had in mind.
Peter frustrated, all was so clear when he confessed "you are the messiah." But then Jesus rebuked and spoke of rejection, cross-bearing, and following him to Jerusalem. Peter confused over misunderstanding. Illustration of parallel confusion: border patrol discovery of people in Raymondville crammed into a small apartment...thought they had heard the call of a new life across the boarder, but found only danger, cold, hunger, and capture. And our church asks: did our grandparents mis- understand when they braved rejection to become members of this church and are we going to just barely survive?
I. Jesus' answer: a trip to the mountain
A. Surprise of heaven's radiance and glory all around
B. Surprise of Moses' and Elijah's presence - prophets por excelencia! Knew another mountain and a scene of idolatry; despaired over demand of Jezebel.
C. Disciples are terrified but propose tribute to all three as equals but they are not equals...misunderstanding.
II. Voice from the Cloud: "This is my beloved Son, listen to him!"
A. Not just a great prophet but the beloved Son, like Isaac born to Abraham.
B. Listen! even as he speaks into the shocked silence of resurrection from the dead.
C. The gift of a glimpse into glory. Jesus' glorified, the servant who emptied himself of glory and died.
III. Did that Glory sustain them when they too faced death? And us in our questions of faith and worries as we come to the Table?
A. We remember the sacricfice made for us in the offering of God's Son.
B. We remember the mountaintop where confused people who longed to be faithful were given a glimpse into glory.
C. We come with thoughts of our failures to understand and to live up to the faith...the sharp word at the breakfast table and other disturbing memories. We also are hungry and thirsty for more of Christ, so we listen to him and hear about carrying a cross and the promise of resurrection life.
Conclusion: We often feel like Peter and the disciples then we think back to the radiant, shining figure of Jesus...an interlude on the road to the cross. He embraced our poverty and bodies, accepted our death and rose for us, lives nnow and offers us food and drink to sustain us on the journey.




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